WRITING ON THE ETHER: Trafficking in Publishing’s Commodities

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, TOC, #TOCcon, Author (R)evolution Day, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, DBW, #DBW13, Publishers Launch, Authors Launch, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, The Bookseller, TheFutureBook


Table of Contents

  1. Trafficking in Publishing’s Commodities
  2. Commodity Publishing: Faster, Authors, Faster!
  3. Smashwords & Libraries: Precedent & Product
  4. Metrics: Balking at BookScan
  5. Craft: It’s Been Done. And Done.
  6. Craft: What’s Wrong With Nonfiction
  7. Craft: Misery & Co.
  8. Publishing Con­ferences: Digital Book World
  9. Other Conferences Ahead, Quickly
  10. Books: Reading on the Ether
  11. Last Gas: Oh, Yeah, Those Guys

Trafficking in Publishing’s Commodities

  • Old drivers are trying to find new routes but are too proud to admit they’re lost.
  • agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, TOC, #TOCcon, Author (R)evolution Day, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, DBW, #DBW13, Publishers Launch, Authors Launch, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, The Bookseller, TheFutureBook New hotshots are cutting in, trying to find ways to capitalize on the confusion and get ahead.
  • Pundits keep jumping out in front to wave everybody through—”follow me!”—but can only hope nobody realizes they don’t really know the correct turns from their asses.
  • All maps were outdated before Borders was forced off the road. Your GPS says nothing but “recalculating.”
  • And then there are these cyclists between the company cars, like Copenhagen at 5 p.m., ridden by frequently bellicose self-publishers.

Watch carefully. At times in our publishing gridlock, you can glimpse something akin to “phasing,” a concept familiar to motorists stuck in traffic jams.

Think of cars stopped with their right or left turn indicators on. Blink, blink, blink. Every now and then, those blinks will synchronize for a time.

If you’re willing to set aside some emotional investment and look around, you’ll see several issues sync-ing up around us, and in a pretty romantic way.

Blink, blink, blink. Are you batting your eyelashes at me?

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, TOC, #TOCcon, Author (R)evolution Day, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, DBW, #DBW13, Publishers Launch, Authors Launch, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, The Bookseller, TheFutureBook Here’s a new snootful from the sainted John Sargent of Macmillan. Jeanne d’Arc to DoJ haters. David in the Valley of the Bigger Five. We duly Etherized him just before Christmas, you may recall, in Macmillan’s Sargent: ‘In the Land of Giants.’

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, TOC, #TOCcon, Author (R)evolution Day, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, DBW, #DBW13, Publishers Launch, Authors Launch, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, The Bookseller, TheFutureBook Now, Sargent is announcing he’ll be distributing English-language lovey-doveys from digital romance publisher Liz Pelletier’s Entangled-ment. Sargent has Entangled even St. Martin’s Press in a plan to bring some of those ebooks to print.

Blink, blink, blink.

Faithful Laura Hazard Owen writes it up, declaring  in that World War III-size headline font they love at paidContent. (Alas, no fault of Hazard, the site’s new mobile redesign renders the Entangled Publishing’s logo “tangle ublishing.”)

Laura Hazard Owen

She writes:

Entangled is one of a growing number of “boutique” publishers that seek to strike a balance between the freedom of self-publishing and the structure of working with a traditional publisher…Entangled doesn’t offer advances and pays authors royalties higher than what they’d receive from a traditional publisher but lower than they’d get if they self-published.

Have a look. Shirtless men kissing beautiful women. Blink, blink, blink.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, TOC, #TOCcon, Author (R)evolution Day, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, DBW, #DBW13, Publishers Launch, Authors Launch, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, The Bookseller, TheFutureBook Then here’s Michael Cader at Publishers Lunch doing a followup to his excellent year-end look at the numbers in James and Collins Drive 2012 Print Sales:

E.L.James’s Fifty Shades books sold over 14.4 million prints units, and Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games books sold over 9.6 million print books.  Together, these two authors accounted for over 4 percent of all print sales for the year.

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For additional perspective, 2011’s top 15 nonfiction and fiction books combined sold about 18.3 million units; and Collins’ 2012 total is only slightly lower than all the top 15 children’s books in 2011 (which sold roughly 10.2 million books altogether).

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Deirdre Donahue

Related reading: Deirdre Donahue at USA Today reports that Fifty Shades of Grey gets its hardcover publication on January 29—”just in time for Valentine’s Day,” as Donahue puts it. Somehow, one feels it’s better not to ask.

Donahue also notes “a discreet warning on the back guaranteed to keep little eyes from prying: ‘EROTIC ROMANCE: Mature Audience.'”

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Donahue’s story is ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ will be published as hardcovers

And at this writing, Amazon is showing a pre-order price of $50.94, the list being $80.85. Enough to make you blink, blink, blink.

In some related reading to your related reading, Owen has an interesting take on the hardback release:

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, Authors Launch, TOC Authors, Author (R)evolution Day, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, FutureBook, #fbook12, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Nigel Roby, The Bookseller, TheFutureBookWith their availability in hardcover, 50 Shades will complete an almost entirely reversed traditional publishing cycle. The books started out as Twilight fan fiction posted online. A tiny Australian publisher then released them as ebooks and print-on-demand paperbacks, selling about 250,000 copies. Random House snapped up the rights in a seven-figure deal, rereleased the ebooks and made 50 Shades widely available in paperback for the first time — where it achieved stratospheric success. Finally, a little under a year later, the books will be released in their most expensive format: The hardcover list price is $26.95 per book, USA Today reports (though that will surely be slashed by retailers like Amazon and there will be a three-book bundle for $80.85.

 

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Jason Allen Ashlock

Then here’s the discerning agent Jason Allen Ashlock of Movable Type Management at DBW’s Expert Publishing Blog with a series of Q&As intended to reveal traditional insiders as “smart, indefatigable, book-loving people who are doing the very hard work of making the old new again.”

Certainly, there are some who have forgotten, I’m sure, that the majors are peopled with intelligent experts who have an ocean-deep institutional memory for something you’ll now miss if you blink: literature. And yet, even this exercise goes right into our flashing red-light district: more romance.

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Amy Tannenbaum

In his first installment, The Change Agents: Amy Tannenbaum, Ashlock asks the highly regarded Simon & Schuster editor to talk about self-publishing titles with which she has done “some exciting work,” books for which she has given demonstrably successful self-publishing authors traditional contracts.

Tannenbaum lists:

Blink, blink, and blink. We’re sync-ed right up again with more romance. Note that the Atria division is hardly limited to romance, far from it. But these recent selections mentioned by Tannenbaum happen to trend that way.

At this rate, by my calculation, we can expect to do away with men’s shirts in publishing entirely by around May of 2014.

What I’d love to see Ashlock add for his upcoming Q&As with folks inside legacy publishing is a question about whether they got into the business expecting to work in romance.

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And by the way, the answer from some industry folks to that question would be yes, and that would be OK. It should go without saying that some people, indeed, are eager and happy to work in romance and its subgenres, and this is fine. I’m not disparaging the choice. What I’m questioning is the prevalence of romance in the business right now.

UPDATE: Jason Ashlock tells us that he accepts our “Ether Challenge” and will indeed be kind enough to ask his interview subjects whether they got into publishing to work in the kind of material they find themselves handling today. 

And, of course, this is not the whole story. Read on. And don’t blink.

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Commodity Publishing: Faster, Authors, Faster!

We’re indebted now, as we are so frequently, to my colleague, friend, and ridiculously patient host of the Ether, Jane (“not that one the other one”) Friedman.

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Jane Friedman

In Commodity Publishing, Self-Publishing, and The Future of Fiction, she takes on a rather strange and definitely strident call in a subset of the self-publishing genre community. These authors are being encouraged to write fast, write as many books as they can, pile them up as high as possible before even thinking about doing any “platforming,” or promotion or marketing or audience-building. The way forward, in this formulation, is directly into self-publishing.

As Friedman puts it:

Is self-publishing going to become the predominant, preferred, or recommended means for authors to launch their careers?…(The guidance is:) Don’t even bother getting traditionally published. Self-publish first…

  1. Write a ton of material.
  2. Publish it yourself on all the digital platforms.
  3. Repeat as quickly as possible.
  4. Make a living as a writer.

…I call it commodity publishing. It’s not about art; it’s about product.

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Nielsen BookScan records Mark Owen’s book as the No. 1 selling adult nonfiction of 2012. Via Michael Cader / Publishers Lunch

You read me above suggesting that Jason Ashlock ask his Q&A subjects about what they got into publishing to do. Here’s Friedman’s way of making that point:

Funny, (publishing is) the business that no one gets into for business reasons. It’s the business that, if you asked its individual participants, would likely prefer to talk about the art or culture of the business, would prefer to make the argument that it focuses on quality work that deserves publication. Yet those with trade experience know how the decisions really get made: based on a profit-and-loss analysis (P&L) and for the benefit of the bottom line.

And, risking the ire of a lot of defensive folks, she writes:

I’m now on the edge of a longstanding argument: whether genre fiction is as ‘good’ as so-called literary fiction.

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George Saunders’ Tenth of December, literary fiction, has just been released by Random House this week.

I’d put the question into this form: are works of literary fiction being airlifted out of the rabble by publishers along with these shirtless-men-kissing-beautiful-women books? If they are, I don’t see them. Do you?

Friedman:

Most literary authors and nonfiction writers I know are not able to pursue this model (commodity self-publishing). They either cannot produce—or would not want to produce—multiple volumes in a few years’ time.

What’s more, if “commodity publishing” seems to run counter to anything other than genre work, it also generally rejects the concept of building an author  platform before publishing. This was clear when Friedman, in her update of another piece, How Long Should You Keep Trying To Get Published?, wrote:

If your goal is to bring your work successfully to the marketplace, it’s a waste of time to self-publish that work, regardless of format, if you haven’t yet cultivated an audience for it, or can’t market and promote it effectively through your network.

 

Many writers have responded with sometimes harsh comments, insisting that the kind of preparatory, audience-building marketing Friedman descrfibes is a waste of time.

Just write. Keep writing. More books. Blink, blink, blink.

Friedman also has found the reactions quick and pointed when she writes:

This model doesn’t care about quality. It says: You will get better as you write more, and besides, everyone knows that quality is subjective.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, TOC, #TOCcon, Author (R)evolution Day, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, DBW, #DBW13, Publishers Launch, Authors Launch, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, The Bookseller, TheFutureBook At the Passive Voice blog (about the newer piece, excerpted there) Terrence O’Brien, author of The Templar Concordat, responds:

“This model doesn’t care about quality.”
I suspect this model doesn’t care about Jane.

Not all respondents are so dismissive. One commenter named Mira at Passive Voice writes with lovely reserve:

I know this isn’t a popular indie opinion, but I agree with her (Friedman) that the casual approach to quality in the indie publishing community is a huge mistake. It is damaging to indie reputations, and I wish people would re-think it.

https://twitter.com/jane_l/status/289141530600558592

 

A consistent through-line in comments on these posts has to do with a perception by many genre writers of literary fiction as “elitist.” It’s probably not inaccurate to say there’s a chip on the collective shoulder about this, despite the fact that — as Friedman is making clear — literary fiction seems to have a far harder path ahead in an industry that much more readily harvests genre work. Again, these self-publishing channels don’t seem to be the go-to place for publishers to find contract-worthy literary fiction and narrative nonfiction (the latter of which is Friedman’s preferred reading).

And so it is that in the course of Friedman’s posts and in the comments that follow them, that we can see this debate sync-ing up, if just temporarily, like those turn lights in traffic. These are frequently irregular focal points in publishing’s digital dynamic, at the moment aligning with percussive iteration.

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Eleanor Morse’s novel, set in Botswana, was released on January 3 by Penguin.

Blink 1: There’s the commodity aspect, writing to sell, and in bulk. Writes Friedman:

If you’ve ever walked into certain kinds of used bookshops (especially back before ebooks became prevalent), you’ve seen the racks and racks of mass-market romances and other genre fiction, sold for 25 cents each. A customer might walk in, buy a grocery bag full, walk out, then return the following week for a refill. The new era of self-publishing authors are, by and large, serving these customers.

Blink 2: There’s a growing debate here about the place of non-genre work—as in, does it have a place at all? (Part of this still is affected by a remark of Tim O’Reilly, which I’ve explicated in this edition of the Ether. O’Reilly, himself, has referred folks to it for background on his comment.) As to this question of non-genre work, here’s Friedman:

If traditional publishing declines, will the big corporate houses have the same ability to publish those titles that aren’t destined to be commercial successes, but critical successes?…Can Random House deliver books like the Behind the Beautiful Forevers if they don’t also profit from 50 Shades of Grey?

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Susanna Sonnenberg’s nonfiction evocation of relationships with women has just been released by Simon & Schuster.

Blink 3: And can commodity publishing from the “indie” sector sustain the post-digital-transition industry for the long-haul?

Friedman:

This model relies on a readership that consumes books like candy, or readers mostly interested in finding a next read as quickly and cheaply as possible.

As I’ve written before, digital disruption is usually kinder to entertainment than to art, but blink, blink, blink: this alignment of commercial forces—a sea of self-produced romance-dominated content, publishers on the prowl for just such material, and commoditized concepts of fast-churn output—might actually present a much more toxic landscape to more serious work than we’ve seen in the past.

As I’ve written before, I agree with O’Reilly that serious literature can’t expect to be coddled or subsidized in some concept of entitlement. It must stand on its own in the market. But what if the market simply walks away from it?

Is this the industry we want?

Keep your taillights blinking and let’s take the matter to the local library.

Read on.

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https://twitter.com/alaindebotton/status/289305323901186048

 

Smashwords & Libraries: Precedent & Product

This last week, the Douglas County Library (DCL) system announced that they had acquired 10,000 ebook titles from the leading self- and independently-published e-book distributor, Smashwords. At an average of $4.00, this required an expenditure of $40,000 to purchase, not merely license, a large number of ebooks for the readers of Douglas County, nearly doubling the number of titles that DCL owns to 21,000.

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Peter Brantley

There’s no question that Peter Brantley has a lot of positive news to report in his post, Digital Lending, In Agreement. He’s describing the culmination of the deal between Smashwords and Douglas County that, as he writes, was made “through the legal equivalent of a sketch on a cocktail napkin, not a 330-page contract with multiple addenda.”

The most promising aspect of the deal – and one that I hope will set a precedent – is that it was concluded through Smashwords’ acceptance of a simple document, “Statement of Common Understanding for Purchasing Electronic Content.” The keystone clause underpinning the Common Understanding’s resolutions is: “The Library affirms that it will comply with U.S. Copyright Law.”

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Mark Coker

I’m in agreement with Brantley, and I congratulate Smashwords’ Mark Coker on the mechanism at work here: at a time when so many are struggling to hammer out digital directions for libraries, it’s good to see Smashwords’ Library Direct program roll out.

Brantley notes that a majority of the authors involved have engaged in the program “for library prices at below-market levels,” in line with the theory that library exposure is good for a writer’s business.

Smashwords permits its authors and publishers to set their own library prices using a web-based pricing tool; the majority of its participating authors have opted for library prices at below-market levels, reflecting the premium value they place on library exposure and promotion.

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And in line with that blink, blink, blink of industry issues and questions coming together, here are some additional things I’d like to know—not about this praiseworthy and marvelously straightforward contract that Brantley says “does not cover two pages,” but about the content:

  • When a self-publishing platform like Smashwords sells 10,000 titles to libraries, what are those titles?
  • The Smashwords authors are self-selecting, they decide whether to participate. Do authors of one genre or type of book seem to favor participation more than others?
  • Brantley mentions the libraries using “whatever selection criteria they see fit.” Is it possible to know those criteria?

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But if the commodity-publishing dynamic holds, then there seems to be a good chance that 10,000 self-published titles are, in major part and maybe predominantly, from romance and other genres. Again, please don’t jump to the conclusion that I’m casting some automatic aspersion on genre work. But how much of it should be a part of a 10,000-book infusion into library collections? And how much of anything else could be available in a deal like this?

What does this inventory do, over time, to the nature of a library’s services? Does the library take over for that bookstore Friedman describes, where you fill up your grocery bag with 25-cents books? I hope we might soon have some information on the kind of content involved in this promising development.

| | |

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Liz Castro

Related reading: “This is huge news,” writes book developer and author Liz Castro about Smashwords’ call for submissions of EPUB file uploads. This is an alpha testing phase of the capability, called Smashwords Direct. Writes Castro, in Smashwords asks for EPUB files for testing, “The new Smashwords Direct program will allow authors to upload professionally-designed EPUB files and thus give us absolute control over what the EPUB looks like.”

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Metrics: Balking at BookScan

In his analysis mentioned above, James and Collins Drive 2012 Print Sales, Michael Cader is using figures from Nielsen BookScan, a common source in the business. He notes for his readers that Nielsen “tracks print book sales only, at the point of sale.”

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Suw Charman-Anderson

Meanwhile, Suw Charman-Anderson at Forbes asks Can Nielsen BookScan Stay Relevant In The Digital Age? The problems aren’t just in BookScan’s print-bound limitations, she writes, but also in disturbing questions about how much of the print market the service actually captures.

Usual assumptions of 70-percent coverage in the States and 95 percent in the UK, she writes, look more like 30 percent or worse to authors Charman-Anderson interviews:

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With digital sales gaining in importance and retailers including ebook-leader Amazon declining to report proprietary sales data, Charman-Anderson asks, “How can BookScan hope to stay relevant in an era where accurate data is essential?”

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Craft: It’s Been Done. And Done.

I’ve just encountered a post headlined, “Fifty Shades of Editing.”

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Image courtesy Colleen Lindsay (alas, Urban Outfitters says it’s no longer available)

Dear Ethernaut, we now can do without any more gimmicky uses of the phrase “Fifty Shades.”

It is not funny. It is not clever. It is not interesting.

The American love of engendering fellow-feeling through the endless repetition of populist phrases is as tedious as it is stunting. Yada. Yada. Yada.

Try thinking for yourself. Originality happens when we stop aping everybody else.

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Craft: What’s Wrong With Nonfiction

How many digital works really need to be the equivalent of 200, 300 print pages or more? I’m talking to you, business books, self-help guides, and a large number of other bloated categories.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, TOC, #TOCcon, Author (R)evolution Day, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, DBW, #DBW13, Publishers Launch, Authors Launch, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, The Bookseller, TheFutureBook

Joe Wikert

Have you read a post lately that makes you want to shake its writer’s hand? Joe Wikert’s Tools of Change blog post Length and spine width in a digital-first world is one of those.

Why do we insist on puffing up books so they have a physical presence on the shelf? Borders is gone, B&N is struggling, linear bookstore shelf footage is constantly shrinking and digital continues to grow. As an industry we seemed wedded to the thought that every book has to be a minimum length to be worth a minimum price. That logic goes out the digital window. Spine width has zero impact on ebook discovery.

I’d just finished saying to a friend that too many nonfiction books read like one chapter dragged out into 10 chapters. This is especially true of business books, with which I became painfully familiar for a time when I ran a CNN.com section called “Career.” Almost every book out on one topic or another in business had a single handle, one idea, followed by 210 or so redundant or digressive pages.

Wikert:

The business titles I skim (because most aren’t worth reading) could have been condensed to 20-30 pages max. They’re puffed up, probably by an editor who’s looking for spine width…Unless the author has a real, compelling story to tell that requires all those words I suggest they go as short as possible. I’ll pay you more if you’ll save me time.

 

Such a deal. Would that authors would take Wikert up on it.

He’s taking the Nicholas Carr-Clay Shirky debate about what digitization means for books as a starting point. (We cover it here in Ether for Authors this week at Publishing Perspectives.) And, as Shirky does, Wikert ties his message in to an allusion or two to digitization in music.

Don’t misinterpret the music lesson and assume your next digital step is to sell individual chapters. The real opportunity in publishing is to create more works that are like individual songs, where the message is short and efficient. The former is a weak extension of the current quick-and-dirty print-to-e thinking while the latter requires a digital-first mindset.

So who’s going to take Wikert up on this? Let’s see an author with a good how-to book pare it right down to that one essential idea and…leave it there. Produce it as a short, quick hit, a natively digital expression of efficiency and concision.

Call me when it’s out.

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Craft: Misery & Co.

The #1 cause of writer discontent is talking to other writers. Ironic! Talking to other writers is also the most helpful way to get support, encouragement, and knowledge about the industry.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, TOC, #TOCcon, Author (R)evolution Day, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, DBW, #DBW13, Publishers Launch, Authors Launch, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, The Bookseller, TheFutureBook

Rachelle Gardner

Agent Rachelle Gardner has struck a chord for many readers this week in her post Don’t Feed Your Discontent.

In a way, this is pretty wicked stuff, too, in an era in which authors have more ability to talk to each other than ever before. Share, share, share, reach out, reach out, reach out. Everything up to and including your margin notes are supposed to be out there flapping in the social breeze-shooting that’s euphemized these days as “community.”

Nevertheless, a large percentage of the problems writers have are from either

  1. comparing themselves with other writers, or
  2. getting inaccurate information from other writers, or
  3. hanging out in writer loops or chatrooms where discontented writers are venting their woes.

 

In many cases, envy is the problem. It’s debilitating and in the hive it can take on a buzzy life of its own that may, in fact, have nothing to do with reality. Gardner:

It’s crucial to avoid comparison, and set your own yardstick for success. Your path is not going to look like anyone else’s.

So there you go. Permission granted to turn it off. Give the Net a rest. Wave to your buddies and keep moving.

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Publishing Con­ferences: Digital Book World

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, Authors Launch, TOC Authors, Author (R)evolution Day, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, FutureBook

Workshop sessions open Tuesday at Digital Book World 2013 (#DBW13), as does the associated Children’s Publishing Goes Digital.

This is the first of the major winter conferences of the year and organizers at F+W Media are crowing about big registration numbers, they seem chuffed.

There’s still time to register for the confab, which this year moves to the Hilton New York at
Sixth and West 53rd. Have I mentioned how handy that is to MoMA, the Museum of Modern Art between Fifth and Sixth, at 11 West 53rd?

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, TOC, #TOCcon, Author (R)evolution Day, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, DBW, #DBW13, Publishers Launch, Authors Launch, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, The Bookseller, TheFutureBook Just in time for our gathering, MoMA has a special showing Edvard Munch’s The Scream—perfect for the industry! the industry!

This is the 1895 version, one of four, and the only one in private hands. It’s being loaned to MoMA for this special showing. Every time I look: metadata.

And hey, don’t come after me about cadging some illegal image of the Munch. This is the cover of MoMA’s book on the piece, from Ann Temkin, the museum’s Chief Curator of Painting and Sculpture. A real curator.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, TOC, #TOCcon, Author (R)evolution Day, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, DBW, #DBW13, Publishers Launch, Authors Launch, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, The Bookseller, TheFutureBook And another thing to make you scream: I’m hosting the PIAs.

It’s the Publishing Innovation Awards, which honor strong work in both ebook and app categories.

I’ll be ably assisted and protected by Anne Kostick, who has chaired DBW’s judging panel for this year’s competition. (She wants to do flamenco, I’m leaning toward tango. We’ll see.)

Each ebook entered into the PIA judging process is given a 13-point “QED” design review to test for readability in multiple formats and on several devices.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, TOC, #TOCcon, Author (R)evolution Day, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, DBW, #DBW13, Publishers Launch, Authors Launch, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, The Bookseller, TheFutureBook

Anne Kostick

Kostick and I will be handing out the13 awards in a special luncheon Wednesday—a hot plated lunch, not something out of a box. Tickets for the luncheon are included with a Total Access Pass registration to DBW. You can also register for it (and other elements of the conference) on this page.

When registering for the conference, you can use my affiliate link to trigger discounts, if you like, or put PORTER into the promotional code box.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, TOC, #TOCcon, Author (R)evolution Day, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, DBW, #DBW13, Publishers Launch, Authors Launch, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, The Bookseller, TheFutureBookThe hashtag is #DBW13 for the conference, which is programmed by chair Mike Shatzkin and his associates on the council.

By my count there are just over 50 sessions/events on the two main days of the conference, one busy confab, sure to spark healthy debate and terrific conversations.

F+W chief David Nussbaum opens the scream heard ’round the Hilton at the challenging hour of 8:30 a.m. Eastern / 1330 GMT on Wednesday, and sessions will run both that day and Thursday until shortly before 5 p.m.

 

And a tip to those following from afar, stick to the schedule here, and it will help you interpret the tweet storm, which will break up at times into as many as five simultaneous sessions on different topics.

There’s a list of participating companies here, just to give you a sense for the scope of the crowd this year.

Hope to see you there.

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Other Conferences Ahead, Quickly

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, Authors Launch, TOC Authors, Author (R)evolution Day, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, FutureBook, #fbook12, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Nigel Roby, The Bookseller, TheFutureBook, Digital Census

The 14th Annual Winter Conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators is set for February 1-3 in New York.

“This year’s conference features two jam-packed days of inspiration and the latest on what’s happening in the field of children’s literature from top editors, agents, art directors, authors, and illustrators. Make sure you look at the detailed description of each workshop on the Schedule before you select your breakouts.”

 

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agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, TOC, #TOCcon, Author (R)evolution Day, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, DBW, #DBW13, Publishers Launch, Authors Launch, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, The Bookseller, TheFutureBookAuthor (R)evolution Day (#TOCcon) (February 12) from O’Reilly Tools of Change and Publishers Weekly.

You’re welcome to use my code AFFILIATEPA for a discount of $350 on your registration.

WriterCube’s Kristen McLean, co-chair of the all-new confab,  has been posting a series of articles this week on what she terms the “topsy turvy” nature of the empowered writer’s process. This involves the very platform-first approach that Jane Friedman was writing about in our section above on commodity publishing, and looks at the question of an author’s place, the function of an author’s brand.

For this strategy to work, you need an identity that is more than just “I’m a writer.” It could be “I write gardening books, I live in the Pacific Northwest, and I’m inspired by nature.” Or “I’m a YA author living in Nashville, and when I’m not scribbling in coffee shops, I’m shooting pool and eating cupcakes.” Or “I’m the top flyfisherman in Montana, and I’m on a mission to teach people to fish without killing themselves. I also love beer.” Whatever it is, you should inject some real authenticity in it, because you’re going to have to walk the walk everyday for the foreseeable future.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, TOC, #TOCcon, Author (R)evolution Day, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, DBW, #DBW13, Publishers Launch, Authors Launch, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, The Bookseller, TheFutureBook McLean’s summation of how the author brand works is clever: “This is the most interesting view of you in a sentence or less.”

The stories are Topsy-Turvy: A new roadmap for book marketing and Heading towards marketing first, publishing laterwith a third installment on the way.

As part of her second post (Heading towards…), she has added some interesting input from Mark Ury of Storybird, illustrating a rather agile-like approach to product development that starts with conversation, have a look.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, TOC, #TOCcon, Author (R)evolution Day, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, DBW, #DBW13, Publishers Launch, Authors Launch, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, The Bookseller, TheFutureBook

From Mark Ury, Storybird

Also at Author (R)ev Day, I’ll be doing an onstage conversation with Grub Street’s Eve Bridburg — named one of Boston’s 50 most powerful women by Boston Magazine — on The Author Blueprint for Success as part of this program, looking forward to it.

In addition, the even features Cory Doctorow, Laura Dawson, Allen Lau, Jesse Potash, Dana Newman, and Jacob Lewis, as well as Peter Armstrong, Tim Sanders, Michael Tamblyn, Rob Eagar, Kate Pullinger, Kat Meyer, and Joe Wikert.

 

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agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, Authors Launch, TOC Authors, Author (R)evolution Day, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, FutureBook, #fbook12, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Nigel Roby, The Bookseller, TheFutureBook, Digital CensusO’Reilly Media’s Tools of Change (#TOCcon) Conference  (February 12-14) in New York City (the Marriott at Times Square).

Use my code AFFILIATEPA to save $350 on any registration package.

At #TOCcon 2013, be sure not to overlook the brace of workshops planned for February 12. While many of us will be involved in  Author (R)evolution Day (your pass must include Tuesday), the workshop sessions running all day in parallel are extensive and led by a lot of talent.

Jump in now and rate the semi-finalists for the TOC Startup Showcase — the voting is open only until Friday (January 11). This is the program that gives new ventures in publishing a leg up by showcasing them to the main conference and positioning them to network fast with key players in the industry.

And remember that code AFFILIATEPA will save you $350 on any TOC registration, no matter what package of events you choose, from Author (R)evolution Day only to the entire several days of events.

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agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, TOC, #TOCcon, Author (R)evolution Day, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, DBW, #DBW13, Publishers Launch, Authors Launch, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, The Bookseller, TheFutureBook AWP, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs — Boston, March 6-9.

AWP last year drew 10,000 attendees to Chicago, and, per its copy on the site this year, AWP “typically features 550 readings, lectures, panel discussions, and forums, as well as hundreds of book signings, receptions, dances, and informal gatherings.” The program is a service-organization event of campus departments, hence the many (many) readings by faculty members and a frequently less-than-industry-ready approach that worries some of us about real-world training the students may be missing. Not enough Munch screaming, in other words.

 

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For an updated list of planned confabs, please see the Publishing Conferences page at porteranderson.com.  If you have a publishing conference event coming, please notify me through the contact page at porteranderson.com, and I’ll be happy to consider listing it.

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Books: Reading on the Ether

As each week, the books you see here have been referenced recently in Writing on the Ether, Ether for Authors, or in tweets.

I’m bringing them together in one spot each week, to help you recall and locate them, not as an endorsement. And, needless to say, we lead our list weekly with our Writing on the Ether Sponsors, in gratitude for their support.


Writing on the Ether Sponsors


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Last Gas: Oh, Yeah, Those Guys

Some 47% of Americans are not routine book buyers. For a commodity that is so cheap, that’s a lamentable figure, but it appears that the publishing community — focused as it is on survival and maintaining what profit there is to be had in this difficult business — has suffered a failure of the imagination (shameful in a business that traffics in creativity) in how to entice readers and turn them into book buyers.

 

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Cassandra Marshall, The Stars Fell Sideways, MolliePup Press

Edward Nawotka

Edward Nawotka, Editor in Chief at Publishing Perspectives, my host for Ether for Authors on Tuesdays, in It’s Time Publishing Tries Something Radical to Entice Readershas the kind of idea that needs to be mentioned over and over and over before a business like publishing—so busy celebrating its crises—stops to listen.

Let’s start with men.

“Huh?” you ask.

Let’s be honest, it’s not as if books are difficult to come by. Public libraries lend them for free, used bookstores sell them for cheap, and some new grassroots programs like World Book Night are literally sticking some wonderful books into people’s hands for free. What’s more, with the advent of self-publishing, the industry is no longer the ivory tower it once was. The doors are open to all who want to publish a book, a number that (several years ago) was revealed to be approximately 200 million Americans — nearly all of us.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, Authors Launch, TOC Authors, Author (R)evolution Day, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, FutureBook, #fbook12, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Nigel Roby, The Bookseller, TheFutureBook, Digital CensusMaybe it’s all become too comfortable. Can we afford to keep saying, “Oh, men will never read like women do?”

We have a lot of men, you know. Shirtless, kissing beautiful women on romance covers. What if we taught them to read?

Seriously, many of us believe that men, in fact, already read more than they’re given credit for doing, and more than they let on. Not for nothing do they love ereaders and tablets: you can’t tell what they’re reading.

Nawotka has told me of an enviable men’s book club of which he’s a member, it’s been running for many years. In my experience, men read more widely, across more genres, with more open minds, than some folks in our assumption-laden business concede.

Nawotka:

My guess is that an overwhelming number of that 47% is male and it seems like a sensible proposition to target the most obvious group we know who don’t regularly buy books and read.

Hard to argue with this supposition. Hard to imagine the potential isn’t there.

I mean, as long as the guys are on the book covers, anyway, why not turn them into readers?

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Main image / iStockphoto: Chris-Mueller


Upcoming Online Classes

Posted in Writing on the Ether.

Porter Anderson / @Porter_Anderson

Porter Anderson (@Porter_Anderson) is a journalist and consultant in publishing. He's The Bookseller's (London) Associate Editor in charge of The FutureBook. He's a featured writer with Thought Catalog (New York), which carries his reports, commentary, and frequent Music for Writers interviews with composers and musicians. And he's a regular contributor of "Provocations in Publishing" with Writer Unboxed. Through his consultancy, Porter Anderson Media, Porter covers, programs, and speaks at publishing conferences and other events in Europe and the US, and works with various players in publishing, such as Library Journal's SELF-e, Frankfurt Book Fair's Business Club, and authors. You can follow his editorial output at Porter Anderson Media, and via this RSS link.

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22 Comments on "WRITING ON THE ETHER: Trafficking in Publishing’s Commodities"

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Roz Morris fiction
3 years 7 months ago
Have to laugh at your remarks about obesity in how-to books. A shameless plug follows, I’m afraid, but I hope it also illustrates your point. My writing book, Nail Your Novel, was rejected by mainstream publishers because it was considered too wee – 40k words instead of the 80k they wanted. ‘But writers don’t want another great tome,’ I argued. ‘They’re struggling to make time to write, and they don’t want a huge book. Plus I’ve been a sub-editor and I cannot, will not, stand for bloated, flabby books.’ ‘Away with you,’ they said, and so I entrusted it to… Read more »
Porter Anderson
3 years 7 months ago
@twitter-329334210:disqus Hey, Roz! Thanks for your good comment, first out of the gate on the new Ether. I actually like your example of the pushback you got from publishers on Nail Your Novel. I have the book — I can recommend it, in fact — and I agree with lots of your fans that its brevity is a huge asset. So many of these things have one or two tips and then are padded out for chapter after chapter of redundant nonsense and ridiculous digressions. Joe Wikert is all too right, and your Nail Your Novel is a perfect case… Read more »
Cyd Madsen
3 years 7 months ago

I second that, Roz, which is why I pimped your book without shame on my blog. If I read one more case study as padding, I would have started throwing plastic bananas sooner.

Perhaps that’s why the men with no shirts are so popular? Readers don’t have to dig through bothersome clothing getting to the goods?

Mr. Anderson’s round-up is another excellent case in point. I think we’re all breathless after reading this and ready to rock-n-roll.

Roz Morris fiction
3 years 7 months ago

‘Readers don’t have to dig through the bothersome clothing.’ Cyd, you always breeze in with a perfect, pithy analysis. 🙂

James Scott Bell
3 years 7 months ago
Re: “commodity” publishing. I’ve been saying this ever since “the boom” was a boomlet and people were going, “Whu?” about digital publishing: it’s like the mass market boom post WWII. Fast, cheap, genre, and it sold a ton. And a lot of it wasn’t, well, all that great. But guess what? Within that market emerged those who WERE writing with an obvious quality. John D. MacDonald. Gil Brewer. Charles Williams. Richard Prather. Ross Macdonald. And guess what else? They rose to the top. Or maybe not all the way to the top, but certainly more than halfway up the glass.… Read more »
Porter Anderson
3 years 7 months ago
@jamesscottbell:disqus Well, Balzac (and it’s only thanks to the coffee that I didn’t go to bed “with the chickens” tonight), My hat’s off to you on the emphasis on quality because, of course, you’re teaching and writing a great deal about “the freaking craft” — the Ether may just have to adopt that phrase — and the volume of your output could suggest to the casual passerby (at Starbucks, of course) that you weren’t as intent on “the freaking craft,” as of course you are. Surgeons surging without studying THEIR freaking craft are unthinkable. I can’t imagine why our writers… Read more »
Eric G.
Eric G.
3 years 7 months ago
This was a fairly interesting edition of the Ether. The indie authors with wide followings are all high quality – for their genres. Hugh Howey is an example, or Nathan Lowell, Liliana Hart. There are many, hundreds if not more, and quality is not an issue. We’re at issue wtih literary fiction vs. genre fiction, in other words entertainment vs. art. There is a definite “art” to making a good, high quality genre book, but that’s different from aspiring to be a WORK of art. That’s the difference between genre fiction and literary fiction. And quantity isn’t a driving factor… Read more »
GrigoryRyzhakov
GrigoryRyzhakov
3 years 7 months ago

I feel like this cactus in the desert, but I love my thorns and cuticle, the sun and solitude 🙂

Porter Anderson
3 years 7 months ago

@GrigoryRyzhakov:disqus

Especially the solitude.Where the deer and the antelope play. And there are so blissfully few shirtless men kissing beautiful women. Because who has enough sunscreen? Enjoy that romance-free zone, Grisha.

-p.

GrigoryRyzhakov
GrigoryRyzhakov
3 years 7 months ago

Porter, was it teasing on your side or it’s an ironic coincidence that my next book is a comic romance called “Mr Right and Mr Wrong” ? No shirtless men on the cover though (I’ll save them for a sequel) 🙂

Porter Anderson
3 years 7 months ago

God, not you, too, man. My case proven. It’s all romance now. 🙂

Porter Anderson
3 years 7 months ago
@8ef89c9099420e312cbb1fb529657130:disqus Hi, Eric, thanks for this thoughtful input. In the main, I think you’ve got it pretty well parsed. While it galls many genre people to hear this said, literary fiction is the province of “art writing,” if you will, in the same way that there are and will always be genuine artists on canvas, and then there are the “entertainment painters” such as the late Thomas Kinkade. Those endless glowing cottages in lakeside forests he produced and had staffers reproduce for sale represent one of the most virulent examples of “entertainment artistry” I hope we ever have to endure.… Read more »
Victoria Noe
3 years 7 months ago
I have no theoretical problem with more shirtless men on book covers, as long as they’re not the Bleacher Bums at Wrigley Field. But my comment is about libraries and who’s purchasing/licensing what. When I was selling books to Chicago Public School librarians, my opening line was “what do you need?” One librarian got up, walked over to the corner, pointed to 4 empty shelves and said “I need 500’s” (science, for those unfamiliar with Dewey). Since 70% of what I sold was science, we came to a happy agreement. I think it would be fascinating to find out what… Read more »
Porter Anderson
3 years 7 months ago
@twitter-240542789:disqus All good on libraries, Viki, and I used the same verb you did — because I’m as afraid of librarians as any other sensible American — “need.” As I write in the piece, I’m all for librarians getting what they need. And if they can get it from Mark Coker, more power to Mark Coker and the authors who Smash their Words on his platform. I can use your experience, though, and speculate — here is where I may be unfair — that if the scary librarians pointed to empty 500s shelves because they wanted science books, those science… Read more »
Victoria Noe
3 years 7 months ago

Totally agree, Porter: what exactly did those 10,000 ebooks look like?
Now, there could be a lot of children’s books, or more likely YA. There could be memoirs. But most likely it’s overwhelmingly fiction – not that there’s anything wrong with that.
School librarians have to purchase books to align with the curriculum. What is the standard for public librarians?
I’m curious, too.

Porter Anderson
3 years 7 months ago
@twitter-240542789:disqus The flip side of this question, too, Viki, is what the uptake on the part of library patrons might (or might not) be. Knowing there are waiting lists for popular ebooks available at libraries — those books being ones that traditional houses have produced and that marketing efforts have publicized. Do library patrons then turn easily to an inventory of books they’ve never heard of, by authors they’ve never encountered? Maybe they do. I’ve been amazed how readily some people will watch b-grade, straight-to-video films with actors they don’t know and unfamiliar production teams. it seems to be Jane’s… Read more »
GrigoryRyzhakov
GrigoryRyzhakov
3 years 7 months ago
I would expand what Wickert said about non-fiction losing useless fat to fiction as well. How many novels I have read and thought they would benefit from “literary” liposaction. Countless. In terms of Friedman’s argument on quality, I actually agree with her. I meet so many knowitall indies, virtual rotten eggs are flying my way by now, who seem to think of themselves as literary phenomena, while in reality… I can’t judge my own work, though I’d rather call myself a writer understudy , but even Tolstoy and Dostoevsky had problems with quality, because editors often treated their work as… Read more »
Porter Anderson
3 years 7 months ago
@GrigoryRyzhakov:disqus Grisha, you’re likely the best thing the DCL found in its grocery bag of ebooks from Smashwords, thanks for donating your books to them! And yes, I have two words from you about overwriiten, needed-editing fiction: Tom Clancy. A case, as you cite with Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and so many others, of reaching that airy vale of “master” in which editors fear to trundle on over to say, “you know, man, that new one is 50,000 words too long, cut it and bring it back to me.” Fiction as well as nonfiction is frequently guilty of the spine-width fixation. In… Read more »
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