WRITING ON THE ETHER: Literature on Thin Ice

 

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Table of Contents

  1. Driving It On Over the Cliff
  2. On Being an Open Book: To Find More Books
  3. Ode to O’Reilly
  4. An Expensive 30 Cents: The UK’s 20p Promotion
  5. Craft: Sizing Up a Book’s Performance
  6. Craft: A Wee Bit of ISBN Homework
  7. Craft: ‘Legitimacy’ and Traditional Publishers
  8. Books: Reading on the Ether
  9. Conferences: New Tweet Chats for TOC’s Author (R)evolution Day
  10. Last Gas: Getting a Number on Book Buyers

 

Driving It On Over the Cliff

I started the week asking, in effect, whether the industry! the industry! is becoming so fixated on its digital Sturm und Drang that it’s forgetting its art, that content which, author and Ether sponsor Roz Morris reminds us, is supposed to be king.

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Colleen Hoover

It can happen to any business that brokers creativity in the marketplace, especially when P&Ls are upended by fast, deep transition.

The news industry forgot itself, too.

That’s why I got into this week in Ether for Authors at Publishing Perspectives with a look at a chance missed at the highly regarded Digital Book World Conference to hear some of Hugh Howey’s tradition-scrubbing Wool text while we had him there.

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Howey, with characteristic generosity, writes the Hoover news on his own site in a short post, Sensing a trend…:

This is an even bigger development than my agreement, because it signals a trend rather than an anecdote. How long before other publishers realize they need to offer similar concessions to successful indies or miss out on ready profits? How long before established authors ask to retain digital rights for new books in popular series?

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J.F. Penn

This is the sound of another digital train leaving the station, he’s right. I’m not even sure some of S&S’ sister publishers are happy to see these contracts walking out the door. They’re being hailed by some in the self-publishing community as representing a pivotal moment, of course.

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Joanna Penn, another Ether sponsor who writes as J.F. Penn and joined me on a panel at the Bookseller’s FutureBook Conference in London, makes the apt observation that leaving e-rights in the hands of a strongly selling author is smart  because publishers can expect that author to remain more engaged in marketing.

Some authorial skin is left in the promotional game.

In return, I’ve suggested to Penn that the publishing house, itself, is more highly incentivized, too, because it now has a genuine partner in the author: it’s to each parties’ advantage to coordinate and augment each other’s marketing efforts, hands across the formats.

 

Jennie Coughlin

Jennie Coughlin

I applaud Hoover’s success, of course, and am watching with everyone else for the development of this trend Howey and others are hailing. I don’t know how many contracts add up to a trend, but this is at least a pattern for now, and it does appear to be breaking the stranglehold of all-rights-controlled contracts.

But Hoover’s moment in the sun of Simon and Schuster brings me to a different concern.

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Critic Porter Anderson has been talking recently about the rise in “shirtless” fiction — romance, romance and more romance. For Porter, it’s akin to the 25-cent paperbacks people can buy by the bag at library book sales and used book stores. Easily read, easily discarded. He’s been pushing what he’s calling #legitlit and #seriouswriting — stories that make you think. Is that literary fiction? That might depend on who you ask.

It’s like hearing your own voice on a recording—”I sound like that?”—to read your thoughts being extensively played back by someone else.

But Coughlin does it with a lot of finesse in her post Serious Fiction and #LegitLit: Creating a Hybrid Home. And in the process, she probably introduces my own topic more gracefully than I might have done. I thank her for that.

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Michael Hogan

A quick clarification: When Coughlin writes “Creating a Hybrid Home” in her headline, she’s not referring so much to the “hybrid” author who, like Howey and Hoover, both self-publishes and traditionally publishes—something discussed at length in Ether for Authors in regards to a Writer’s Digest and Digital Book World survey.

Instead, Coughlin is looking for a combination of commercial and literary elements that come together as what I’ve begun hashtagging as #legitlit or #seriouswriting.

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She’s conjuring the kind of thing you can find, for example, in Michael Hogan’s Sistine, a literary thriller from The Rogue Reader. Or, in case you haven’t read it yet, in Howey’s Wool—there’s a literary dystopian sensibility at work in the original five-novella omnibus, which is why some critics refer to Bradbury and Orwell in reference to Howey’s work.

Generally dubbed literary, herself, Coughlin is wishing for a less punishing caste system in how we label “the product.” She writes:

Genre has taken on a connotation that is the opposite of serious fiction. More and more there are books out there that don’t fall into either category. If more people adopt the “serious fiction” category, maybe we can start to build a new genre.

Me, I’m just looking for better books and fewer shirtless men kissing beautiful women.

We need to see publishers rethink propping up this glut of erotic romance as if it’s something that Anaïs Nin dropped by and endorsed on the loading dock. #Cmonson. A mercenary indulgence in sales of soft pornography is tantamount to super-sizing French fry orders during the obesity epidemic.

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Burton Pike

Did you read the indictments of the CUNY Graduate Center’s Burton Pike, written for the German Book Office and carried this week at Publishing Perspectives? In Cultural Homogeneity and the Future of Literary Translation, Pike writes of flattened national voices and the rise of a “generic international content”:

This cultural change also affects how writers themselves regard language…The author notes that younger writers in English are…less likely to know foreign languages, less likely to be interested in the forms of language, including their own, and who, because they regard language as instrumental rather than essential, are less in love with language as part of their literary work.

As an astute and innovative insider in the business said to me the other day, it’s all penny dreadfuls. Of whatever genre.

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Among Burton Pike’s translations: Rainer Maria Rilke’s The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge

And my point is that we’re selling so many penny dreadfuls—and getting so accustomed to seeing bookish bonbons as the rightful work of the industry! the industry!—that we could be losing our grip on what literature really is. Anti-intellectualism and bonus checks won’t revive  literature as what Pike terms “the sacred bearer of high culture.” When has the big news been that a self-published literary novel was picked up by a major house?

Even drenched in our digital baptism, we could still be about our fathers’ business. It had to do with our cultural relationships with each other. Remember? That’s what ennobled publishing. Penny dreadfuls were out there, but they weren’t presented to the public as front-table season-starters. And we weren’t up to our asses in them, either.

Here’s Coughlin, remembering a friend’s comment about the work of Doris Lessing:

He said she’s one of his favorite authors because, “She’s one of those authors who makes me not want to read another book for a long time because there’s always a lot to absorb and reflect upon.”

What makes this subject hard to handle, of course, is that as soon as you mention literary work, you’re assumed to be bad-mouthing genre. I’m not doing that. Neither is Coughlin. But many folks who work in genre seem to be defensive on the subject—although it should surprise nobody that with the Internet prompting all but sixteen people on the face of the planet to write books, the most populist genre formulations are going to dominate the output.

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Edward Nowotka

Publishing Perspectives’ Edward Nawotka follows Pike’s essay with the question, “When the language of commerce (and sex) dominates everything, where is there room for the political or cultural?”

Good question.

I’m not completely in sync with Coughlin when she mentions agent Donald Maass’ call for Writing 21st Century Fiction as a match for the #legitlit I’m talking about.

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Donald Maass

Maass does assert that the commercial work he advocates transcends genre and involves rich characterization. But he also calls for “high impact” as an essential element, a successor to his longtime writing-course mantra, “tension on every page.” I think this “impact” business (the product, Maass writes, of “great stories and beautiful writing”) can too easily be another sop to readers who won’t go forward into fiction without the promise of a good car chase. Or of shirtless men kissing  beautiful woman.

Coughlin, trying valiantly to define what “#legitlit” signifies to her, writes:

Those books that have enough depth and meaning that we find ourselves reflecting on the book, the characters and the story in the hours, days and weeks that follow, those are serious fiction, or #legitlit.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road PressI’m delighted if #legitlit sticks with readers. As I’ve written before, Nevil Shute (Maass and I share a keen fondness for Shute’s work) taught me the shuddering grace of what Coughlin is describing when I couldn’t shake the shadow of the radioactivity moving toward Australia in On the Beach. I get what she’s saying very well.

But I’d like to suggest that where we, as the community of publishing, need to focus today is on the relentless invasion of cultural dynamics by entertainment.

What I mean when I hashtag something #seriouswriting or #legitlit (which can be fiction or nonfiction) is that entertainment is not its priority.

Most good #legitlit is entertaining. But its intent lies in ideas, principles, concepts—not in “sit back and relax” feel-good entertainment.

Here’s something I learned from London-based husband-and-wife authors Dave and Roz Morris. They know an editor who was involved in trying to land the hardback release of Howey’s Wool—just out this week there from Random House UK. The editor, say Morris and Morris, filled them in on the background story of Howey’s self-publishing coup the rise of his book to publisher-wooing levels.

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We know one of the editors who was in bidding for Wool. Told us about the genre and sales. Never once mentioned it was well-written. I had no idea until I looked at your sample [in Ether for Authors]. In all the convs we had with this editor, Hugh’s quality was irrelevant.

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On Being an Open Book: To Find More Books

Privacy freaks are ready to explode at this point. They can’t imagine why anyone would allow themselves to be tracked this closely. Fine. They don’t have to participate. I would though, especially if it leads to better recommendations. And I bet it would.

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Joe Wikert

An interesting, short piece from O’Reilly Media’s Joe Wikert.

In Towards a better book recommendation service, he notes the peculiar results Laura Hazard Owen reports on trying Random House’s new Facebook app Bookscout.

Her piece is the delightfully headlined Random House’s new Facebook app: If you liked Evelyn Waugh, you’ll love the Berenstein Bears at paidContent.

In it, Owen writes: 

The app draws on Facebook’s Open Graph to provide recommendations. This is why my initial six book recommendations are about coffee. Because apparently I’ve talked about coffee on Facebook a lot, and I also have it listed as one of my Facebook interests. I do like coffee — I’m drinking some right now, in fact — but that doesn’t mean I want to read books about it.

Laura Hazard Owen

Even more worrisome:

I’m also not sure why the app seemingly fails to make any recommendations based on the twenty books and authors I have listed as favorites on my actual Facebook page. For example, I say that I like Alice Munro, Jhumpa Lahiri and Evelyn Waugh.

A moment’s pause here for some awfully fine #legitlit mentioned there. Hats tipped.

With both these folks, Wikert and Owen, you’re seeing one of their greatest strengths as publishing observers—they always test things out. As we follow the bouncing startups these days, you can keep your eye on Owen and Wikert. They check out whereof they write.

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Reading Laura’s post reminded me of something a wise person told me last year: Just because I’m Facebook friends with you doesn’t mean we have the same reading interests. In fact, I’d be willing to bet my reading interests don’t map very well to any of my friends, real or virtual. That’s the problem. We try to take one aspect of our lives and have it spit out book recommendations.

 

His suggestion?

I’d like to propose a completely new book recommendation model. Rather than just looking at my Facebook friends, who I follow on Twitter or any other single activity, why not roll them all together and build an algorithm around everything I do online? Monitor my Gmail. Track every website I visit. Keep a record of the various searches I do on Google. Log all the books I look at on bn.com, Google Play and every other catalog I visit.

Obviously not for the faint of heart online. But Wikert is looking around a corner toward days we know are coming—when data-tracking feels less invasive and service-responsiveness achieves the sky-high premium you glimpse in such ideas.

Be here before you know it.

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Ode to O’Reilly

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That’s hardly to minimize the importance of those events, and particularly the Tools of Change for Publishing conference, coming up February 12-14:

It would take forever to note…the significance of O’Reilly’s Tools of Change conferences, which are the learning camp for all publishers developing a digital strategy.

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Joseph J. Esposito

But Esposito is describing—from his base in scholarly publishing—a bigger, gathering community of forces “designed not to be controlled by a single authority but to permit, even to evangelize for, as broad a participation as possible.”

Such a development, he writes, is characterized by:

  • Small pieces loosely joined.
  • No single controlling authority.
  • Skepticism about DRM.
  • Strong interest in social media.
  • An interest in D2C marketing.

There’s something in this lens on the digital dynamic that, while based in the massive scholarly market, which lies adjacent to trade, may nevertheless inform what’s to come on the broader scale. If the digital dynamic continues to destabilize the old structures, the field may finally clear for something closer to what Esposito envisions.

And, as he puts it, we do have a sort of lodestar in place.

There is a philosophical center based in Sebastopol, CA, home of O’Reilly Media. We can now see the O’Reilly group implementing a strategy to counter the aggressive and proprietary moves of Amazon and Apple. It is too much to call this the O’Reilly ecosystem, but Tim O’Reilly’s influence can be felt everywhere.

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An Expensive 30 Cents: The UK’s 20p Promotion

Sony’s 20 pence e-book promotion is one of the more curious price strategies, even for a sector that is no stranger to selling its most desirable products at a loss. But 20p takes it to another level. There appears to be little benefit to the instigator (Sony), except that it is costing its imitator and rival (Amazon) millions. Publishers in general decry the pricing, and yet those caught in the headlights will be reaping huge financial rewards, as will their authors.

 

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Philip Jones

The Bookseller’s Philip Jones has raised some eyebrows with numbers around that “curious” (indeed) price strategy in the United Kingdom this week in his blog post at The Bookseller’s The FutureBook site, The 20p e-book is starting to reshape the e-book market.

 

One of the several intriguing points in what Jones is revealing here is that Sony’s apparently open-ended “promotion” (is it really a promotion if it goes on indefinitely?) is that it can have an expensive impact on Amazon, when it matches the barrel-bottom price in the UK, emphasis mine:

The numbers (those we have) are compelling. Life of Pi has sold 250,000 copies as a 20p e-book since Christmas. The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared, published by indie Hesperus Press, sold 145k copies in 2012, and currently sits behind Life of Pi in the Kindle bestseller lists. The former is priced at £7.99 by Canongate, and the latter £8.99 by Hesperus, suggesting that each sale could be costing Sony/Amazon as much as £3 (based on typical wholesale terms). Since Amazon is selling many more e-books than Sony, it is costing Amazon many more millions of pounds to price-match.

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Pan Macmillan has seen a number of its bestsellers priced by Sony at 20p, including Fifty Sheds [CQ] of GreyThe Stranger’s ChildDead Man’s Grip, and Perfect People. In 2012 its e-book sales grew by more than 200% to 4.5m. The consequence is that Pan Macmillan’s marketshare of the digital market is roughly double what it is of the print book market (7%, against 4%). At Faber titles such as The Expats, Capital, and Safe House, have been caught up in the scheme. Its e-book sales have also outpaced others, with e-book sales values in 2012 up by 260% compared to 2011.

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But here’s the rub. The important bit. The amount paid by the consumer for their e-books will be smaller. At the moment the top five e-books selling in the UK via the Kindle store are priced at 20p. Canongate says that Life of Pi is racking up sales of 10,000 every day, meaning that even at a conservative measure of the other titles relative performances, we might be talking about 10% of the overall e-book market that is books selling at 20p. At consumer prices that would have had a dampening impact on last year’s numbers: if 10% of those 65m e-books were actually sold at 20p, then the value of the market at consumer prices would look more like £215m.

It’s an immediately pertinent read for our colleagues on the UK side, a sobering study for those of us outside the British markets. As Jones writes:

If this persists, in 2013 as the rate of volume growth accelerates, the rate of value growth will continue to diminish. The consumer will be paying less for more. Significantly less, for significantly more, in fact…If we are not careful 20p will start to redefine the e-book business in the UK.

 

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Mike Shatzkin

In related readingBuying is a hard thing for bookstores to do effectively, and that becomes an increasingly important reality for publishers is the kind of analysis piece Mike Shatzkin does well, drawing on his born-to-it family background in the business.

The inventory management challenge is one that some publishers have tried to help bookstores with for years. My father, Leonard Shatzkin, instituted the Doubleday Merchandising Plan in 1957, by which the reps walked out of stores with physical inventory counts (there were no computerized inventory tracking systems back then) instead of purchase orders.

This is an extensive layout of the challenge of buying well for a bookstore—”The fact is that a single store, almost regardless of the quality of its systems and its management, has to guess at what will be the right books to order most of the time..The best tool for more nuanced inventory management, for a long time, has been to have a bookstore chain.”

And you know what’s happening to bookstore chains. This is a good read that helps clarify the odds facing our booksellers:

Even if a store knew, title by title, exactly what the right inventory level is (and they don’t, and it changes day to day, anyway), keeping the right books in stock is a challenge.

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Craft: Sizing Up a Book’s Performance

My own guess, based on watching my sales profile over the years, is that print, eBook and audiobook do not inherently cannibalize each others’ sales — it seems to me that for each there is a class of reader that is “native” to each — that is, there is a group of readers who strongly prefers print over eBook or audio, another group who prefers eBook strongly to the other formats, and a third group (correlated, I imagine, with people who have long commutes) who strongly prefer audiobook.

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John Scalzi

In The State of a Genre Title, 2013, author John Scalzi offers a rigorous look at the sales of one of his books, Redshirts, as its original print edition is overtaken by paperback.

Yesterday Redshirts, my most recent novel prior to The Human Division, was made available in trade paperback format, which formally ended its hardcover format era.

With a handsome 79,279 total sold copies across formats, Scalzi proceeds to draw a series of smart, considered opinions that any author can use to generate goals and touchstones for gauging progress and a way forward. For example:

These are healthy sales, and importantly they are healthy and reasonably balanced across the formats the book was available in. This is an important thing because while people like to talk about eBooks being the future, or audiobooks increasing in popularity, the fact of the matter is that print sales continue to be important, and a solid author presence in physical book stores also continues to be important. For me to lose any of these formats — or to discount their importance — would represent a substantial loss of sales and income.

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This sales profile also indicates to me that choosing to work with established publishers — in this case Tor (for print and eBooks) and Audible (for audiobooks) — is a smart decision for me. There are arguments made for self-publishing, and many people will make them, but at this point, for the majority of self-published authors, self-publishing primarily gains you access to eBook sales. Print sales are difficult (because it is difficult to place books into bookstores, particularly chains, on a non-returnable basis), and by and large self-pubbed audiobooks are still an emerging market. Working with established publishers gets my work into as many sales channels as possible.

This is a useful model for any writer in self-evaluation and gauging a way forward. As Scalzi writes:

Science fiction books often sell more in paperback. I won’t mind if that’s true here, too.

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Craft: A Wee Bit of ISBN Homework

Essentially, all an identifier does is say, “This thing is not that thing.” It doesn’t say what the thing is, or offer any insight about any of the thing’s characteristics.

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, Bowker

Laura Dawson

If you’ll be joining us at TOC’s Author (R)evolution Day—hashtagged #ARDay and Kate Pullinger is threatening to rename herself Arday Pullinger—then you know you’re going to hear from Bowker’s Data Diva Laura Dawson of Staten Island in a special session, Eat Your Data, It’s Good For You.

I made that up. It’s actually called Embracing Data.

Shirtless men kissing beautiful women.

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 The cool thing about this (even though we’ll all be white-knuckled going in, I know) is that it’s the first time I know of that an industry-class expert of the standing of Dawson has “done data” for authors. Brace yourself, look away, think about Campari: Metadata! There, I said it. Keep breathing. It’s OK.

In A thought on identifiers and books, Dawson does a tiny, easy primer on “identifiers.” ISBNs are identifiers. And the interesting thing (it really is) is that there are three key factors to consider in identifiers, fun to know about: (1) granularity, (2) semantic opacity—like most of my writing—and (3) persistence.

An identifier expresses uniqueness. And that’s all it expresses.

So check out her short, cool post and remember the Marriott has lots of lounge space. We may need it.

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Craft: ‘Legitimacy’ and Traditional Publishers

When I could say, “My third novel is being published by Penguin,” I was not just a wanna-be hopeful novelist. I was legit! I was chosen! Pitching book reviewers was a breeze. Attending high school reunions was a delight. When I ran into more famous writers, we met as colleagues, exchanging e-mails, making dates for lunch. Now that I am self publishing, I am no different than the crazy cat lady down the block who has been working on her memoir for 17 years or the guy at the street fair hawking Xeroxed pamphlets of his poetry about fruit.

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

Jennie Nash

Not a view to warm the winter of a committed self-publisher, maybe, author Jennie Nash’s commentary in a guest post for agent Rachelle Gardner nevertheless has the kind of ring of truth that makes it important to include in a well-rounded look at writers’ options.

Her post, Five Surprises About Self-Publishing, is hardly all bad news, either.

The joy of getting a book into the hands of readers is absolute. Whether my book is published by a team of experts in a gleaming New York skyscraper or by me, all by myself in my office at the front of the house, nothing can dilute the feeling of having a reader connect with something I wrote. Readers don’t care about how a book is published; they care about the story.

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 This is an interesting case, in that Nash chose to self-publish only after having come out with six books through traditional contracts. Her seventh book is a historical novel set in 1950s New York, Perfect Red. And her position at the time she made her decision will sound familiar to many authors with legacy deals:

I was a midlist writer getting midlist attention, and the midlist was starting to feel like purgatory.

One of the more telling of her points involves the “other side” of working with a publisher on a book’s design, that tug-of-war you hear some writers discuss over the finest details of presentation and a book’s authentic basis.

I understand now why my covers always felt like a compromise. Photos and illustrations and super cool font treatments are expensive and now that I have to pay for it myself, I see that the economics of publishing simple don’t warrant that kind of expense unless you expect to sell 500,000 copies – and unless you’re Stephen King, you can’t start out with that expectation.

A departure from the usual romp out of the legacy house, Nash’s post is worth a look.

 

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Rachelle Gardner

And in related reading: Rachelle Gardner’s own new ebook with author and editor Michelle DeRusha, How Do I Decide? Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing, now is out and listing at $3.99 on Amazon.

It’s the first in a planned series of books for authors. Gardner, who is with Santa Rosa-based  Books & Such literary agency now, has a background prior to agenting in international rights, editorial and acquisition, marketing and sales.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Books in Browsers, Internet Archive, Tools of Change, Pearson, Penguin, Random House, O'Reilly MediaShe’s no stranger to regular Ethernauts. I refer to her blog posts for writers quite frequently because Gardner is a member of the agents’ camp whose interest in demystifying the process is serious and healthy.

Still, it’s been interesting to see some low-level dismissive noises come across on tweets about her book from folks who apparently feel that an active, experienced, sitting agent like Gardner shouldn’t be advising writers. Even when she is, herself, a self-publisher who—I have this directly from her—has uploaded her book to Amazon and other sites personally in the middle of the night. Just like the writers who might want to read her.

You begin to wonder at times just what it takes to pass muster for some folks in these times of change and chatter.

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https://twitter.com/RobCornellBooks/status/294121648498561024

 

Books: Reading on the Ether

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 A note on another new release this week—when producing one of the two largest Stateside publishing conferences of the year isn’t enough, Digital Book World puts out an ebook.

Its first, actually.

Finding the Future of Digital Book Publishing comprises 19 interviews with members of the industry! the industry! put together by Jeremy Greenfield and Deanna Utroske.

You can download a copy of it free for a limited time here.

And as each week, the books you see below have been referenced recently in Writing on the Ether, Ether for Authors, or in my tweets.

I’m bringing them together in one spot each week, to help you recall and locate them, not as an endorsement. And 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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Conferences: New Tweet Chats for TOC’s Author (R)evolution Day

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

 

This week, the all-new Author (R)evolution Day (#ARDay) conference-within-a-conference—produced by O’Reilly Media’s Tools of Change team and Bookigee’s Kristen McLean—begins a series of three Friday Twitter chats.

Each is at 4pET / 1pPT / 2100 GMT, and features speakers lined up for the conference.

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

Kat Meyer

The first round on Friday, January 25, includes hosts McLean and TOC’s inestimable Kat Meyer and is on The Benefits of Bookish Community Building for Authors, with #ARDay speakers:

  • WattPad’s Allen Lau (@allenlau)
  • Mark Jeffrey (@markjeffrey), author of the Max Quick series and serial entrepreneur
  • Jesse Potash of Publush (@pubslush)
  • Rob Eagar of Wild Fire Marketing (@robeagar).

There are still some spots left in the February 12 program in New York City, and you’re welcome to use discount code AFFILIATEPA to save $350 on registration (for Author (R)evolution Day or any other TOC package). I’ll be there and will be glad to see you.

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As usual, please let me know of conferences you’d like me to consider listing though my contact page. And for more about these, see my site’s page on publishing conferences.
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.”

February 12 New York City at the Marriott Marquis New York in Times Square. A first-ever author-dedicated daylong conference from the O’Reilly Media Tools of Change team, led by Joe Wikert, Kat Meyer, and Kristen McLean.

TOC Author ( R )evolution Day: “This one-day conference-within-a-conference from the thought leaders at Tools of Change and Publishers Weekly is designed specifically for professional authors, content creators, agents, and independent author service providers who want to move beyond “Social Media 101” to a more robust dialogue about the opportunities in today’s rapidly shifting landscape.”

February 12-14 New York City (again at Marriot Marquis Times Square) O’Reilly Media’s Tools of Change for Publishing Conference: “Every February, the publishing industry gathers at the O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing Conference (TOC) to explore the forces that are transforming publishing and focus on solutions to the most critical issues facing the publishing world. TOC sells out every year—don’t miss its potent mix of fabulous people and invaluable information.” Under the direction of Joe Wikert and Kat Meyer.

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 March 6-9 Boston AWP, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs AWP last year drew 10,000 attendees to icy Chicago (it looked like 40,000 attendees when everybody’s coats were on), 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 labyrinthine book fair is said to have featured some 600 exhibitors last year. 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.

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

April 17 New York City paidContent Live: Riding the Transformation of the Media industry Brisk and bracing, last year’s paidContent Live conference was efficient, engaging, and enlightening, not least for the chance to see many of the talented journalists of Om Malik’s GigaOM/paidContent team work onstage — Laura Hazard Owen, Mathew Ingram, Jeff John Roberts (in history’s most difficult interview), Robert Andrews, Ernie Sander, et al. Among speakers listed for this year’s busy day: Jonah Peretti, Jason Pontin, Chris Mohney, Erik Martin, David Karp, Mark Johnson, Aria Haghighi, Matt Galligan, Rachel Chou, Lewis D’Vorkin, John Borthwick, Andrew Sullivan, Jon Steinberg, Alan Rusbridger, Evan Ratliff, and, of course, the two people the law says absolutely must be in every publishing conference, Dominique Raccah and Michael Tamblyn.

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

 May 2-5 Oxford, Mississippi Oxford Creative Nonfiction Writers Conference & Workshops Susan Cushman follows her Memphis Creative Nonfiction confab with this year’s gathering at the shrine. Among faculty members: Neil White, Leigh Feldman, Lee Gutkind, Dinty W. Moore, Beth Ann Fennelly, Bob Guccione Jr. and Lee Martin. Pre-conference workshops or just the creature itself, your choice.

Grub StreetMay 3-5 Boston The Muse & the Marketplace 2013 is a production of Eve Bridberg’s fast-rising non-profit Grub Street program. It’s material reads tells us that organizers plan more than “110 craft and publishing sessions led by top-notch authors, editors, agents and publicists from around the country. The Manuscript Mart, the very popular and effective one-on-one manuscript reviews with agents and editors, will also span 3 days. We expect nearly 800 writers and publishing professionals to attend, while maintaining the conference’s wonderfully intimate, ‘grubby’ energy that we love.”

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Last Gas: Getting a Number on Book Buyers

Publishers Weekly reported Bowker’s “Book Consumers by the Numbers” data from last week’s Digital Book World conference, and it’s been interesting to see how people use the numbers to push their pet narratives about the state of the industry.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, DBW Discoverability and Marketing Conference, #DBWDM, Digital Book World, F+W Media

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez is an Ether sponsor, the former director of Digital Book World, and now with Media Source / Library Journals, LLC. And when he saw those numbers from Bowker’s research in Sharon Lubrano’s presentation at DBW’s conference—and how folks were using them (and re-using them)—he decided to recommend a little spin of his own.

In Book Consumers by the Numbers: A Different Spin, he writes:

Here’s a few twists I’d focus on if I was running a book publishing company and trying to figure out where the opportunities are.

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

Gonzalez takes that first figure: 60 Percentage of book buyers who are female. And he echos a recent observation from Publishing Perspectives’ Edward Nawotka (“let’s start with men”) in saying:

40% are men, an underserved tertiary market with growth potential.

Take another slide:

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

 

Look at that third figure: 29 Percentage of e-books bought by people under 30.

Gonzalez’ take:

People over 30 buy the vast majority of ebooks; so much for that digital native meme.

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 CensusIt’s a useful set of views on these numbers, and ends with Gonzalez wondering aloud whether Bowker has correlated book buyers with library patronage. I put that question to Bowker’s Carl Kulo, always helpful, and, sure enough, got an answer:

We ask our book consumers whether they have visited a public library in the last 12 months. We began asking this in 2011. In 2011, the percentage of book buyers who visited a library was 59%. In 2012 (through October) that number is 57%. (When year on year January through October is compared, it is the same).

So there you have it. Gonzalez’ post has more useful ways of looking at the data offered, and you can see and download a free preview of the presentation, yourself, here.

There’s always more than one way to skin a PowerPoint.

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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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21 Comments on "WRITING ON THE ETHER: Literature on Thin Ice"

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[…] post on serious fiction from the other day is mentioned pretty extensively in this week’s Writing on the Ether over at Jane Friedman’s blog. Porter Anderson responds to my commentary on his thoughts last […]

Anne R. Allen

I’m annoyed by the term “Serious fiction” because it perpetuates the peculiarly American view that multi-layered, character-driven fiction must be unrelentingly dark, unhappy and gruesome. It excludes all comedy: from Jane Austen to Salman Rushdie. Literary fiction has been allowed to be funny since Shakespeare. I see no reason why it shouldn’t continue to be called #litfic–to include serious and not-so-serious literary offerings. Should Alexander Pope and Henry Fielding be relegated to “chick lit”? Perhaps people who think “good” fiction has to make them either cry or vomit can think up another name for their own particular literary fetishes.

jenniecoughlin

I can’t speak for Porter, but I wasn’t equating “serious fiction” with dark or gruesome. To go back to the quote from my friend, I think serious fiction is fiction that makes you think. But humor can do that, sometimes even more effectively than dark stories. This might be in that gap where, as Porter notes, he and I part ways. For me, the Don Maass construction of 21st century fiction dovetails fairly well with my conception of serious fiction or #legitlit. They’re stories that take the best elements of both genre and literary fiction. Porter disagrees, as he noted.

Porter Anderson
@twitter-11541172:disqus Hey, Jennie, and thanks again for the fine post and input. Just to clarify, the combination of elements (literary and genre) is no problem for me in Don’s formulation of what he likes to call “21st century fiction) — because who would buy a book on how to write 17th-century fiction today? lol No, my issue is just with his idea that there must be “impact” stemming from his “tension on every page” concepts. (I’ve actually taken one of Don’s week-long courses, I know his work very well.) Don seems to want to feed this populist fondness for the… Read more »
jenniecoughlin

Ahhh. Thanks for clarifying. And yes, that does make sense. My writing doesn’t tend to gasp or stun, mobsters not withstanding. 🙂 I tend to draw more from the structure/storytelling/characterization elements of what he promotes – haven’t focused much on the microtension to the level he does.

Porter Anderson

Right, and mind you, Don is a master at understanding and developing this kind of high-energy approach. It’s just not necessarily what everyone wants to achieve in their work, though it might be easier to sell from an agent’s standpoint. Little Dorrit as action-adventure. Oy vey. 🙂

Porter Anderson
@google-cdd662dbbf570b08f57074b311216f88:disqus Hey, Annoyed Anne, lol – Thanks for your comment, and no need to be annoyed. I’m with Jennie, “serious fiction” doesn’t have to mean without comedy, anymore than “criticism” is necessarily negative. There is such a thing as very positive criticism, a rave review is a form of criticism. And there are wonderfully funny works in literature that are efforts in serious fiction. Have you read Stella Gibbons’ amazing Cold Comfort Farm? ( http://ow.ly/h6n9l ) Incredibly funny. And serious fiction, start to finish, she’s working satire like Aristophanes did. Much more recently, there’s some of the interplay between Frida… Read more »
Anne R. Allen

Yes, there are hilarious scenes in Lion in Winter. And the porter scene in Macbeth is one of the funniest ever written. But Shakespeare also wrote full-on comedies. Unfortunately, comedy is increasingly disrespected in our culture. Not one comedic film has won an Academy award since 1977. I know what you and Jennie mean by “serious” but unfortunately the general public thinks it means “not funny”. They think Titanic is great art because it made them cry: it’s “serious.” Since I write some fairly literary comedy, that’s why I objected.

Porter Anderson

@google-cdd662dbbf570b08f57074b311216f88:disqus

Such a big problem, this diminishment of comedy! I couldn’t agree more. Remember, Chekhov is comedy. Peter Sellers was some of the greatest comedy ever and fully #legitlit. The general audience will not always recognize what they’re seeing, which is fine. It’s just us in literature who need to know what, say, Michael Cunningham is doing in terms of art collectors in By Nightfall. ( http://ow.ly/h769F ) The technique and power of what they’re doing can change lives.

-p.

GrigoryRyzhakov

Chekhov is okay, but Gogol and Ostrovsky are way funnier :p

GrigoryRyzhakov

I’m with you on comedies, Anne. I think the problem is a lot of people lack a non-slapstick sense of humour. That’s why I find smart film comedies are generally ranked below smart non-comedies on Imdb. For instance, one of the greatest thought-provoking films of all time, I heart Huckabees, has just 6.7, well below of its counterparts in the serious genre. Of course, it is just my opinion

unregistered

There’s a group for this on facebook: Who says that serious literature is dead?

http://facebook.com/WSTSLID

Porter Anderson

Many thanks for flagging this, appreciate it!

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GrigoryRyzhakov
Nice to know, Porter, the establishment is thinking about how to make literature popular, but is there a need to re-invent the wheel with yet another label or brand, I mean Legitlit? There were always serious books, fun reads and then the ones in between. Funnily enough, I wrote one of my blog posts on the borderline fiction exactly a year ago, mostly focusing on Stieg Larsson’s The Girl trilogy http://www.ryzhakov.co.uk/literary-versus-commercial-fiction-are-you-in-borderline/ Literature is a continuum ranging from the most primitive and wildly popular fanfic to books like Finnegans Wake, which could be grasped by less than a hundred people on… Read more »
Porter Anderson

@GrigoryRyzhakov:disqus

Actually, Grisha, the establishment is, I fear, not so interested in making literature popular. The establishment is enjoying the the soft-porn popularity of its shirtless men kissing beautiful women.

And the hashtag #legitlit is mine, so is #seriouswriting — unendorsed by any official body, strictly renegade. 🙂 I’m just toying with ways to try to signal to readers who care that there is still work out here that’s not created with entertainment as its first and overriding interest.

I’m tired of the trailer park.

Thanks for reading and commenting!

-p.

GrigoryRyzhakov

It may need to be #propahbewks if you want to reach the most abandoned audiences lol

Peter Turner

Might want to include a link to Guy’s post.

Porter Anderson

Added, thanks for the catch. Should it happen again, why not just DM me? Thanks.

zoekate8 kate

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