WRITING ON THE ETHER: You Stinking Gatekeeper

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, #ARDay, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, The Bookseller, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Foyles, #FutureFoyles, London Book Fair, #LBF13

Table of Contents

  1. A New and Improved Ether
  2. You Stinking Gatekeeper
  3. Books: Reading on the Ether
  4. Conferences, Briefly

A New and Improved Ether

A quick note here, as we all frolic away in a Stravinsky riot of spring dandelion fuzz. Along with le printemps in the Northern Hemispheric, a modestly different format has breezed in on the Ether.

And on we go, then, with our graciously phrased focus for this Ether-eal edition: You Stinking Gatekeeper.

 

Everybody Publishes, You Stinking Gatekeeper

Most people employed publishing books perhaps as soon as 10 years from now won’t be working for publishing companies.

Take that, you stinking gatekeeper.

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

Mike Shatzkin

Okay, the ‘tude I’m throwing around here is not Mike Shatzkin’s. That’s my “editorial embellishment.” Poor Mike asked for nothing so crude.

But I want to call attention today to something that seems to have wafted in on the vernal equinox, and may represent one of those rare high-view moments in our gradual discovery of what “digital disruption” ultimately means for publishing.

We spend so much time ripping the minutiae to confetti-sized bits that I find myself pretty grateful for the institutional sweep Shatzkin can, at times, bring to the table.

 

Shatzkin’s essay Atomization: publishing as a function rather than an industry is just such a keeper. While nobody can contribute more cross-shredded bits to the confetti cyclone than Shatzkin along the way, when he’s able to climb up a lamppost and look down on the parade like this, his half-century of super-aware participation in the industry! the industry! allows him to see patterns in the ticker tape the rest of us might take for granted and miss.

With so many more books to choose from…than there ever were before, the function of gatekeepers, which trade publishers and booksellers clearly and proudly were, becomes an anachronism. The big question — at least for me — is what is trade publishing transitioning to? What does the trade publishing world look like when it doesn’t primarily reach readers through bookstores anymore, a day which one could say has already come in the past five years?

 

To answer that question, Shatzkin first recalls what publishers did mean to authors. Big chunk here, be sure to read it so we’re on the same page:

The central proposition that all publishers offered all authors is ”we put books on shelves.” The companion reality was “you can’t do this by yourself.” … The requirements to deliver on the promise “to put books on shelves” included the capital to invest and specialized knowledge to turn a manuscript into inventory, a physical plant to manage the warehousing and shipping of those books, and a network of relationships with the owners of the shelves (in the bookstores) to get the right to put your books on those shelves. These were the minimum requirements to be a publisher. If you had them, you could move on to being smart about selecting books (in the case of non-fiction, almost always before they were were completely written), being skilled at developing them, being capable of packaging them attractively, and being managers of another network — of reviewers and broadcast conversation producers and, more recently, bloggers and social megaphones — to bring word of them to the public.

This is gatekeeping. Was gatekeeping. Behold our new epithet: You stinking gatekeeper!

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, #ARDay, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, The Bookseller, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Foyles, #FutureFoyles, London Book Fair, #LBF13

I want to flag for you a recent exchange I had with an industry participant after publishing Monday’s Ether for Authors at Publishing Perspectives, Rumors of the ISBN’s Demise

The ISBN issue, for many authors—who would like not to pay the US$250 Bowker charges for a pack of 10 ISBNs (one goes on each format/iteration of a book)—came down to this line from UK-based author Dan Holloway’s comment on that column:

What you haven’t spelled out is the way that ISBNs are still being used as a gatekeeping mechanism that narrows readers’ access to the very best, most groundbreaking literature because many of the leading literary prizes define possession of an ISBN as their definition of publication for eligibility purposes.

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, #ARDay, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, The Bookseller, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Foyles, #FutureFoyles, London Book Fair, #LBF13

Dan Holloway

While in my response to Holloway I pointed out that if prize committees use the ISBN as a criterion of eligibility, this is not the fault of the ISBN administration (either in-country or international). What I hope to find out from the international body is how in some countries, such as the United States where Bowker is our designated ISBN agency, it has become the case that a corporate entity is the issuer of the world standard for tagging books.

But what, of course, struck me was this use of “gatekeeping,” yet again, as the nastiest thing you can say about someone now. The way we’re going, high schools no longer will ring with the sneer of “you’re so gay” when students are put out with each other. Instead you’re going to hear “you’re such a gatekeeper.”

 

As I wrote to Holloway, I’m tired of people crying “gatekeeper!” whenever there aren’t enough wolves around to blame things on.

Shatzkin’s writings in particular always illustrate—even for folks who don’t like his work as a consultant to the major traditional publishers—that the effects of gatekeeping in the legacy structure of publishing were just that, effects of a structure.

 

As I’ve written before, I’d like to kick the authorial asses of Steinbeck, Fitzgerald, Hellman, and Fleming, for starters, for making us believe they were such movers and shakers but allowing old publishing to develop as such an author-oppressive business, grossly maternal in its obfuscation: “Don’t worry your pretty little head about how many books you’ve sold, just eat your royalties, they’re good for you.”

But maybe because my name’s derivation means, from the Latin portarius, “keeper of the gate,” I’ve got little patience these days for this easy swing at everything folks don’t like as mere nasty gatekeeping.

 

So put down that pitchfork and free up your mind to what Shatzkin is saying. Because the day may come when a little gatekeeping looks awfully good.

The barriers to entry to becoming a “book publisher” have collapsed, particularly if you’re willing to start with ebooks and think of print as an ancillary opportunity. Google is becoming one. Amazon became one a long time ago. NBC has become one. The Toronto Star and The New York Times have become ebook publishers. And, of course, so have many tens of thousands of individual authors, a few of whom are achieving startling success.

 

This is a newer comment and insight from Shatzkin than it might sound. He’s saying that one day Walgreens may publish a nice line of pharmaceutical thrillers; Delta could roll out its own in-flight novels; and every lady in your mother’s Tuesday Afternoon Bridge Tea Salon now introduces herself to you as an “author.”

Publishing will become a function of many entities, not a capability reserved to a few insiders who can call themselves an industry. Think about it this way. If you had told every museum and law firm in 1995 that they needed a web page, many would have wondered “what for?” If you had told them in 2005 that they needed a Facebook presence or in 2008 that they needed a Twitter stream, they would have wondered why. We’ve reached the moment when they all need a publishing strategy, and that will be as obvious to all these entities in a year or two as web pages, Facebook pages, and Twitter streams look now. 

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road Press

Hugh McGuire

Hugh McGuire, our good colleague who has created PressBooks, is right here to show us what Shatzkin means. He’s over at O’Reilly Media’s Tools of Change blog with Building an eBook Business Around Analytics.

In that post, McGuire tells us about PressBooks’ partnership with AskMen, the 13-year-old magazine headed by managing editor Emma McKay. He writes:

In the year-and-a-bit since PressBooks launched publicly, we’ve worked with many traditional book publishers, big and small. But what’s most interesting to us is non-traditional book publishers entering the ebook space, because they have the flexibility to approach book publishing in whole new ways.

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, #ARDay, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, The Bookseller, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Foyles, #FutureFoyles, London Book Fair, #LBF13This is Shatzkin’s point on the hoof. AskMen is producing a line of ebooks meant to answer the needs of its readers.

They’re using data analysis as “a dominant force” to figure out those needs.

McKay is bracingly clear on the goal in her interview with McGuire: “Give readers more of what they’re looking for” so advertisers will follow.

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, #ARDay, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, The Bookseller, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Foyles, #FutureFoyles, London Book Fair, #LBF13Now, I can tell McGuire and McKay one area in which they’ve already missed a beat.

I checked out one of their new books, Mission: Motivation for guys who want to stick to a fitness regimen for the long haul, not just take a turn on the four-hour Ferriss wheel. When I downloaded the sample, I discovered that it started with eight pages of “Praise for the Author,” James S. Fell.

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, #ARDay, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, The Bookseller, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Foyles, #FutureFoyles, London Book Fair, #LBF13A lot of self-publishers can tell you that you pack as many “real” pages of your work into that sample as possible—meaning lose the promotional front-matter—to convert more samplers to buyers.

Hell, one page on the Kindle version sample says nothing but “This ebook was produced with http://pressbooks.com.”

UPDATE: Since I published these comments, I’ve heard quickly by Twitter from both McGuire and McKay, and the word from McKay is especially generous: “You made some very good points and I’m going to be making some revisions ASAP. Thx for the feedback!”

That’s the reaction of a good sport and a receptive pro at work. As I’d written, Fell’s writing will sell me without the back-page blurbs. He’s good, especially by comparison to Mr. Four-Hour.

 

And note the leveling of the playing field that even my carping—and McKay’s plucky response—represents: these days, we all know how to appraise an ebook’s structure.

In fact, want to see a mistake in professional cover design? Check Frank Rose’s The Art of Immersion in Reading on the Ether below. Notice how you can read neither the title nor the author’s name in an online thumbnail. By comparison, look at the strong display of the Mission: Motivation title on the AskMen cover above: that’s how it’s done.

Finally, it’s true: everybody’s a critic. This is a cousin of Shatzkin’s point.

He calls it “atomization” to mean “the dispersal of publishing decisions and the origination of published material from far and wide.”

Atomization is verticalization taken to a newly conceivable logical extreme. The self-publishing of authors is already affecting the marketplace. But the introduction of self-publishing by entities will be much more disruptive.

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, #ARDay, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, The Bookseller, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Foyles, #FutureFoyles, London Book Fair, #LBF13This won’t thrill the self-publishing authors who think of themselves as the new center(s) of the universe. But he may be right.

I’m thinking Jennifer Armentrout meets Lululemon as a publisher of erotic romance novels about Shirtless Men Kissing Beautiful Women in Yoga Pants. Who wins that one?

Most self-published fiction is crap, but a small percentage of a very large number of self-published novels constitutes a significant range of good, cheap choices for fiction readers, particularly in genres. That “diamonds in the dirt” effect has been becoming more and more evident with the passage of time.

 

howey, hugh 5

Hugh Howey

Using Hugh Howey as his model, our new National Example of Everything—remember Amanda Hocking?—Shatzkin points out that even the legacy publishers’ ability to horn in on grassroots publishing is drying up amid the atomization under way.

The publishers’ power to use that capability to command a share of the “easy” (no inventory investment or sales force required) money from ebooks, which was a sine qua non for them until very recently, is evaporating.

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, #ARDay, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, The Bookseller, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Foyles, #FutureFoyles, London Book Fair, #LBF13

Peter Turner

In Can Publishers Matter? Peter Turner follows Shatzkin’s essay:

I believe this is  an existential challenge facing general trade publishers because it relates directly to the value publishers deliver authors and readers.

He uses the chart that many of us have picked up from Bowker (I found myself using it at Writer Unboxed), showing the terrific tumble of in-store sales in the States since 2010, with some 44 percent of the action now happening online.

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, #ARDay, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, The Bookseller, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Foyles, #FutureFoyles, London Book Fair, #LBF13

And while conceding that many publishers are working on developing the kind of direct-marketing expertise that McKay discusses with McGuire—widely considered one of the few hopes they have for getting around the “atomization” at hand—Turner writes of the kind of misgivings many others see in the old gatekeepers:

I just don’t believe these strategies will demonstrate sales in a way that will impress authors, satisfy readers, or–most important of all–yield the necessary consumer data that will allow for the necessary marketing agility and scalability. Since book sales are flat and market share is being atomized, the discounts demanded by third-party eCommerce retailers are a profound barrier to the margins necessary for surviving the transition that eCommerce demands.

 

And Shatzkin, for his part, isn’t ready to say that legacy publishing is fully over the side.

There are ways to market to “known book buyers” that are increasingly going to be the property of entities that have developed lists and techniques at scale….it is likely that the machinery of the biggest book publishing organization (or two) will be required for a very long time to maximize the biggest commercial potential, like “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

But note that what he’s describing is the capitalization by a publisher on a success that enters the field from “outside” the industry, in that case fanny fiction.

 

This “atomization” concept has legs. The structured industry, not just its supremacy in books, is what’s coming apart.

Without a robust “book trade”, from which trade publishing gets its name, there cannot be commercially robust trade publishing, at least not as we have known it…The atomization I think may be the overarching trend of the next decade or two.

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Books: Reading on the Ether

Ether Sponsors 

As each week, the books you see below have been referenced recently in Writing on the Ether, Ether for Authors, or in my tweets. For brevity, I’m merging books by Ether Sponsors in with the larger list — books by our much-appreciated sponsors are in bold, in gratitude for their support.

I’m bringing them together in one spot each week, to help you recall and locate them, not as an endorsement.


 

Writing on the Ether Sponsors

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Conferences, Briefly

Are you producing a publishing or writing conference or trade show? Feel free to let me know, and I’ll be happy to consider it for listing here and on my Publishing Conferences page. Here’s an abbreviated edition of that listing.

 

IfBookThenMarch 21 Stockholm IfBookThen: The second iteration of the year for this conference, in Sweden, sees a roster of speakers that includes some of our favorite folks in the industry.


agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, 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, Foyles, #FutureFoyles, #LBF13, London Book Fair, Digital Minds, #DigiConf13March 24 Bologna Children’s Book Fair O’Reilly Tools of Change (TOC) Bologna: “This unique event covers new developments that relate to the whole children’s book industry.”

Registration is still open as the Ether goes to bed, information is here.


agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, 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, Foyles, #FutureFoyles, #LBF13, London Book Fair, Digital Minds April 5-7 New York City Writer’s Digest Conference East: Author James Scott Bell, who knows the value of coffee, gives the opening keynote address this year at “one of the most popular writing and publishing conference in the U.S.” Writer’s Digest Conference 2013 is coming back to New York at the Sheraton New York Hotel. (Note that this year’s hashtag is #WDCE. I have an Epilogger running.)

Registration is open, information is here.
Use code PORTER to save on your registration.
Live-tweet coverage from this 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, #ARDay, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, The Bookseller, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Foyles, #FutureFoyles, London Book Fair, #LBF13At WDCE: Public Speaking for Writers: How to Turn Your Readings into Book Sales – Join me in this special three-hour intensive Boot Camp session I’m teaching at 12:30pET on Friday, April 5. We’re going to look at public presentation for the entrepreneurial author. How do you learn to deliver your work with impact—with your text in your hand and a live mic in your face? Drop me a note or flag me down on Twitter (@Porter_Anderson) with any questions. (Hashtag #WDCE. Epilogger here.)

Registration is open, information is here.
Some live-tweet coverage from this event, as I teach.


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, #ARDay, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, The Bookseller, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Foyles, #FutureFoyles, London Book Fair, #LBF13April 5-7 New York City Screenwriters World Conference EastLed by the tireless Jeanne Bowerman, Editor and Online Manager for F+W Media’s ScriptMag, this is the East Coast iteration of the Los Angeles conference held last fall. (This conference’s hashtag is #SWCE. I’ve started an Epilogger on it,  which you might find useful in keeping up with materials in one spot.)

Registration is open, information is here.


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, #ARDay, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, The Bookseller, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Foyles, #FutureFoyles, London Book Fair, #LBF13

April 14 London Digital Minds Conference at the QEII Conference Center: Author Neil Gaiman gives the keynote address in this fifth year of the Digital Minds program. Also: Richard Nash, Safari’s Pablo Defendini, Osprey’s Rebecca Smart, Dosdoce’s Javier Celaya, Valobox’s Anna Lewis, Perseus’ Rick Joyce, Penguin’s Molly Barton and Eric Huang, Poetica’s Blaine Cook, and more. (Hashtag: #DigiConf13. Epilogger here.)

Registration is open, information is here.
Live-tweet coverage from this 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, #ARDay, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, The Bookseller, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Foyles, #FutureFoyles, London Book Fair, #LBF13April 15-17 London Book Fair at Earls Court.  “The London Book Fair encompasses the broad spectrum of the publishing industry and is the global market place and leading business-2-business exhibition for rights negotiation and the sales and distribution of content across print, audio, TV, film and digital channels.”
(Hashtag: #LBF13. Epilogger here.)

Registration is open, information is here.
Live-tweet coverage from this book fair.


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. (Hashtag: #pclive)

Registration is open, information is here.
Early registration by March 22 saves you $100.
Live-tweet coverage from this 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

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.

Registration is open, information is here.


Grub StreetMay 3-5 Boston The Muse & the Marketplace 2013 is a production of Eve Bridburg’s fast-rising non-profit Grub Street program, comprising 110 craft and publishing sessions led by top-notch authors, editors, agents and publicists from around the country. (Hashtag: #Muse2013)

Registration is open, information is here.
Just added: Live-tweet coverage from this conference.

 

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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, #ARDay, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, The Bookseller, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Foyles, #FutureFoyles, London Book Fair, #LBF13Writers in the Spotlight: How To Turn Your Readings Into Book Sales
with Porter Anderson

Join me in this spe­cial three-hour inten­sive Boot Camp ses­sion at Writer’s Digest Conference East (#WDCE) at 12:30pET on Fri­day, April 5. We’ll look at pub­lic pre­sen­ta­tion for the entre­pre­neur­ial author in an interactive, up-on-your-feet workshop format: come with two pages of your work in progress, ready to rock and read.

Click here and see the top listing for details.


Main image: iStockphoto: xyno


Upcoming Online Classes

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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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17 Comments on "WRITING ON THE ETHER: You Stinking Gatekeeper"

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Nina Amir
The gatekeepers remain at the ready at the doors of the legacy publishing houses, which is why those who want what they have to offer still need agents. They continue to hold promise of a way past the gatekeepers. For those who want to self-publish, it seems to me that the statement, “Publishing will become a function of many entities, not a capability reserved to a few insiders who can call themselves an industry,” has become a reality already as entrepreneurs open “subsidiaries”–publishing companies to help them boost their businesses with books. It doesn’t have to be a Walgreens or… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@twitter-21592385:disqus Right, Nina, and thanks for your input. What Mike is doing is not negating in any way the diffusion of publishing capability far and wide. But he’s also not specifically referring to companies created to help self-publishers. What he’s doing is pointing out the industry-to-industry pathway here that takes publishing from itself, if you will. No need to be defensive on the part of self-publishing people. We’ve long known that a seemingly endless horde of folks who think they should be writing were jumping in to publish themselves. And there are many, many author-services outfits opening to serve them,… Read more »
Nina Amir
If authors could be “attached to industries” that would, indeed, be an advantage, as you say, Porter. Think of all the many possibilities that would open up for how to target an author’s market. And if the little grocery store in the Santa Cruz Mountains is successfully selling my book on blogging at the register–when blogging has nothing to do with groceries or living in the mountains, why wouldn’t Safeway or Kroger want to get into the business of publishing romance novels about check out girls or books about eating healthy foods, for example? Or why wouldn’t Office Depot want… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@twitter-21592385:disqus Agree with you there, Nina, if authors can find themselves associated with corporate entities involved in publishing-as-a-function — as Mike’s fine “atomization” concept gives it to us — then, yes, they may actually find themselves able to navigate those hallways more freely and with more authority than they can the current array of big-house publishing’s oppressive settings. There are risks here for authors, too, however, chief among them the fact that many corporate entities will “know nothing of their work,” to paraphrase Marshall McLuhan, and have some rather unorthodox — to publishing people — expectations of how such partnerships… Read more »
Nina Amir

Ah….more work for agents wondering what their role might be in the future. Maybe it is becoming clearer?

barry knister
For many years, agents have been the true gatekeepers. Serving as a filter, they have offered up pre-approved manuscripts to putative “editors” who no longer were interested in anything that required editing. The whole process corrupted publishing, and as one who was on the receiving end of all this in highly negative ways, I am enjoying a sense of schadenfreude at watching the gatekeepers beginning to swing slowly, slowly in the wind. I am happy to have lived long enough to be my own publisher, and to take my chances without being forced to work through middlemen–or, as figured almost… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@936e6c683b24a7467147fe53d5ab8370:disqus Thank you for your comment, Barry. While I understand your frustration, since apparently agent rejection has figured heavily in your experience, I’d just point out that the “fault” can hardly be laid at the feet of agents alone. The publishers actually abdicated the responsibility of finding new work by reducing their editorial-acquisition staffs and cutting their budgetary resources. For many years, the industry has delimited its own editors and their capacities, often damaging the editor-author relationship, certainly hobbling the industry as a whole, and leaving it, by default, to agents to put forward the best material in the most… Read more »
Barry Knister
Thank you for your detailed comment. It took time to write, and I appreciate it. That you think I “trump up blame” regarding agents because they rejected me reveals my failure to be clear about my own experience. In recent years, I was represented by two agents in succession, over a period of three years. Each agent worked for a successful NY shop, each represented a different manuscript of mine, and each was a woman. I got these agents through what could be called over-the-transom queries and sample chapters, not through social contacts, writers’ conference connections, old-school ties, etc. When… Read more »
Porter Anderson
Hi, Barry, Sorry for the delay in getting back to you here, but thanks for taking the time to come back to the column and expound on your earlier comment. I know the experiences you’re talking about are hardly fun and not even very easy to sort out. So many, many things go into whether an agent can sell something. One thing the agent Rachelle Gardner has written very powerfully to is the point that the inability to sell something is crushing on that side, too, not just to the author. Here’s one of her posts on this topic: http://www.rachellegardner.com/2013/03/sometimes-you-fail/… Read more »
Peter Turner
Thanks, Porter, for quoting from my post. A couple of comments. The broader point I was trying to make may have gotten lost: that in order to be relevant publishers need to be able to demonstrate to authors that they can deliver sales and demonstrate to readers that they can deliver quality. The secondary point was that publishers are pursuing strategies around direct marketing that I believe won’t likely be effective to those specific values. I actually think they could demonstrate these values but they need to pursue them in different ways. One other thought was that while the publishing… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@twitter-20198448:disqus Thanks for the input, Peter, and the clarifications. To your second point, I actually think the “atomization,” as Mike Shatzkin is terming it, is more primary than we may like. There may come a time, in other words, when in-industry efforts — even to “deliver sales to authors and quality reading to consumers — won’t be unusual: They’ll be practiced by other people in other industries all over the map. Home Depot may have to “deliver sales to authors and quality reading to customers.” Your bank may have to “deliver sales to authors and quality reading to customers.” You… Read more »
Peter Turner
Thanks Porter, I guess I’m wanted to look past the plight of publishers and consider this topic from the point of view of authors and readers. It’s worth teasing apart how the atomization Mike Shatzkin is envisioning delivers value to both groups. Take an example. Say I’m a successful blogger on home gardening and Home Depot wants to publish my book. What I mostly care about most is Home Depot’s ability to sell my book–if they have the best access to the market of home gardeners and understand what interests them and motivates them to buy books of this sort.… Read more »
Julieta Lionetti

Peter, the problem is that we publishers never had the slightest idea about the readers. Publishing has been, from the 1930s on an increasingly B2B business. The problems we are having (some like to call them “discoverability”) come from our absolute ignorance of how to access audiences and our puzzlement with new marketing strategies. Everybody is a publisher now –you just click a button. The Web is the Universal Publisher and Here Everybody Has Come.

Peter Turner
Well, it’s certainly true that general trade publishers don’t act as if they know the readers of their books but that’s a somewhat narrow slice of what counts as traditional publishing. I would offer that authors and their editors know the the readers of their books and why they read them better than anyone in the publishing process. They need to be joined at the hip with those who have marketing expertise and love customer data. I actually think that with the act of publishing becoming a relatively trivial process, it is these knowledge sets and skills that will become… Read more »
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THELMA

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