DRM Is Not Evil

This post, from Michael Bhaskar, originally appeared on Pan Macmillan’s The Digitalist blog on 7/14/09. Agree? Disagree? Add your comments below. 

At Pan Macmillan we are no great fans of DRM. For a while now we have been selling a limited range of titles DRM free from our website; these are titles where the authors have requested that we retail sans DRM.

Many writers are in favour of this, and so we see as it as an important service. Recently we have added the novels of David Hewson to the non DRM stable and they can be found on the website.

Lets face it. DRM can be a nightmare – confusing, fiddly, prohibitively sensitive to basic uses of media. A couple of weeks ago I was setting up a friends Sony Reader and forgot quite how dis-orientating an experience setting up an Adobe ID can be. Ok, so most of us used to the web will not struggle. But what about all those other readers who get by without Twitter and Adobe IDs? No doubt, DRM isn’t perfect and makes life difficult for people legitimately using files they have paid good money for. Worse, it can lead to those files becoming unusable (a situation which is inexcusable).

However the anti-DRM lobby, as vocal as it is appealing, makes DRM sound like some cultural apocalypse. Culture, the argument goes, thrives on being shared and the modern mass media is a recent aberration that cuts against the grain of creativity and the natural flow of cultural production. Advocates like Cory Doctorow and Larry Lessig make a case that is compelling, persuasive and important. Yet in the hands of many acolytes this is converted to a simple outright denunciation of any DRM and the assumption that the presence of DRM provides a moral carte blanche for piracy. Google might not be evil, but DRM sure is.

The whole DRM debate is hardly a new one but it’s time someone in publishing said something positive for DRM. Yes, it often sucks, but it’s not evil. Why?

Firstly because paper is a form of DRM. If you buy a book you can lend it out to a few of your friends. Can you send it to all of them? No. You are inherently limited in the spread of that book. We don’t assume that it would ever be possible to distribute that book to everyone we know, only that we can do with it what we want. This is both sensible and sustainable.

Secondly and more significantly because mass culture relies on a mass business model undermined by piracy. An argument against DRM is that the web will engender a liberation and proliferation of culture free from the corporate bonds currently suffocating it; get rid of the suits and we end up in a grass roots web driven artistic utopia. This might be true. However in this scenario there will be no more Hollywood blockbusters, huge epoch defining albums and tours, door stopping bestsellers and all the other accouterments of mass culture that rely on a company infrastructure.

These require scale, a corporate scale, which requires direct and secure revenue which to date has existed in the form of unit sales. Last.fm, Spotify et al are pointing the way to a fantastic new business model, but alone it is not enough. DRM is one of the only tools available to prevent catastrophic loss of revenue.

My argument here is simple: if we want Harry Potter- the books, films, computer games, the whole phenomenon – then DRM has a role. While some of the web elite could happily do without this kind of mass market stuff, and while I believe the web is important in promoting material antithetical to it, I think most of us would not want to see it go away.

Read the rest of the post on Pan Macmillan’s The Digitalist blog.

Will Publishers Ever Make Money Off Ebooks?

This article, from Paul Sweeting, originally appeared on Gigaom on 7/21/09.

Barnes & Noble’s launch of a full-scale ebook challenge to Amazon, including a deal to be the exclusive ebookstore provider to Plastic Logic’s would-be Kindle-killer when it’s released next year, means the emerging market for digital books will finally see some real competition. That’s good news for publishers concerned over Amazon’s iTunes-like dominance of the ebook business.

But not as good as it could have been, for Barnes & Noble’s pricing is keeping ebooks firmly in the loss-leader category, at least for the time being.

While Amazon has never disclosed the number of Kindles it’s sold since they were introduced in 2007 (analysts estimate it at roughly 1 million), the Kindle is clearly the most popular dedicated ebook device in the U.S., with a market share of at least 80 percent, probably higher. Thanks to the Kindle’s proprietary technology, however, there’s only one way for publishers to reach that audience of avid readers: through Amazon’s ebookstore (unless they’re willing to sell ebooks without DRM, of course, as most publishers are not).

Just as Apple did with its walled garden around the iPod, Amazon has used the leverage of its captive audience of Kindle users to set retail prices for ebooks. And, like Apple, it has set those prices largely to advance its own strategic interest in selling Kindles, not to maximize revenue for publishers.

Thus most new bestsellers at Amazon’s ebookstore can be downloaded for $9.99, less than half the list price most carry in hardcover. But Amazon still pays publishers a wholesale price of $12-$13 for those books, a loss-leader retail price that is quickly becoming the industry benchmark for new ebooks — to the deep chagrin of publishers, who worry that wholesale prices will eventually be dragged down as well. Google managed to bring a smile to publishers’ faces in June when it announced plans to launch an e-commerce platform for ebooks allowing publishers to sell directly to consumers at prices of their own choosing. But the big “get” for publishers was always going to be Barnes & Noble, the world’s largest bookseller and Amazon’s toughest potential competitor.

So what has Barnes & Noble done? Essentially, it’s gone and adopted Amazon’s pricing structure. Monday’s announcement boasts that the new Barnes & Noble e-book store will feature “hundreds of best-settlers” at — you guessed it — “only $9.99.”

Read the rest of the article on Gigaom.

Authonomy: One Writer's Experience

This post, from Mary W. Walters, originally appeared on her The Militant Writer blog on 8/1/09.

In theory, authonomy is a perfect way for writers to get their book manuscripts read by editors at a major publishing house without the intercession of an agent.

After reading about what authonomy is intended to do and why, a writer might decide that if her manuscript isn’t good enough to get the kind of positive reception from the other writers on the site that it needs to rise through the ranks to the top five (aka the Editor’s Desk)—where it will at least receive professional feedback from one of the finest editors in the English-speaking world, and at best be snatched up for publication—perhaps it isn’t as good as she’s been thinking that it is.

But is that a logical conclusion for her to draw when after several months on the site she does not, in fact, reach the Editor’s Desk and realizes that she probably never will?

For the benefit of other writers who may be weighing the same questions that I considered six months ago when I decided to post my novel, The Whole Clove Diet, on authonomy, I here offer a summary of my experiences and observations so that others may be better equipped than I was to assess the potential value to their writing careers of participation in the site.

What authonomy is

authonomy (the “th” is pronounced as in “author”) is an on-line community of writers that was established in 2008 by HarperCollins Publishers. Although the site is based in the U.K., HarperCollins offices around the world participate in evaluating manuscripts, and the site is open to writers, published or unpublished, living anywhere—as long as their manuscripts are in English.

On authonomy, participants read excerpts from books by other writers on the site, and they “shelve” or “back” the ones they find of merit. They are also encouraged to provide the authors of the books they read with some feedback in the form of comments. Those with the most backings (subject to an algorithm that recognizes users’ reviewing experience on the site) rise to the top and when they reach the top five, they are read and provided with an evaluation by a HarperCollins editor.

The authonomy site is still in beta format, but as of this writing it has more than 3,000 users–each with at least one and sometimes as many as three books posted on the site. Some users are very active (a recent forum question was “How many people spend more than five hours a day on authonomy?” and several people actually raised their virtual hands, albeit a little sheepishly). Many writers spend at least an hour or two a day on authonomy, reading, critiquing, commenting and sometimes contributing to the forum. Other writers show up only occasionally, and still others have not been on the site in months.

HarperCollins (HC) states that the purpose of authonomy is to “flush out the brightest, freshest new literature around” and on the last day of each month, authonomites gather around to see which five books will be whisked away for review by the HC editors. Approximately one month after starring them for selection, HC editors deliver critiques of the five top manuscripts to their respective authors. These evaluations ideally include suggestions for revision and some indication as to whether HC might be interested in seeing the manuscript again after the author has worked on it.

A word or two about the Golden Goose

The hope of almost all of those who officially join the site and post a book is that that HC will recognize their work of fiction, non-fiction or (less frequently) poetry for the masterpiece it is and want to publish it. Subsidiary hopes include that, as it is rising to the top but before it actually reaches the top five, the manuscript will be discovered by an agent, another publisher or even HC itself. This has, in fact, happened once or twice–although it hasn’t happened very often. Nor, to my knowledge, have any books that have actually reached the top five yet been selected for publication by HC.

Since getting an agent or a publisher is pretty much a crapshoot in this day and age no matter how you go about it, a more significant problem than the dearth of publications from the site is one that anyone can see who reads the HC editorial responses to books that have reached the Editor’s Desk in the past. (This feedback is almost always posted by the authors who’ve received it, although they are not required to make it public.) The problem is that while some of the editorial feedback is constructive and helpful, even insightful and brilliant, some is next to useless. The site administrators have said that HC editors for each book in the top five each month are selected on the basis of its genre or subgenre (young adult, for example, historical romance, or literary) and the location of the writer—but clearly, some HC editors are better readers and feedback-writers than are others.

I have read HC evaluations on authonomy that were little more than summaries of the excerpt. Others have contained errors that could only have been made if the editor had not read the submission very carefully, or had not consulted the “pitch” which is also a required part of the submission. Several comments from HC editors have been marred by typos and even grammatical errors, which seriously undermined their credibility.

After waiting months and months to obtain feedback from the powerhouse publishing giant that is HarperCollins—which is one big dream of a lifetime for many—to  receive a less than professional evaluation on one’s excerpt is more than discouraging. The recipients of such evaluations are upset when this happens, and so are the other authonomy community members who have also read the excerpt. Contributors to forum threads disgustedly point out the flaws in various HC reviews every month, sometimes out of loyalty, but often also on the basis of solid evidence.

My authonomy history

I joined authonomy in February of 2009, posting my novel in its entirety (at the outset) on the site. The Whole Clove Diet rose steadily albeit slowly toward the Editor’s Desk, garnering many positive reviews along the way. In the first few weeks I learned from comments left on the forum by site administrators and other users that by the time I reached number 50, particularly if I also maintained some visibility on the forum, I could feel fairly well assured that HC had seen my novel. If they had not by that point contacted me by email, I could assume they were not interested in it.

By then I had begun to appreciate how hard it was to reach the Editor’s Desk/top five and how small the advantages might actually be to getting there. I decided that if HC and other publishers and agents were trawling the top 50 on a regular basis, I would set my sights on reaching the top 45 or so.

In fact, I only made it to about 110 before I quit. Although I developed some rewarding on-line friendships at authonomy in the four months or so that I was a regular participant, and received some useful input that was helpful in the revision of my novel, and discovered a few writers who I really think are going to make strong literary contributions in the future, the experience of being on the site nearly drove me crazy—several times. And so I removed my novel, although I am still a member of the community and enjoy popping in from time to time to exchange comments on the forum with my friends and colleagues (and fellow-sufferers) over there.

authonomy intention vs. authonomy reality

authonomy has been described as a “do-it-yourself slush pile” in which readers (mainly other writers) do all the work for HarperCollins by finding the best books on the site and pushing them toward the top. This is fine: times are changing and most writers are willing to do a little work in order to attract professional attention to their manuscripts.

The only problem is that the way the authonomy system works does not contribute to finding the “best” books, no matter how you define that term.  It appeared to me that at least 90% of the writers on the site have joined with one goal in mind, which is getting themselves to the Editor’s Desk. (The others insist they are there only to receive feedback from other writers that will help them improve their work.) This means that the primary motivation for most people who will read and back other people’s manuscripts on authonomy is not to find good books for HC to publish—but rather to find other people to read and back their own books.

Read the rest of the post  on The Militant Writer blog.

Youthful Writing: Precocious, Or Premature?

This post, from Robert Nagle, originally appeared on Teleread on 7/23/09.

Quick: when you [were] a teenager, how fantastically awesome was your writing?

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Imogene Russell Williams cautions young writers who wish to get started too early:

In your early teens, you’re not necessarily aware of how derivative your literary outpourings are, and the extent to which your reading shapes your writing; and you may not yet be sufficiently master of your own voice to take on high-falutin’ genres like fantasy and romance. (I speak from experience. At 13, I was passionately devoted to a high-fantasy epic featuring Dallien the dark prince, a charger called Bayard whom I’d pinched from Prince Caspian without realising it, and a large, coniferous forest – Mirkwood after the emigration of the spiders.)

(BTW, despite the boring name, the Guardian’s Book Blog  is easily one of the best group litblogs on the Internet).

Williams mentions several recent teen works and even a work written by a 9 year old. She cites Diary of Anne Frank as the model, although that case was clearly extraordinary . (See also: Zlata Filipovic’s  excellent Zlata’s Diary).

 

Now with printing/publishing costs becoming  more affordable, lots of young kids have self-published interesting things as part of school projects. We can mock, but I would have loved to have a published book  to keep in my scrapbook  of memories. Instead I spent my creative efforts writing  original Dungeon and Dragons adventure   modules. 

One obvious source of youthful creativity is blogging/journaling, but practically speaking, U.S. schools can’t sanction them or use them for class unless blogging sites are COPA-compliant. (I’ve been told that content filters on some school networks block blogging networks altogether). I suspect school districts subscribe to  walled-off COPA-compliant  student communities for students to share their writings.  That shouldn’t discourage young people from journaling in the wild, but they have to do it on their own time. Schools and teachers can prep students for potential problems of online writing and help them to  take reasonable precautions. But only the teen can take the important next step of actually  starting an online journal.  

It takes a few decades for a young person’s writing skills to develop. That’s not a reason for a student to put off writing.  Far from it.  Writing improves  with  practice. Even bad writing can record thoughts and feelings  of a time period.  (And if you don’t record them, these thoughts are gone forever).  Perhaps people’s verbal skills before 20 aren’t optimal, but they are more than adequate to present facts and daily events. Sometimes in fact, inner city youth may have lots to write about but little motivation.  (Projects like the Freedom Writers’ diary have tried to rectify this by encouraging students to write down their anxieties).

Read the rest of the post on Teleread.

Book Promotion Campaign Elements

This article, from Rick Frishman, originally appeared on Beneath the Cover on 1/23/09.

Not every element that follows may work for every book or platform, but the ones listed below are good cornerstones.

Media List

Your media list includes the names of those who will receive a copy of the sale version of the book. It will include those who received review copies of your book plus national media outlets and local media in your area, the areas you plan to visit, and those where you have special contacts.

To find sources, go to the library and leaf through Cision’s publications, such as Cision’s MediaSource. Although you can pay for the same information on the Internet, at libraries, it’s free. However, the information may be dated because media people move frequently. Your best bet is to do your initial research at the library and collect a bunch of names and contact information. Then call or check websites to verify what you found and to get the most current information.

Also check the Harrison guides, Radio-TV Interview Report for national broadcast media information. Call media outlets and ask who you should send your material to. Try to get an actual person’s name, not simply an e-mail address to “info@.”

Internet Marketing

When people hear about you or your book, they go to the Internet to get more information. They Google you, read about you, and visit your Web site; they look for your book on Amazon.com. So, as an author, it’s essential to have a strong Internet presence.

  1. The first step in your Internet marketing plan is to put up a memorable website, a site that people love to visit and will tell others about. You website must be great-looking and reflective of the impression you want to convey. For example, you may want it to appear authoritative, lighthearted, elegant, colorful, hip, scholarly, or goofy. Or it could have a theme related to your book or your area of expertise. Your site must also be up-to-date and easy and intuitive to use, and all links must work.
     
  2. Register your site with all the major search engines under your name, your book’s name, and every conceivable variation of them. That way, when people misspell your name and don’t get your book’s title exactly right, they will still get to your site.
     
  3. Include in your website everything that’s in your media kit. Your site should allow visitors to read a sample chapter, order your book, enter into exchanges with you, and view your upcoming events and appearances. It should link to other complementary sites and to your strategic partners. Your site must have a press room with the latest articles on you and your book.
     
  4. In addition to your site, you can start your own blog, newsletter, or e-zine.

Numerous firms such as FSBAssociates.com (Fauzia Burke) and PromoteABookmedia.com can be hired to handle your Internet book-marketing campaigns. These firms can be invaluable because they know all the components that can be included in your campaign. They can create an Internet campaign that may include creating a website for the book, sending your book to relevant websites, and sending it to blogs. These firms have lists of Internet book reviewers; will syndicate your content on the Web; or will set up chats, downloads, newsgroups, and mailing lists.

Read the rest of the article on Beneath the Cover to learn about the Amazon blast, newspaper and radio releases, and media training.

The Five Golden Rules Of Publicity For Authors

This post, from Katherine (Kat) Smith, originally appeared on WritersWrite.

The hard work, you think, is over. You’ve labored into many late nights writing your book, struggled to literally make sure every "i" is dotted and every "t" crossed. Your book — your baby — is all grown up now; completed and ready to set the world on fire.

Then, the cold, hard truth slaps you in the face like a winter chill. Like the proverbial tree falling in the woods with no one around, your book isn’t going to make a sound — or even be known about by anyone — unless you get the word out. You could hire a publicist, but the often high-costs can be prohibitive, and perhaps most of your "book money" went to editing, design, layout and printing.

What to do?

Relax, set your ego aside, and set up a plan and course of action. Book promotion isn’t rocket science; but it does involve a lot of hard work, persistence and some added touches of creativity. Here are some basic yet invaluable pointers for the bold author who has decided to go it alone in the wild world of book promotion.

Change positions with the media

The essence of book promotion is the utilization of the media to get the word out to the public about your book. Sure, producers, editors and journalists can be a gruff bunch, but the reality is they are literally swamped with books and press releases every day.

What you need to do is put yourself in the shoes of the media. If you were a feature editor at a paper or a producer of a talk show, what would interest you? Too often, amateur publicists simply believe that getting a book or press release into the right person’s hands will do the trick. WRONG. You’ve got to think of an angle, hook, slant — whatever you want to call it — that will interest the right people.

Listen to talk radio. Watch TV talk shows. Read the lifestyle and feature sections of newspapers. Read magazines. See what makes it; then create a press release that will make it happen for you.

Remember: No one ever interviews a book

Getting on radio and TV talk shows is exciting, fun and can really jumpstart book sales. But if you think your book will get you on the air by itself, you’re probably wrong. No one interviews a book … they interview PEOPLE. Of course, the topic your book may be gets the attention of producers, but they need and want people who can be informative, entertaining and articulate. People make a show … not books.

When you’re promoting a book, you’re also promoting yourself. Remember this, practice this, and go for it!
 

Read the rest of the post on WritersWrite.

Do I Need To Outline My Plot?

This post, from Robert Gregory Browne, originally appeared on his Casting the Bones website.

One question I always hear from aspiring writers is, “Do you outline your plots?”

I remember asking this question myself quite a few times, back in the Stone Age when I was typing scripts and stories on my IBM Selectric. If, by some weird stroke of fate, I happened to stumble across an honest to god real published writer (I didn’t do conferences in those days, didn’t know they existed, and there was no Internet), the subject of outlining came up pretty quickly.

Why?

Because, like all aspiring writers, I was always searching for what works. A lot of us look at someone else’s success and think, maybe I should do what they’re doing. Human beings seem to have this unending desire to emulate others in hope that some of the magic dust will rub off on us.

That would explain the thirty billion Star Wars clones that came out in the 1970’s, and the gazillion comic book movies put into production after the Batman and Iron Man franchises took off.

So when Bestselling Author X says he writes using an outline, it’s only natural for aspiring writers to think that they need to outline, too.

I can guarantee you without a moment’s hesitation that there are dozens, if not hundreds, of writing workshops going on in the world at this very moment where the workshop leader is telling his or her students to pull out the index cards and start mapping out their story. And this is NOT BAD advice.

The bad part is when they insist that this is the only way to properly construct a novel or screenplay.

The truth is, there is no one way to do anything in writing.

I was reminded of this in one of the comments from the How to Beat Writer’s Block post. And when I teach classes or do presentations or podcasts with my friend Brett Battles, I always try to remember to tell the audience that.

There is no single way to approach writing.

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Robert Gregory Browne is an AMPAS Nicholl Award-winning screenwriter and novelist, currently under contract to St. Martin’s Press, Droemer Knaur, and Macmillan UK. He’s also published in Russia, Bulgaria and Denmark, and has a story in Lee Child’s crime fiction anthology, KILLER YEAR. He’s a member of MWA, ITW, RWA and is a regular columnist for the Anthony Award nominated writer’s blog, Murderati.

Read the rest of the post on Casting the Bones.

 

Read the rest of the post on Casting the Bones.

Authors: 5 Ways You Can Be Your Own Alchemist

This post is from The Creative Penn.com: Writing, self-publishing, print-on-demand, internet sales and marketing…for your book.  

Alchemy is the science and art of turning what is base into something precious. It means transformation and renewal, death and rebirth. There are many myths, legends and secrets around alchemy and it has been a creative muse for many people throughout the centuries. 

Here are 5 ways you can be your own alchemist for your writing:

 

  1. Take your darkest and hidden secrets and turn them into nuggets of gold. We all have our dark and dirty memories, but you can turn them into the basis for brilliant writing. It is not about baring your soul, but using what is down there and transforming it. Fictionalise it. Use the lessons to share your wisdom. Your story is original and people want to hear it. You are unique and you can shape that into brilliance.
  2. Edit your work dramatically. Turn your worst writing into something great. Sometimes our writing itself is base and dirty. It needs refining, sometimes drastically. The alchemist used fire to destroy and refine. You may need to be as brutal with your writing to make it into something beautiful.
  3. Transform yourself. Learn, grow and change to develop your self and your writing. “The book you write will change your life” Seth Godin. I truly believe this. The experience of writing a book, whether it is for you alone or for many readers, can transform you into a new person.
  4. Test and refine your methods and works. The alchemists were always looking for new ways to reach The Philosopher’s Stone. To be the one to finally turn lead into gold. They were chemists, scientists always experimenting. You also need to experiment as an author. Learn from failure and continue to move on. Try different techniques and methods. Include new ways of writing as well as book promotion and sales options. This is a lifetime of work, so you have time to make the changes.
  5. Include both spirituality and practicality into your writing. Alchemists have been linked with both the science of chemistry and also esoteric spirituality. Combining both creates a powerful writing career. Authors need to stay in touch with their soul and spirit in order to create and give their energy to the work. But equally, authors need a practical sensibility in order to deal with business, publishing and book promotion. To be entirely focussed on one without the other is useless.

Eighteen Challenges in Contemporary Literature

This list, by Bruce Sterling, originally appeared on Wired.com’s Beyond the Beyond blog on 5/30/09.

1. Literature is language-based and national; contemporary society is globalizing and polyglot.

2. Vernacular means of everyday communication — cellphones, social networks, streaming video — are moving into areas where printed text cannot follow.

3. Intellectual property systems failing.

4. Means of book promotion, distribution and retail destabilized.

5. Ink-on-paper manufacturing is an outmoded, toxic industry with steeply rising costs.

6. Core demographic for printed media is aging faster than the general population. Failure of print and newspapers is disenfranching young apprentice writers.

7. Media conglomerates have poor business model; economically rationalized “culture industry” is actively hostile to vital aspects of humane culture.

8. Long tail balkanizes audiences, disrupts means of canon-building and fragments literary reputation.

9. Digital public-domain transforms traditional literary heritage into a huge, cost-free, portable, searchable database, radically transforming the reader’s relationship to belle-lettres.

Read the rest of the list on Wired.com’s Beyond the Beyond blog.

Would you rather be a Best-Selling Author or a Best Writing Author?

Dan Brown’s new book “The Lost Symbol” will be out in September and the publishing industry is looking forward to blockbuster sales. Last week at the Sydney Writers Festival, it was pointed out that literary fiction doesn’t sell and one of the panel asked authors to ‘please write more books that sell’. After all, it will help you as an author as well as the suffering publishing industry!

So what do we aim for as authors?

One the one hand we want to win prizes, be literary geniuses and praised for our glorious ability with words. On the other hand, we want to make money! (after all, most literary prizes are very small! )

Here are some examples of best-selling authors that cannot be considered “literature”, but are definitely books that are popular and have touched the hearts of millions (and made a lot of money for their authors and publishing houses). 

  • Dan Brown “The Da Vinci Code” has sold more than 80 million copies. The movie made more than $700 million at the box office. I have read “The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail”, the non-fiction book that the ideas came from, as well as perhaps the literary equivalent Umberto Eco’s “Foucault’s Pendulum”. I enjoyed both other books, but Dan’s comes out tops in terms of popular appeal! 
     
  • Robert Kiyosaki with The Rich Dad series of books, which have sold over 27 million copies in 109 countries. Robert is a multi-millionaire, and says himself “I am a bestselling author, not a best writing author”. 
     
  • JK Rowling of Harry Potter fame is constantly criticised by literature fans especially for her use of adverbs. But that hasn’t stopped her from becoming the first ever billionaire author and loved by millions around the world. 
     
  • The Chicken Soup for the Soul series by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen is just a bunch of stories told by real people in simple language. Those simple stories have touched hearts in 40 countries and sold over 112 million copies, as well as developing into aself-development franchise model. 
     
  • Stephenie Meyer with the Twilight series. Stephenie is even criticised by Stephen King on her writing ability, but that hasn’t stopped her books selling over 30 million copies, as well as the movie rights and associated merchandise. 

There are many literature prizes – the Man Booker is just one of them that I follow. I found this excerpt on the impact of winning the Booker Prize on Yann Martel, author of “The Life of Pi” (which is a great book!). 

“…after the announcement of the Booker win, Life of Pi sold 7,150 copies in the UK, making it the bestselling hardback fiction that week…. D.B.C Pierre “Vernon God Little” went from a sale of 373 copies to 7,977 in the week after” 

Clearly, literary fiction sells less than mass market popular fiction. 

 

Some of my groaning bookshelves

Some of my groaning bookshelves

Now, I love books of all kinds. I have a lot of literary fiction, stacks of non fiction and many popular fiction novels (although those often get recycled through second-hand bookshops!) 

I go to Writers Festivals, I have taken writing courses. I write journals and poetry and have 3 non-fiction books to my name. I have always wanted to win the Booker Prize because of the prestige! 

But I have decided that I want to be a best-selling author, NOT a best-writing author lauded by lit fic critics! I want to write well, but not be classed as literature. I want to be popular, not literary. 

How about you? Would you rather be a best-selling author or a best writing author?

This post appeared on The Creative Penn: Writing, self-publishing, print-on-demand, internet sales and promotion…for your book.   

Publicity And Book Reviews

This post, by Charles Atan, originally appeared on his Bibliophile Stalker LiveJournal on 5/27/09.

Over at Fantasy Book News & Reviews, Jeff swears off reviewing books before [the] release date. It’s a good guideline to live by but it’s by no means a universal rule. Jeff is also working on the belief that book reviews are in the service of the publisher/author–and that’s honestly not the case with every reviewer. But if we’re just talking about promoting a book and the corresponding book review, when to release a book review depends on the publisher’s marketing plan.

Pre-release hype is good but I’ll qualify that by mentioning only if it can be sustained. Theoretically, you want to build-up excitement for the book and reviews can help with that (it’s not the only method but for the sake of limiting the scope of this essay, I’ll just focus on the book reviews aspect). A lot of the blockbuster movies accomplish this through trailers and the occasional new media marketing ploy. An example of how early book reviews [are] leveraged by the publisher is when they use a line or two as a cover blurb for the book (or failing that, a blurb for their website, which was the scenario for my review of J.M. McDermott’s Last Dragon [as far as marketing is concerned though, you might want to read about McDermott’s experience with having a dedicated sales force working on his novel]).

I added the qualifier "if it can be sustained" because a poorly executed marketing plan can lead to a lot of wasted effort. Jeff tackles some of those points but I’ll talk about an issue closer to home. One of my local publishers is Philippine Genre Stories. One of [its] biggest mistakes is the timing of its online promotions (to their credit, they also have some great successes–they have more local readers on their blog compared to mine for example). The first mistake they make with each issue is posting the cover of the magazine months ahead of when it actually gets released. Case in point is the horror issue ([in] which I’m included) which went live at the blog last October 15, 2008. If the issue came out in October or November, the timing would have been right. The second time they failed to capitalize on the publicity was when the book was reviewed in a leading TV station’s site, last December 10, 2008. Again, if the book had come out in November or even December, the timing would have been great. But since the issue still hasn’t been released (I suspect it’ll be out in time for this year’s Halloween), whatever interest stirred up by the review has dissipated.

That’s just one perspective on the matter though. A publication with an efficient marketing team could have sustained reader interest until the issue’s release. This usually works well with either an established series or a really popular author. Look at J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter books. Mid-way through the series (which was when people started paying a lot of attention to her), it was a year or two between the release of each book. Yet fans were looking for news and snippets every single week which would culminate in large gatherings during the book’s release. In fantasy, this is also the case with the multi-volume epics such as The Wheel of Time or A Song of Ice and Fire. The scenario of epic fantasies is interesting because it’s an example of how negative publicity is still publicity: all those fanboys complaining that the books aren’t out yet are contributing to the hype surrounding the books.
 

Read the rest of the post on Charles Atan’s Bibliophile Stalker  LiveJournal.

Bowker Reports U.S. Book Production Declines 3% in 2008, But "On Demand" Publishing More Than Doubles

Traditional publishing faces pivotal year of retrenching, while emergence of new technologies leads to soaring growth in short-run book publishing

New Providence, NJ – May 19, 2009 – Bowker, the global leader in bibliographic information management solutions, today released statistics on U.S. book publishing for 2008, compiled from its Books In Print® database.  Based on preliminary figures from U.S. publishers, Bowker is projecting that U.S. title output in 2008 decreased by 3.2%, with 275,232 new titles and editions, down from the 284,370 that were published in 2007.

Despite this decline in traditional book publishing, there was another extraordinary year of growth in the reported number of “On Demand” and short-run books produced in 2008.  Bowker projects that 285, 394 On Demand books were produced last year, a staggering 132% increase over last year’s final total of 123,276 titles.  This is the second consecutive year of triple-digit growth in the On Demand segment, which in 2008 was 462% above levels seen as recently as 2006.

“Our statistics for 2008 benchmark an historic development in the U.S. book publishing industry as we crossed a point last year in which On Demand and short-run books exceeded the number of traditional books entering the marketplace,” said Kelly Gallagher, vice president of publisher services for New Providence, N.J.-based Bowker.  “It remains to be seen how this trend will unfold in the coming years before we know if we just experienced a watershed year in the book publishing industry, fueled by the changing dynamics of the marketplace and the proliferation of sophisticated publishing technologies, or an anomaly that caused the major industry trade publishers to retrench.”

(Editor’s Note: Members of the news media who are interested in obtaining statistics from Bowker for specific industry categories are invited to email Daryn Teague, Bowker’s public relations consultant, at dteague@teaguecommunications.com.

(This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ).

“The statistics from last year are not just an indicator that the industry had a decline in new titles coming to the market, but they’re also a reflection of how publishers are getting smarter and more strategic about the specific kinds of books they’re choosing to publish,” explained Gallagher.  “If you look beyond the numbers, you begin to see that 2008 was a pivotal year that benchmarks the changing face of publishing.”

Among the major publishing categories, the big winners last year were Education and Business, two categories that might suggest publishers were seeking to give consumers more resources for success amidst a very tough job environment.  There were 9,510 new education titles introduced in the U.S. in 2008, up 33% from the prior year, and 8,838 new business titles, an increase of 14% over 2007 levels.

By contrast, the big category losers in 2008 were Travel and Fiction, two categories in which publishers clearly saw less demand during a deep recession in the U.S.  There were 4,817 new travel books introduced last year, down 15% from the year before, and 47,541 new fiction titles, a drop of 11% from 2007.  Moreover, the Religion category dropped again last year, with 14% fewer titles introduced in the U.S., and that once reliable engine of growth for publishers is now well off its peak year of 2004.

According to Gallagher, the Bowker data reveals that the top five categories for U.S. book production in 2008 were:

1.    Fiction (47,541 new titles)
2.    Juveniles (29,438)
3.    Sociology/Economics (24,423)
4.    Religion (16,847)
5.    Science (13,555)

DOWNLOAD THE FULL STATISTICS REPORT HERE (PDF, 12KB)

Methodology
The book production figures in this news release are based on year-to-date data from U.S. publishers and include traditional print as well as on demand titles.  Audiobooks and E-books are excluded.  If changes in industry estimates occur, they will be reflected in a later published report. Books In Print data represents input from more than 75,000 publishers in the U.S. The data is sent to Bowker in electronic files, and via BowkerLink, Bowker’s password protected Web-based tool, which enables publishers to update and add their own data.

Books In Print is the only bibliographic database with more than 8 million U.S. book, audiobook and video titles.  It is widely regarded throughout the publishing industry as the most authoritative and comprehensive source of bibliographic data available worldwide, and has been a trusted source of data in North America for more than 50 years.

About Bowker
Bowker is the world’s leading source for bibliographic information. The company provides searching, analytical, promotional, and ordering services to publishers, booksellers, libraries, and patrons through national and international brands, including: Books In Print®, Global Books In Print®, Syndetic Solutions™, Pubnet®, PubEasy®, PubTrack™, AquaBrowser®, and more. In the U.S., Australia and Puerto Rico, Bowker is also the exclusive ISBN and SAN Agency and a DOI registration agency for the publishing industry. Bowker is headquartered in New Providence, New Jersey, with operations in East Grinstead, England, and Melbourne, Australia. For more company details, please visit www.Bowker.com.

Publetariat Editor’s Note: this story is a reprint of a Bowker press release.

Debunking Myths About Blogging

This post, from Jan Felt, originally appeared on his Cyber Footprint site on 4/29/09.

I bet you have thought about running a blog at least once; then you decided against it citing at least one (or more) of the reasons below.

Myth #1: “No one will read it anyways.”

You might have given your readership a lot of thought. Or not. Then, in a better case, you might have tried running your own blog for a while and finding out you were right – no one actually read it.

Ask yourself these questions and try to answer truthfully.

  • Did I provide an incentive for the readers to visit my blog?
  • Did I tell my readers something they are interested in / don’t know about?
  • Did the readers feel good after they have read my blog?

If you answered no to at least one question, you know why the readers didn’t come to your blog – your content was not relevant enough to them. To get people to read your weblog you must provide high quality content.

It doesn’t matter whether you are blogging about fashion or market analysis. What matters is when the reader wants to know something about the hottest clothes to wear to a party she turns to your blog, because you provide her with ideas so good she can’t resist trying them.

Morale of the story: write well and learn to market yourself online.

Myth #2: “I don’t get anything out of blogging.”

Yes, we humans living in the 21st century are materialistic beings. If I have nothing to gain, why would I bother to put out some content on the Internet?

Actually, you can make money from your blog. Try looking at AdSense, Text link ads, or Amazon’s affiliate program. These programs provide you with a steady stream of income depending only on how many visitors click on the ads. The best part of this scheme? It works without your presence, so you may be partying and still making money.

In the first 6 months, you will hardly make any profit, but if you won’t give up, chances are that you will be able to make a decent income out of your blogging efforts.

The list above is not at all exhaustive. There are many other ways to make money from the blog and it’s not that difficult to discover them. When your blog starts being influential, I recommend to look at our ethics section.

Myth #3: “I suck at technology, so I can’t blog.”

There is a widespread opinion that in order to blog, the author must understand the technical aspect of the Internet. That’s not entirely true. Check out content management systems like WordPress, Joomla and Drupal. They are easy to use and require very little technical capability to master. And did I mention they are free?

However, to do things justice, there are some knowledge requirements you ought to meet before plunging into blogosphere. You should be at least knowledgeable about what a server, domain and hosting services are and how they work. That might not be easy for a beginner, but in case you get into a trouble, feel free to tell me about it. I will do whatever I can to help you out.

Myth #4: “I don’t have time to blog.”

Being busy studying during the day and working during the night (hope I got the order right) is a hassle. Add some parties, friends and general life to that, and there is a mayhem into which blogging simply does not fit.

That is one of the lamest excuses anyone can come up with. It demonstrates a lack of discipline, which is a rather unfavourable trait nowadays. If you feel that dedicating 20 – 60 minutes per day to self-promotion online is a waste of time, then you are losing a major competitive advantage. Those who care about their online presence will network more easily. Later on, blogging and networking online may transcend even to job offers.

Myth #5: “I don’t have anything to say.”

Are you sure about that one? If you are a university student, young professional or an experienced ‘tiger’ of the corporate jungle, there is definitely something that you are interested in. Do not be afraid to turn your hobby into a focus for your self-promotional, money-generating weblog. Besides, if you are really passionate about your focus, chances are that you will do well.

As you can see now, the discussed myths are not as crucial hindrances to blogging as they seemed to be in the beginning. In conclusion, blogging is easy and the resources you put in are tiny compared to the enormous benefits you get out of this activity. It is certainly worth a try.

 

Researching Your Book

This post, from BubbleCow, originally appeared on the BubbleCow blog on 5/8/09.

The key to effective research is to know what it is that you need to know!

The first step is to recognise that there are two types of research: general and specific.
General Research
This is all about gathering a wider knowledge of the subject of your novel or book.
  • Read general books: Start with outlines and histories of the period (topic) under study. Get a feel for the key events of the time. Read books at all levels. Children’s history books are often a good place to start since they will give you a nice overview. 
     
  • Read ‘real’ history books: The next stage is to read some serious history books. Find out who the key historians are in the area of your research and read a couple of their books. Good history books will have loads of references to the books that the historians used in their research. You can use these references to find more history books. 
     
  • Beware of the Internet: At this stage you are still probably gathering a deeper knowledge of the subject area. You may find that the Internet is not the most helpful tool at this stage. Wikipedia can be very useful to clarify details but use with caution. [Publetariat Editor’s note: this is because Wikipedia entries are created and edited by members of the general public, and are therefore not always 100% reliable]
      
  • Make notes: This is very important. As you read make notes of the key points and, most importantly, write down questions. 
     

Specific Research

 
Having gathered a general knowledge you will now be ready for specific research. This is all about answering the questions that will help with your writing. However, the key is to be specific.
 
Let’s say you are writing a scene set in London in 1867. You have a young couple walking down a street at night.
 
You could ask:
 
‘In Victorian Britain what did a London street look like at night?’
This would be fine but it is very hard to answer. Where would you begin? You would be very lucky to find a website or book that would give you the description you needed.
 
OK – let’s change the question to:
 
‘In 1867 what did a London street look like at night?’
 
This is a more specific question and therefore easier to research. You might do a google search on ‘London streets 1867’. This might pull up some useful information. An image search did produce this: 

See the image, and read the rest of the post, on the Bubble Cow blog.

#PublisherFail: The ONE Thing Big Pub Must Change In Order To Survive, Pt. 2

(cont’d from Part 1)

Meanwhile, your industry is investing its time and money in practices, devices and technologies intended to keep control of, and broad accessibility to, your products out of the hands of your customers. You don’t release every book in print, audio and ebook formats. You release very few titles in audiobook form, yet fight against Text To Speech (TTS) technology even on books you have no intention of ever releasing in audiobook form. You don’t show strong support for cross-platform ebook standards, yet you fully support the proprietary file formats used on the Kindle and Sony Reader. Having learned nothing from PR debacles in the music and film industries, you are moving to criminalize your customers with stringent DRM.

You believe your products are special and your role as their producer grants you both rights and responsibilities over and above the mere needs of your customers. 

With respect to TTS and DRM, Big Pub hides behind a shield of ‘protecting the interests of the artist’, just as music and film producers have done in the past. But it didn’t take long for those producers to realize motivated pirates and hackers will always exist, and withholding purchase and use options from your entire customer base in order to discourage the criminal acts of a few is a bad business decision. They also realized customers are willing to pay for digital media, and in fact will buy digital media just as often as hard copy media, so long as it’s convenient, affordable, and meets their needs. Free from your curator complex, they’ve embraced digital media to the fullest extent and are reaping the benefits.

The software, videogame and film industries take cross-platform support for their customers a step further by providing simplified or downsampled versions of their products for use on mobile devices. No one playing Guitar Hero on a Nintendo DS expects the same gaming experience as playing the full-featured console game, no one using MS Office Mobile expects to find the same feature set as regular MS Office, and no one watching a movie on an iPod expects the same audience experience as seeing the film in a theater. Makers of these products understand that on a portable device the customer’s priority is—surprise!—portability. Content and functionality matter to customers too, but customers are willing to trade bells and whistles for convenience and cost savings.

When you start down the road to release a book in electronic, portable form, you begin with the assumption that you must preserve the “integrity of the page” and “integrity of print branding”. If you can’t exactly duplicate the frames and shading employed in sidebars, or get the tiny graphic of the geek with his finger in the air to display in the exact location and size as they appear in the print book, you don’t want to release an electronic version at all. Even when working with a minimally-formatted book like a novel, you strive to preserve original fonts, typesetting and layout details in the ebook version. You set up task forces, invest in development of new devices, software and technologies, and generally make things much harder and more expensive than they need to be.

You appear to be completely oblivious to the fact that one of the major draws of the ebook is the flexibility users have in controlling how the text is displayed. Most e-reading software and devices allow the user to change the font, font size, line spacing, orientation of the page, and sometimes even the font and page colors. All your efforts to preserve the “integrity of the page” are wasted.

Nevertheless, you pass the expense of these efforts on to the ebook buyer, and as a result your customers think you’re ripping them off on ebooks. You repeatedly defend your pricing on the grounds that your overhead in producing an ebook is comparable to producing a print book, but you leave out the part where you could provide a simplified version of the ebook at a much lower cost—a cost consumers would find much more reasonable and appealing. You ignore the customer’s priorities (portability, convenience and cost savings) in favor of your own, self-imposed priorities. Once again, it’s because you believe your products are special and you answer to a higher calling than serving your customer base.

Even your unsustainable policies concerning bookseller returns are the direct result of placing your flawed self-image and industry traditions above the needs of your customers. Chain bookstores are no longer the only game in town for bookselling and consumers already know the chains can’t compete with online vendors for selection or price, with ‘big box’ stores for convenience or price, nor with indie booksellers for service. None of your customers’ priorities are being served by chain booksellers (which is why they’re suffering a slow economic death), yet you continue to remain in voluntary bondage to the chains and even grant them preferential terms.

When chain record stores like Musicland and Tower Records began to falter, record labels didn’t engage in efforts to prop them up or prolong the inevitable. Instead, the labels followed their customers into new markets and new distribution models. If you didn’t feel beholden to the ‘old ways’ of bookselling, you would do the same.

If you want to take the high road and place artistic integrity and tradition above profit, that’s fine. Independent imprints do it all the time. The only problem is, preservation of artistic integrity and tradition often exists at cross-purposes to mass-market economic demands. You want all the big profits that come from serving the mass market, yet believe you are entitled to deny the wants of that market whenever you choose, with no impact on your bottom line. You feel justified in forcing your customers to subsidize the costs and suffer the inconveniences of your misguided efforts in curatorship.
 

Let libraries, museums, academics and critics decide which of your products are worthy of preservation, just as they do in art, film and music. Drop your curator complex, and suddenly all the ancillary challenges and crises that eat up most of your days and resources fall away. Of course you will always have the challenge of trying to forecast which products will be most popular to your customers, but so does every other business that produces consumer products.

Letting go of costly, needless business practices reduces your risk on each individual product, and enables you to open up new revenue streams that can help balance the overall profitability scales when an individual product fails. Focus on making your customers’ priorities your own, and the way forward becomes obvious.

And lest you think your industry can never fail completely, since people will always need sources of information, inspiration and entertainment…there’s an app for that. Lots of them, actually.
 

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April L. Hamilton is the author of The IndieAuthor Guide and the founder of Publetariat. Her latest book is From Concept to Community.