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1. Panel Picking: SXSW 2010

It thrills me that the book community is actively participating in the South by Southwest Interactive festival. For some, it’s an opportunity to explore the latest and greatest in technologies and trends; for others, it’s a chance to discover how others fit into the publishing ecosystem; and, for all, it’s a chance to connect with a wider community, expanding points of view.

Not only is the bookish world attending SXSWi, but they are also actively participating as speakers. Which means, yes, once again I bring you a listing of book-related panels with brief descriptions. Part of the panel selection process is a bit of a popularity contest, and your vote for these panels helps get book programming on the schedule.

Check out the panels, take a moment to go through the (painless) registration process, then please vote. My panels, ahem, are listed first, and every vote is appreciated by me and each of the great people who put together great proposals! (And if I’ve missed something, shout out in the comments, please!)

Note: I’ve shortened some of the descriptions. Click through for full descriptions and comments on proposals.

  • 21st Century Publishing Models: Turning Tradition Upside-Down: This panel features me, Angela James of Carina Press, Pablo Defendini of Open Road Media, and Kirk Biglione of Oxford Media Works. It will be awesome. New publishers are building thriving businesses with digital first/print maybe and books-as-apps approaches. With industry giants crowding the bestseller lists and the number of titles published each year growing, how do these independent digital publishers compete in the book marketplace? Veterans of this constantly evolving business model explain how they are building twenty-first century publishing houses, combining the strengths of traditional publishing with cutting-edge technology.
  • Beyond the Book: New Publishing Models That Work: Simon St. Laurent, O’Reilly Media. (I’ve been invited to participate on this panel!) Instead of lamenting the loss of a golden era, though, some publishers and authors are already finding new opportunities. Despite some hopeful dreams, the iPad by itself won’t save publishing. There’s much more going on than just app stores that can run like bookstores. The Web makes possible all kinds of things, like subscription models to libraries of content, constant updates that depart from the edition model, video content that reinforces or replaces a book’s message, live online events, applications that offer readers new content navigation models, and more. Print on demand, of course, continues to transform even the traditional print book market.
  • Nothing is True, Everything is Permitted. Not!: Richard Nash, Cursor. In the Assassin’s Code, the death of God makes everything possible. Many believe that the network makes everything possible. But if everything is possible, how does anything matter? In art, what is left out is as important as what is included. Can the rules of making art help us make more useful technology? Can such concepts as the minimum viable product help us do a better job of writing, editing, designing, and disseminating novels, films, music.
  • The New Author Platform: Mary Ann Naples, OpenSky, featuring Debbie Stier of HarperCollins. Building your brand hub with internet platform tools–for authors, the desired “platform” used to mean what publicity you have gotten, who you are connected to, and what your speaking schedule was (if you didn’t have a tv or radio show). Now, it’s a whole new world. This panel addresses the new era of internet platform tools that are helping authors engage, grow, and monetize their online presence–and ga

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2. SXSWi 2010: Themes and Thoughts

And it happened. Traditional book publishers were out in force at South by Southwest Interactive this year. I was pleased to see so many stepping outside the publisher bubble and into the crazy interactive bubble. I was even more pleased by the breadth of sessions my compatriots attended. Foursquare tells all, my friends!

I don’t attend South by Southwest for “aha” moments, though I’ve had them. I tend to soak up zeitgeist, themes, and trends. Many of the ideas I note below are not unique to this year’s festival. I’d say most have been simmering along for a while. This year, they reached critical mass.

  • People Will Pay for Content: Given the nature of the Interactive festival, you’d expect a lot of praying to the God of Free. Au contraire! Of course, people who attend SXSWi are working professionals, and they expect their work to be valued. Not only did people express the desire to be paid, they expressed the desire to pay.

    Which leads to….

  • The Rise of Bespoke: During Daniel Ek’s Keynote Interview (yeah, I totally made up that phrasing), he used the word “bespoke” to describe how some features are used on Spotify. I was delighted by the lovely, old fashioned, and entirely contemporary word. Over the past few years, I’ve noticed a yearning for things that are unique to them. This is why we knit, this is why Etsy thrives, this is why we put stickers on our laptops.

    What emerged as a theme throughout SXSWi was the idea that people are willing to pay for content, but they’re willing to pay higher prices for something unique, something different, something more than the ordinary mass content. Putting this in context of books, this opens up the potential for limited, high-end editions. It opens up the potential for truly enhanced ebooks (please, once again, do not confuse marketing extras with enhancements. Big. Difference.). It opens the potential for a range of price points and formats in the book marketplace.

  • Context: I’ve been waiting for this one. A few years ago, I told someone that I think the next hot career will be librarian. I’ve been talking about this ever since. We live in an age where nearly every bit of information can be found via Google or its brethren. Constant streams of information bombard our brains. As more and more information fills the silence, we will need experts who can put all the pieces together, put them into context.

    We will need librarians. Public librarians, private librarians, corporate librarians, freelance librarians. They have trained for this mission!

    Let’s also take context in another direction: analysis. The journalists on the Future of Context panel talked about pulling the pieces of news together in ways that create a richer story. This is the future of paid news. A house fire on 4th street rarely requires deep analysis, and isn’t the type of news people will consider worthy of money. Analysis, insight, putting the pieces together…that’s where the money is.

    This likely means news services that mix free with paid (which I suspect is antithetical to Rupert Murdoch’s vision). I know I subscribe to Salon because I get more than a cursory overview of the headlines. I’ve supported other news organizations because they do the same. It’s time to stop worrying about the death of journalism and start, you know, practicing it again.

  • Privacy: This is the year people thought seriously about privacy. From Danah Boyd’s keynote (which I missed due to being, oh, 35,000 feet in the air) to various other panels to private conversations, the idea

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3. Tools. Change.

My mark of a good conference is how I feel when it’s over. It’s a given that I’ll be exhausted (I am an introvert after all), so the test is whether or not I’m inspired to do something. Read, write, create, think. This is how I felt at the end of this year’s Tools of Change conference. Ready to roll.

There are a lot of of conferences focused on the changes facing publishing. Some might say too many, but I disagree. Over the next few decades, we will see all sorts of shifts in publishing, and these conferences — which thanks to the magic of technology have extended beyond the in-person realm to include far-flung audiences via social media discussions, webinars, and more — tackle the wide range of opportunities, challenges, and imaginative thinking that leads to innovation.

As I explore my takeaways from this year’s Tools of Change, I start from this position: all publishing is already digital.

Granted, there may be a few authors out there who submit handwritten or typewritten manuscripts (and if so, dear publishers, allow me to express my sympathy). Those are the exceptions. Every manuscript begins its life in digital format. So. All publishing is already digital.

What I see as one of the biggest challenges facing existing (or traditional) publishers is that they still haven’t managed to make the shift from a print-based workflow to a digital workflow. Motoko Rich of the New York Times wrote about the costs of producing a book, yet didn’t explore the fact that some (not a lot, granted) savings could be realized through more efficient workflow.

(Actually, there is a lot of to chew on in Rich’s piece, including the ever-popular advances-not-earning-out problem, something that increases costs for everyone.)

I’ve watched this conference evolve from a curiosity to a conversation. The “tools” of “change” are not always apparent. Sometimes the tool is as simple as attending something outside your wheelhouse; sometimes it’s hearing how someone else does something and realizing parts will work for you. It’s the “tools, not rules” thing. If anything, this year’s TOC highlighted the need for even more nuts-and-bolts discussions — and there were quite a few of those mixed in with equally important long-term vision sessions.

So a few takeaways:

Contracts and Systems

When Angela James and I proposed our “A Different Model” presentation, we had a very different agenda in mind. A lot has changed since last summer, and I was thrilled when Angie, who is the Executive Editor of Carina Press suggested focusing on some of the specific issues she’s encountered as she and her team speed toward launch.

As a digital first publisher, Carina is essentially a start-up within an established publisher. Rather than building new infrastructure from scratch, they are leveraging existing systems within the parent company, meaning some big questions have to be addressed. As more publishers explore the digital first, print maybe model, these are some of the questions to be expected:

  • Royalties: The digital author expects higher royalties, often ranging from 35% – 50%. For publishers who have set royalties, what does it take to accommodate different royalty rates for different distribution models?
  • Reserves/Automatic Calculations: It’s not unusual for royalty systems to do automatic calculations for reserves for returns or bad debt. Of course, in the digital realm, returns are possible, but the rate will be far lower than the amount coded into the system. What change

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4. Unintentional Pirates, or Listening to Readers

One reason I focus on the world of digital publishing is because it’s the most exciting thing in the book world today. Oh sure, we might, collectively, raise an eyebrow or two at the humongous advances paid to authors like Yann Martel, especially given the current state of industry and the author’s own admission that he’s not expecting it to find a huge audience.

We sigh over embargoed books by politicians who, ultimately, reveal so little in their books, it makes us wonder if the embargoes are a Hail Mary attempt to trick readers into buying a book before word-of-mouth does its job. These raised eyebrows and sighs are part of business as usual. Amazon repossessing books from customers?

Now that’s news.

Others have covered this topic quite effectively. Does that mean I’ll ignore it? Of course not.

Last week, in the comments to Dominique Raccah’s post on ebook release patterns — a topic that remains hot this week — there was a brief back and forth about piracy. More than one person has suggested that denying people ebooks can lead readers to pirated books. This suggestion invites outrage — how dare we justify a clearly illegal behavior!

To which I reply, “No, that’s not what is being said at all.” Listen, learn, understand, employ smarter strategy.

The Amazon story is, at heart, a case of classic piracy: somebody (apparently) stole something for the sake of future profits. But the customers who bought the book were not aware that the book they purchased was illegal. One student is now able to use, possibly for the first time, the “Amazon ate my homework” line.

Amazon’s response was sloppy. They should have communicated with customers before invading their privacy. They should have eaten the loss. They should have done more to ensure their customers were made to feel comfortable about, and there’s no way to avoid this, Big Brother watching them. The fact that this can and did happen highlights something early ebook adopters have been saying all along: we don’t feel like we own these books, at least not in the commonly acknowledged way.

Piracy exists. It’s not going to die. Heck, every futuristic novel we read contemplates the existence of piracy (usually with pirates fighting Evil Empires). So why do ordinarily law-abiding people engage in piracy? I think understanding what drives people — people who firmly believe that all four tires must come to a full stop at the octagonal red sign — to go through the hassle of finding and downloading illegal books.

I don’t believe that every instance of “piracy” is an instance of a lost sale. I do believe that most instances of customers seeking an ebook and not finding a legal copy represent lost sales. I don’t believe readers, especially in today’s crazier-by-the-moment market, necessarily know that they’re accessing illegal copies. I do believe retailers like Scribd need to be more aggressive about policing what’s on their sites.

I believe pirated versions of books indicate a level of demand for backlist titles. I don’t believe withholding digital rights stops piracy. I do believe people will happily pay for books as long as their basic requirements are met. I don’t believe “that’s how we’ve always done it” is a good response to change.

What I believe most of all is that, more than ever, publishers need to listen to what readers are saying. The two sides may not always agree, but there’s a really good chance someone will learn something new.

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5. Competing for Eyeballs: Reading in the 21st Century

There is no doubt we live in a time of change. Last week, I wrote that it’s never good for an industry when its customer base changes faster than the business model. It’s even more dangerous when you assume your product is recession-proof, technology-proof, distraction-proof.

I was reminded of this again when I read David Ulin’s Los Angeles Times piece about the difficulty of shutting out the rest of the world and finding the time to engage in deep pleasure reading. He calls it “The lost art of reading”. I call it a shot over the bow.

Ulin talks about the constant distractions he faces during the day and well into the night. The need to be in the know, part of the mix, to respond rather than think. It’s easy enough for me to say, “Disconnect, dude. It will still be there in the morning.” I mean I have to force myself to do it, and, yeah, that itchy worry about the world having fun without me persists far longer than it should. But I’ve discovered it’s really okay to not be the first, the fastest; I can take my time and consider.

Even so, I cannot find the time to read as much as I’d like.

What I meant about Ulin’s article being a shot over the bow is this. David Ulin is a die-hard reader. Not only is it his job, but it’s his passion. If he’s being squeezed by life and technology and distractions, what about the rest of the readers out there? What about the readers who like the occasional book, but can, well, take it or leave it each time (with all due apologies to Mr. Hell)?

I am often asked about the reader I see in my mind when I talk about the typical ebook reader. That reader is female, she’s married, she has kids, she has a full-time job. That reader is, generally, booked every minute from six o’clock in the morning until ten o’clock at night. She loves to read, but, wow, when? She reads in those in-between moments. Forget the luxury of immersive reading, we’re talking about a few paragraphs snatched between appointments and meetings and meals and shopping.

The typical ebook reader looks a lot like the typical book reader. Typical book buyer. It is hard to explain, to some readers, that for many others, finding long stretches of time to read is a luxury. This is the challenge the publishing industry faces, the fact that people who buy and read books are faced, not only with normal day-to-day demands on their time, but with a constant stream of alternatives to sitting down and reading books.

The competition for books isn’t necessarily other books as much as everything else in life. Given all the demands readers face, I am amused by publishing people who insist on “preserving the value” of what they publish. I’d be more sympathetic to this argument if publishers could make it less patently obvious that “value” often means “supporting our pricey, risky business decisions”, such as paying million dollar advances for books about cats…and I say this as a cat person! Even if this title earns out, even if the advance is structured with lots of hoops, honestly, one million dollars?

Am I going to “value” this book the same way the publisher does? Or am I going to look at a book priced to recoup this crazy amount of money and think, “You know, I just don’t need it.”

Then there’s the value of reprints. Yesterday at the grocery store, I saw a dump filled with “value priced” Nora Roberts titles. Older stuff, priced at $10.95. Value? For a cheap-feeling trade paperback of a book originally released in 1998? To make it easier on us all, the publisher has apparently pulled the mass market version in favor of the pricier “reprint”.

Creating false scarcity, trying to manipulate customers into paying more by calling it a “value”, hoping nobody notices that this book is over a decade old? The digital list price of the Kindle edition is $7.99. At this point, every sale of these titles is pure gravy for the publisher. As I stared at that bin filled with reprints of books, I thought of all the demands on my time, all the things standing between me and reading.

I also thought, for a moment, that I wouldn’t mind having at least one of those book on my Kindle, because I am a re-reader, and I already own paper copies of the titles I liked the first time around. Despite all those demands, had the publisher chosen to value me, maybe I would have bought the book. Again.

This is what I think about when I think about the challenges facing the publishing industry. It’s not enough to publish good books. The books have to connect with readers, and pretending the way business has evolved is the way business must proceed is dangerous. When someone like David Ulin finds it hard to settle into a long evening’s read, when someone like me considers then reconsiders buying a book, then maybe it’s time to think about how business as usual is impacted by readers who have changed.

We’re moving at the speed of light, we readers.

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6. Books at SXSW? You Can Make It Happen

A few years ago, I wrote a post lamenting the lack of book people at the South by Southwest Interactive festival. Last year, as we know, a panel put together by a group of publishers missed its target, angering the audience. This year…wow, it’s a bookstravaganza.

I am so pleased to see so many book folk stepping up to show that, yes, there are cool things happening in the publishing industry. The Interactive festival has come a long way from its geekish roots. Held concurrently with the Film festival, the conference brings together the most creative minds in media, from Alternate Reality Gaming to traditional print.

But the magic doesn’t happen magically! There is a panel picking formula, and festival attendees vote on panels they want to see (said voting carries 30% of the weight in the process). Help your fellow book people by voting for the panels you’d like to see at this year’s SXSW Interactive festival!

And, if I missed a panel, please post it in the comments. Also, you’ll need to register to vote, but it’s quick and painless.

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7. Thoughts on Print Fidelity and Accessibility

When I was a wee reader, my grandmother assured me that reading in poor light would destroy my eyes. Actually, heredity was the real culprit, and modern science would save me from the tyranny of eyeglasses*. I admit it: I was one of those kids who had to read, and that meant I had to make the best of the situation. Very little light? Just squint and hold the book closer.

I’m going to mess up your book

As I’ve moved through this big, bad world, I have discovered one thing to be true. People go through a lot of machinations to make print text readable. Reading glasses. Holding paper at arms’ length. Squinting. Stretching the corner of one eye. Getting closer to the work. Magnifying glasses. Persuading another person to read the words out loud.

I’ve also noticed that even the most technophobic of people will learn the tricks and tips they need to make the text on their computer monitors readable. I have seen some scary font sizes in my day, both big and small. When it comes to the optimal font and size, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

(This is not really about accessibility, though, ahem, it is.)

With print books, there are definite limitations to what you can do to make the actual reading easier. It is amazing how hard people will work to read, despite the challenges. Ebooks are different. Here is how it works in ebooks. I’m going to mess up your book. After you spend all that time on formatting and typesetting and getting the kerning just right, I’m going to mess with it. Not out of malice, of course, but there you have it.

When I’m at the gym, I’ll make the font a little bigger to accommodate for the weird light. When I’m on the couch, I’ll return to regular size, but I might be in the mood for ragged right instead of full justification (which can be so annoying in some ebooks). Of course, I may go bigger if I’m not sitting near the light source. On my laptop, I’ll do this; on my iPhone, I’ll do that. I might even turn my phone sideways. I am a moody person. You never know what I’m going to do.

Bottom line is this: for the kind of book I read the most, traditional fiction, I am going to make the reading experience as comfortable for me as possible. Better still, I have the power to do so.

I expressed frustration when J.K. Rowling stated that one reason for withholding the Harry Potter series from the ebook market was because she believed her stories should be experienced as she intended. On paper. I thought that then and I think now that sentiment is entirely too selfish. What about the reader who doesn’t have room in her bag to carry a very thick book? What about the reader who is up at three a.m., a baby in one arm? What about the vision impaired? The mobility impaired?

I lied. This is about accessibility. And print fidelity.

Some books are beautiful. The layout and design is an integral part of the experience. Images and elements and fonts and colors all come together to make the book a thing to behold and treasure. We have not yet begun to see all that can be done with beautiful books in the digital realm.

One thing I’d like to posit is that these lovely books shouldn’t be required to look and feel like the print version. Take advantage of the medium — whose ego is being stroked when form takes precedence over function or even innovation?

A frustration I have with books released via the Scrollmotion App is the insistence on maintaining print fidelity. While Scrollmotion has shown what they can do with their technology (comics anyone? there is so much possibility for this company), most of the books released to date do not benefit from fidelity to the print version. As a consumer, I actually find the insistence on mirroring the print layout, pagination and all, annoying. Especially for a book purchased to read on my iPhone. It’s not, ahem, the largest reading surface on the planet.

I am thinking about this because I am thinking about people who spend far too many hours tweaking the look of an ebook to suit their own aesthetics, never once considering that the reader may have an entirely different set of requirements. I get the commitment to the art, but believe time spent on the basics is time better spent. I am thinking about publishers who increase the costs of ebook production because they think print first, digital after.

I guess what I’m really thinking about is the idea that a digital book is a book transformed. It’s the first time, I believe, the user experience can be shaped by the reader so completely. And in shaping that experience, the reader is able to create an environment where thinking about the logistics of reading take second place to the actual words and ideas on the (paper or virtual or even audio) page.

* – Sad but true: I find myself missing my glasses, but only because of the frames. I feel I didn’t do enough to explore the world of non-boring frames.

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8. In Defense of Single Purpose Devices

Once upon a time, I believed that nobody wanted a single purpose reading device. Why, I wondered, would anyone want something that did only one thing*, albeit very well? It made no sense to me. We had the technology and all that.

(And this despite my lifelong love affair with the classic single purpose reader.)

I was wrong.

Oh, that’s so harsh. Let me soften the blow to myself: I wasn’t entirely right. Recently, I read an article entitled “Singe Purpose E-Book Readers are Dead“. This was moments after I’d been reading on my Kindle. In the backyard. In the sunshine. With the hummingbirds. Hummingbirds are surprisingly aggressive.

I got to thinking. I live on my laptop. It’s the first thing I see in the morning**, it’s the last thing I check at night. In between, I am constantly reading, writing, responding, and goofing off. This multi-function device, it’s being used right this very second, is like an extension of myself. We vacation together. We enjoy wine together (though I did have one laptop that didn’t take to wine, requiring emergency surgery and embarrassing revelations to computer repair people). My laptop has an entire wardrobe: a backpack, a lovely messenger-style bag, a more formal leather get-up, a snuggly jacket.

That was too much information, wasn’t it?

My iPhone has proven to be a wonderful reading device. And multi-functional device. I like the looks of the Microsoft Courier…words I never expected to type. Probably I will be agitating in an unattractive manner for the Apple Tablet, should an Apple Tablet ever be released. I’m not opposed to small, sleek devices that do lots of stuff.

But sometimes I just want to read. I don’t want potential distractions. I don’t want the possibility of potential distractions. And, trust me, if I have many functions, I will use many functions. Sometimes, I just want to get away from it all. I want that lovely solitude that comes when I am completely immersed in a story.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. I know. But it turns out I prefer ebooks. For reasons great and small. I’m a reader, someone who gets hives when she’s away from text-based information for too long. I will read anything, any words. I read the little cards next to artwork before I look at artwork. Granted, my eye so discerning that my analysis is generally of the “ooh, pretty picture” variety. We all dig what we dig.

I realize that dedicated ereaders are not for everyone. They will likely only appeal to a certain kind of reader. That’s okay, you know? I realize they’re expensive, though I’d argue I’ve paid mine off. It’s achieving the little goals that matter, right? I realize they aren’t great for all types of reading. Fine. I am convinced that as tech gets cheaper and more pervasive, multi-gadget lives will be the rule, not the exception — how those multiple gadgets manifest in our lives is a longer, more nuanced discussion.

Don’t write off the single purpose device. Don’t write off the printed book. Don’t write off any method of connecting books and readers. As we move forward with digital reading, think about the story, the way the book (however you define it) will be used, the way the reader will want or need to interact with it. Think multiple ways — no need to expect a one-to-one relationship.

I believe readers do want single purpose devices. And multi-purpose devices. And many, many other things.

* – Though the Kindle does have web browsing capabilities.
** — Unless you count the cat using me as a launching pad. Or, my husband.

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9. Trendwatching 2010

Yep, it’s time to predict the future! I’ve pulled the BS crystal ball out of storage, buffed it to a shine, and gazed deep and long. Through the glass — which has no mystical ability, as far as I can tell — I saw the future splayed in a haphazard pile: a beautiful cookbook, my Kindle, a Sony Reader, my laptop, several magazines, and at least one iPhone. Reading. Choices. Formats. Choices.

This future of words is good, the future of publishing as we know it, hmm, there are justifiable concerns. Right now, the only thing standing in the way of the future of publishing is…yep…the business of publishing. It’s hard to focus on the entire system, so let’s look at my favorite subsection: ebooks. So, what is the future for digital books?

  • International Rights Will Be Hot, Hot, Hot: I’ve been writing about territorial rights, particularly as they apply to ebooks, for years (last year’s A World Without Borders may have had a bit too prophetic a title). Right now, the Kindle and other devices are being rolled out internationally, or, ahem, being acquired by international readers despite lack of official infrastructure in their countries. Right now, readers are complaining about the lack of books to support the technology.

    Publishing, the monolith, is dangerously close to losing control of the international ebook market. The readers are educated, sophisticated, and in possession of technology. They don’t get why it’s so hard to buy the books they hear about, print or digital. They are already bypassing the publishing infrastructure. While I’m not a piracy alarmist, I do think the lack of legal marketplaces creates opportunity for black markets.

    In today’s marketplace, the piecemeal acquisition of territorial rights harms the bottom line. Readers don’t care about the publishing business model, and the speed of today’s communication means publishers need to be better positioned for connecting books and readers while the buzz is buzzing. I personally advocate for acquiring worldwide language rights versus specific territories.

    Think about it this way: deals are being made today that withhold English-language (for example) ebooks from the world because someone along the way thought it was a good idea to continue parsing out rights on a territorial basis. This means a year or two from now, in a (hopefully for publishers) burgeoning international ebook market, release patterns will be spotty and confusing. Missed opportunity to the left of me, missed opportunity to the right.

    As smart people realize this, international language-based digital rights are going to be the hot topic (though, I predict, not a lucrative one for authors and agents who are seeking to get larger advances for this market; it’s just not there.)

  • Consumers Flex Power, Publishers Pay Attention: As noted above (and below), readers don’t care about the publishing business model. It increasingly makes little sense to them. It’s puzzling for consumers when they want to give a business their business, only to be told their money’s no good. The reaction will never again be “Fine, I’ll just sit quietly in the corner until you decide to sell to me”; it will likely forever be “Okay, I’ll just take my business somewhere else”.

    As I noted above, because the infrastructure for selling ebooks internationally is lagging behind the technology, consumers are developing their own markets and systems. They’re setting the terms. They’re breaking DRM to read, not to pirate. They’re asking for flexibility and choice. Consumers are speaking all over the book business. Smart publishers will thrive by listening.

  • $9.99 Will Become The (Sorta )Standard: The Kindle continue

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10. ToC: Why You Should Register Early

Of all the entertainment industries, book publishing is the most traditional. What could be less high-tech than a book*? Since the dawn of the printing press, the industry’s interest in technology has been largely focused on the making and distributing of books. As computers entered the workforce — ostensibly as time- and labor-saving tools (ha!) — staff at publishing houses took sides: techie and non-techie.

Those roles have been bleeding into each other with increasing frequency. Today, we can laugh at the notion of that the birthing, care, and feeding of a publisher’s website was ever the domain of IT. We find it bizarre that we ever survived without email. Seriously, how did one get their daily Lunch before listservs were invented?

Unlike traditional publishing, where the shape and form of books remained fairly static (though the method for transferring ink to paper and whatnot has evolved), technological tools are changing and morphing and iterating almost too fast for the human mind to grasp. The good news is that by the time you hear about the next big thing, it’s become passe. The bad news is that figuring out what’s going to stick and become part of our culture is akin to rocket science.

I’ve long encouraged publishing folk to step outside of traditional book conferences to get a sense of where technology — particularly social media — is heading. If everyone is hearing the same old, same old and studying best practices from last year (last year!), then great opportunities to find and reach new readers can be lost.

The O’Reilly Tools of Change Conference was established to nurture and expand the conversation because the tech community and the publishing community. We’re not talking about robust content management systems and high-speed presses here (okay, maybe a little); ToC is all about using technology to reduce the barrier between people with books to sell and people who want to buy books. It’s about starting conversations, maintaining conversations, finding readers, learning how you can be part of the book world and the online world and the physical world…without ever uttering phrases that begin with “see, first you log in to the shell…”.

This year’s conference will again be held in New York City from February 9 through February 11, 2009 (please join us in lobbying for a return to sunny California!), and will be chock full of fantastic, awesome presentations from people who get the challenges of bringing books and people together via technology. We’ve been there, done that. Some examples:

Early registration for the 2009 Tools of Change Publishing Conference ends this coming Thursday, December December 18. You can save $200 by registering by that date (that’s a whole lot of books). Use our handy-dandy secret discount code (TOC09bsq) and save an additional 15% (even more books, or shoes, if you swing that way). I’m not one for bribery**, but there’s even a rumor of brilliant minds taking over the hotel bar to discuss deep, important Twitter-fueled ideas. How can you resist?

* - Going with cave drawings on this one.

** - Lie, lie, lie.

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11. NEA Study Shows Reading on the Rise, No Idea Why

[Note: Don't forget that our survey for Booksquare University is still open. We're giving away one pass to the Tools of Change Conference to one reader as a thank you for helping us.]

About four, five years ago — not long after we went online, the National Endowment for the Arts released a study with the naturally calm, well-reasoned title “Reading at Risk”. The sky was falling, the sky was falling, and we Had To Do Something or reading would be nothing more than another duckbill platypus. It was hard to get worked up then and it’s hard to get worked up now that the NEA has announced that “Reading [is] on the Rise”.

Or, to quote outgoing NEA Chair Dana Gioia:

“This dramatic turnaround shows that the many programs now focused on reading, including our own Big Read, are working. Cultural decline is not inevitable.”

Hallelujah and pass the ammunition! Cultural decline is not inevitable. Romans, we are not.

The reports shows some bright spots, some causes for celebration. These data points, for example: there was a +20% increase in Hispanics who read literature and a 15% increase in African American readers. Is this due to the increase in publisher outreach in these cultures through the publication of novels that reflect non-white communities? I certainly hope so. Oh, and it turns out there’s an increase in reading among men. And this one — oddly worded as it is:

Online readers also report reading books. Eighty-four percent of adults who read literature (fiction, poetry, or drama) on or downloaded from the Internet also read books, whether print or online.

Online reader “also” report reading books? Also? This after, as Carolyn Kellogg of “Jacket Copy” notes:

In his introduction to the executive summary, NEA Chairman Dana Gioia — a poet — sets new media up in opposition to reading. He writes:

    A decline in both reading and reading ability was clearly documented in the first generation of teenagers and young adults raised in a society full of videogames, cell phones, iPods, laptops, and other electronic devices.

I’m troubled by the idea that laptops are anti-literature. Clearly, much of the time people are staring at their laptops, they’re reading. I thought perhaps the report would say that the next generation of young adults found their way to literature through all the reading they do with new media.

The 2002 report, published in 2004 (does this mean the 2008 report really reflects 2006 or are these genuine 2008 numbers?), barely acknowledged the type of online reading that people engaged in on a daily basis. By the time this current report was compiled, as a society, we were well-entrenched, halfway through our second decade, in an online reading culture; I’m not sure how to define it, but it’s obvious that we have spent well over a decade increasing our daily consumption of text-based online information. It’s a crazy mix of words — some fiction, some non-fiction, some opinion, some analysis, some bite-sized, some lengthy and detailed.

If you’ve been hanging around BS long enough, you’re not surprised that I’m not surprised that adding online reading to the mix increases the percentage of adults who engage in literary reading, though the range of who, what, when, where, why remain wide open for studying. Since the core questionnaire of the NEA has remained consistent for 26 years (a statistic they cite proudly!) while the entertainment culture we live in — and reading, as defined in this report, is entertainment — shouldn’t the questions reflect this shift?

In the overall “book reading” category, it’s noted that the 18 - 24 group lags the rest of the reading population, while the very same statistic states that this population does a lot of online reading. Since the NEA carves out books required for work or school, it makes sense that this age group remains low, especially if they’re, uh, going to college.

It’s likely that the increase in reading among young adults — 18 - 24 year-olds — has a lot to do with the increase in event books during this time frame. J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer should be factored alongside the NEA’s large “literary initiatives”. Let’s give credit and all that. Instead, nobody really cares about the why of this increase:

The impressive new survey results raise an obvious question—what happened in the past six years to revitalize American literary reading? There is no statistical answer to this question. The NEA survey does not identify the causes either for adult reading or for changes in reading behavior.

Which means that next survey, we’ll be scratching our heads to identify the reasons why the numbers shift again. How do you build upon successes you don’t fully understand? Is it the Big Read and other literacy programs or something else?

I think it’s terrific that reading is on the rise in some populations, but, sigh, again take issue with the basic premise of this study: it defines reading very narrowly. Not only does it refuse to acknowledge that there are many readers who read for pleasure but don’t read “literary” works — think of those readers who derive great enjoyment from a steady diet of, oh, historical biography — but it doesn’t explore different types of reading. Perhaps our view of reading among adults would change if we acknowledged that not everyone “reads” like the NEA believes they should — are audiobooks counted?

One final note — is it me, or do these stats not line up with actual book sales? Does this mean that readers don’t define genres the way we think? Probably…

A new question on the 2008 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts allows reporting of the reading preferences of adults who said they read novels and/or short stories. Presented with the following genres— “mysteries,” “thrillers,” “romance,” “science fiction,” and “other fiction”— 53.0 percent of novel and/ or short story readers said they enjoy reading mysteries. The next greatest percentage (40.8 percent) went to “other fiction,” while thrillers were the third most popular (32.6 percent), followed by romance (28.5 percent) and science fiction (25.4 percent).

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12. Inauguration Day Short Takes

A few quick items for a busy day:

  • Don’t forget that the deadline for completing our Booksquare University survey and entering to win a pass to the Tools of Change conference is January 22, 2009. Details, link to survey here.
  • Ron Hogan/Beatric.com have teamed with “Share the Love”, a non-profit organization that distributes gently used novel to institutions that serve women, including domestic violence shelters and halfway houses. Join the group for a reading series in New York, starting February 2, 2009. Details about Lady Jane’s Salon

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13. No Petitions, Just Action

I am tired of protests and petitions, which is probably good because I think there’s really only one more to suffer. Okay, so newspapers are folding book coverage — if they have it at all — into general entertainment sections. Okay, so newspapers are cutting back on book coverage. No surprise considering they’re cutting back on everything, sometimes without seeming thought, though you have to give some benefit of doubt.

Assuming the New York Times Book Review survives (and that fortune is largely dependent on factors outside anyone involved in the Review’s control), we are still officially in a new era. One where newspapers don’t offer us the same level of service they offered ten, twenty, thirty years ago. Hey, it was a luxury while it lasted; I’m not alone in thinking that “the press” is reverting to the entity our forefathers envisioned when they gave it such bold freedom.

So now that we can set aside our protests and petitions and self-righteous protestations about the “importance” of newspaper book coverage, can we get on with the getting on of bringing books and readers together?

Let’s take a look at the players in this game: readers, authors, agents, publishers (all component parts), literary critics/reviewers (occupying different spaces at different times), booksellers, distributors. Let’s add in advertisers as well. Did I miss anyone? Can we agree that they are all key players in the book process, and forgetting any one of them is dangerous?

So all of these entities have a vested interest in making sure books succeed. Or rather that reading succeeds. No two players are exactly the same, nor are their needs equal or necessarily similar. Can we agree that the the ultimate goal is to get readers and books together, and can we agree that means But if the goal is to get the book from the publisher to the reader, what parts can we all play?

  • Abandon the Us versus Them School of Reviewing: I’m not the only one who is tired of the whining about “inferior” online reviews and analysis. Remaining on your high horse isn’t going to bring back newspaper book review sections; it won’t decrease the number of periodicals shutting their doors; it won’t accomplish any real goals, unless you count hand-wringing as a constructive endeavor.

    So while you’re worried about “real” reviewing and the decline of Western civilization, take a moment to consider how you can take some positive steps to marry your skills with the world as it is. While there are some culture snobs out there who exist exclusively on a pinnacle of perceived elitism, most of us live in a more inclusive world. Why shouldn’t our critics reflect this?

    So yeah, look at ways to mesh your skills with equally talented online writers or create your own offline, if you must do print, publication. No more whining, lots more action.

  • Publishers Need to Increase Online Advertising: I know this is already happening to some degree, but it’s time for publishers to pony up more dollars for online advertising. Hit the book-related sites and hit the non-book sites. Create a bookish ad network that allows you to spread your advertisements far and wide rather than focusing on a few sites.
  • Oh, and Online Content: Very few individual publishers have the ability to build and sustain community on their websites. Most people don’t connect book with publisher. Then again, Google does. If readers end up on your site, checking out information about your book, doesn’t it make sense to have something compelling, personal (honestly, reading the same book blurb on site after site doesn’t serve your or the book well)?
  • Oh, and More Conversation, Fewer Press Releases: Think of doing more content partnering, less “here’s the information, do something with it”. Become part of the conversation instead of standing outside, looking in. (Note: those of you who are already making positive moves in this direction, keep up the great work!)
  • Booksellers Should Hand-Sell on the Internet: One of the great things about new technology is that it opens up the conversation in multiple direction. Some of us spent this past weekend curled up on the couch, reading about all the thoughts coming out of Winter Institute 4 (here is the Twitter stream, so you can follow along at 140 characters or less per thought), and thinking about booksellers.

    I admit that I was surprised to discover that booksellers aren’t blogging like crazy…and that they’re not embracing like-minded bloggers. Let’s take the second one first: yes, bloggers link to Amazon and other big sellers, but that’s because it’s not always easy to link to books on your site. We’re trying to maximize exposure to books. Some of you might be well-suited to handle this kind of online traffic (and even fulfillment). If so, why aren’t you networking with the bloggers in your area? Why aren’t you reaching out to local bloggers with information and content, creating partnerships in your community?

    I also hope that more of you see incorporating a blog into your website as a way to move the shelf-talker concept online. You cannot always be on the floor, hand-selling books to customers. You use a combination of in-store techniques to draw attention to books. One thing that continues to astound me is how many bookstores (and publishers!) avoid offering personal connections with books on their website. Reviews, staff recommendations, customer comments about titles…all of this brings your customer base closer to you.

    Finally, you can’t compete with Amazon/big online retailers on all levels, but you can compete on others. Figure out what they are and fight on your playground. Why do people shop one place over another?

  • Stimulus Package? Since the government is busy bailing us out of this, that, and the other (and then some), maybe it’s time for those of us who have the technology to get our heads together and come up with ways to bring all interested parties together and create something good. How do we do this? How do we bring readers and book people together for conversation? How do we get the online and offline worlds to work together? Where do we start? Bueller? Bueller?

Happy end-of-Monday — next week the Booksquare team will be in New York for the Tools of Change Conference, eager to talk about this and everything else under the sun.

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14. Too Much Awesome, All In One Panel (A Guest Squeefest from SB Sarah)

Next Tuesday at the O’Reilly Tools of Change conference, Kassia put together the most excellent panel ever in the history of the world.  (Oh really? No - O’Reilly!)

Smart Women Read eBooks, an examination of ebook technology and the savvy female reader, will feature Kassia, who deserves the people’s ovation and fame forever for the proposal itself, plus a few other monstrously cool people.

First: Malle Vallik, Director Digital Content & Interactivity at Harlequin. I call her St. Malle of EBook, and really, she’s a freaking oracle of eBook technology and how it can and should be sold to female readers, particularly readers of romance. If she speaks, it’s pearls of wisdom, people. Recognize.

Plus: Angela James, Executive Editor of Sam Hain Publishing, and a powerhouse of smart when it comes to small press public relations and e-pub growth and sustainability.

Then there’s me, as a reader/reviewer/adopter of ebook technology, and the smacking truth is, while I have definite opinions of how ebooks and readers should do the tango of densual revenue and intimate profits, I’m going to be having a squeefest of my own on this panel, because between Kassia, Malle and Angela, the awesome will not be contained. I might forget to talk (HA!) because I’ll be so busy listening and taking notes.

So if you’re going to be at the conference, please don’t miss this one. I can promise just from reading the email exchange of panel development, the level of epic win on this panel will be legendary.

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15. Open Letter to Amazon Regarding Recent Policy Changes

Dear Amazon,

Happy Easter (or if it’s Monday morning, happy belated Easter!). It seems the Easter Bunny, while hopping down the bunny trail, left some rotten eggs all over the Amazon site while we were sleeping. Suddenly, many books lost their sales ranking and levels of searchability on the Amazon site.

Somehow, the brain trust of your company has decided to protect the “entire” Amazon customer base by restricting access to content that someone (who?) decided was offensive. In your zeal to protect me from myself, of course, you managed to leave content that I find singularly repulsive online (really, exploring the human condition is bad, but Mein Kampf is just fine?).

This loss of ranking, listing, search functionality seems to be largely, but not wholly!, limited to fiction and non-fiction with themes relating to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender issues. Authors affected range from E.M. Forster to James Baldwin to John Barrowman, our beloved Captain Jack on Dr. Who and Torchwood and others, including a host of female authors who write erotic fiction.

Gee, I can buy a book on training fighting dogs (something so offensive my stomach hurts just looking at the cover image), but specific types of human relationships are suddenly taboo? Gee, that this happened on Easter is the kind of symbolism an editor would find too heavy-handed if an author wrote it (though some say this has been happening for a few days)!

As a heterosexual, happily married adult female, I am deeply offended by this decision. As a customer, I am angered enough to take my business elsewhere, and I’d like a refund on my Kindle since, despite reports that your database sweep was not complete, you have decided to limit my ability to purchase books — from literary classics like Lady Chatterley’s Lover to newesque titles like Tipping The Velvet and Running With Scissors. (Thank you Edward Champion, Sarah Weinman, and Carolyn Kellogg for noting some of these titles!)

And wow, great work on the search butchering. A straight-on search of Bastard Out Of Carolina returns…wait for it…links to five books before the Dorothy Allison version ranks. Pretty Baby, the Brooke Shields movie, ranks higher. Neat. I mean, I’ve never loved your search, but this is really bad. It is amusing to me that The Handmaid’s Tale pops up higher in this search than the actual book I’m seeking.

By the time you get to the corporate offices tomorrow, you will realize that the issue has been all over Twitter and that various news organizations have noted the issue. You’ll see blog posts and many comments. I hope you’ll take them seriously, and I hope you’ll do us — your customers — the courtesy of responding in the most public fashion possible!

Kassia Krozser

Update 12:02 p.m. for contact information: 800-201-7575 (demand to speak to someone who will take complaint). Mail: Amazon, PO Box 81226, Seattle, WA 98108

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16. Amazon Buys Lexcycle

Did you feel the Earth shift a little bit yesterday? Maybe around 1:30 or so Pacific Standard Time (the only time zone that matters!)? Did you Twitter feed seem to be filled with jangly nerves? It turns out that Amazon bought Lexcycle today.

Lexcycle? Huh? Who? Erm?

Lexcycle is the mighty little company behind the bookish iPhone application darling, the Stanza Reader. Not only were they near first, they’ve been the best. With a strong focus on usability (or, if you will, making it easy for real people to accomplish the very simple goal of reading), support for ePub, and a growing list of public domain and new books, the literary digerati swooned.

(And before I type one letter further, I want to express sincere excitement for Neelan Choksi, Marc Prud’hommeaux, and Abe [of the missing last name]. Couldn’t happen to a nicer group of guys.)

I think a good number of us expected that Lexcycle would be sold (I was hoping Barnes & Noble would get it in gear because it fits nicely with their Fictionwise purchase and stated hardware goals). Being bought is a common trajectory for a technology company, and Lexcycle is a technology company. Perhaps that’s why Amazon stepped up first. They don’t think like a bookseller. Obviously, the usability and innovation from Lexcycle made this an attractive purchase; the question remains as to whether the Stanza Reader will remain standalone or its functionality integrated into the Kindle iPhone application.

Outside of the Stanza application, Lexcycle’s primary asset is its enthusiastic user base. It’s hard to be punk rock in the world of books, but the Stanza Reader came close. For us, Stanza represented independence — from Amazon, from Barnes & Noble, from iTunes. The Lexcycle gang were the outsiders who got it right and spoke to our independent souls.

Amazon just bought those customers.

Not to mention the foundation for other mobile devices. We have seen the future and it is this: people will not read on a single device, in a single format. We expect portability and we expect flexibility. Book-books are just one part of the mix; different kinds of reading, different kinds of books, will invite different kinds of digital experiences. This is why we, the community, were so excited about Lexcycle’s embrace of the EPUB standard. If you think of EPUB as HTML (over-simplifying a little bit), then you understand how getting the base right means maximum usability across platforms and devices.

While we can argue the merits of the Adobe engine, the fact that it gives us DRMd and DRM-free EPUB files is a huge plus. Right now, Amazon’s not on board with Adobe. The Kindle format, basically, is set up in direct opposition to pretty much every other ereading device (Sony, PlasticLogic, iRex’s iLiad, Stanza). If it’s true that men prefer the iPhone and Sony Reader while women prefer the Kindle (as rumored), then there goes the ability of spouses to share books. Uh?

I don’t think the Lexcycle purchase is the end of the world as we know it, but it should be a huge wake-up call for the publishing business. Amazon now owns the top two reading apps for the iPhone: Stanza and Kindle. The only possible contender in this space is the ScrollMotion product, and count me as one of many who aren’t thrilled about downloading separate applications for every book purchased. Unless iTunes suddenly changes its mind about adding ebooks to the mix — and until publishers make many, many things easier, including working with themselves, that isn’t likely — Amazon has a near-monopoly on iPhone book applications.

It also has the potential to shape other aspects of the marketplace. Recall, if you will, that one key Stanza partner is Fictionwise. Who happens to be owned by Barnes & Noble. Which happens to be an Amazon competitor. How long will this partnership remain in place?

(Of course, this could lead to a commentary on prices, but I’ll resist the urge. This time.)

If the Google Book Search settlement is approved, the vast majority of book discovery will be centered in the hands of two companies. The GBS settlement is, in my opinion, a result of the publishing industry missing the forest for the trees. At this point — and we’ll be talking more about this later this week — no other player can enter this space, even if the settlement fails to win approval. Who will pick up the pieces then?

Right now, it’s time for the publishing industry to step up to the plate. Stop worrying about fake issues like text-to-speech and start worrying about your customers. You may not be able to stop the settlement you negotiated and you cannot stop Amazon from acquiring better technology. But you can demand that your books be sold in the most consumer-friendly manner possible. Take the initiative to be a leader in the future of books — recall that your competition is changing rapidly — and you’ll be a leader in the future of reading.

There will be another Lexcycle, another innovative company that develops an iPhone app for reading. It will face the myriad challenges Lexcycle faced, including working with publishers to get books to readers (should be so easy, actually not). It will face the apparent commerce restrictions placed on apps by Apple. It might even succeed in the face of the obstacles that doom independent newcomers in the market.

As far as potential is concerned, IndieBound, at the moment, has my full support, but their success depends upon their ability to deliver digital books via the iPhone, to a dedicated device, downloads from a convenient location (be it local bookstore or IndieBound site), while ensuring that local bookstores get their fair share of of the sale. Many hurdles, none insurmountable as long as egos get checked at the door.

The Lexcycle sale is great news for the hard-working team that developed this incredible application, against so many odds. It’s not so great news for everybody else. Consumers are slowly being locked into a single vendor. Publishers are being backed into Amazon’s corner. Yet, yet, yet, I ask again: where are the publishing initiatives, the fresh thinking, to protect the free market?

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17. Google Book Search and Reader Privacy: A Consideration and Call to Action

In the coming months, much will be written and said about the Google Book Search settlement. While I do support it in principle, I, like others, have niggles and quibbles and some distinct worries about the specifics. Part of the problem, of course, was that a subset of interested parties created the class, a subset of interested parties negotiated the settlement, and it just now that everyone is able to look at the final results and ask questions.

It’s a settlement only a mother could love.

Google, of course, won in a big way. In fact, they won bigger than they would have had the Authors Guild (AG) and American Association of Publishers (AAP) not brought suit. Where once others might have been persuaded to create ways to search books (and, hopefully, bring in some extra cash for authors and publishers), the settlement, if it fails to be approved, proves that book search is too rich for most companies’ blood.

I don’t think anyone believes the publishing industry can or will manage an effective program to scan, what?, millions of books, clean up the texts, create really useful and useable search. For all the talk about publishers controlling what gets fed to search engines, the truth of the matter is that without indexing and serving everything, many, many books will go undiscovered. You cannot expect effective search to take place when you only index a precis.

If the settlement is approved, then Google owns lots and lots of readers. We’re locked into the Google service if we want the best possible search results. Yet our concerns were not addressed in the settlement. One such worry is the privacy factor.

Every move we make online is tracked and traceable. Generally, this is not a concern; so much data is being crunched that individuals are rarely singled out for close examination. But this audit trail can be used against us, and I hadn’t really considered the implications of my online activity in light of GBS until I read a recent call from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Physical libraries have long held firm against law enforcement seeking to use customer records against individuals (and it’s just one more reason to love librarians!). What we read should remain private to us. However, once we, as a society move beyond the physical into the digital, new rules seemingly apply. Now is the time to ensure that the GBS includes consumer privacy protections.

This might seem like a “what are the chances of that happening?” worry, but history has proved this is a real concern. Just because my reading is done in the digital realm doesn’t mean I should give up basic rights of privacy. The EFF is asking authors who believe lack of reasonable protection to add their voices by May 1st. Though the judge has extended certain deadlines, it is important that the reader perspective — woefully neglected in the original settlement — be considered before it’s too late.

I’ve included the EFF call to action below. If you are an author or know an author who shares my concern, please consider becoming involved.

We are putting together a group of authors (or their heirs or assigns) who are concerned about the Google Book Search settlement and its effect on the privacy and anonymity of readers. In particular, we are looking for authors who fear that Google’s tracking of online book browsing, reading, and purchase will have a “chilling effect” on their readership. We are also interested in hearing from authors who themselves might feel chilled in their own online reading habits if Google is allowed to track every page or paragraph they read. We plan to file papers with the court on behalf of those authors that object to any settlement that fails to provide the same privacy protections for readers in the digital world that apply to reading physical books from libraries, bookstores, etc. These include protections from subpoenas, law enforcement investigations, and other forms of surveillance and profiling.

Note: In order to participate, you must still own rights in some or all of a “book.” For how the settlement defines a “book,” see below. (Yes, we recognize that defining a book to an audience of authors is a bit surreal, but the court will pay careful attention to this definition, so we have to pay close attention to how it is worded.)

Deadline: All authors must have given us affirmative approval to file on their behalf by May 1, 2005. Earlier is better. Send your approval, plus a list of the books you own rights to, to: authors@eff.org. We’d also appreciate a short note about why you think anonymity and privacy for your readers is important to the market for your work or to your own reading habits.

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18. Google Book Search: What Is Plan B?

Among the truths we hold to be self-evident, there is this: the Google Book Search is an ugly beastie. A subset of entities, blinded by the dollar signs in their eyes, claimed jurisdiction for all interested parties and negotiated a settlement that, I believe, fails to achieve the goals of the parties who created the class, the Authors Guild (AG) and the American Association of Publishers (AAP).

Publishing professionals, what is Plan B?

Let’s set the stage. Google has been scanning books for approximately five years. In 2005, the AG and AAP sued, creating a class action that included anyone with in copyright book-associated rights. The negotiated settlement, which failed to include representatives of the class beyond the AG and AAP, reached in late 2008, not only created a compensation structure, but went beyond by creating a Book Rights Registry and giving Google a near-monopoly over book search for the foreseeable future. Current objections include so-called orphan works (where the copyright owner cannot be determined or located), privacy issues, anti-competitive concerns. Authors have until September 4, 2009 to opt-out of the class.

To paraphrase myself (hey, if I don’t, who will?), when the settlement was first announced, I noted that Google won in a big way. They ended up with more than they would have gotten if the AG and AAP hadn’t sued. And they got off cheap. Nice. Likewise, in the recent text-to-speech settlement between Amazon and the Authors Guild over the Kindle 2, Amazon won the public relations battle. The AG looks money hungry, grasping, and, oh, insensitive to people with disabilities. Nice.

(If I were a member of the Authors Guild, I would be frustrated beyond belief with an organization that flaunts its ignorance about technology with such abandon. I would also angry because the organization has not done a good job of explaining the real-world implications of this settlement to its members. That’s just egregious!)

The good news is that authors now have until September 4, 2009 to opt-out of the class (yeah, saying it twice because if you’re not paying attention, you might lose). This gives us time to digest the settlement and explore more issues. Yeah, it’s time to think about this seriously.

Right now, there are a few scenarios to contemplate. First, of course, is that the settlement goes through as is. Ouch. Second, the judge is able to understand and address the concerns of the broader class as well as non-class members who are impacted, magically crafting a more palatable settlement. Third, it gets tossed and we start over.

We know the issues surrounding the first. The second item includes readers (see last week’s item about privacy), librarians, other search companies, non-US publishing professionals, publishers who aren’t AAP members, authors who aren’t AG members, students, and, oh future generations who will discover the hard the lessons we learned from Amazonfail: every service has filters, blinders, and limitations. By controlling a large library of information without competition, Google control access to information.

I am not casting aspersions on intent. Amazonfail was, to the best of our knowledge, a human mistake. If we did not learn the underlying lesson, we should be shamed. No search engine is nor ever will be perfect. We need checks and balances to ensure no one entity controls access to information. Ooh, that sounded a bit paranoid, no?

But the real question, my third item — one my long-suffering friends have borne me asking for the past several weeks — is this: if this settlement is rejected by the judge, what happens next? I am not the only asking this question. Adam Hodgkin of Exact Editions raises the point as well:

Is it even possible that the best solution for Google might even be to have the Settlement rejected, or thrown back for negotiated amendment? If the Settlement and its anticipated services rolls out just as it has been formulated, specified and agreed by the parties, Google will be required to become an enforcer and an exploiter of the intellectual property in the orphan copyrights. Google will be in a very prominent and exposed position, comparable to Elsevier (which has become a kind of whipping boy for libraries and universities), or even worse, it will become subject to monopolies investigations.

Hodgkin goes on to imagine a world where this does happen, even pulling out a fancy chess term for it: “…zugzwang. None of the legally permitted moves is attractive and its the Authors and the Publishers turn to move.” His thoughts mirror mine.

I’ve said this before and I’m sure I’ll say it again: without Google (or any search engine, and this current settlement pretty much makes it unpalatable for anyone else to enter the game), the book publishing industry is up a creek. Sans paddle. If this settlement — this horribly flawed settlement (again, why aren’t authors fuming at the AAP and AG for their failures here?) — is not approved, what is Plan B?

Are publishers going to invest in the scanning, indexing, creating metadata, managing, and all the other necessary work for their books? Are they going to create an industry-wide repository that offers the highest quality search algorithms? How will the doors be opened to allow Google to index content — we all know that real people search in the oddest ways? What sort of screams will we hear when, as is surely the case when books are no longer under the Google Book Search umbrella, search results for, oh, Booksquare rank higher than the carefully scanned (and proofed? who knows) tomes.

(And let’s not get started on the entire issue relating to so-called orphan books. The mere untangling of rights by publishing houses would be the stuff of nightmares. The Book Rights Registry contemplated in the settlement could be, if done right, a valuable tool for tracking rights.)

I am one who does not believe the industry has the resources nor the drive necessary to manage a project of this magnitude. Perhaps, if a serious initiative had started a decade ago, we’d be having a different discussion, but now? Now, we know the complexity of the issues. Add to that a lousy economy, and I don’t see publishers stepping up to the plate and getting the job done.

So where does that leave us? Well, hmm, there’s this company called Google that has a machine for scanning, a proven process, lots of money, and, oh, a need for content to feed its advertising business. Of course, with a rejected settlement (and the knowledge that publishers are desperate), the balance of power shifts back to Google. At this point, other search entities might decide to go for a piece of the action, but they’re not going to bear the costs without some guarantee of return.

We’ve gone from a project that would scan all books — at no cost to publishers — and create the potential for new marketplaces to a settlement that creates a de facto monopoly — with so many unconsidered ramifications! — to the potential that publishers and authors will have contemplate new levels of sacrifice in order to be searchable.

Because if you cannot be found, you cannot be found.

So, publishing professionals, what is Plan B?

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19. Ebooks, Prices, Consumers, Choices. Again.

Resolved: digital books will be a growing and important part of the reading mix of the future. Resolved: readers are not monolithic nor predictable and will expect digital books to be as flexible as they are. Resolved: digital versus print is not an either/or decision. Resolved: due to laws and insanity (not necessarily in that order), digital books are not the same as physical books.

Are we seeing that format is as much a choice of need as it is price?

Yesterday, Motoko Rich of the New York Times looked at the price of ebooks, a topic too big for a single article. She touched on reader concerns just enough to make us sound crazy, not enough to offer insight into our positions. She focused on reader reaction to the price of the Kindle edition of David Balcacci’s First Family — there is indeed a vocal contingent who protest Kindle books priced above $9.99 — without fully explaining the reader position.

Rich contends that publishers “..are caught between authors who want to be paid high advances and consumers who believe they should pay less for a digital edition, largely because the publishers save on printing and shipping costs”. Um, this is only partially the reason. Consumers are also fully aware of what they’re not getting when they go with a digital book: they are not “buying” anything, they aren’t getting the same rights that come with physical books.

(Mike Shatzkin dissects this whole issue from another perspective.)

Still, the publishing industry holds fast:

“The concept that because a book is an e-book it should automatically be priced significantly lower than a paper book is one we don’t agree with,” said Carolyn Reidy, chief executive of Simon & Schuster. “What a consumer is buying is the content, not necessarily the format.”

While Reidy’s statement has the look and feel of consumer-oriented policy, she is seemingly unaware that her words are undermined by her own company’s proud position on text-to-speech for the Kindle 2:

Do your ebooks have the text-to-speech feature disabled prior to purchase?

Yes, all of our eBooks have the text-to-speech feature disabled. Random House - Help

And, as noted, we’re not really buying the content, either. We’re buying a limited-use license. Consider the fact that Amazon says reading a Kindle edition on any other device is a violation of terms of service (after weeks of wending his way through Amazon reps, Kirk Biglione received confirmation of this from Amazon). Epublishers Weekly adds to this thought with “10 Reasons Why Ebooks Should Be Priced Lower than Paper Books”.

(Note: consumers are far more savvy than publishers are giving them credit for being. I cannot state this enough.)

As long as the publishing industry continues to make inane arguments — content, not format except when we want to control the format and how you read and how you share and device lock-in and, hey, you might lose your books! — consumers are going to vent their anger. If you’ve ever worked in customer service, you know one truth: an unhappy customer talks about the experience with far more people than a happy customer.

The publishing industry as a whole has done a lousy (lousy!) job of explaining its pricing strategy or concerns. I’ve never really price shopped for books before, but now I think about what I’m paying and why. On Wednesday, I purchased the Kindle edition of Mark Helprin’s Freddy and Fredericka, a 2006 book priced at $9.99 — an impulse purchased based on the recommendation of a friend who loved the audiobook so much she also bought a physical book. Had I chosen the paper version, a cool $10.20, I could sell it to a used bookstore when I’m finished; I could loan it to a friend or family member, or, heck, I could donate it to the Salvation Army. Is this pricing only because no mass market edition exists? Or is it because Penguin hasn’t thought much about this issue at all?

Over the past several days, I’ve been privy to a conversation between readers about book purchases. It started simple enough with “hey has anybody heard anything about new book from X author?” but quickly shifted to a discussion about how angry it made them that the first few books in the series were released in mass market paperback, only to have the final book published in hardcover.

Further discussion revealed that many of this author’s hardcore, long-time fans had said goodbye to the series, at least until it’s rereleased in paperback. Given their overall book budgets and the economy in general, hardcover is not a good purchasing decision. Others noted that physical difficulties (size, weight) have them choosing paperback; there were some voices who noted the exact opposite — hardback books were easier to use. Many readers chose the library over making a purchase. We learned that inter-library loan can be a pricey service for libraries.

Are we seeing that format is as much a choice of need as it is price?

(These readers don’t, by the way, blame the author. They see this as the publishing industry jerking them around. Trust? She’s not living here anymore.)

Rich’s article, rather disingenuously, reveals the truth behind ebook pricing. If you’re a publishing professional, particularly an author, surely you cringed at this, the second emphasis of authorial greed, with a twist:

The doomsday scenario for publishing is that the e-book versions cannibalize higher-price print sales. Publishing houses, already suffering from the recession, could be forced to cut author advances or lay off more editors.

One or the other, huh? If we, the consumers, hold our ground and refuse to pay premium prices for something less, then editors will lose their jobs! We will contribute to the overall decline of the economy. It will be our fault.

Color me amused at this bald reality. Publishers are unable to figure out how to realign their business to meet changing consumer behaviors, so they stick with old school models rather. It’s so much easier than facing the realities of the marketplace (cough, realistic advances, cough). Amazon stated that Kindle sales make up 35% of purchases where a book is available in both Kindle and print formats. Michael Cader of Publishers Marketplace did the fieldwork and found this number to fairly accurate.

Right now, Amazon is subsidizing the price of a Kindle book (David Rothman also has thoughts on this topic). It’s in their best interest to do so — owning the customer will reap long-term benefits. This won’t happen forever. Publishers Weekly, jumping on the bald reality bandwagon, notes this and adds a “duh” to the mix:

That Amazon is currently treating the bulk of Kindle editions as loss leaders—items it either breaks even on or loses on to build market share in e-book sales and to fuel the growth of the Kindle—is one of the worrisome aspects of the current system. The concern among publishers is that, at some point, when Amazon sells both the bulk of the digital reading devices and the bulk of digital books, it will refuse to pay the same discount on Kindle editions, forcing publishers to a lower price for digital editions. This scenario, the head of one of the major houses said, poses a major problem. “Right now the entire economic model for book publishing, shaky as it is, is in jeopardy from this low pricing,” he said. In this publisher’s view, lower digital prices will put pressure on publishers to increase royalty rates despite the fact that “there are no margins to do so.” Another option would be for publishers to drastically lower advances, something that would enrage authors and agents, who aren’t happy with the current split of e-book sales.

Other devices, from the fabeled Apple Tablet to the mythical Barnes & Noble device to Rupert Murdoch’s in-house creation to the sea of cheaper ereaders, are only going to increase consumption of digital books. Very few of us see a scenario where consumers will see a price point of over $10 for an ebook — unless that ebook comes with bells, whistles, and something far beyond what we’re getting now — as reasonable. There will be collective pressure to lower prices. In some ways, Amazon’s creation of the $9.99 mentality is a good thing; I can’t believe I just typed that.

Those of us who understand how publishing works also understand how hard it is to think about selling ebooks at a lower price point. Those of us who buy a lot of books understand that higher prices lead to fewer overall purchases. Those of us who have seen this battle play out in different entertainment spheres know that protecting old business models can have unintended consequences (read: piracy).

Right now is the time. Carolyn Reidy, if you really believe you’re selling content over format, then prove it. Other publishers, if you really want to expand this new market, then listen to your customers. Be good to me and I’ll be good to you. My goodness comes in the form of lots and lots of purchases with lots and lots of talking about your books.

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20. Pre-BEA Lazy Post: Round-Up Style

As you all know, the entire United States publishing community is gearing up for BookExpo America 2009 (#BEA09). For a show that conventional wisdom pegged as leaner and smaller due to the economic downturn, there is a whole lotta buzz going on. So buzzy, in fact, that I’m packing my bags and heading to the show. Yeah, it’s a news round-up post!

  • Blogger Signing Schedule at BEA: NetGalley is graciously offering booth space to a whole lot of terrific bloggers, including some of your personal favorites (ahem, Friday, 2 p.m., me). Click on the PDF link for the updated updated schedule. Please make stop by booth #4077 to say hello. Rumor has it you’ll also be given a chance to win a Sony Reader.
  • Book: The Sequel - A 48-hour Publishing Romp: Speaking of BEA excitement, I am super-enthusiastic about this live experiment from Perseus Books. In the space of 48-hours, we watch a book move through the publishing system. I am already asking my friends to make sure I am dragged away from Booth 4237 before I am labelled a stalker.
  • The Heart of a Woman: Harlequin Cover Art 1049 - 2009: I am so excited about this exhibit, which captures changes in women’s lives over the past 60 years. Over 100 original works of art will be displayed. The exhibit is at the Openhouse Gallery in New York City from May 29, 2009 through June 12, 2009.
  • All Your Bases Are Belong to Amazon: I never weighed in on the Amazon Encore project, but many smart folks did. I’ve linked to Eoin Purcell’s analysis above. Encore is not Amazon’s first foray into the publishing business; I don’t believe it is Amazon’s intention to enter the publishing game completely (ah, the irony of trying to get print distribution in the stores they are trampling!), but to offer exclusive content to extend their brand? Makes perfect sense.
  • Scribd Launches a Pay Model: I’ve been trying hard to work up some enthusiasm for this news, but, then again, I’ve been trying to hard to work up some enthusiasm for Scribd. They certainly offer a marked contrast — compensation-wise — to Amazon. To make this service a viable alternative to the Kindle bookstore, files must be generated in a format that allows customers to easily load books on their device. This will create the beginnings of the necessary competition we need in this market.
  • Amazon Cuts Social-Networking Features: This move by Amazon remains a quiet little story. While they made a big media splash in previous years with their forays into the social web, I’ve never had a sense that Amazon’s services were providing the robust kind of user experience of other sites.
  • The Failure of E-Book Devices: A slightly misleading title as the failure in question comes from the fact that it’s so hard for libraries to get into the ebook lending game.
  • Author Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Text to Speech Functionality: Or what the Author’s Guild didn’t tell its members about text-to-speech. Authors, if ever there was an issue you should force your organization to revisit, this is it!

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21. Change: Are You Initiating or Avoiding?

I have come to accept that our species is not fond of change. Some of us know it is inevitable and take the pain now rather than later, some simply refuse to change (I have seen this and it is awesome in its execution. Also, ultimately futile.), and some pretend to embrace change while carefully manipulating “change” to look like “same as it ever was”. It is that final group, I believe, who face the biggest letdown.

How can authors leverage change to their best advantage?

It is surely the rare soul in the publishing ecosystem who believes the business tomorrow will resemble the business of today. Change, being change, is messy stuff, best managed through experimentation. You can design the best process in the world, but until real people get their hands in the system, you don’t really know what will work and how. Change is iterative.

Mike Shatzkin’s article on evolving role of agents, coupled with his piece on the publishing portfolio reshuffle, focuses on key aspects of this change: the economics. You cannot unsettle an entire industry without considering and preparing for the financial impact on all the players.

There is no doubt that the physical retail environment is shrinking. The news about stores closing for good unsettles people in the industry. And outside. Many factors are behind this loss, from changing consumer behavior to high rents in bad economic times to “redevelopment”. The choice throughout the industry is clear: hope for a business-as-usual miracle or make the necessary changes to thrive in a new (sometimes uncertain) environment.

The booksellers who remain standing — and there will be many! — will react to these losses by changing their retail mix to accommodate new customers while incorporating new sales channels, such as digital. In the physical sense, there is only so much shelf space, and booksellers will, necessarily, be more particular and more aggressive about fresh product. The sheer volume of annual releases, with new titles coming out weekly, leaves the bookseller little room for chancy purchases and backroom stock.

Inventory management will be elevated to an art form as booksellers try to balance the slower reactions of customers who rely upon word-of-mouth with those who chase the latest and greatest. Factor in the enduring popularity of catalog titles, and it’s not hard to see that booksellers will be leaner and meaner (oh, and leaner and meaner indicates that booksellers will be purchasing fewer units because, well, managing returns for credit or cash is not a cheap endeavor).

This will force (physical) distributors to better manage their inventory. Not surprisingly, the challenges facing booksellers will trickle back to the so-called middlemen. They will be more engaged in digital distribution (I am so waiting for the perfect solution for digital fulfillment at the indie bookstore level!) and more invested in print-on-demand technologies.

The new philosophy will be about getting books to customers in smart, efficient ways.

Tighter (physical) inventory on the customer side of the equation will change how publishers acquire books. Shatzkin’s article on the reshuffled portfolio contemplates at least one instance of publisher consolidation (where one house is acquired by another). Add in the inevitable decline in physical sales, and it’s clear that, again, we’re looking at a changing economic model.

Obviously, potential growth comes from digital sales. The numbers are increasing every month, year-over-year percentages being enough to cause spine tingling in the most hardened cynic. The question that remains is are these sales new, additive, or replacement? The answer is “Yes.”

The combination of new, additive, and replacement is a perfect recipe for experimentation. How can publishers increase the number of new readers, what do they want or need to remain in the reading game? How can those additive sales be increased, what do customers who buy multiple copies/versions of books want or need? How can publishers ensure the replacement sales, sales that might have gone to a physical book, keep on coming, what do customers who make the switch to ebooks want or need?

(This is why I’m particularly excited about two recently announced projects: We Make Stories from Penguin/Puffin UK and the Tor.com Store. The first, which follows the path — but not footsteps! — of last year’s award-winning We Tell Stories, is a story-building tool designed for kids [though this big kid wanted to play, too]. It’s a clever way to engage kids and their parents in both the creating and reading of stories.

And Tor, seeing the benefits of community over competition, built its store with an eye toward selling books by other publishers [an application of the vertical approach advocated by the previously mentioned Mike Shatzkin]. What they’re calling publisher-agnostic, some of us call making readers happy.)

One thing is for sure, the golden age of big advances is over (some would scoff at the notion that said golden age ever existed!). Though it’s surely naive, I like to think these changes mean less investment in high profile non-fiction — the kind of non-fiction subject to very large advances and disappointing sales due to the lack of compelling information. Hint: these are the books that often require embargoes because readers won’t plunk down good money for lousy insight. Smaller advances to dubious celebrities would also play into my fantasy; hey, if they have such a compelling story, let the sales prove its worth.

The realistic part of me knows many of these advances will continue to be paid. Just as avoiding change is part of our DNA, so is the thrill of competition, and large advances are the publishing equivalent of a gold medal (hey, we paid the most and won the author!). Costs must be cut somewhere, and the mid-list and below will, as always, take the brunt of the pain. This is the point Mike Shatzkin made in his piece on agents.

Advances, that large chunk of cash upfront, are the fastest, most cost-effective way to manage publishing house money, or, ahem, reducing advances is. Agents get this. Which means authors have to get this. They have to consider how change in publishing can be leveraged to their best interest. Counting on the same old distribution with the same level of sales meaning the same dollar figure (or more!) in advances is wishful thinking.

With this change comes, again, great opportunity.

It is my belief that the booksellers, distributors, publishers, and authors (and everyone associated) who embrace the messiness of change will succeed in the future. All around us — in every industry — business is changing. There will be winners. There will be losers. Models will be embraced yet ultimately abandoned. Crazy ideas will be seen as future no-brainers. Oh, and some of the stuff we consider hopelessly old-fashioned will survive and thrive.

Because there’s some truth to the adage “the more things change, the more they stay the same”. Or, as Francis Bacon said, “Things alter for the worse spontaneously, if they be not altered for the better designedly.”

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22. The Daily Square - Glass Onion Edition

Today’s links of interest:

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23. The Daily Square - Just Like Bettie Page Edition

Today’s links of interest:

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24. Online Creative Writing Classes: Why They Can Work

[BS: Today, we host podbook pioneer and published author, Seth Harwood. Seth, who boldly went where few authors had gone before, podcasting his novels as they were being written (and bravely handling real-time feedback!), is now trying a new adventure: online education. See how he's approaching this new challenge.]

Having taught on-the-ground creative writing and English classes for seven years now, I used to be one of the first to pipe up and defend the face-to-face experience as invaluable for literature and creative writing. That’s right, even though I do most all of my writer’s promotion online and have gotten further with that than from any other outreach I’ve done, I was a total stalwart when it came to my classes. Until now.

Last summer I caught up with an old friend from grad school who taught classes for Stanford Online. Since she’d seen what I’d done with outreach and building my audience as a writer online, she suggested I get into the mix. When I saw I could teach Creative Writing in Crime Fiction (starts Jan 10th — sign up now!) I decided to give it a try. What followed was a lot of work: pitching the class, writing the class proposal, and finally, writing the full ten weeks of the class—lessons, exercises, discussion topics—before the class even started.

As a permanent procrastinator, I’d never planned a class ahead of time to this extent. Sure, I was never forced to plan a class ahead of time before, but now that I’ve gone through that process, I can see how much it’ll add to the class overall. Don’t get me wrong: I always have a good idea where my classes are going, but not to this multi-pronged extent. By writing out the full ten lessons ahead of time, I was really able to figure out what I thought was most important for crime writing and what I needed to get across. It was a challenge to incorporate a workshop session for everybody, lessons and writing exercises that led up to a finished piece, as well as strong criteria and strategies for revision, and don’t forget readings and discussion. Without a doubt, the class will be a challenge for the students.

But what I like about it is that it’s all there. It all fits, and I have time to tweak things before the class starts, the students will see things unfold as they go through the course and, maybe most importantly, they can incorporate the parts of the class into their own lives as they see fit—when they can find the time. When I normally teach a writing workshop that meets once a week (most do), my fear is that some students do all the work the night before. The online class experience, on the other hand, is much more like trying to maintain the work of a real writer: you pinch and save time, you plug at something and get called away and you come back. You structure time to work at your project consistently. Not only do I think sticking to this course will be a great education, I think it’ll more closely model the dedication and work that students will have to do as “real writers”—those who have to consistently motivate themselves—than my usual classes. They’re also more consistently in touch with me and the other writers in the class.

And it’s realistic: the class can be taken for credit or not, graded or ungraded. Once you’re into the class, you decide for yourself how much of the work you can do. Something comes up, you take the time off you need, but the ship keeps moving. You get right back on when you can. From a writer’s point of view, this also seems more realistic to me.

Being online also makes the class a great entry point for online promotion and research resources. I can explain how I built an audience in the thousands online by podcasting my work, show sites where students can podcast their stories, and even invite them to organize a class episode for my CrimeWAV site. I can introduce relevant listservs for crime writers and also research sites to get answers to those pesky forensic or ballistics questions. Through links, I can incorporate these pieces of the online world right into the class. They become parts of the discussion.

Though I haven’t started this course yet, I’m as excited about this it as when I was a student gearing up for workshop, bright-eyed and ready to put my own writing into the mix. Even more-so, now that I have more perspective and I know the points we’ll be discussing. I almost can’t wait.

If you’re interested in seeing this class in action or aspire to write crime or mysteries, check out Crafting Successful Crime Fiction: How to Write the Action (Online Course).

Seth Harwood received an MFA in fiction from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He has taught creative writing at the University of Iowa, the University of Massachusetts, and at the City College of San Francisco. His fiction has appeared in more than a dozen literary and crime/noir journals and his first novel, Jack Wakes Up, reached #1 in Crime/Mystery on Amazon.com in a small release last spring. Three Rivers Press (Random House) has since bought the rights to the novel for a May 2009 nationwide release. He can be found at SethHarwood.com and hosts the online series of crime story podcasts on CrimeWAV.com.

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25. Most Wonderful Post of the Year: 2008

It’s been a year, hasn’t it? We’ve had some really good times and some shake-us-to-our-core times. Even if you aren’t personally impacted by the current economic downturn, you can’t help but feel its reach. Some of us more than others.

Yet, this is the season of giving (and, yes, tax deductions). Every year, we here at Booksquare make a pitch for our favorite causes, hoping some of you, like us, will find a little something extra to give this now and in the future. If you have a favorite cause that relates to literacy, reading, or education, let us know in the comments.

  • ProLiteracy — As always, our list is topped by Proliteracy.org. You can contribute either financially or by volunteering as a literacy tutor. When you are a reader, a to-your-soul reader, it’s almost impossible to imagine a world where people can’t read. The reasons vary, and the solution is not simple. Helping others learn to read should be the primary goal of the publishing industry — any way we can.
  • First BookJust as teaching the world to read is important, getting books to children is essential. First Book gets books to children who need them. You remember your first book, you remember reading as a child. Help share that joy. Bonus! through December 31, your donation will be matched book-for-book by Random House.
  • Donors ChooseThe problem with growing up the child of a public school librarian is that you know how completed screwed up our public school financing priorities are. It is appalling that teachers and librarians are forced to finance so many projects (and supplies, essential supplies) out of their own pockets. It’s not like teachers make huge salaries. DonorsChoose.org was founded to bring educators together with people who have money to contribute to specific projects. Look at the list of projects — is there something you can help transform from wish to reality?
  • Buy Books — You want to make a serious statement about your commitment to books? Buy everyone on your shopping list a book. Or two. Or three. No need to limit yourself. This isn’t going to turn the industry around, but, c’mon people who get free books, put some money back into the industry that’s been good to you.

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