Category Archives: Publishing

Why anyone can succeed at publishing, or why publishing is failing

Just an abstract scenario, because I don’t want to get anyone (or myself) in trouble:

Publisher owns print rights to backlist title. Publisher does not promote said title, resting on the title either selling well on its own or rotting. Publisher has first dibs at electronic rights, fumbles them with a bad offer. Other publisher secures e-rights by offering a competitive deal. New publisher promotes same backlist title, blows it out of the water. Promoting ebook leads to collateral sales of pbook; also gets mentioned in industry news as a huge success. First publisher gets upset about accidentally succeeding, even to a minimal degree, calls the agent that represents the title, and complains about how first publisher didn’t get the ebook rights.

Yes, this really happened, like right just now, today.

Hint, first publisher: YOU DIDN’T GET THE EBOOK RIGHTS BECAUSE YOU WEREN’T PROMOTING THE TITLE AND DIDN’T OFFER FAIR ROYALTIES. Now quit harassing other people for your bad business practices and get back to work, such as it is.

Also, as a note, the phone call from the agency at your bequest to ask why their title was doing noteworthily well led to new business for us. So thanks, I guess.

**

On all sides, publishers are uncompetitive. They offer bad deals to their producers, pay too much for the internal services they offer to secure those producers, and then can’t figure out how to make peace with their retailers, any retailer. Only one of these facts has been in the news for the last few years, but make no mistake, all three are true.

These facts are the exact crazy-person reasons that makes me think anyone with the slightest business sense can get ahead in this industry, and also, why publishing is going down the shitter.

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The fate of indices in an ebook world

Indices are a problem across ebooks. Page numbers are no longer relevant in a digital space, which in itself makes 90% of an index immediately useless. To address this problem in books with simple indices (one page reference per item), publishers sometimes delete the page number and attempt to link the item to its corresponding reference (links being the digital equivalent to page numbers: faster, but not smarter). Creating these links is manual work that is both expensive and prone to error.

The more complicated the index, the more complicated the solutions to translate it for digital use. For example, the indices often contain multiple page references per item. Should publishers keep the page numbers as a means of having individual items to link to each particular reference, knowing that page numbers no longer apply? Regardless of what solution is reached here, since the linking is manual work, the more complicated the task becomes, the more expensive and the more prone to error the task becomes.

To be honest, of course, creating a digital index is not any more manual or prone to labor than creating a physical index, but digital publishing, though booming, is nowhere near the point of paying the sums of money that index experts (fairly) demand, and the basic reading experience that current devices aim for actually preempt putting anything close to this effort into a product. (Tablet publishing is another beast, perhaps to come to bear, but perhaps not, consider my solution below.) Therefore, we rely on the same companies to whom we outsource our digitization work, which itself even poses problems in titles that contain only narrative text and share the same escalating problems of complexity.

To respond to the index problem, I recommend implementing a solution to aggressively remove all indices from all titles. You may not feel like this is a perfect solution for your books, but let me offer the primary positive reason for which we made this decision.

All ebook readers (devices, apps, and other instances) have search functionality. Readers will have varying comfort levels searching for important terms, trained by their use of Google and other search engines. The solution is not perfect but is actually more likely to return what the user was looking for than an index, especially when you consider the human error that goes into making the digital index.

The ability to search for relevant terms is synonymous with a level of comfort with technology assumed in owning an e-reading device and provides an opportunity to improve reader experience without notifying them that a more frustrating option (a digital index) could also have been available.

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Virgin Pulp

How many of us are inclined to give publishers a little leeway when it comes to what products they choose for their production? Publishing is a low-margin industry across the board, so if the businessmen have to cut a few corners here and there in order to bring us the books we want at a reasonable price, shouldn’t we cut them a little slack? Should we still cut them that slack if we learn, as MOBYLIVES (an excellent source of publishing news) reported on this report (covered in the San Francisco Chronicle) that some of the paper comes from virgin Indonesian pulp?

But what we’re talking about in specific is children’s books from publishers across the board, and the children’s market across all industries is unhappily tainted with reports of corner-cutting. Perhaps we wouldn’t be surprised to hear that a children’s book printed in China used that same ink mentioned in The Name of the Rose or a cheaper variant with the same implications. I suppose, all things considered, we’re lucky the books aren’t printed with lead ink!

Now I haven’t done the research on this, but I can’t really believe that the use of Indonesian pulp is an unsolvable problem. Any given forest is a renewable resource, and I don’t have many reservations about using wood, especially in the creation of paper. But I work under the assumption that if an action can be a sustainable practice then it should be. Is Indonesian paper cheaper because of the cost of labor? Then pay them to make a sustainable tree farm.

I’m not even advocating bringing the work back into the States, although perhaps I should. Keep it cheap to keep your margins, but people will pay for books that don’t promote deforestation. Make a cross-industry marketing initiative with a little foil sticker and a cute banana-eating monkey with proud wording that says, “No virgin pulp!” (It’ll be about as true of your copy as your pages, but that’s off topic.) On the other hand, if you just get your jollies from cutting down rainforests in order to print a book about conservation for children, well, there’s really nothing anyone can do for you.

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Piracy as capitalism at work (part 1)

i’m writing this on my girlfriend’s laptop, which has the left shift key broken. apologies for the lack of caps, but smart people can read english without such an archaic tool.

**

i hold piracy a subject near and dear to my heart. i follow copyright conversations in detail, especially when my mind is working at full capacity (not during school breaks!). i will state outright that my sympathies are with the copyright violators. i state this bias even in the awareness that i plan to work in an industry whose income trickles (book publishing is not particularly lucrative) only from sources of intellectual property and that i myself am currently generating and plan to continue generating such sources: all of the creative work on this blog was birthed in the hope that it would be remixed or shared. (i also understand that a blog and a book are two very different things.)

what one would see, should one attempt to engage this cultural conversation, is a series of ethical attacks between those in power and those unthreading the power. i would like to break this strand of conversation, for as any reader of alistair macintyre’s after virtue (or any watcher of modern politics) would know, moral arguments are no longer the means by which people reach stasis or compromise but are merely one process in a set of processes meant to elongate engagement in order to put off reaching stasis or compromise.

the primary tool for nipping this rhetorical weed should be capitalism, except that the piracy movement is so drowned by psuedo-communist propaganda  that to speak in terms of practicality about it might seem an insult to the fanatics. but let us speak seriously: the eighteen million (and growing) users of file-sharing services do not think of communism specifically when they download any given file; rather, the great majority will think of entertainment or at least the delay of boredom. they download either because it is easier or cheaper than locating the media by another means. that is, file sharing is popular from a user standpoint because it is practical.

i would like to use a paraphrase from one of my favorite new york times articles to put the conversation in immediate perspective. business decisions are not moral decisions. we allow, via capitalism, businesses certain leeway in regards to tools reserved from them in the past in order to bolster their financial prowess. a business is never under moral attack, even were the psuedo-communistic rhetoric to work in full sway, which it never will. only the pirates can lose to moral attacks, but they are so popular now that they won’t. to paraphrase another favored source, CEO of the MPAA as caught in this documentary, the MPAA’s role is not to kill piracy for it will never die; their role is to hinder as much as possible the consumer from using pirate sources.

i therefore argue from a business perspective that piracy endures because it is emminently practical: the end-user recognizes it as such and the arch-rival specifically names the goal as hindrance, not victory. Piracy is a capitalistic outcome to the problem of availability even despite the pseudo-communistic propaganda offered by its most vocal and energetic proponents. The question is why capitalism is being outlawed rather than embraced in this economic environment.

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A letter to a client

This is part of a letter I wrote to a client and friend last night that I thought a few of you might benefit from. It concerns writing in the fantasy genre and how one ought to maneuver in order to find success.

**

I was thinking about your project this evening and came to a question that should have an answer: What does your project say that your audience needs and wants to hear? The closest answer is a given, that you speak to a child’s sense of wonder. However, that’s genre-broad and won’t on its own seize a publishing deal, no matter how successfully you fulfill that objective. The fantasy genre is so flooded with books that in order to succeed one much find a niche, much like an sponge grabbing onto a crevice in the ocean floor. Otherwise any book is just a floating homeless thing waiting for an opportunity to root, which necessarily comes before flourishing.

Take the Harry Potter series, which I know you like, as a case study. The popularity of the series did not start with the first book nor the second. Both were fairly run-of-the-mill stories that were lucky to find a publisher; they had symptoms of something larger, such as Harry’s distrust of authority via Snape, but the driving force of the series was wholly undeveloped and ephemeral.

The third book held the foundations for what really made the series work later on. Larger branches of authority than school administrators were offered; real-world weight became attached to the consequences of Harry’s failure or success. The Prizoner of Azkaban stepped beyond the scope of the schoolyard into the world at large, and a fairly metropolitan world at that, offering students what they so long for in an age whose marketing and art are so overly focused on them: importance and a place in the world’s troubles. Children can sense, in my opinion, that the world is shrinking before them, and even if they can’t, it’s certainly a message that their parents would want them to hear.

After the development of the Ministry of Magic and the mythology behind the characters, stepping into problems of the culture became the order of the day, such as Hermoine broaching classism (or perhaps slavery, depending on which side of the pond you’re addressing the question to), awkward social dynamics, and tools through which one can challenge authority. That all of these structures were well developed and paralleled feasibly actual-world problems simply heightened the draw of readers of all ages into the story.

The problem is not one of artistry but of thoughtfulness. If you see how your world connects with the real world, you can exploit it in your writing to the delight of your fans; nobody how poorly this is done, your readership will appreciate the effort and the depth.

For another example of this same point, take Terry Goodkind, a favorite of my adolescence (alongside Heinlein and Barnes) whose books have been mentioned as offering one of the best-developed fantasy worlds since Tolkien. To whatever extent that claim may be true (his world, perhaps in the beginning, was seen to a limited extent, but by the fifth book had grown too large and unwieldy), I would argue that his success hinged on his ethical messages inside the text. Indeed, the title of the first book in the series was The Wizard’s First Rule, clearly outlining that the books would focus on a series of rules dictating how one ought to live ones life. This caught my attention easily according to my nature, but I suspect that many adolescent boys just like me clung to the masculine figure of Richard Cypher and the short, too-the-point rules he came into contact with. That this episodic tool failed Goodkind in the end by becoming too demanding and dogmatic seems inevitable in hindsight, but it’s just the sort of depth that the audience will be looking for, hence that an editor will be looking for. It is that well-discussed but seldom hit-upon force called the niche.

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Too busy to write? Try journal excerpts!

Hm, so I haven’t thought over exactly what the consequences of posting some of my college journals could be, but I like giving you opportunities to get to know me better, and after the day I had yesterday, well… I promised you a new post, and this is the best result of the energy I can muster.

Yesterday I had a job interview. Not to jinx it, but my impression is that it went well, and I look forward to a second interview with the company to be scheduled next week. I went on a date night with Ashley, and then I stayed up all night doing absolutely important work that had nothing to do with the blog whatsoever. Now it’s 9:15am and I’m absolutely exhausted, but I refuse to go silently into this cold Friday.

Therefore, take a look through this window into my younger self, and let me know what you see. Also, write up a post for this week’s Theme Thursday! 🙂

**

4/2/2003[2004, actually]

Aside from Justin, I’ve spent the entire night with people who expect me to entertain them.

People bored in my presence wish to leave because they expect me to be fun. Fuck them.

That’s when life is depressing: when you realize you’re only popular because you offer filler for other’s lives. Truth hurts.

I’m so desperate for Christina’s love that I accept false tidings full heartedly. I offer love to confusion embodied.

4–5–04

Our relationship is so unhealthy. We’re not going out, but we’re hugging and kissing. We’re not intimate, but we’ve ditched everything for each other. Plans cancelled, PI sessions scrapped, friends ignored: all the while we’re promising each other not to do these things!

What is so wrong with us? Why can’t I use moderation? She is proof: I am not virtuous. But I can see; I am improving.

Love is here, but it is plagued.

4–21–04

Oh! So much, so much to think about! Christina, bills, apts, papers, exams! And working life is harder? HA! I’ll believe that when I feel the wounds!

Christina is disappointed in the time I spend studying. Not enough left for her, she says. She denies it, but her face and eyes scream it.

She wants a break, but she comes over. She wants her time to grow, yet she clings. Should I break us off for both our healths? She does not know—She is not stable. My foundation falters under her weight.

Why must leases be so difficult? Legally binding chains, and who knew they were there until they were taught? (Heh, play w/words. Until the chains were held tight, not until they learned.)

Strange people. The spirit of an extended deadline makes class mutinous with joy. Strange happenings.

Arts and science lead to easily exploited hippocracy [sic]. Hooray for Rousseau. The call is for honesty, not for a return to primitivism.

Moissac speaks of Salvation, Autun of punishment and prizes. Which is more true? Which is more dogmatic? (Life resembles this?)

4–26–04

Today I started work on Misnomen, a series of adventures initiated by misnomers. I suppose it is a fantastic piece of rhetoric. Hopefully I can make it amusing enough to be broadly accepted.

Also, my work on Bertrand’s saga (Is it a saga? Bertrand’s tragedy?) is moving slowly, but I am content with its progress.

Shall I be an author, then? Why open myself to criticism? Not every question has answers to be given by me. These are two of those.

Christina is still unstable, but she slept over Saturday night. I’m still waiting, waiting.

Considering my schooling, I find Natural World’s syllabus to be lacking in substance. Someday, when I can claim authority of my own or of outside sources, I will inform them of such. Natural World should mimic or merge with the Origins of Science and Masterworks in Modern Science courses from the GTX (Great Texts of the Western Tradition) roster. I have yet to read the texts in modern science, but based on the Origins course, I am sure I will be able to merge the scientific and literary worlds in a useful and elegant fashion.

Such is the problem of beginnings: there are so many improvements yet to be made.

5–1­–04

“I can’t take the abuse of your presence anymore.”

How topsy-turvy can we be? Two nights ago, she made a total bitch of herself. She claimed me to be narcissistic. “You want everyone to know you but don’t pay attention to anyone else,” she accused. She said it to make me angry by means of hurting my feelings, to prod me for whatever purpose. She woke the giant of my anger, and he has not settled yet.

She is depressed and insecure. When I called her on it, she stayed. Twice I’ve given her chances to leave: that night and this lunch. Neither has she left, though.

I hurt her today, as I should’ve on the 29th, and gave her wounded pride a chance again to leave.

I do not know her. I never expected her to hurt me for the sake of hurting me. I told her so, that she had fucked up big time. She was here per my invitation, and if she stayed it would be per my invitation, but if she left it was her own will taking her.

I told her every reason she could be staying, and she rejected them all save love. That does not mean that she stayed for love. I asked her to leave then because I could not take the abuse of her presence. She left furious, but we are not finished yet.

Maybe I should just call it quits, but what if?

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Giving Value: A practice in blogging

It’s about time I put an actual blog post on this blog. Mostly people have contacted me saying I should call it an ezine since blog seems ill-used here. I don’t often post my opinions, and I don’t cover popular topics. Is this, really, a blog?

IT IS NOW !! MUAHAHAHAHA.

**

The echo chamber

A general word of advice in blogging is to give value to your readers, to provide some service that they find worthwhile. This theory is so well accepted that I hear it at least five times a day through various social networking sites and how-to-blog services.

The very existence of such an echo chamber should serve to make the irony of a statement about providing value so stark that serious readers couldn’t ignore it. However, the statement merely provides the words which the reader should repeat as the writer so that his reader can repeat them, (seemingly) ad infinitum.

However, it is also said that, while web viewers claim to view the internet for entertainment and education, they in fact expect to learn nothing and, while browsing hundreds of pages, somehow manage to learn nothing. Also, the subjects of their entertainment are so abused as to weather away fascination, and yet they, the readers, keep plugging away at article after article waiting for some new tidbit to come up that they can gleam or meme, twist or copy as long as they can link. Millions of readers of this type exist, just as do millions (probably only thousands, but what the hell) of blogs.

To change tactic a little bit

Gold. The word looks closely related to God. For all intents and purposes, it doubles, either critically or actually, for a god. It replaced the materials in the scales of justice. It has moved countries and reshaped societies. It has single-handedly killed more men than any other artificial force on this planet, fueling wars (even [or especially] the religious ones), driving slaves, falsely empowering some men over others. In its mythic power, gold has generated false cities and idols, and even fabricated tales of glory.

One story in particular matters to us today because it shows a symptom of blogging as a means of American entrepreneurialism, which we usually hold so high. The people of the gold rush weren’t concerned with adding to the wealth of our nation, though a drive for success fueled them as mightily as any tycoon; the rushers wanted, as many of us dream, to get rich, preferably for as little effort as possible, but who’s going to complain about a few days’ worth of digging?

Unfortunately, quite a few of them died trying (for a fun expiriment, research how many actually died), and the ones who survived their trials merely settled wherever they ended up. The greatest problem they faced, as anyone playing the game Oregon Trail soon learns, was a lack of planning. The thoughts that run through your head–generated by the basic managerial imagination we each have, honed to greater or lesser extents by experience–are not sufficient to survive the trip. Even the people that did survive found out quickly that they had no idea how to look for gold or even where to find it. But the west coast looked pretty good by the time the Rockies were behind them, I bet, and you can read a brief history of Seattle if you want to see where the survivors’ remaining entrepreneurial instinct took them.

Blogging, to writers, resembles these traits. We put our ideas onto electronic drives where they appear as pixels to whatever ghostly visitor happens to stumble across them for whatever reason. Just like the ’49ers, we bloggers barely grasp the technology, hardly fully or in a way that would benefit us most, and more importantly we understand or misinterpret the tools and benefits of social media. Yet despite the technical inability of most writers and our lack of ambition to succeed in the ethereal communities of the internet (as opposed to our ambition to succeed in the commodifiable community of publishing), we press on into this dream. Why?

Blogging: A mythopoetic

Because we hear tales, of course, great tales of success. The recent movie Julie and Julia highlights the basic success fantasy that lies under most of our attempts: write blog, gain readers, break the media ceiling, get published. In what ways is social media most useful to us? Doesn’t matter; people will find the blog somehow, and my uneducated efforts will help. How hard do I have to work at generating compelling content, and what does that even mean, anyway: compelling content? I can write, we answer; I have thoughts.

To these arguments, I answer with an Eve6 lyric: “The liar in me says something’s gonna happen soon because it must.”

Despite our overpowered fantasies, there is no moment in which, climactic, the phone will suddenly ring, filling our voicemails with phonecalls from studios seeking our hands. In the current market, where blogs are a cute fuzzy place where MFA students and other writers post their cute fuzzy brains, there’s only one instance in which that might happen, and I promise you that you don’t want to follow that path.

Ashley sent me an email copied from her friend Steuart [sic] that addresses this hope:

I think that there are some individuals that understand social networking sites and how to leverage them effectively, but most don’t. Typically, the larger the company/corporation/label/band the more they -don’t- get it.

The power in social networking sites doesn’t have anything to do with your own individual or your group’s/company’s presence on it. You don’t need a twitter account to leverage twitter to your advantage. The power of social networking sites are in the PEOPLE that comprise it. From a marketing standpoint, twitter is best viewed as the ultimate in word-of-mouth amplifiers, NOT just another place to plaster plugs for yourself.

Marketing over social networks and the internet, as things sit now, is not about yelling the most and yelling the loudest yourself; it’s getting other people to do the yelling for you. As it pertains to the music business, people will be happy to start ‘yelling for you’ IF your music is good, with very little extra effort on your part. But if that takes up 95% of your efforts…well you’re doing it backwards and doing it wrong.

The only way in which Steuart’s breakdown of social marketing rings true is through viral marketing. It works one way: you produce something so astounding that it constitutes a freakshow, it doesn’t matter whether it’s genteel or actual freakishness. Child prodigies, the “LEAVE BRITNEY ALONE” guy, Shamwow… the list goes on quite a while and is mostly comprised of multimedia, not text. Companies trying to break into viral marketing attempt to break it down to a list of rules, but really it flows from this basic socio-instinct: one thousand quirks snap quite suddenly and almost inexplicably. That’s all it takes to generate a meme, as irrational as it is unpredictable.

Social networking as marketing

If you’re serious about your work and the work you make has value on its own, people are less likely (in my own, brief experience) to take the effort to spread it around. If anything, they’ll expect you to succeed on your own without their help outside of their continuing to view what you produce.

So what’s the right answer here? Buy a spambot that will get a thousand other spambots to follow you so that you have a thousand viewers, none of whom are listening to you because they’re all just bots that help you feel cozy at night? Well, no; the answer is work hard and do your research, even though I know that doesn’t sit well with some of you.

My strategy for maximizing my Twitter experience is relatively simple and, if I knew how to code, could be mostly automated.

  1. If the tweep have over two thousand followers, it’s unlikely we’ll be friends.
  2. If the tweep has a follow ratio larger than 1.5, same goes.
  3. New tweeps are found only by crawling retweets from friends and follow fridays, though some friends prove their recommendations more worthwhile than others.

I’m beginning to add people by channels, but it’s proving largely unnecessary as I’m fairly aggressive about following the tweeps my friends retweet. I use several websites to aggressively cleanse my list of followers and followees (contact me if you want a list, but I’m not certain I’ve got the best tools). If you don’t follow back after a few weeks, toodles. If you follow me and you’re a spambot, you get BLOCKED. If you follow me and I’m not sure I want to follow you back, you have three weeks to respond to any of my posts via mention or retweet or get blocked. I strictly maintain a near 1:1 ratio and keep Twitter bloating to a minimum.

Also remember that despite the upgrade in technology, this basic axiom still applies: You will be your greatest supporter. Connections through a network will amplify your advertising, but if you don’t speak out on your own behalf, how can you expect that of others? Rather, even if your fans/viewers are inclined to send out a message on your behalf, it will generally be in the form of a repost/retweet, which necessitates that you have something fresh in the stream for them to repeat when the mood strikes.

But such a force will strike rarely and in full force only on others who are paralleling your struggle. You have to work hard and work reasonably. You have to sing like an angel and then shout like a demon about it. If you’re not prepared to do this, you’re not prepared to succeed. If you’re not prepared to do this, you’re setting out on the Oregon Trail without a shovel. If you’re not prepared to do this, you’re chasing the myth rather than living the dream.

And for those of you who are prepared to tread down the well-worn path of celebrity and political gossip rather than make the psuedo-tantalous trip up the path of creativity, fair you well with your immediate success, and may you keep your viewers. May you carry your banner into the mudpits that might’ve been fields, and may bugs sting your ankles forever.

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