Table of Contents
- Flexibility: Listening to the Publishers’ Convo
- Tech-ing Up: ‘Transformative, Exciting, Alarming’
- Authors on Publishers: Who’s Sorry Now?
- Your Turn: Surveying Discoverability
- Except Some Countries: Amazon’s International Competition
- Craft: Storyboarding as a Sales Tool
- Craft: Making a Scene
- Craft: Take Aim at Foot and…
- Conferences To Consider (And Tell Me Yours)
- Books: Reading on the Ether
- Those Busy ‘Artisans': Self-Publishing Books
Let’s say an author has written, over time, a twenty-book series. Because publishers so often take the print edition/file as it was when the first book was originally published, the listing of connected books in the series is missing in the ebook.
In The Smartest Thing Publishers Can Do Is Be Flexible, publishing consultant Kassia Krozser is not talking directly to authors. But she’s making a lot of sense on issues of how the content they create is handled.
By the twentieth book, we, of course, have a complete listing – but that doesn’t help the ebook reader (or, to be honest, the print book reader!) buying the first book today. Why not have those earlier editions updated to reflect new books in the series and/or new books by the author?
One of the things I try to do in Ether for Authors is come to you with material that isn’t aimed directly at authors. So many of the discussions driven by the digital dynamic affect authors, and yet may not include them. Traditions of the industry, after all, tend to see business as something discussed and debated by publishers but rarely shared with writers.
If anything, not following the debates being held at the industry level is one of the biggest mistakes some authors make. The “just write the best book you can and keep your head down” model won’t work anymore. You need to know what the business is hearing and saying.
I know Lord Byron sounds like he was probably fascinating but I suspect he was the kind of douchebag who is terrible at making conversation.
— Ginger Clark (@Ginger_Clark) December 10, 2012
If I were stuck next to him at some kind of industry lunch he’d be completely silent and brooding and therefore BORING. — Ginger Clark (@Ginger_Clark) December 10, 2012
This is one reason I’m glad to see both Tools of Change and Publishers Launch create all-new authors’ conference events — Author (R)evolution Day and Authors Launch, respectively; see the Conferences section below.
Their arrival has to do with a recognition of the author’s newly understood prominence. As Bookigee’s Kristen McLean puts it in her first of two articles about developing the (R)evolution Day program:
We had a growing awareness that the kinds of conversations and information we were dealing with at TOC—important conversations about the future of publishing—were not making it over the fence to the people who needed it most: the authors and creators.
And as publishers work to reframe their concepts of the author’s stance — and his or her relationship to the reader — an author must listen to these controversies, track developments, understand the trends they represent, and learn to take advantage of the industry’s evolving picture.
3:45 Honolulu time. Heading out for my first (and likely only) marathon! — Kassia Krozser (@booksquare) December 9, 2012
Linked data, I believe, is the next big thing. I’m sure others have their definitions, but here’s mine. The connections in books, between books, between books and other media, between books and the real world.
And in this interview at 40K Books (its novellas and essays take around 40 minutes to read), Krozser has brought together a suite of factors making publishers’ jobs tricky but with her characteristic interest in writers and writing never far below the surface.
For example, she’s asked by 40K what she thinks are the “three unavoidable steps for publishers today. Excerpting from her answers:
Flexibility…From my perspective, the smartest thing everyone in the publishing food chain can do is be flexible. This means publishers, authors, distributors, marketers, and service providers.
Worldwide Rights…I get frustrated when a book is only available in the UK, yet is getting all kinds of publicity in the United States. Think of all the books published around the world — and think of how many books will be made available to me between now and the time a publisher deigns to bring out that book in my territory.
Rethinking Pricing. For better or worse, self-published authors are changing the (trade) book economy. And, for better or worse, traditional publishers have not articulated a great case for themselves. I am not advocating cheap books, but I am advocating *cheaper* books. More thoughtful pricing. More consideration of the audience. More attention to quality (which we now spell “qaulity”).
Her reference there is to her presentation at the Books in Browsers conference in San Francisco, “What Do Readers Want? Books! How Do They Want Them? Every Way Possible!” You can see her session on video here, the tape’s TRT, or total running time, is 16:31 minutes. That video is part of an O’Reilly collection from the conference — produced in association with the Internet Archive. These tapes are viewable at no charge. And Krozser adds one more “unavoidable step” we hear being echoed frequently these days around the work of newly empowered writers:
Fearlessness. We talk a lot about publishers experimenting, but there isn’t a lot of truly experimental ideas coming from publishing houses…Pushing the boundaries of reading – or even getting publishing as we know it into the same realm as the web (where people already are) – requires taking great leaps into the unknown.
Krozser’s interview works as a useful position paper, and it’s the kind of thing I hope more authors are taking the time to read these days. Craft work is grand, but when it comes to understanding the business in which that craft must be published, authors can no longer “stick to the writing blogs.” Knowing what publishers face in today’s market is the only way for an author to find a place for him- or herself. Back to Table of Contents
We have a blank canvas in front of us now that is capable of so much more than just print.
By coincidence, another key observer has just been interviewed at 40K Books, much of what O’Reilly Media’s Joe Wikert has to tell Letizia Sechi there dovetails handily with Krozser’s comments. In Publishers Need to Immerse Themselves in Technology, one of the things Wikert notes in describing the factors that make the digital dynamic alarming in publishing is:
All the walled gardens that are being erected. Amazon is the perfect example here. Customers are attracted by the irresistible deals but will eventually realize they’re locked into the Amazon platform, or at least the content they purchase is locked into it.
When asked what might stand as an interesting innovation in the pipeline, Wikert points to the idea of ebook subscriptions — the concept often refererred to as a “Spotify for books.” He points out, however, that in publishing, the widest wash of interest may not work like it does in music:
As a consumer I’m more interested in specific genres with a great deal of depth, not a broad list of titles, many of which I don’t really care about. So a sports subscription, a history one or a biographical one would be very appealing to me. Many consumers (myself included!) scoffed at the idea of a music subscription program before Spotify. That mindset is changing rapidly.
Not surprisingly for the general manager and pubisher at O’Reilly, when Wikert gets Sechi’s “three unavoidable steps for publishers question,” he goes right for the digitalization of it all:
Embrace technology…How can you get a sense for the customer’s point of view if you’re not using a tablet and/or eInk device on a regular basis?
Think beyond just the portable, packaged formats…HTML5 is a technology publishers need to fully embrace.
Abandon DRM. It’s time to start trusting your customers…This will also help tear down those walled gardens.
As with Krozser’s comments to 40K, the author who assumes these points are “just for publishers to worry about” not only isn’t following what’s happening in the industry — and what publishers are being told about it — but also where points of potential leverage for the writers’ corps might lie.
Across the board, authors unhappy at publishers’ marketing efforts substantially outweigh those who are satisfied. “Marketing strategy? Don’t make me laugh,” says one. There are plenty of complaints about pricing—though they are split between those who consider it too high to attract readers and those thinking it too low to properly reward authors. “Publishers seem in disarray with regards to pricing,” comments one author.
Almost as soon as we all got back from the FutureBook 2012 Conference in London last week, the third annual Digital Census was published by TheFutureBook and The Bookseller — “a detailed picture of digital trends and issues across the industry.” The survey, made in September and October, “drew responses from 2,459 people with professional links to books or publishing,” according to Sam Missingham of TheFutureBook.
It should be noted, too, that respondents to this survey are self-selecting, volunteering their responses when invited to participate. Trying to extrapolate results to the widest population of publishing professionals with assumptions of scientific viability — or even to the overall publishing community of the UK — may be unwise. However, as an annual snapshot of what a pool of issue-aware, engaged publishing people are saying about their industry and outlook, the Digital Census makes for interesting reading.
Authors who get help with story editing, copy editing, proofreading, and cover design make 34% more than the average. blog.taleist.com/2012/05/24/rep… — Wendy Monaghan AE (@WMEditing) December 4, 2012
Of particular interest? Attitudes among authors about their publishers. “Nearly two-thirds (64.2 percent) of our survey respondents are based in the UK,” survey documentation tells us. “But responses were received from around the world, with good proportions contributing from the US and Europe in particular.” Some 13.2 percent responded from the States; about 10.5 percent surveyed were in parts of Europe other than the United Kingdom; and Australian and New Zealand respondents accounted for 5.3 percent of the input. Respondents describing themselves as traditionally published authors accounted for 9.8 percent of the overall survey group. Those characterizing themselves as self-publishing authors comprised 5.3 percent. What may put a wry smile on the faces of many American authors are the predominantly non-US — but fully familiar — opinions of the responding authors to questions on the survey asking them to appraise their publishers.
- Three in five (61.8 percent) either strongly or mildly agree that their publisher communicates well with them.
- But fewer than half (49.5 percent) think that their publisher does everything in their power to sell their books.
- A similar number (48.2 percent) strongly or mildly agree that they have considered switching to self-publishing.
- Asked about their satisfaction with what their publisher achieves, on a scale of one to 10—where one is very unsatisfied and 10 is very satisfied—their average rating is 6.2. That would seem to suggest a verdict that publishers serve them reasonably well but could do better.
Keeping in mind that the survey universe here of self-described authors is not large — either traditionally publishing or self-publishing — there nevertheless are some interesting elements of comparison to note.
Preferred platforms for self-publishing
As it does for publishers, Amazon dominates self-published authors’ work. Nearly nine in 10 (88.3 percent) [of respondents to this survey] use its Kindle Direct Publishing platform to sell their ebooks. The next most popular platforms are Smashwords (used by 43.3 percent), CreateSpace (39.2 percent), Barnes & Noble’s PubIt (25.8 percent), Kobo’s Writing Life (23.3 percent), Apple’s iBooks Author (19.2 percent), and Lulu (14.2 percent).
What do self-publishers pay for?
Just over half (52.9 percent) of self-published authors [responding to this survey] pay for publishing services. Editorial and cover design are the most popular services, though some also pay for advertising, distribution and formatting support.
What do self-publishers want?
Two in five (43.3 percent) [of those authors responding] say they would ultimately like to get a trade book deal, with a similar proportion (44.3 percent) expressing ambivalence and only a small number (12.3 percent) set firmly against the idea.
I found this particularly interesting, the question of self-publishers seeking trade contracts. As we’ve seen in past Ether coverage, the more militant members of the self-publishing authors’ community tend to talk as if self-publishing is their intended career-long mode. But training programs and conferences for self-publishers frequently seem focused on the hope of attracting a traditional publishing contract through a good showing in self-publication. Some of the commentary in the survey’s 35 pages gets at the irony here of self-publishers hoping to move into traditional publishing for elements of support and production that some traditionally published authors bitterly assert are no longer offered.
Those who would like a deal [say they] value the prestige and the reduction in work it would bring, and think it would give them more money and marketing support—though as has been seen, it was a shortage of these two things that drove other authors into self-publishing in the first place.
New national alcohol survey shows 48% of 16 & 17 year olds consumed more than 4 drinks on one occasion in the last week nationaldrugstrategy.gov.au/internet/drugs… — Michael Thorn (@MichaelTThorn) December 10, 2012
Bottom lines Finally, the survey’s in terms of sales on the self-publishing side seem to reflect what’s being seen on the wider stage. Big rack-’em-up sales aren’t the norm by a long shot, despite what some of the responding authors seem to be saying about their happiness quotient when out from under the confines of a traditional contract.
Being satisfied does not necessarily mean they [self-publishing authors surveyed] have sold a lot of books. Three in five (60.3 percent of) self-published authors say they have sold fewer than 1,000 ebooks, with smaller numbers selling between 1,000 and 5,000 (11.6 percent); between 5,000 and 10,000 (6.6 percent); or between 10,000 and 50,000 (9.9 percent). Only one in nine (11.5 percent) has sold more than 50,000 ebooks.
Suffice it to say, the announcement of the survey’s findings carries an apt understatement:
Authors are still finding their feet in the new digital order.
| | | The full report is available from TheFutureBook and its parent, The Bookseller, at £97 for subscribers and £127. My thanks to Sam Missingham, Philip Jones, and Nigel Roby for the chance to offer a few of the Digital Survey’s wide-ranging results.
There’s a new survey under way and I hope you’ll consider offering your input on it.
Joseph Esposito has led the way on this one, and is being supported by Joe Wikert and O’Reilly Media, with the participation of Forbes. In his introduction post on the survey, A short survey about turning discovery into sales, Esposito writes, emphasis mine:
We are living at a time of enormous innovation in all aspects of publishing. Well, almost all: the primacy of the distinctive author has not changed at all. But everywhere else–how we produce books, where we buy them, how we share them (if we can)–innovation and disruption are the norm. Not all of the new ventures in the book business will survive, but it is far too early to be predicting a shakeout.
As whole conferences are mounted on the question of discoverability, authors are becoming as aware as publishers of the real challenge: even “the distinctive author,” as Esposito describes her or him, is fighting to be found as the so-called “tsunami of crap” enabled by digital publishing developments inundates markets and all but submerges readers in a drowning pool of choice. Esposito writes:
The key stipulation of this survey is that it asks you to focus on books that you actually purchased for yourself. Gift books don’t count. Where did you first hear about these books? Which are the media organizations that publishers should be paying attention to?
If you’re too pressed for time to read more of Esposito’s rationale in his post, you can go directly to the survey. It is quick, as promised.
If you look at the official rules for Amazon’s new competition for a 2013 “Breakthrough Novel,” you find that entrants cannot be national or legal permanent residents of Burma, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan or Syria. You have to wonder if the international political constraints that pertain here don’t keep us at times from finding good, new literature that might bring us closer. Nevertheless, as Laura Hazard Owen reports at paidContent in Revamped Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest is (surprise!) all about Amazon, the six-year-old competition is being updated and made richer by Seattle this year. She writes:
The contest, which in past years offered grand-prize winners a $15,000 advance and a contract with big-six publisher Penguin, will now give the winner a $50,000 advance and a contract with Amazon Publishing. This, says Amazon, means “a faster publishing timeline, higher royalties, ability to launch the books in multiple formats (print, audio, ebook) and worldwide distribution.”
And the competition is definitely interested in international participation from authors, with a deadline of January 27 (11:59:59 p.m. Eastern/New York Time). Reception of submissions opens on January 14 and will close as soon as there are 10,000 entries. Here is more information on the competition from the company. Best of luck to anyone entering. And if you’ve had some experience of the variations in royalty rates on Amazon in various countries, please let me hear from you. You can reach me through my contact page at porteranderson.com.
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In related reading: See Carlo Carrenho and Iona Teixeira Stevens’ report for Publishing Perspectives, Amazon’s Grand Plan for Brazil: “Sell Millions of Kindles,” says Naggar:
The works of the poet who wrote the original Portuguese lyrics for the most famous Brazilian song, “The Girl From Ipanema,” are now available as ebooks in Brazil, and not thanks to a publisher. It was Amazon that brought Vinicius de Moraes’ four Portuguese titles to digital life, as they launched their ebookstore [in Brazil]. The books are exclusive to Amazon, as is a title from Paulo Coelho, O Livro dos Manuais, which is being sold at a discounted price of just $1.41 in US dollars, as well as the ebook editions Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.
I use both prose, current day photos, and photos and video and drawings and photos from the time of the story [in Duty, Honor, Country, A Novel of West Point & The Civil War]. The Civil War was the first extensively photographed war, so that helps. Also, I find the drawings done by U.S. Grant and W.T. Sherman to be fascinating. We still took drawing when I was a cadet at West Point.
In his blog post How To Storyboard a Book for Marketing Purposes, author-publisher Bob Mayer has an interesting look at a way to use Slideshare.com. Are you familiar with Slideshare? It characterizes itself as “the world’s largest community for sharing presentations.” Touting 60 million monthly visitors and 130 million page views, Slideshare says it’s one of the 200 most-visited sites in the world. Mayer’s example in his post has a 28-slide presentation. You can also see it here along with a selection of other slide decks from Mayer and Cool Gus, his publishing company. Authors who give presentations at conferences, conventions, in classrooms, and at library events, all may have a good dual use for such an approach, first developing presentations for their public appearances, then using them for promotional purposes, as well.
Imagine a forest. On summer solstice, the trees cut down humans and plant them in the meadow. Sometimes they forget to water them. — Dan Krokos (@DanKrokos) December 7, 2012
The kind of thing Mayer shows working so well in this example makes good use of a slide deck’s ability to have information “pop” for the viewer in a memorable way. For example? One slide points up that in the American Civil War, West Point-trained officers commanded both the Union and Confederate forces in 55 of the war’s 60 major battles — a disturbing thought, and a way to bring home quickly the kind of disastrous divisions that the conflict imposed on the U.S. national personality in the 19th century.
One reason I started using Slideshare was that at the Discoverability Conference in New York earlier this year, one of the presenters pointed that people search for images almost more than keywords.
It’s a good point, the visual factor. The conference Mayer refers to, in late September, was produced by F+W Media, which also is producing the Digital Book World Conference + Expo coming to New York in January. As long as Mayer has raised the point of visual attraction in marketing, I’d like to see the good folks at Bowker Market Research consider studying the effect of book covers on discoverability and/or sales “conversion” (getting an interested reader to buy). We know, of course, that covers today need strong titles and uncluttered design because they’re seen in thumbnails at online retail sites. But I’d like to know more in terms of whether readers will actively reject books with covers they deem amateur. And, of course, I’d love to know if it’s possible to nail down some criteria that might add up to “amateur-looking” in the untrained perceptions of potential buyers. Meanwhile, Mayer’s use of slide decks as promotional material via Slideshare is worth authors’ consideration. I’ve seen a lot of video book trailers that might have saved everybody a lot of embarrassment if replaced by a good slide deck.
First Saturday without a full college football slate on TV since August. I already have a nervous tic going on. — DonLinn (@DonLinn) December 8, 2012
The scene—that most integral, most obvious, most universal part of any story—is also the most overlooked and least understood when it comes to the craft of storytelling.
Editor K.M. Weiland’s post Structuring Your Story’s Scenes: Mastering the Two Different Types of Scene is the first part of her development of the issue. And she’s right, of course, that for some reason there’s a tendency for the scene’s place in writing to be overlooked.
The scene is where we find the conflict. This is the action part of the action/reaction dynamic duo. Big stuff happens in scenes.
In Weiland’s thinking, “the microscopic level of paragraph and sentence structure within the scene.”
Plot points change the course of the story. Characters act in ways that affect everything that happens afterward. These are the scenes that will loom large in your stories.
Please do not suggest that we hire any more marmots. We have too many already and the pro-marmot lobby has really been leaning on us. — NaNoWriMo (@NaNoWriMo) December 7, 2012
Weiland makes a distinction between a scene, per se, and a “sequel” — not the obligatory film-after-the-film “sequel,” but something more refined.
The sequel is a much quieter, but just as important, factor in your story. Within the sequel, we find the characters reacting. Usually, there’s not too much outright conflict, but there’s plenty of tension. These are the scenes in which characters and readers alike are allowed to catch their breath after the wild and gripping events in the previous scenes. Reactions will be processed and decisions will be made so characters can jump right back into the next scene.
It’s surprising that writing isn’t taught more frequently at the scene level. In our episodic age, we think in scenes. We may estimate how many of them a TV show can fit into a block of time before the next commercial break, we may marvel at how long a single tracking shot in a well-made film can hold and pressure-cook action in a single scene…but we don’t always understand books in scenes. So I’m glad to know that Weiland is starting one of her always-worthwhile series of posts on this strangely ill-considered component of writing, named from the Greek, skene.
We’ll talk about how to structure the arc of each scene, how to link all scenes and sequels so they all behave like proper little dominoes, how to use scene knowledge to spot plot problems, and we’ll even dig down briefly onto the microscopic level of paragraph and sentence structure within the scene.
No matter where you are in your writing career you can always find a reason to be unhappy about it. You’re unagented and you want to get an agent. You’re unpublished and you want to be published. You’re published and you want to be read. You’re read but not read in the numbers you hoped. You’ve gone indie and your books aren’t selling enough to buy you a monthly mocha.
Author James Scott Bell’s most recent litany at the Kill Zone shared blogging site is on 10 Ways to Sabotage Your Writing. I’m particularly taken by his first entry: “Thinking about your career more than about your writing.”
What you ought to do is write more. When you’re into your story and you’re pounding the keys and you’re imagining the scene and you’re feeling the characters, you’re not camping out in the untamed country of unfulfilled expectations.
Ew @ the thought of ambrosia salad. — Brett Sandusky (@bsandusky) December 9, 2012
Bell goes on to list envy, ran obsession with rankings, “the comparison trap,” “trying to be the next James Patterson,” “I’m not good enough to make it,” fear, hanging on to discouragement, letting negative people get to you, and “loving the feeling of being a writer more than writing”:
Don’t fall into the trap of writing a few words in a journal, lingering over the wonderful vibrations of being alive with the tulips of creativity budding within your brain, and leaving it at that.
Please note that my listing here of publishing conferences upcoming is not meant as a commercial promotion for them but as an informational guide highlighting major events ahead and providing discount availabilities for writerly budgets wherever I can.
If you have a publishing conference event coming, please notify me through the contact page at porteranderson.com, and I’ll be happy to consider listing it.
Registration continues for Digital Book World (#DBW13) (January 15-17) — and the associated Children’s Publishing Goes Digital (January 15) and Authors Launch (January 18, see below). Substantial savings are available, and you’re most welcome to use my affiliate code PORTER to trigger them as you register.
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A 20-percent discount has been offered on registration for the all-new January 18 Authors Launch one-day conference. It’s being produced by the Publishers Launch team of Mike Shatzkin and Michael Cader (seen, for example, at Frankfurt Book Fair). To get the reduced rate, use code AL395 as you register. This is the daylong series of specialized presentations from a roster including Peter McCarthy, Dan Blank, MJ Rose, Randy Susan Meyers, Jason Ashlock, Meryl Moss, Ether host Jane Friedman, David Wilk and more.
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Author (R)evolution Day (#TOCcon) (February 12) from O’Reilly Tools of Change and Publishers Weekly has special early pricing ending December 20. Among featured presenters: Cory Doctorow, Eve Bridburg, Laura Dawson, Allen Lau, Jesse Potash, Dana Newman, Kristen McLean, Peter Armstrong, Tim Sanders, Michael Tamblyn, Rob Eagar, Kate Pullinger, Kat Meyer, and Joe Wikert. You’re welcome to use my affiliate code AFFILIATEPA for a discount of $300 on your registration.
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O’Reilly Media’s Tools of Change (#TOCcon) Conference (February 12-14) has a December 20 cutoff date for early pricing, and includes a major brace of workshops for industry professionals during Author (R)evolution Day (your pass must include Tuesday), plus two more days of multi-tracked offerings. Use my affiliate code AFFILIATEPA for a discount of $300 on any registration package.
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For an updated list of planned confabs, please see the Publishing Conferences page at porteranderson.com.
The books you see here have been referenced recently in Ether columns or in tweets. I’m bringing them together in one spot each week, to help you recall and locate them, not as an endorsement.
- APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur by Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch
- Book: A Futurist’s Manifesto edited by Hugh McGuire and Brian O’Leary
- Come to the Edge by Christina Haag
- Creating Space: The Case for Everyday Creativity by Ed Cyzewski
- Digital Vertigo by Andrew Keen
- Dog Hills by Michael Hogan
- Duty, Honor, Contry, a Novel of West Point to the Civil War by Bob Mayer
- Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks
- My Memories of a Future Life by Roz Morris
- Pentecost by J.F. Penn
- Quilt or Innocence: A Southern Quilting Mystery by Elizabeth S. Craig
- Sell Your Book Like Wildfire by Rob Eagar
- Sistine by Michael Hogan
- A Summer in Europe by Marilyn Brant
— Dwight Garner (@DwightGarner) December 9, 2012
There’s also this nice sketch of J. K. Rowling. twitter.com/DwightGarner/s…
— Dwight Garner (@DwightGarner) December 9, 2012
A good friend and colleague wrote Monday to remind me that venture capitalist and original Macintosh marketing-team member Guy Kawasaki was self-publishing his book on self-publishing. Kawasaki and his associate Shawn Welch have named this one APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur-How to Publish a Book.
Guy and Shawn call this “artisanal publishing.” Artisanal publishing features writers who love their craft, and who control every aspect of the process from beginning to end. In this new approach, writers are no longer at the mercy of large, traditional publishers, and readers will have more books to read
Immediately, a couple of worries arise here, and fortunately, the charismatic, buoyant Kawasaki is the kind of personality about whom you don’t have to worry. His projects float well on the energy of his beaming enthusiasm. Kawasaki is a perennial success. The qualms? There are two. First, “artisanal.” In his dispatch last month from the sovereign state of Brooklyn — The Mass Produced Artisanal Breakfast Sandwich — digital/publishing consultant Brett Sandusky did what needs doing to the buzz-word buffa of our hive culture:
Until we get to that place, where publishers become media/technology companies building digital products in-house with agile teams and strong customer relationships, we’re simply selling our customers (and ourselves) a bunch of mass produced artisanal books. It sounds great, kind of, until you realize it’s just empty marketing. At which point, you realize: an industry in the business of using words to convey concepts should know better.
And he was right. People who work with words for a living have very little excuse for the buzzery of everyday sales-palaver. Sandusky’s piece was based on the publishing industry’s grab at “agile” as a “new and improved!” phrase to slap on things (while pointing out that actual agile process is rarely found in the business, if at all). “Artisanal” is that same thing, he was saying: a rather silly, ill-fitted bit of hype that marketers stole from cathedral stone masons (or was it 17th-century musical instrument makers?).
And now they’re riding the term until its legs fall off. “Organic” long ago became the same legless creature of common usage. “Free range.” Do you see feet? Let alone legs.
And here’s our respected, always welcome Kawasaki doing “artisanal.”
The second problem here involves what “artisanal” means, and he says it well in his overtake of the term — that “writers who love their craft, and who control every aspect of the process from beginning to end” lingo. You can almost smell wood shavings hitting the warm, rough-hewn planks of the honest journeyman’s shop floor, can’t you? Sunlight streams through the gathering dust of busy carpentering, the fabled, linen-clad craftspeople turn back to their faithful whetstones to do whatever one does with a whetstone, it may be sharpening “back in the day,” but it sure is getting dull here in the 21st you know what, isn’t it? #Cmonson.
As was touched on at the FutureBook Conference just last week — and has been observed and reported and will continue to be developed — in self-publishing at this point many authors (not all, but many) are not in it to be leather-aproned artisans. In fact, they are working (supported by many of the conferences and workshops they go to) to find themselves traditional publishers through self-publishing; to rack up some numbers to prove the viability of their writings to the unsteady establishment; to flag down a car and take a load off their own legs.
However well or otherwise the pitch plays, what’s undeniable is that Kawasaki and Welch won’t be lonely.
I did a quick Google Book Search to see the many, many, many, many (enough?) books on self-publishing out there.
A few: Self Publishing for Virgins You Can Do It! a Guide to Christian Self-Publishing; How to Self Publish Comics: Not Just Create Them; The Naked Author – A Guide to Self-Publishing; Cambodian Grrrl: Self-Publishing in Phnom Penh; Get Rich in a Niche – The Insider’s Guide to Self-Publishing in a Specialized Market; and Self Publishing Millionaire: How To Hustle Books by the Thousands.
The total number of self-publishing how-to titles numbers, easily, is in the hundreds.
I can’t immediately get a count from Google’s search return because it also includes, ironically, such entries as Kathryn Stockett’s novel, The Help.
A lot of refinement in the search would be necessary to see what it could really do in telling us how many self-publishing how-to’s are out there.
— TheRogueReader (@theroguereader) December 10, 2012
Kawasaki and Welch have their work cut out for them. I wish them well. I also, seriously, respect them. Don’t mistake my concern for their marketing pitch and its implications as a lack of genuine appreciation for the energy and clever self-reinvention Kawasaki has brought to his career. He’s earned that winning smile.
I simply wonder how easily he and Welch can distinguish their book in the marketplace from these hundreds of others already there to “APE” it.
Or is it, actually, “aping” them?
And I wonder whether they might not be seen by some as authors capitalizing on the ill-prepared dreams of other authors.
Is a planet of such APEs what we really want?
It’s a time to take care in how we think of self-publishing, no longer the big, new sonic boom thrown off by the rate of the fall of traditional publishing.
Now that we know so many self-publishers are really trying to snag trade contracts? — sure looks as if necessity is the mother of “artisanal.”
Giant rubber duck swimming up the Thames…bridge is up to let it through. Surreal delay twitter.com/LovesickHank/s…
— Nic Fildes (@LovesickHank) December 11, 2012
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Porter Anderson is a Fellow with the National Critics Institute, a 32-year journalist with several newspapers and three networks of CNN, as well as a producer posted to the Rome headquarters of the United Nations’ World Food Programme. His Writing on the Ether is read Thursdays at JaneFriedman.com
Main Image, Paris: iStockphoto / Brian A. Jackson