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Ether for Authors: The Stay-Seated Writers’ Conference


Table of Contents

  1. IndieReCon: The Stay-Seated Writers’ ‘Conference’
  2. Busi­ness: Whether ’tis Barnes or Nobler…
  3. Social Media: ‘The Great Unfriending’
  4. Craft: Who’s Afraid of the Dig­i­tal Disruption?
  5. Craft: Publishing Your Words in Word
  6. Con­fer­ences Ahead
  7. Last Gas: Is It Okay To Buy Bestseller Status?

IndieReCon: The Stay-Seated Writers’ ‘Conference’

While a lot of us have made sizable contributions this month to the airline industry for conference-going (and -going and -going and -going…remind me to address The February Problem, will you?), a different sort of confab was held last week.

IndieReCon.org was devised as a three-day staged release of prepared posts and occasional live-chats, all accomplished entirely online.

Brian O'Leary

I’m reminded of writer and consultant Brian O’Leary’s A Birthday Reflection on Sunday in which he wrote:

Travel can be liberating, but too much travel is its own straightjacket. The world is all around us; we need not fly thousands of miles to see or live it.

IndieReCon’s numbers support that sentiment. Two of its leading lights, author Shelli Johannes-Wells (she writes as S.R. Johannes) and BiblioCrunch’s Miral Sattar, report counting more than 18,000 unique users during the run, February 19-21, and more than 2,000 comments were logged on various stories.

That takes a lot of effort, and the folks who put this together are to be commended.

 

Shelli Johannes-Wells

One useful element of this type of gathering turns out to be the automatic archive it creates. At the site, you can easily navigate to each day’s offerings of blog posts and live-chats and review it all. In many cases contests, mostly book giveaways, were attached to various posts. And these articles ran on a listed schedule. The scheduled release of things certainly gave the event the feel of something “happening” in real time.

The several-daily live-chats, of course, really did happen in real time, as did comments and responses. Johannes tells me that respondents to a survey on the event are asking for it to be made annual, (did I mention The February Problem yet?), which makes perfect sense. I’m glad, too, though, that she tells me this in an email:

In the future, we will plan on making the conference more multi-media beyond posts and chats, expand the topics, and lengthen the chats.

Miral Sattar

This is exactly the direction IndieReCon needs to go. What I found in dropping in over the course of the three days was that the live-chats—using CoverItLive.com, a reliable service — created the present-tense quality the organizers and participants in something like this need to feel. Other, more static elements, such as articles posted, were less effective in creating that aura of “event,” although some did capture a brisk comment chain. Nevertheless, the intent here and the execution on this first outing make it well worth noting and I’d encourage the organizers to look at features such as Google Hangouts on Air in the future, to bring live audio and video into the process where possible to expand the sense of movement and process.

 

Bob Mayer

The most efficient way to survey the material retained by the conference is to use the Schedule page. You can most easily spot names and titles that interest you there, and you’ll find that various offerings are categorized under such headers as “writing big sellers,” “marketing and PR,” and “moving forward,” which beats moving backward every time.

I dropped in, for example, on the chat with Bob Mayer and Jen Talty of Cool Gus Publishing, and found a lively conversation there you can revisit here. You’ll find author-publisher Mayer, for example, talking about his evolving role in the development of his publishing outfit:

I market and promote, but my focus now is more on community building. Making my readers feel like I’m a real person.

And there’s an interesting post from Day Three headlined Lessons Learned and Tips from Indie Authors. Here you’ll find such advice as:

  • “Patience. Nothing — and I mean nothing — happens when you want it to or expect it to. It’s a very slow process. And that writing a good book is only step one. You have to be a better marketer than writer it seems.” – Sarah Ross
  • “No two authors pave their paths exactly the same (there is no single path to success). What works for one won’t work for all.” — Raine Thomas
  • “Keep up on industry news and never stop learning about the new changes in technology.” — Cheri Lasota
  • “Keep your eyes on your own paper, but at the same time, study and see what other authors are doing well and how they do it. Study other with the intent to learn not to compare.” — Laura Pauling
  • “Best tip? Don’t rush. Take your time, polish, revise, hire a cover designer and an editor, find a good support network!” — Leigh T. Moore
  • “Embrace everyone’s differences, because if we all liked the same things, the world would be a very boring place.” — Alan Tucker

 

 

Picking up from Tucker in that last bit about embracing differences—and knowing that the IndieReCon team is now going into a period of evaluation to map out the way forward—I might offer this, too: at our Author (R)evolution Day conference (#ARDay) in New York, debuted by O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing on February 12, it became evident that the concept of an “entrepreneurial author” may be more germane to what we’re seeing now than that of an “indie” or independent or self-publishing or traditionally publishing or hybrid author.

The IndieReCon folks do know this term, of course. Johannes, in fact, had a post on it during the run, Entrepreneurial Authors Wear Many Hats. Some folks seem interested in trying to make a new term, “author-preneurial.” Not necessary. And mildly annoying, actually. Just saying what one means is always such a good policy.

The idea of the “entrepreneurial” member of the menagerie is that this creature is learning to apply the kind of self-directed business skills and perspectives that both IndieReCon (#IndieReCon) and Author (R)evolution Day examined and promoted, regardless of publishing mode or intent. And in the aggregate, the writer corps could desperately use the healing effect of coming together simply as authors without mounting barricades on behalf of any label in particular.

 

At Author (R)evolution Day, my great colleague Kristen McLean of Bookigee and WriterCube — and co-chair of the event with Joe Wikert and Kat Meyer — made the point that the conference’s stance was agnostic on one mode of publishing over another. This characterization served us well, allowing all of us to focus together on the new centricity of the author in the industry! the industry!without the emotional overlays that accompany even celebratory efforts in the subject.

Kristen McLean

And while the IndieReCon event was publicized and operated as a rallying hub of information for self-publishing authors, I wonder if the qualification is really necessary or helpful? Who wouldn’t benefit from the experience and guidance here? Could ReCon not welcome all authors, simply as authors, without waving the self-publishing flag over the ramparts so eagerly? Mind you, I don’t sense any trace of animosity toward traditionalists here, that should be made clear. But as soon as the “self-publishing” or “indie” banner is raised, the fact that these are charged phrases is right in front of us, regardless of intention. It’s something to think about.

And, in fact, one of the more effective IndieReCon blog posts got into an element of this, the use of the term “indie.” Readers of this author—who is talented beyond his material—won’t be surprised to learn he’s Hugh Howey.

He did not respond to comments on the piece, I notice, but he’s traveling in Europe with the books, and I imagine that kept him from looping back to IndieReCon. Those who love Berlin might want to check his love letter to the city, just posted on his site, I Hope NYC Doesn’t See This…

Hugh Howey

As I wrote earlier in Ether for Authors after meeting him at Digital Book World, Howey is a hero to many, and rightly so, for mounting so formidable a success with the beginning novellas of his Wool trilogy that he now has print publication through Simon & Schuster but retains his e-rights. To IndieReCon, he contributed a post, Releasing Singles and Listening to the Audience, in which he argues well for the “indie” phrase:

Look at the similarities with the music industry. Indie labels and indie musicians share half of their compound selves, but there’s no mistaking the differences. I don’t see anything wrong with an indie press calling itself an indie press. Those in the business know what that means. Same goes for someone saying they’re an indie author. We know that means a self-published author. But it means so much more. It means someone who cherishes their freedoms and the complete ownership of their works. If I heard someone say “I’m an indie,” I’m going to assume the unspoken half of the compound phrase is “author.” If someone says “We’re an indie,” I’ll assume it’s a publisher. No harm. Group hug.

While I maintain the use of the buzzy term “indie” is a grab for the sunglasses, I think it’s well worth paying attention to what Howey is saying here. And it’s well worth paying attention to IndieReCon. Smoothly executed on its first outing, and not overreaching in its initial aims, this was a good start. Congratulations to those whose hard work pulled it off, and we can all look forward to future iterations of the program.

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Busi­ness: Whether ’tis Barnes or Nobler…

Leonard Riggio

Amid so many slings and arrows, Leonard Riggio, Barnes & Noble’s founder and 30-percent shareholder in the company, has offered to buy the chain’s 689 retail outlets as well as its online site.

In an interesting clarification on his story for the New York Times, Barnes & Noble Chairman To Bid for Bookstore’s Retail BusinessMichael J. De La Merced explains that William Barnes and G. Clifford Noble opened the original store in 1971. Riggio, while called “founder,” is in fact the creator of the latter-day company “that acquired the name in the 1970s.”

As Laura Hazard Owen reports in Barnes & Noble founder offers to buy chain’s 689 retail stores and BN.com, the offer, if accepted, would mean that B&N was taken private. Riggio’s overture apparently does not include the company’s university and digital components.

Laura Hazard Owen

And, as Owen reports, this unusual development follows reports of serious doubts about the company’s plans for its family of e-readers, the Nook. She writes:

The offer comes at a time when Barnes & Noble’s retail and digital businesses are both struggling. The company is set to report its Q3 2013 earnings on Thursday, February 28, and has warned investors of greater-than-expected losses for Nook. It also plans to close up to a third of its retail stores over the next decade.

And what of the Nook? Owen:

Separately, a New York Times article on Sunday cited a “person familiar with Barnes & Noble’s strategy” who said the company’s poor quarter “has caused executives to realize the company must move away from its program to engineer and build its own devices and focus more on licensing its content to other device makers.”* B&N spokeswoman Mary Ellen Keating said, “To be clear, we have no plans to discontinue our award-winning line of Nook products.”

Peter Kafka

Despite Keating’s strong statement of support for the Nook, Peter Kafka at AllThingsD spends just two sentences and one headline putting it this way: Barnes & Noble Founder Riggio Bids for Stores but Not Nook. And in a particularly thorough piece for the Times, Leslie Kaufman makes the point that whatever the fate of the Nook, its quality as a device is likely not the issue, at least as compared to its competitor hardware.

Leslie Kaufman

In Barnes & Noble Weighs Its E-Reader Investment, Kaufman writes:

Going into the 2012 Christmas season, the Nook HD, Barnes & Noble’s entrant into the 7-inch and 9-inch tablet market, was winning rave reviews from technology critics who praised its high-quality screen…But while tablet sales exploded over the Christmas season, Barnes & Noble was not a beneficiary. “In many ways it is a great product,” Sarah Rotman Epps, a senior analyst at Forrester, said of the Nook tablet. “It was a failure of brand, not product.”

Jeremy Greenfield and Deanna Utroske at Digital Book World have posted the news release on the Riggio offer here.

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Social Media: ‘The Great Unfriending’ 

 

I recently went through what I like to call “The Great Unfriending,” in which I unfollowed or disconnected from almost 80 percent of the people in my Facebook social graph. Doing so has changed the way I use the network, and I think that change — and the reason why I felt compelled to do so — says a lot about some of the challenges Facebook is facing.

 

Mathew Ingram

GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram at cites overload, not privacy issues, as his motivation, in It’s not you Facebook, it’s me — okay, it’s partly you: Why I unfriended almost everyone.

In the same way I’ve had to struggle with my addiction to real-time connectedness on a mobile device…I started to find that Facebook was a painful experience. And the more I thought about it, the more I thought that the problem was partly me — and the way I was using it — and partly the way Facebook was changing.

Having begun in 2006 by accepting “friend requests from almost everyone who sent them,” Ingram writes, “I knew at the time that doing this carried some risk, but I didn’t fully appreciate what it would be like, or how it would eventually ruin the experience for me.”

What I wound up with was almost a thousand “friends,” many of whom were people I had met at conferences, or people who were connected to me through others, or some who were just fans of my writing (who can still use the “subscribe” feature). To these people — all of whom I have since unfriended — I would just like to say that you are all wonderful, but I couldn’t take it any more.

 

The fact that his stream became “a sea of information I had little or no interest in” is not, however, strictly the user’s fault. Ingram writes:

The part of this that I see as Facebook’s fault has to do with how cluttered my stream became, especially with all of the “sponsored stories” and “liked” pages that began to show up more and more — when a “friend” liked a page about Coca-Cola or Ford, for example.

And he gets at one of the realities of the seemingly continual updates and changes to user-setting elements of the service:

I know that Facebook has knobs and dials that you can tweak so that you don’t see certain things. But who has the time to spend twiddling all those dials all the time?

Ingram — who is chairing the April 17 paidContent Live conference and who at times covers various social media operations in laborious, incremental detail, is able to read the larger implications of this for Facebook. He cites Natasha Lomas’ piece for TechCrunch, Pew Study Finds Two-Thirds Of Facebook Users Have Taken A Multi-Week Break, 27% Plan To Reduce Time On The Site In 2013. What Lomas writes about a Pew Internet study from the end of 2012 tends to jive with Ingram’s experience:

The (relative) good news for Facebook here is that concerns about privacy do not appear to be a big motivator for people falling off the Facebook wagon. The (relative) bad news is that a relatively large proportion of users is evidently finding Facebook time-draining, boring or annoying enough to have given it up for weeks at a time.

And his conclusion is something that may cause authors and others to rethink their use of the social network, eventually, as the massive medium lumbers forward.

Facebook has a whole series of challenges as it tries to grow and justify its $65 billion market value. But its biggest problem — bigger than the shift to mobile or the need to generate ad revenue — is that it has to not only remain relevant in people’s lives, but offer them more and more things that will keep them engaged.

 

Craft: Who’s Afraid of the Dig­i­tal Disruption?

 

A new medium always has a period when it is struggling inside the confining box of an earlier medium.

Dave Morris

Dave Morris, author and designer in graphic novels and comics, initially thought Thrillbent’s Mark Waid had demonstrated what’s called “motion comics,” when he heard about the presentation at O’Reilly’s Tools of Change Conference in New York.

Motion comics are just cheap animation. Very cheap animation. And I like animation, almost as much as I like comics, but I’m not rushing to pay out for a cheap, bastardized form of both.

Mark Waid

But once I could show him the video of Waid’s work, I could also let him hear how quiet the ballroom at the Marriott Marquis was during it. He writes:

So maybe that’s another way that new technology can liberate comics – it can liberate the medium from the stigma of pulpy trash that so many people in publishing attach to it.

And in i-Magery: Mark Waid on the digital reinvention of comics, Morris concludes:

I’ll close with the two key takeaways from Mark’s talk: “This is using digital storytelling tools to do things you cannot do in print,” and yet: “Like any other form of reading, you are in control of the pace at which you absorb the story.” See, there’s nothing to be afraid of. For all the glitzy new tech, right at the heart it’s still comics.

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Craft: Publishing Your Words in Word

 

A lot of do-it-yourself authors, people who don’t have the funds or just don’t want to go and hire a professional book designer, are trying to do these books, themselves. I don’t see anything wrong with that. But, you know, the book is very deceptive. It looks like a very simple, prosaic object…but when you go to actually make one, it turns out there’s lots of little decisions you have to make. And if you don’t make them right, your book can end up looking kind of silly.

Joel Friedlander

We’ve all seen those. The books that end up looking kind of silly. In fact, the industry! the industry! is knee-deep in them. Joel Friedlander is one of the leading book-design bloggers and instructors in the field today. In How to make a Professional Standard Print Book Interior, he’s interviewed by author Joanna Penn in London about what he discovered many writers were trying to do:

I get a lot of books that people are doing in Microsoft Word—because that’s the tool they have. And there are a lot of things that are really hard to do in Word.

Joanna Penn

As Friedlander says to Penn, such issues can include running heads that appear on chapter pages (and shouldn’t), lost hyphenation (leaving “big spaces in the lines”), and, in many cases, no copyright page. As he writes in his own piece, Self-Published Books Get a Major Overhaul with BookDesignTemplates.com:

This is the result of accepting the reality that many authors choose to create books with the tool they already own and know how to use: Microsoft Word.

What Friedlander is releasing is a suite of Word templates authors can use to produce good-looking renditions of their manuscripts, themselves, based on a small selection of pre-designed templates. The user licenses a template for one book ($37), a multi-book license ($97), or a commercial license to format books for others ($197). An additional $5 gets the user an “ebook-ready” template, bundled with the standard purchase. Friedlander is clear in his own write about “what’s not included” — top-grade professional typography, for example, isn’t possible in the Word environment, he writes. “Keep in mind we can’t change the way Word works, the way it spaces letters and lines of type, the way it hyphenates. I do think these templates have been tweaked and caressed to output the best type that Word can produce.” In his interview with Penn, he says that the two most frequently seen amateur font choices for books are Comic Sans — “a font all professional typographers love to hate” — and Papyrus. Can you imagine a book set in Comic Sans?

Friedlander’s Book Design Templates are his way of throwing in the towel, he tells Penn, after trying for two years to argue people out of using a word processor for book design. I’m not endorsing this new development, mind you: it’s been out only since February 22, and I haven’t had a chance to try it.

But Friedlander is one of the most respected members of the writing community in book design, and he guarantees a 24-hour return of a user’s money within 30 days of purchase if the user isn’t satisfied.

And I asked him something on behalf of several authors who have mentioned to me what I call the “friends and family problem”: writers who use associates as early (“beta”) readers frequently find that people outside the business (who can be your best gauges of a non-publishing crowd’s reaction) have trouble with plain MS format. It just doesn’t look book-like to the uninitiated in a standard Word doc.

In answer to my question, Friedlander tells me you can utilize Word’s edit-tracking functions—with which so many get and seek comments, corrections, and suggestions—after one of the new templates has been applied. This means a lay test reader can see something that looks quite nicely set up like a book on the page, and still comment and annotate for the author.

And speaking of the uninitiated, the templates utilize the Styles section of Word. And, as Friedlander writes:

Believe me, I realize there are lots of authors who have never touched that “Styles” section in Word.

This is why he has worked with a colleague, Tracy R. Atkins, to create:

A fully-illustrated, step-by-step Formatting Guide PDF that shows you how to download and unzip the template file, install the fonts on your system, and replace the placeholder text with your own book manuscript.

Could this be idiot-proof word-processor-based formatting for the author at last? The wait may be rewarded. After all, Friedlander’s experience is showing even in his announcement of the new offering at his site, The Book Designer, heavily trafficked by entrepreneurial authors:

For readers of tiny gray type, you might be interested to know that this is the 1,000th post to this blog. Cheers.

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Con­fer­ences Ahead

If you have a publishing conference in the offing, let me know about it via my contact page, and I’ll be happy to consider including it in my site’s listing and in columns as I have the chance. Here’s a look at conferences coming in the near term.

March 6-9 Boston AWP, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs: AWP last year drew 10,000 attendees to icy Chicago, and, per its copy on the site this year, AWP “typically features 550 readings, lectures, panel discussions, and forums, as well as hundreds of book signings, receptions, dances, and informal gatherings.” The labyrinthine book fair is said to have featured some 600 exhibitors last year. The program is a service-organization event of campus departments, hence the many readings by faculty members.

April 5 New York City Writer’s Digest Conference East Boot CampJoin me in a participatory special-focus workshop, Public Speaking for Writers: How To Turn Your Readings Into Book Sales. Learn what a public reading is really about; what an audience wants from an author at a reading and how to give it to them; how to choose what to read, rehearse it, prep your listeners (it’s not about “setting the scene”), and how to present yourself to your audience. Bring a couple of pages of a manuscript, we’re going to get you up on your feet for this one.  (Note: The Writer’s Digest Conference Boot Camp sessions have an additional charge, check for details.)

April 5-7 New York City Writer’s Digest Conference East: Author James Scott Bell, who knows the value of coffee, gives the opening keynote address this year at “one of the most popular writing and publishing conference in the U.S. Writer’s Digest Conference 2013 is coming back to New York at the Sheraton New York Hotel. Whether you are developing an interest in the craft of writing, seeking an agent or editor and publisher for your work, or a veteran hoping to keep current on the latest and best insights into reaching a broader readership, Writer’s Digest Conference is the the best event of its kind on the East Coast.” (This conference’s hashtag is #WDCE.)

April 17 New York City paidContent Live: Riding the Transformation of the Media IndustryBrisk and bracing, last year’s paidContent Live conference was efficient, engaging, and enlightening, not least for the chance to see many of the talented journalists of Om Malik’s GigaOM/paidContent team work onstage — Laura Hazard Owen, Mathew Ingram, Jeff John Roberts, Robert Andrews, Ernie Sander, et al. Among speakers listed for this year’s busy day: Jonah Peretti, Jason Pontin, Chris Mohney, Erik Martin, David Karp, Mark Johnson, Aria Haghighi, Matt Galligan, Rachel Chou, Lewis D’Vorkin, John Borthwick, Andrew Sullivan, Jon Steinberg, Alan Rusbridger, Evan Ratliff, and, of course, Dominique Raccah and Michael Tamblyn.

May 2-5 Oxford, Mississippi Oxford Creative Nonfiction Writers Conference & Workshops: Susan Cushman follows her Memphis Creative Nonfiction confab with this year’s gathering at the shrine. Among faculty members: Neil White, Leigh Feldman, Lee Gutkind, Dinty W. Moore, Beth Ann Fennelly, Bob Guccione Jr. and Lee Martin. Pre-conference workshops or just the creature itself, your choice.

May 3-5 Boston The Muse & the Marketplace 2013 is a production of Eve Bridberg’s fast-rising non-profit Grub Street program. Its material tells us that organizers plan more than “110 craft and publishing sessions led by top-notch authors, editors, agents and publicists from around the country. The Manuscript Mart, the very popular and effective one-on-one manuscript reviews with agents and editors, will also span three days. We expect nearly 800 writers and publishing professionals to attend, while maintaining the conference’s wonderfully intimate, ‘grubby’ energy that we love.”

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Last Gas: Is It Okay To Buy Bestseller Status?

Having seen the buying of false reviews and sock-puppetry play out its ugly pageant on Amazon’s stage last year, some of us are less surprised than we might have been by the news that some nonfiction business-book authors have been buying their way onto bestseller lists.

If anything, the surprise is in where you find some defense for the practice.

Jeffrey A Tractenberg

Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg at the Wall Street Journal solved The Mystery of the Book Sales Spike, in which business books have tended to debut on a major bestseller list one week, only to fall off into unremarkable sales levels immediately after. Trachtenberg writes:

The short moment of glory doesn’t always occur by luck alone. In the cases mentioned above, the authors hired a marketing firm that purchased books ahead of publication date, creating a spike in sales that landed titles on the lists. The marketing firm, San Diego-based ResultSource, charges thousands of dollars for its services in addition to the cost of the books, according to authors interviewed.

And in the course of his exposé on the issue, Trachtenberg sorts through this  underhanded stunt pulled off by authors willing to pay hefty amounts of money for the benefit of being made a bestseller. Data-tracking services use what one speaker in the story calls “stringent rules and controls to help validate consumer sales.” Specifically, bulk sales of the hundreds and thousands of books are not considered the sort of individual sale that should contribute to bestseller status.

Soren Kaplan

Author Soren Kaplan, however, tells Trachtenberg of ResultSource’s promise to “arrange the purchase of a quantity of books in such a way that they were counted toward national bestseller lists.”

And as for defending this practice by Kaplan and other business-book authors? Writes Trachtenberg:

At least one publisher, John Wiley & Sons Inc., recommends ResultSource to a small number of business authors. “We view it as a marketing tool that targets sales and the timing of those sales,” a Wiley spokeswoman says.

Then there’s Mitch Joel, author and digital marketing personality, who jumps into the fray to suggest you might Buy Your Way To The Top.

He writes:

I almost worked with one of these organizations for my first book, Six Pixels of Separation, but I opted not to. I probably should have. Are you surprised by my answer? See, there is a world of difference between someone buying 10,000 books and dumping them into a landfill just to hit a bestseller’s list so they can command better speaking fees or consulting gigs, from the hard working speakers who can genuinely sell a lot of books at the bulk sales level and get no recognition for it.

Mitch Joel

Joel probably argues the point as well as anyone can:

So, if I sold 15,000 copies of a book to 15,000 individuals who purchased them on Amazon or at Barnes & Noble or if five organizations each bought 3000 copies of the book to give to employees and customers, what is the real difference?

I think the real difference is in what bestselling status is understood to mean.

People, readers, many inside the industry and most outside the industry, believe that a good ranking on a bestseller list should mean that a large number of other people, readers, have bought a given book.

Stop somebody on the street and ask if they think a bestseller spot for a book means that the author spent between $50,000 and $100,000 in the cost of the books and fees to ResultSource to make it appear that some 2,500 to 3,000 people had bought her or his book. What do you think that person on the street will say?

People, readers, believe that a bestselling book is selling best among other people, readers. I think that very few folks believe it means a book is being handed out, a thousand copies at a time, free to a company’s employees because the author did a deal with the company to buy them. (That’s how this is frequently funded.)

Having read Mitch Joel for a long time and admiring his work, I have to believe he’s earnest on this point. But I wonder if he, the good folks at Wiley, and others who defend this practice aren’t in bad faith on this. We all know bestseller list is supposed to mean to people, readers.

That’s why Trachtenberg wrote his fine story.

That’s why Nielson BookScan (which is behind the list-making) tries to detect bulk buys that falsify these things.

That’s why it takes a company like ResultSource to pull it off. Kaplan tells Trachtenberg his ResultSource fees were “in the range of $20,000 to $30,000.”

Joel casts it as a problem of data reporting. He writes:

My understanding from the conversations I have had with businesses like ResultSource is that they help take those bulk sales and ensure that instead of it being counted as one, lump bulk purchase, that each individual gets a physical book that is then reported back to the bestseller’s list. It seems somewhat ironic that the work that they do is considered questionable, when it’s really the mystery and lack of transparency behind the reporting and building of the bestseller’s lists that should be put into question.

Perhaps the point isn’t without some merit. You can see what Joel is saying.

But, as the system stands now, I think it’s clear that bestseller status doesn’t represent the scenario Joel is describing. I have to go back to the question of what the bestseller list is understood and used by bestselling authors to mean—and why outfits like Nielsen are trying to prevent this if it’s okay in the current framework to do it. Joel ends his piece:

There’s nothing wrong with buying your way to the top. The challenge is in staying up there.

What do you think? Me, I find it hard to escape the irony that the title of the book Kaplan used this scheme to make a bestseller? — is Leapfrogging.

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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. More at PorterAnderson.com

Main image / iStockphoto: PCross

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3 Comments

  1. Posted February 26, 2013 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    This book will help writers make better books with MS Word and the free alternatives:

    http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AXNCMOQ

  2. Posted February 26, 2013 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    And, Michael N. Marcus, I see that the book you’re mentioning also happens to be by you.

  3. Tim Sanders
    Posted February 26, 2013 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    I agree with your perspective regarding “gaming the list.” I wrote about this last year, along with other gamings of the system (reviews). I received some not-so-pleasant calls from fellow authors and two friends that worked at publishing houses. They too asked me to distinguish between a ResultSource campaign versus a sales promotion (buy this book, get $500 in digital goodies), a PR blitz or a speaking tour where books are part of the gig.
    My answer was simple: A program that is designed to deceive best efforts by bestseller list managers to ensure quality is an unethical one. Why does Bookscan, NYT and WSJ filter out the big bulk sales? Because a bestseller list is intended as a stamp of quality to readers, and bulk sales are a long standing way to “clobber the list” by aggregating a big buy.
    There are many authors that cannot afford this technique (it’s a six figure proposition). I’ve heard of a few that mortgaged their house or plowed through family saving to compete for the few bestseller slots available. Tell me that isn’t a form of steroid abuse for author/speakers!
    Here’s the article I wrote last year:

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