Ether for Authors: And Would You Just Save the Libraries, Too, Please?

In Discussion by Porter Anderson

20 August 2013 iStock_000002539854XSmall photog jarnogz texted story image

Table of Contents

  1. “Authors for Library eBooks”
  2. It’s Morrison: Must Be Edinburgh Festival Time
  3. How We Talk About It, Part 1: Bezos’ Buy
  4. How We Talk About It, Part 2: DRM
  5. Conferences
  6. Last Gas: McVeigh Inveighs

“Authors for Library eBooks”

Librarians are such fabulous advocates—and, in particular, non-partisan advocates—for authors.

Cory Doctorow / Photo: Jonathan Worth

Cory Doctorow / Photo: Jonathan Worth

Author Cory Doctorow loves a good cause. And he’s good to the causes he loves, too.

The latest example of this can be seen in his work with the American Library Association (ALA) for its Authors for Library eBooks project.

The project offers a list of resources on its Learn More page; a bright group of face shots on its Our Authors page; a “call for meaningful change and creative solutions” on its Sign On page where authors can join; and it’s on the Speak Out page (does anyone ever “speak in?”) that we find Doctorow’s video comments about the effort for the ALA.

When he talks about the “non-partisan” support of librarians for authors, he means that librarians aren’t there to make sales as retailers and publishers are. Of course, in some ebook pilot projects and partnerships between libraries and publishers, sales are possible and not disliked, last I heard.

Authors for Library eBooks ALA American Library Association @ALALibrary #A4LEBut he’s right that the classic stance of the librarian is not quite hand-selling as much as it is hand-guidance for readers. And he does a careful turn on the tightrope of public commentary to say what he means:

When you think of the people who are advocating for authors right now, we have one enormous Internet bookseller that really wants to sell books. Don’t get me wrong, I think that if Amazon has any priority in this whole wide world, it’s to sell the hell out of books. But it’s to sell the hell out of books to benefit Amazon, not because they’re evil but because they’re a for-profit institution and that’s their thing.


Publishers want to sell the hell out of books, too, and they want to sell the hell out of your books provided your books are profitable for them. But as we all know, publishers aren’t charities, and when writers cease being profitable enough for them, we end up getting dropped.

So devoted to what he’s saying that he barely has take a breath yet, Doctorow brings it down to this:

There’s only one powerful voting bloc out there whose only interest is in promoting authorship, books, and knowledge, to the exclusion of things like shareholders, or Kindle ebook sales or lock-ins, or ad sales, or the invasion of privacy, and that’s libraries.

What the Authors for Library eBooks program wants writers to do is talk it up. The site’s text asks authors to do the following:

Talk to your publisher. Let them know libraries to not compete with the book market; they stimulate it…Talk to your fellow authors. Ask them whats going on with their ebooks at libraries…Blog, tweet (using hashtag #A4LE), email and publicly share your support for library e-lending.

The site also provides a badge authors can use to show their support of the project on their Websites and contact information One thing Doctorow mentions in his comments is libraries “under such vicious assault in this time of austerity and contracting access to public services.

From Lincolnshire savelibraryThe most immediate look at what he’s talking about in terms of austerity might be not in the States but in the UK. In Pressure mounts over Lincolnshire library closures, The Bookseller staff writes:

More than 20,000 people have signed a petition against library closures in Lincolnshire, with local politicians attacking the county council’s plans to shut or pass to volunteers 32 of 47 libraries and mobile libraries. Lincolnshire County Council is hoping to save £2m from its overall budget. But protests against the cuts have been building, with a march on the County Hall planned for 13th September, and a further march planned in Lincoln city centre on 21st March.

Doctorow knows what to do with such crises:

So many of us discovered our love of books in libraries, and so many of our readers did, that we need to preserve them. [If the number of booksellers continues to decline], who’s left but the librarian?—who takes that one-book-a-day kid who’s going to be the 20 percent who reads 80 percent of the books, and when they walk in says, “Here’s a book you’ve got to read.”

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams

Now listen up. Hear that? Coming toward us. Yes, it’s the sound of entrepreneurial authors groaning. They, who already are somehow publicizing, marketing, designing, formatting, editing, and (oh, yeah) writing the books, now need to “come on out” and stick up for the libraries, too, huh? Did you want fries with that? There also are gray areas still very much in shakedown involving how self-publishing authors fare when they approach libraries with their books (some report being welcomed, others not so much). If you need some background here, see my Publishing Perspectives colleague Dennis Abrams’ writeup As Ebooks Strain Libraries, Can Self-Publishers Make Inroads?

NPRBasing his piece on recent reports from NPR’s Morning Edition on libraries, he looks at what’s being called the “Douglas County (Colorado) Model,” which removes the traditional distributor and leverages books from Mark Coker’s Smashwords, independent publishers, and self-publishers to bring in content outside the reach of the major publishing houses.

"With a digital platform in place, libraries can do more than just distribute ebooks. They can publish them as well." - Dennis Abrams on Jamie LeRue of Douglas County Libraries

“With a digital platform in place, libraries can do more than just distribute ebooks. They can publish them as well.” – Dennis Abrams on Jamie LeRue of Douglas County Libraries

At the same time, it’s important to remember that there may be — just guessing, I cite no research here — skeptics among authors who mistrust, as some publishers do, the idea that library patrons are book buyers and that the exposure of books in library circulation raises their sales potential. In short, the lines of allegiance and potential here are, like so many things in publishing, fuzzy. Already overworked authors feeling the pressure of widening entrepreneurial duties may wonder if they have time to take onboard the library question, too. But Doctorow is a working author, himself, whose schedule of appearances can look like something off a flight attendant’s calendar. Clearly, he sees reason enough to slow down and pick up on this effort. And he’s articulate about it, which never hurts:

There can’t be a solution to this that starts with an adversarial role between libraries and writers. Libraries and writers are the two groups in this whole dynamic whose interests are most closely aligned. And whatever answer we find to this?—I think we need to find in partnership with our libraries.

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It’s Morrison: Must Be Edinburgh Festival Time

Imagine my surprise then when – after a flight to America, some appalling jet lag and some ill-advised sleeping pills – I woke to find myself in 2043. Although I was awake in that future world for only a short time, I used my time to chart that most important of issues: the future of fiction.

Ewan Morrison

Ewan Morrison

With the dependability of a swallow on final approach to Capistrano, writer Ewan Morrison lands on the pages of the Guardian with his annual provocation for the Edinburgh International Book Festival. This time, the newspaper tells us, he’ll be celebrating the anniversary of the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference And he won’t be doing it without his own fun slap at Cory Doctorow, as a matter of fact. In the second of two lengthy installments of this year’s “Fiction in 2043” double-essay, Morrison writes:

The joke really was on the dot.communists, whose “manifesto” had been intended somewhat ironically, and on creative-commons evangelists such as Cory Doctorow who felt they were determining the “future of the future” by giving their books away for free.

Memory lane? In 2011, Morrison published Are books dead, and can authors survive? in the Guardian to gratifying conversation. In 2012, he gave us The self-epublishing bubble, more consternation and the interesting concept of Amanda Hocking “‘piggybacking’ on a mainstream success.” This year, the two parter: Fiction in 2043: Looking back from the future and Fiction in 2043: peace after the digital revolution.

Edinburgh International Book Festival 2013In the latter, China “saves the future of fiction” (as “the long tail falls off the end of the cliff”). To wit:

After the collapse came the new peace, according to Chinese rules. China had valued the western tradition more highly than western net-capitalists, but where and how could the canon be rebuilt? For over 20 years no “new fiction” had been generated; the last generation of “professional writers” had passed away in the 2030s. Chinese ownership of the net – with copyright protection a bedrock of the new economy, state censorship and the imprisonment of free-information activists – ensured that the west could not revert to its old ways of file sharing cannibalisation. The west was forced to write fiction again.

Maybe Morrison’s most entertaining imagining is that in 2038, “new fiction” begins to appear as fictionalized accounts of real authors’ lives from the 20th century. Hilary’s Mantle is one.

As so much real history had been lost in the digital revolution, the only way to bring these authors back to life was to invent their lives. The great rebirths from this time included Sartre, Camus, Orwell, Christie, Kafka, Joyce and EL James.

Edinburgh World Writers ConferenceI think it’s a lighter-hearted Morrison this year, our provocateur. But there’s, as always, a barb. Underlying much of what he’s slung together and pulled apart, lies a disquieting idea of the open Web having finally verifiable truth. Morrison:

In the desire to save true history from the digital morass of mashed-up facts and to establish an empirically true history, mankind has to file through the trillion files of textual mess created by the digital revolution and by those who attempted to make money from corrupting the lives of historical figures. After all, in 2043, there are no professional critics or specialists left to judge what is real history any more – academia has had to change its face to remain profitable and serious journalism sadly, did not survive. Thus, we will never know for sure if Katie Price was a struggling author in a garret, as the sad and moving title Price of Fame depicts.

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How We Talk About It, Part 1: Bezos’ Buy

David Streitfeld

David Streitfeld

David Streitfeld and Christine Haughney at The New York Times put together the weekend read, Expecting the Unexpected From Jeff Bezos, largely keyed  on the Washington Post buy.

I particularly liked the frankness, even freshness, of this paragraph:

No one, apparently including Mr. Bezos himself, seems to know what he intends to do with that fabled newspaper. This is, after all, a man who once said the quality he most wanted in a wife was the ability to spring him from a third-world prison. He can probably be counted on to think unpredictably.

Christine Haughney

Christine Haughney

Dublin-based publisher Eoin Purcell, on the other hand, has picked out another section for special note, and writes it up in For the Record | Consumers, Not Amazon, Were the Winners. He points out that journalistic and publishing shorthand of the day tends to cast the US Department of Justice (DoJ) anti-trust lawsuits as a round of events that involved a great jousting tournament between corporate and government-regulatory players.

He quotes the Times story here (this is Streitfeld and Haughney), emphasis his:

Eoin Purcell

Eoin Purcell

The company has all sorts of regulatory and competitive concerns, making for a minefield of possible conflicts of interest for the owner of The Post. Amazon has opposed states’ efforts to have e-commerce companies collect sales tax. It was the main beneficiary of the Justice Department’s successful pursuit of five publishers and Apple on antitrust grounds. It is locking horns with major companies like Walmart and I.B.M. And as it expands into same-day delivery of its products, it will come up against grocery chains and drugstores.

And then Purcell writes:

In an otherwise excellent piece the NYT continues to allow this spin to go unchallenged. The main beneficiaries are consumers. Yes, per consumer the benefit is small, but when it’s all considered together, it’s enormous! It is important to acknowledge that because when you do, it reminds you that the biggest losers from Agency pricing was not Amazon, but readers! The consumer was screwed for the benefit of Apple and publishers, not Amazon, readers!

You may agree with Purcell or not, of course. Was it just about the knights on the horses? Or weren’t the townspeople in the stands involved?

Up to you. But it’s always good to bring to consciousness just how we talk about and cast these various events affecting the industry! the industry!

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How We Talk About It, Part 2: DRM

Rebecca Smart

Rebecca Smart

In a quiet guest post at The Bookseller, Osprey Group CEO Rebecca Smart gives us Accentuate the positive, without a note from Johnny Mercer.

We have more opportunities than ever to talk to readers, and it’s essential that we use these to promote the value we add. Defending (or attacking) DRM doesn’t add value, and nor does criticising retailers to whom many readers are loyal.

Here is the “tone question” and it’s good to have it raised, as it relates to the DRM debate, by someone who isn’t in the pro-DRM camp. Smart establishes her familiar stance:

I am one of the first to argue that the existence of DRM is damaging to the relationship between readers and authors, and more particularly between readers and publishers. I believe that DRM protects large corporates from innocent consumers and that there are better ways to enforce copyright where necessary (for many books I believe that obscurity is a greater enemy than piracy).

osprey group logosWhile some from that end of the line have at times seemed the loudest voices, nay-saying DRM at every chance, Smart is calling for another tack.

In the last few months I fear that discussions about DRM have become part of a negative cycle of debate that is even more damaging than the very existence of DRM.

Reviewing a recent return by James Bridle to the “walled garden” complaint (Apple should be breaking new ground—not the law, in the Guardian), Smart offers some quick alternatives to the standard view. Essentially:

Most ebook consumers are unaware of DRM thanks to the way devices are configured, and don’t care either way so long as their current device manufacturer keeps giving them ways to read which work satisfactorily…The argument that major ebook retailers are a threat is very unhelpful…Nobody cares about publishers or the publishing industry per se—readers care about finding consistently high-quality books to read, in whatever format they want them, via whatever retailer they want to visit, at a price which makes sense.

In short, Smart is saying, the message is the message, not the medium.

It’s a dog-eat-dog world and we need to compete our way to survival and start sharing success stories with the outside world every day.

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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.  Please note that a listing here is not my endorsement of a conference or other event, but an informational inclusion. As a service, I also list any discount codes that might be of use to readers.

September 26 New York City (Metropolitan Pavilion): Marketing + Publishing Services Conference & Expo: “This innovative conference & expo is really two related shows, held together. The Marketing Conference is a full-day dedicated event that presents a comprehensive strategy for marketing in the digital age. The Publishing Services Expo offers three finely-targeted “mini-conferences” for important and often-overlooked publishing constituencies. Each track is an affordably priced, efficiently programmed two-and-half-hour session that pairs concise educational sessions with vendor speed dating to learn about new solutions.” Produced by Digital Book World and Publishers Launch (Publishers Lunch’s Michael Cader and Mike Shatzkin). Save 25% on registration with code PORTER at checkout.

Bookseller Children's ConferenceSeptember 26 London (Southbank Centre): The Bookseller’s Children’s Conference. “Building an international children’s publishing company in an internet age…current and future technologies that are driving change in children’s market…a whistle-stop overview of the market using Nielsen BookScan sales data. Are the biggest writers continuing to dominate? Are sticker books still selling? And what’s up with YA?” More information. (Hashtag: #kidsconf13)

September 27-29 Los Angeles: Writers Digest Conference West: “You’ll make real connections with fellow writers, experience the thrill of pitching your work to literary agents and editors, and get practical publishing-industry advice and writing inspiration from successful authors at Writer’s Digest Conference West.” Speakers include: Jon Fine, Nina Amir, Philip Athans, James Scott Bell, Lisa Cron, Eric DelaBarre, and more. The program this year includes boot camp sessions, a one-day self-publishing conference, and the regular conference with agent pitch slam. (Hashtag: #WDCW13) Save 25% on registration with code PORTER at checkout.

Screenwriters World West 2013 - #SWCW13September 27-29 Los Angeles: Writers Digest’s Screenwriters World Conference West: “Scribes from around the world unite at Screenwriters World, the annual destination for both professional and aspiring screenwriters to come together to discuss the craft, share ideas, and network with fellow creatives.” Speakers include Erik Bork, Ruth Atkinson, Josie Brown, Karl Iglesias, Jeanne V. Bowerman, and more. The schedule this year includes optional boot camp sessions.  (Hashtag: #SWCW13) Save 25% on registration with code PORTER at checkout.

CONTEC Frankfurt 2013 October 8 Frankfurt Book Fair: CONTEC Conference: “A new, highly-engaging event experience created by the Frankfurt Academy to address the complexity of the needs of today’s publishing business. CONTEC gathers stakeholders from across the publishing ecosystem – from STM and trade publishers to service providers and tech startups – in one arena to redefine and redesign the experience of publishing.” Save 20% on registration with code CONTEC13KPTW20 at checkout.

October 12 San Francisco: Writing for Change Conference: “The Fifth San Francisco Writing for Change Conference is the place to discover whether your book can change the world. The theme of the conference is “Changing the World One Book at a Time,” and the goal is to encompass business, politics, technology, social issues, the environment, culture, the law, and much more.” The event will be held at the Unitarian Universalist Center at the corner of Geary and Franklin in San Francisco.

Books in Browsers 2012 2October 24-26, San Francisco: Books in Browsers: Among the most advanced of conferences dedicated to bringing designer and code savvy into contact with editorial  and content leaders, Books in Browsers is produced for a fourth time this year by Peter Brantley in generous association with the Internet Archive and Swissnex San Francisco, produced and sponsored by and Frankfurt Book Fair. Speakers include Kate Pullinger, Baldur Bjarnason, Bill McCoy, Justo Hidalgo, Richard Nash, and Craig Mod.

November 21, London: The Bookseller FutureBook Conference: Once again at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in Westminster, the conference is industry-focused and usually includes both plenary and breakout sessions during the course of the day. Details as they become available.

February 13-16, 2014: San Francisco Writers Conference: “Attendees have access to more than fifty “how to” sessions, panels, and workshops.  An Independent Editor consultation and Ask a Pro are included in the registration fee. Our famously popular Speed Dating for Agents is still only $50 to pitch to a room full of agents.  And you will find there are plenty of one-on-one opportunities to pitch your work to well-known publishing professionals during the weekend. The Conference features large and small traditional publishing houses, but also gives attendees the latest e-publishing, social media, and self-publishing information.”

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From VQR: More on Erika Meyer

From VQR: More on Erika Meyer


Last Gas: McVeigh Inveighs

Good marketers should be boring the ass off their colleagues in meetings as they harp on and on about their analytics accounts. Good marketers should be sick to their back teeth fiddling with the metadata in the CMS and keeping their portion of the marketing WIP updated. Good marketers should be able to provide anyone who asks with a current marketing plan for every title on their list, complete with objectives, timelines and results so far.

Chris McVeigh

Chris McVeigh

And if you wonder how publishing consultant Chris McVeigh really feels, check his Confessions of a Marketing Pimp at TheFuturebook.

Balls to your Pinterest page – get your metadata sorted, you muppet.

Maybe he was bitten by a Buzzer from Libboo or slipped on some wet Jellybooks and took a nasty fall.

Everyone’s got a theory. Everyone’s got a method. If it’s not vertical, it’s horizontal or inevitably as we heard this week, it’s adjacent.

15 August 2013 iStock_000020279544Small photog DWPhotos texted story imageI’ll take the hit for that one, having just written Are You Marketing to Your “Adjacent Fans”? in Writing on the Ether at the day before McVeigh shot himself out of the cannon. Our focus was on the marketing commentary about “non-book” comparisons and “adjacent fans” from Peter McCarthy. I fear we might have contributed to McVeigh’s caps-lock key getting stuck:

The problem is – and I think it really is a problem – THE BASICS ARE BEING MISSED.

We have to hope he doesn’t become any more agitated about all this because there’s little left but self-immolation:

Take your FaceBook ‘likes’ and stuff them where the sun don’t shine, sunshine – learn how to write a blurb.

In a quieter (not much) corner of the post, he wins my vote for including his subject’s Twitter handle (and his own, too, in the column’s footer). But isn’t that interesting? You’d think he’d toss out Twitter with the bathwater:

Of course it’s not all gloom and doom, there are a whole bunch of publishers who have it sussed and good luck to them – they’re the ones who consistently and very publicly hit the ball out of the park. For example my heart positively sang earlier in the year at The Bookseller’s marketing conference when I watched a presentation by Alice Shortland (@Alice_Shortland) from Bloomsbury talking about how they went about marketing the Polpo book. Listening to her talk us through the campaign made me want to be a Marketing Director again just so I could offer her a job and double her salary – I hope someone else in the audience did just that, she deserved it.

Not that the Twitterati get off entirely free:

I don’t give a monkeys how many retweets you got last month – show me a marketing plan and a comprehensively completed author questionnaire for EVERY title on your list.

The “whole bunch of publishers who have it sussed” aren’t going to do it for our friend, no.

A lot of what I see is people moving counters around the board trying to look busy and on-trend while the books they’re unrelentedly pushing out into the world are either selling or not selling pretty much left to their own devices. So much wasted time, so much wasted energy, so much wasted money.


What I get from McVeigh’s jeremiad is that the still-developing elements of marketing publicity, particularly those in the social-networking sphere, are confusing people into thinking that there is algorithmic alchemy in the land, marketing magic that can levitate a book above the mundanities of customary approaches.

Don’t get me wrong, I love talking high concept as much as the next guru but frankly the old penny pinching marketing director inside me is finding the whole pantomime increasingly difficult to stomach.

And so no more Mr. Nice Chris. What do you think? Does he have a point?

From now on it’s strictly nuts and bolts from me. No more fancy concept stuff till we’ve got back to basics and sorted out all the boring sloggy stuff. I know it’s a wild idea but how about we put the wheels back on our marketing machines before we get all fancy-pants and conceptual with our shit? I will if you will. Who’s in?

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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. This column, Ether for Authors, appears here at Publishing Perspectives on Tuesdays. Anderson’s Writing on the Ether is read on Thursdays at, and he is a regular contributor to His all-new London on the Ether for The Bookseller was inaugurated during the London Book Fair. More about him is at Find him at Google+

Main image / iStockphoto: JarnogZ

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.