Ether for Authors: Is There an “Architecture of Collaboration” for Startups?

In Discussion by Porter Anderson

19 November 2013 iStock_000005266223XSmall photog AlienForce texted story image 2

Table of Contents

  1. By Fits and Startups
  2. Announcing a New Event Series: Lon­don Author Fair, Feb­ru­ary 28
  3. NaNoN­um­bers
  4. Ricky Martin: Another Writer Dad Heard From
  5. Conferences
  6. Last Gas: Hey, Book­stores, Pay Attention

By Fits and Startups

In almost every meeting I’ve ever pitched in, the person across the table lights up when we talk about the possibility of putting every book within walking distance of every home.

But after I’ve left and the glow has worn off, they have to actually get a decision through their organization…And the embers that remain in my poor contact have no chance against the anxiety of having to get the decision past colleagues, or the general covering of asses.

Arthur Attwell

Arthur Attwell

This is Arthur Attwell, founding CEO of one of the most heavily acclaimed publishing startups yet, Paperight.

In Tough truths about selling to publishers, a talk he gave at Capetown’s Footnote Summit earlier this month, Attwell describes his company’s widely acclaimed service this way:

On, we provide a library of books that copy shops can print out for customers on demand, and we work with publishers to license their content to our member copy shops. Some of you are already working with us.

Copy shops pay publishers a small fee for each copy. In the last eighteen months, we’ve added 200 print-on-demand bookstores to South African towns and villages, listing almost 2000 different books from over 100 publishers.

This is the work that has earned Attwell’s Paperight wins in “ignite”-style startup showcases from the now-discontinued Tools of Change in New York to London Book Fair’s Digital Minds Conference.

PaperightAnd yet, what this Shuttleworth Foundation Fellow has to tell us in the text of his address, posted on his own site, is the sort of thing heard whenever the topic of startups and publishers comes around. Major corporate structures—and the traditions of doing business that create their scaffolding— make fruitful collaboration with small, lean, tightly targeted startups very challenging.


The point is that convincing a person is very different from convincing an organization. The only way through is either to find an untiring champion in the company or to just keep pitching, again and again, till you’ve raised enough of a spark to survive the organization’s decision-making process.

On Thursday this week, The Bookseller’s FutureBook Conference (#fbook13) in London, of course, will name another round of its Innovation Awards winners, in many categories, not just startups.

Our Publishing Perspectives piece from Frankfurt, FutureBook Shortlists Five for “Most Inspiring Digital Person,” includes the top nominees for this year’s Best Startup prize:

– BitLit Media Inc. from Peter Hudson

– BookVibe from Ramesh Haridas

– NATIVE from Levon Rivers

– Snowbooks / General Products Ltd from Emma Barnes

– Total Boox Ltd. from Yoav Lorch

For a little insight into how one of those companies talks to publishers, check Vancouver’s ebook-bundling startup BitLit and its list of benefits for publishers who are considering an agreement to bundle ebook editions of titles readers have bought in print.

BitLit, which takes a commission on each sale, has O’Reilly Media among its publisher-partners, as well as Osprey Books’ Angry Robot and more. But a really major catch for this outfit—less than a year old, mind you—is yet to be announced.

And the field has been chilled recently by the news that, as Carolyn Kellogg’s headline in the Los Angeles Times puts it, Small Demons will close Nov. 25 unless last-minute buyer appears.

Small DemonsPer Kellogg’s description of Small Demons, the concept is that of an ingenious cultural cross-reference system. She writes:

Small Demons was founded by Valla Vakili, a Yahoo! veteran, who had a vision for showing the connections between books and the real world. Visually engaging, the Small Demons catalogs the places, music, food and drink, people, books, artworks and other objects that appear in a single book — then links them to the other books in which they appear.

Vakili, himself, a man with an infectious enthusiasm for his cause, wrote an editorial piece for Publishing Perspectives in 2011, Small Demons: Seeking A Better Path to Book Discovery:

Culture…crosses categories and embraces difference. It’s the work that’s lost on shelves for decades, ignored by all buyers, only to return as a classic. It’s the piece that’s scorned when published, not a like in sight, only to rise as a masterpiece. And it’s all the details that connect those works to creators forever changed by them, to future audiences. By tracing and connecting those details, we restore the cadence of culture. We lay down a path of discovery where your next song, your next movie, your next book — your next anything — comes from the stories you’ve lost yourself in, the writers you can’t get enough of, the characters you can’t forget.

Nevertheless, as Kellogg reports:

The company had raised $2 million in funding, and had been in talks with an international tech company that stalled. It will close its doors November 25 — unless someone else steps forward with an offer between now and then.

Mike Shatzkin

Mike Shatzkin

Meanwhile, Mike Shatzkin, busy programming another conference, the fifth doing of Digital Book World (#DBW14) for January 13-15 in New York City, has given an interview to DBW’s Jeremy Greenfield, Do Publishers Need Startups? No, Shatzkin Says.

Shatzkin captures the view both from the corner office on-high and from the small startup office in the garage. He tells Greenfield:

Publishers sometimes say, “these start-ups come in, they don’t know what they’re talking about and they don’t know about our business,” and start-ups say, “these publishers are hopeless. They don’t want to change; they don’t want to experiment. We came and we offered them an opportunity to experiment for free and they claim they don’t have the time and that they are doing experiments already.” You have these two constituencies — established publishers who know they need to change but are frustrated by startups and the start-ups who can help with change but don’t have the know-how and the relationships.

Shatzkin will go over the results of a survey he and DBW are doing on startups in the morning plenary session at DBW on January 14. At best, we have to hope for some insights that could help refine the gulf that seems to open between established publishing concerns and many startups that, on the face of it, would seem to have a good chance of working well together.

Some of Shatzkin’s observations revolve around the ability for bigger, deep-pocketed publishing houses to wait and watch while smaller companies test the offerings of startups:

In most cases, publishers don’t need the start-ups and when they meet with them really all they’re doing is due diligence to keep themselves informed on potential disruptions in the marketplace.

Longtime industry observer and consultant Brian O’Leary speaks these days of an “architecture of collaboration,” something that underlies the explorations of the Frankfurt Book Fair’s annual Books in Browsers Conference. (See Publishing Perspectives’Big Ideas from Books in Browsers IV.)

Brian O'Leary

Brian O’Leary

Much of O’Leary’s application of the term “architecture of collaboration” to date has lain in the area of “the networked book,” as it’s often called, the concept of a book as a fully Web-integrated construct both available and vulnerable to various forms of collaborative development and analysis.

You can find him discussing this in his recent Unbundled: Tapping into a Web-facilitated sea of stories, for example. But—obviously in part because so much experimentation and exploration in these areas is being handled in startups—there may be a need to consider broadening the use of the term “architecture of collaboration” to embrace the hope that publishers and startups find ways to accommodate each other.

Digital development in publishing will come either under the direction of people who know the industry or in spite of them. And however steep a learning curve may face startups as they engage with the establishment, these small companies appear to have capabilities and ideas the publishers need.

Footnote SummitIn his Footnote Summit paper from Capetown, Attwell goes through a list of major hurdles he has encountered in trying to execute with publishers on the promise of his Paperight initiative. here is just some of what he writes:

  • One of the main reasons pitches go nowhere is that you’re not speaking to the right person. This is a common problem for innovative startups because most of the time there is no person for the thing you’re pitching.
  • Most of the services we sell to publishers as startups involve something technical. But most publishers won’t understand our technical jargon. They have their own vocabulary to describe their needs…For me, the only way around this is to ask sensible questions, listening carefully till they describe the product they need in their terms.
  • Often, publishers I speak to don’t know the real costs and margins on their products, especially costs like warehousing, wastage and other provisions that don’t appear on their standard cost spreadsheets. As a result, they simply aren’t empowered to make the kinds of decisions that innovations require.

After laying out in goodly detail each of those points (I’m quoting just the highlights), Attwell concludes with the question of “risk and regret.”

We all fear losing stuff…We also fear regret, especially the regret that comes from doing something that might turn out to be a loss. So, when you’re pitching a service to a publisher, they fear regretting their decision much, much more than they want your product. Even if they want your product a lot. How the heck do you get around that?

It’s hard to think that “you get around that” without developing an “architecture of collaboration,” an understood way of working together that allows for risk-and-regret absorption, for the distinctions of lingo, for decision-authority black holes, and for a better shared understanding of what each party counts valuable and needs to protect to move forward together.

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Announcing a New Event Series: Lon­don Author Fair, Feb­ru­ary 28

London Author Fair AuthorightThe London Author Fair will host over 400 authors across three floors of the private members club [The Hospital Club], for a day of radical seminars, intimate workshops, one-on-one collaborator hubs, educational films, the live PitchUp! literary agent submissions event run by LitFactor, and a lavish late-night drinks reception and networking event to close.

Never one to pass up “lavish late-night drinks,” I was immediately interested when our colleagues Gareth Howard and Hayley Radford at Authoright confirmed to me that they’re inaugurating their new program at The Hospital Club in Covent Garden. There are to be follow-up author fairs in New York City in the fall of 2014, then similar outings in venues in California, Canada, and other European cities.

Gareth Howard

Gareth Howard

Authoright, with offices in both New York and London, is an author- and publishing-support provider offering an ambitious range of services both to writers and to publishers, from literary-agent submission assists and and social-media campaigns to transatlantic publicity programs and app development.

If the name of the company rings a bell, it’s probably because Howard and Radford handled much of the programming for London Book Fair’s popular AuthorLounge last April.

Tickets for this new initiative, the London Author Fair, go on sale on December 2, and there’s a Web site for the program at and pre-registration is available there for notification when pricing is set and sales are open.

On Twitter, you’ll find it at @LonAuthorFair.

And the hashtag is easy to remember as a LAF: #LAF14

Characterizing its charter sponsors as “collaborators,” the program includes Blurb, Amazon’s CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), Kobo Writing Life, and NOOK Press on its roster as of this writing.

Mark Lefebvre

Mark Lefebvre

Mark Lefebvre, Kobo Writing Life’s Self-Publishing & Author Relations Director, has endorsed the new program, saying, “Kobo Writing Life has been working closely with the good folks at Authoright for some time now, and respect the fact that they put the author’s needs and goals first in all of their dealings.”

From NOOK Media Content Acquisition Vice President Theresa Horner comes word that “the NOOK Press self-publishing platform will soon be open to UK authors” as what she describes as “a quick, effective and free tool to bring high-quality ebooks to millions of book-loving Barnes & Noble and NOOK customers.”

The news of this new program in London dovetails with the announcement last week of a new writers’ conference, PubSmart, scheduled for April 16-18 at the landmark Francis Marion Hotel in Charleston, South Carolina. There’s more about that program in Ether Exclusive: Charleston’s PubSmart Joins Conference Row and in the Conferences section below.

Despite differences in structure and setting, author-facing programs like these are helping to develop a new vocabulary of writer-primacy and creative empowerment, and they tend to share many of the same major sponsors. Authoright has produced a one-minute promotional video for the event.

Because programming for the February 28 London Author Fair hasn’t been announced, the video will hardly be accused of placing substance over style. But in its tone, pacing, and attitude, the piece is instructive. This slick, punchy look and feel is how commercially staged events of this kind are being marketed to authors.

The trend will find its takers among writers who feel their entrepreneurial experience is outgrowing the standard regional conference at a community college on spring break.

Successful event organizers will marry actionable networking with an urbane sensibility and messaging that stresses writer choice, business savvy, and career-enabling industry integration.
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It’s interesting to note that the popular NaNoWriMo draft-writing motivational program may be drawing considerably fewer participants this year than expected.

Citing 341,375 participants last year, administrators of the non-profit program wrote on their facts page for journalists, “This year, we anticipate half a million writers joining our noveling adventure.”

As of Monday afternoon, the 18th, however, the site’s main-page counter showed 302,964 people engaged in the program so far. Interested writers can still register and participate, of course.

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Ricky Martin: Another Writer Dad Heard From

I became a dad and all of the sudden this amazing amount of information that I started receiving from kids was, I didn’t know what to do with it.

Ricky Martin

Ricky Martin

And so, like all but three other human beings on the face of the Earth these days (okay, or so it seems these days), Ricky Martin wrote a book. Santiago the Dreamer in Land Among the Stars is Martin’s first turn at bat. Three guesses what it’s about and the first two don’t count:

It’s about a child who auditions for his play at school and he was rejected. And the relationship that he has with his father is exactly like the relationship I had with my father.

Revisiting his own Menudo-manic childhood seems to have been a great experience for Martin, as becomes evident in his engaging NPR Weekend Edition interview with Rachel Martin. (The transcript is a lot of fun when both speakers are named “Martin,” not even a different first initial to distinguish them.)

Santiago the Dreamer by @Ricky_MartinAnd as Martin talks, he taps into a big conversation I’d like to call to your attention from the weekend.

Martin talks about how his book’s character has effectively entered his family: “Santiago has become a son for me and a brother for my kids.” And in some ways, this may be a familiar element to many writer parents.

The male element of this, writer dads, are the subject of Guy LeCharles Gonzalez’ new monthly series at Virginia Quarterly Review (VQR). When the Writer Unboxed community looked at the issue in Leveling Up: In Praise of Writer Dads, the topic produced a remarkably strong, deeply respectful, and sometimes moving round of commentary.

And in a way, Martin’s comments on NPR add something to that conversation. He talks about his own misgivings as a parent and about starting a parenting site,

I am a father with a lot of doubts and uncertainties and insecurities. And I said hold on man, you know, you have questions. Who can answer these questions for me? I’m sure there are thousands and maybe millions of parents, caretakers and-or teachers that have the answers. How can we create this flow of information? And it’s been amazing, the reaction.

In the Writer Unboxed discussion, as in Martin’s candor about his own experiences, there’s a refreshing, articulate frankness that has a hopeful, inclusive edge to it.

Not only do we find both men and women talking about being writer parents, but there are children who are learning to know literature—its creation, not just a bedtime story—as part of their family life. Another reason to thank and support writer dads and writer moms, alike.

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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.

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. Announced speakers include Brad Stone, Charlie Redmayne, Ziyad Marar, Dale Peters, Charlie Campbell, Patrick Brown, Ashleigh Gardner, Frank Chambers, Joanna Penn, Richard NashMatthew Cashmore and Stephen Page. (Hashtag: #fbook13) ** See our story at Publishing Perspectives on the shortlisted FutureBook Innovation Awards candidates.

DBW Conference 2014January 13-15, 2014, New York City: Digital Book World Conference & Expo: “Digital Book World’s sessions strive to offer you the most practical, relevant and actionable programming on everything from eBook publishing and internet marketing to digital solutions for selling and marketing your books. While we’re still building the final program, registration is officially open.” Speakers include Brad StoneTim O’Reilly, Simon Lipskar, Peter McCarthyDominique RaccahMike Shatzkin, and more. (Hashtag: #DBW14) Use code PORTER14 to save 5 percent on a full registration.

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.”

1. PubSmart_logoApril 16-18, 2014, Charleston, South Carolina: PubSmartCon: “An unprecedented gathering of publishing professionals, some of the smartest on the planet. They represent today’s broad range of publishing opportunities – self publishing, traditional, small press and hybrid. This is a new kind of event that puts emerging authors and small publishers in the driver’s seat and gives them the information they need to create a customized roadmap for success.” Speakers include Hugh Howey, Jane Friedman, Rachelle Gardner, Orna Ross, Miral Sattar, Christine Munroe and many more. Use code PS14PA30 for a discount on registration. Early bird ends February 1.

Yale Publishing CourseJuly 13-18, 2014: New Haven: Leadership Strategies in Magazine and Digital Media: “The Yale Publishing Course [YPC] is designed for mid- to senior-level professionals from all over the world. Our mission is to provide participants with the knowledge and skills that will enable them to be more effective leaders and advance their careers. YPC tackles the most important issues facing publishers in this time of ever-accelerating change….The program provides a mixture of overviews of the current and future state of the industry and in-depth explorations of specific topics in editorial content, design, marketing, circulation, advertising, finance, and management.

Yale Publishing CourseJuly 20-25, 2014: New Haven: Leadership Strategies in Book Publishing: “Yale Publishing Course [YPC] tackles the most important issues facing publishers in this time of ever-accelerating change. The curriculum concentrates on: best practices in business and management; understanding and utilizing the latest advances in technology; implementing innovative strategies for discoverability, audience development, and brand extension; ways to increase revenue in a global economy in which print and digital publishing co-exist profitably; managing organizational change and finding new sources of revenue. Speakers confirmed include Craig ModMarcus LeaverKirsty MelvilleLiisa McCloy-Kelley, and Carolyn Pittis.

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Last Gas: Hey, Book­stores, Pay Attention

Jessica Catcher

Jessica Catcher

For bookstores, it may seem on any bad day to be going to hell in a handbag delivered free by Amazon.

But something’s going on in the Moscow metro that might be worth our booksellers thinking about.

As Mashable‘s self-described  “watercooler intern”  Jessica Catcher reports in Russian Subways Now Accept Squats for Payment, the capital city’s subway system has 2014 Winter Olympics promotional ticket machines that trade tickets for 30 deep knee bends each.

Here’s a beautifully made video about the Олимпийские перемены program. It’s so good, you’ll want to start squatting right away.

True, we don’t actually expect to see Olympians born in the fluorescent glow of the tube under the watchful VISA sponsorship logo.

But it’s tempting to wonder if there may not be something in this idea for independent booksellers. Some have tried the UK’s “Books Are My Bag” totes, as mentioned by Siobhan O’Leary here at Publishing Perspectives in Bookstore Marketing Promotions Spread Across Europe.

Maybe it’s worth thinking of in-store fitness deals to snag the Fitbit crowd on a regular basis. Who wouldn’t like a discount off their next book in exchange for hitting the floor and giving the cashier 15 pushups? As Catcher writes about these Muscovites getting such a kick out of their squats:

It’s a little like how you used your Wii Fit that first week after Christmas, but with an actual reward. This machine can also tell if you’re cheating, unlike the couch calisthenics you can get away with at home.

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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 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: Alien Force

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.