Writing on the Ether: Contrarians Among Us

Porter Anderson, PorterAnderson.com, Writing on the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, JaneFriedman.com, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, PublishingPerspectives.com, The Bookseller.com, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing, The FutureBook, CONTEC Conference, Frankfurt Book Fair, Frankfurt Buchmesse, Jonny Geller, Kristin Nelson, Michael Tamblyn, Jon Fine, Hugh Howey, Amanda Barbara, Peter Armstrong, Florian Geuppert, Matthias Matting

Table of Contents

  1. Three Valuable Views
  2. A Word for the Publishers
  3. Humming the Bookstore
  4. And Just Write It Already

View from the North Ten by Dave MaloneView from the North Ten: Poems after Mark Rothko’s No. 15 by Dave Malone

Inspired by the primary colors of Mark Rothko’s vibrant No. 15 painting, these poems give life to the canvas of the rural Ozarks. Chiefly love poems, the book explores not only the rugged Ozark and Rothko landscape, but also romantic yearnings, relationships, despair, and togetherness.

“Dave Malone’s View from The North Ten is a sensual, resounding vision set amid the pastoral Ozark region, a place rich enough to summon Tolkien’s magic. The poetry of Dave Malone is luminous and rewarding, renewing the world for us.”

—Jeffrey C. Alfier, Senior Editor of San Pedro Review and author of The Wolf Yearling

View from the North Ten is available at Amazon and other retailers. For an autographed copy, you can purchase directly from the author.


Three Valuable Views

To live in a world in which diversity and robust personal independence are applauded, we can be curiously averse to disagreement in publishing these days.

We tend not to appreciate those who don’t ratify our opinions.  We may not trust those whose observations don’t line up with our own.  We sometimes shut out people whose tweets and updates and posts don’t reflect our own images of what’s what.

24 August 2013 iStock_000027387348XSmall Kourion mosaic photog CaronB texted story imageI found myself writing, in Tuesday’s Ether for Authors: What Happens When Everybody’s a Critic? at Publishing Perspectives, that anger, bitterness, rancor seem to drive too many exchanges.

The heat generated by displeasure with reader reviews and authors at Goodreads (and now directed at the site, itself, for enforcing its review-books-not-people policy) is close to preposterous.

After all, these are book reviews.

People are screaming at each other about book reviews.

On any day of the week, publishing can look like a condo association fighting over the color of the new hallway carpet.

Porter Anderson, PorterAnderson.com, Writing on the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, JaneFriedman.com, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, PublishingPerspectives.com, The Bookseller.com, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing, The FutureBook, CONTEC Conference, Frankfurt Book Fair, Frankfurt Buchmesse, Jonny Geller, Kristin Nelson, Michael Tamblyn, Jon Fine, Hugh Howey, Amanda Barbara, Peter Armstrong, Florian Geuppert, Matthias MattingOne of the ironies here, of course, is that these are people of literature, people some would think understood the gray areas of human nature, the complexities of which our best characters are made.

But not even in the word “literature” may we all feel any kinship.

I ran into a reader recently who thought “literature” referred only to literary fiction. She had a chip on her shoulder the size of Ether sponsor and poet Dave Malone’s Ozarks, feeling disenfranchised in the assumption that her work in genre fiction meant she wasn’t part of the community of literature.

Explaining to her that “literary” is simply an industry term for one kind of literature did no good.  She preferred to sulk about this and to bite back if someone tried to make her feel better with a little clarification.

If anything, our discussions can seem fueled by a need to “win.” Success can appear to be yours only when you change a mind to agree with yours.  The idea of saying, “Here is one view, and here is another view,” and letting them rest side by side for quiet consideration?—we just don’t do that much in the industry! the industry!

But we can do it here on the Ether.

Porter Anderson, PorterAnderson.com, Writing on the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, JaneFriedman.com, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, PublishingPerspectives.com, The Bookseller.com, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing, The FutureBook, CONTEC Conference, Frankfurt Book Fair, Frankfurt Buchmesse, Jonny Geller, Kristin Nelson, Michael Tamblyn, Jon Fine, Hugh Howey, Amanda Barbara, Peter Armstrong, Florian Geuppert, Matthias MattingAnd in three recent instances of somewhat contrarian commentary, we have a chance to let someone else’s concept affect ours with a little texture, a different color light.

The great benefit of opening yourself up to a contrarian look at something is not that you necessarily jump up shouting about having seen the light and converting to some previously unthinkable option.

No, in truth, a good contrarian look at something may help you articulate your own beliefs. It can provide a foil to your own views, contrast that helps you get more securely in touch with your own opinions.

And folks secure in their opinions tend to do less screaming at each other. About book reviews and carpet selection.

Back to Table of Contents

A Word for the Publishers

Here’s the deal: I don’t like the fact that you have to “build a platform” these days, any more than you do. But I get weary of writers complaining about it. I get frustrated hearing that publishers are “abandoning writers” and “bringing nothing to the table.” I know it’s hard to market your books — I feel your pain — and yet I dislike it that people are saying that publishers are shirking their duties by “leaving it all up to the author.”

Porter Anderson, PorterAnderson.com, Writing on the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, JaneFriedman.com, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, PublishingPerspectives.com, The Bookseller.com, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing, The FutureBook, CONTEC Conference, Frankfurt Book Fair, Frankfurt Buchmesse, Jonny Geller, Kristin Nelson, Michael Tamblyn, Jon Fine, Hugh Howey, Amanda Barbara, Peter Armstrong, Florian Geuppert, Matthias Matting

Rachelle Gardner

The person behind those potentially unpopular words is literary agent Rachelle Gardner.

It is not the publishing industry that has created this society of ubiquitous electronics, Internet noise, YouTube, X-Box, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Vine, and the decline of reading. It is not the publishing industry who put a computer in more than half of all American households, allowing millions of folks just like yourself to write books they want to sell.

This tough talk is in a post headlined The Brave New World of Publishing. And one of the realities reflected here, familiar to all of us, is that upheaval tends to send everybody running from one extreme to another. Bad guys are chosen, vilification is in season, and pretty soon, none of those gray areas is left. As Gardner puts it:

The fact is, publishers are doing everything they can dream up, and everything they can afford, when it comes to marketing books. They have the same limitations you do: Time and Money. But they’re coming up with new ideas and innovations all the time.

Porter Anderson, PorterAnderson.com, Writing on the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, JaneFriedman.com, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, PublishingPerspectives.com, The Bookseller.com, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing, The FutureBook, CONTEC Conference, Frankfurt Book Fair, Frankfurt Buchmesse, Jonny Geller, Kristin Nelson, Michael Tamblyn, Jon Fine, Hugh Howey, Amanda Barbara, Peter Armstrong, Florian Geuppert, Matthias MattingMany might disagree with Gardner’s appraisal of how publishers are handling the situation, but surely almost anyone in the business can identify with the kind of saturation point she seems to be reaching in terms of the complaints and blame flying back and forth each day.

To those who are frustrated by the ways it seems publishing can’t meet your expectations, I commiserate with you and I apologize that things aren’t the way we wish they could be.

There’s a message here about blame vs. crisis management. And that may have something to do with the tendency that many in publishing seem to share: to focus on finding a culprit more than on tackling problems.

I want to point out that publishers are still in business because of the value they bring to the table — not just in marketing but in every aspect of the editing, production, and selling of books.

Agree or disagree; this kind of point can help you to refine your own position.

Back to Table of Contents

Humming the Bookstore

The best bookshops are not humdrum utilitarian outlets selling beans or nails, they are the stuff dreams are made of: literally.

Porter Anderson, PorterAnderson.com, Writing on the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, JaneFriedman.com, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, PublishingPerspectives.com, The Bookseller.com, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing, The FutureBook, CONTEC Conference, Frankfurt Book Fair, Frankfurt Buchmesse, Jonny Geller, Kristin Nelson, Michael Tamblyn, Jon Fine, Hugh Howey, Amanda Barbara, Peter Armstrong, Florian Geuppert, Matthias Matting

Philip Jones

True, The Bookseller’s Philip Jones never lets the wrecking ball swing too closely to the bricks and the mortar without raising the alarm. He’s been a staunch ally of bookshops.

And even as many others seem ready to describe bookstores’ struggles as a protracted, losing battle, Jones, in Run, bookseller, run, comes out of the Booksellers Association’s annual meeting willing to talk intangibles.

While Jones is focused here primarily on UK bookstores, those shops’ counterparts in other countries know all too well what he’s saying. Data this and data that? Not here. Jones is willing to talk intangibles as some of best advantages of the beleaguered bookstores.

Booksellers need to accentuate their differences, create physical environments that showcase physical objects but also play up the virtues of buying books from real people. “Sell the sizzle, not just the sausage.”

Porter Anderson, PorterAnderson.com, Writing on the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, JaneFriedman.com, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, PublishingPerspectives.com, The Bookseller.com, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing, The FutureBook, CONTEC Conference, Frankfurt Book Fair, Frankfurt Buchmesse, Jonny Geller, Kristin Nelson, Michael Tamblyn, Jon Fine, Hugh Howey, Amanda Barbara, Peter Armstrong, Florian Geuppert, Matthias MattingThat’s not to say that Jones isn’t willing to look at fiscal realities and hold some feet to fires.

So what is bookselling [after Amazon] like? It is certainly less profitable: many of the indies I’ve been speaking to just about cover their costs, but few draw a salary. It is little wonder that Booksellers Association president Patrick Neale began the conference saying that “more needs to be done” by publishers to bring the core financial model of the bookselling supply chain up to date. Publishers, he said, need to look again at what can be done, and quickly.

Porter Anderson, PorterAnderson.com, Writing on the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, JaneFriedman.com, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, PublishingPerspectives.com, The Bookseller.com, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing, The FutureBook, CONTEC Conference, Frankfurt Book Fair, Frankfurt Buchmesse, Jonny Geller, Kristin Nelson, Michael Tamblyn, Jon Fine, Hugh Howey, Amanda Barbara, Peter Armstrong, Florian Geuppert, Matthias MattingBut at a time when many observers want to emphasize those numbers, most of which aren’t adding up, Jones is also willing to consider the value of spirit, of an allure that might even now seem more a memory in some communities than a still-viable corner location in the neighborhood.

It never fails to amaze me how blithe some pundits are about this. As if the disappearance of all those windows displaying books, and all those knowledgeable enthusiasts for the book, its content and the people who write and read them, all those environments where authors and readers meet, would be only a minor disruption to the landscape…Amazon is a warehouse and an algorithm: there’s no world we know where the latter is an adequate replacement for the former.

And by the simple fact of his own contemplation of bookstore efforts in which “return of investment was part of the creative process but it could never lead it,” Jones invites others to reflect on whether balancing the books at this point is as important as hand-selling them.

We don’t resolve this by moaning about it, but let’s not deny it either. If we want bookshops we need to speak up for them.

Back to Table of Contents

And Just Write It Already

I’m an extreme extrovert, which is really great after I write a book and I have to go out into the world and talk to people about it, but not so great when I need to sequester myself long enough to actually get some real writing done.

Porter Anderson, PorterAnderson.com, Writing on the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, JaneFriedman.com, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, PublishingPerspectives.com, The Bookseller.com, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing, The FutureBook, CONTEC Conference, Frankfurt Book Fair, Frankfurt Buchmesse, Jonny Geller, Kristin Nelson, Michael Tamblyn, Jon Fine, Hugh Howey, Amanda Barbara, Peter Armstrong, Florian Geuppert, Matthias Matting

Austin Kleon

And you thought all writers were introverts.

Gamely standing against the tide, author and artist Austin Kleon at Medium in Shut up and write the book!  is willing to point out that getting us all together in our great, omnipresent online communities may not be the best thing for making progress on the writing, if it’s more social and less mediated:

It might be an obvious point, but it’s crazy how many of my devices tout their ability to distract me as an intelligent feature. The dumber I make my devices, the smarter I feel. Notifications I’ve killed:

  •  All notifications on my iPhone.
  • Tweetdeck on my laptop.
  • Gmail Notifier.

Porter Anderson, PorterAnderson.com, Writing on the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, JaneFriedman.com, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, PublishingPerspectives.com, The Bookseller.com, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing, The FutureBook, CONTEC Conference, Frankfurt Book Fair, Frankfurt Buchmesse, Jonny Geller, Kristin Nelson, Michael Tamblyn, Jon Fine, Hugh Howey, Amanda Barbara, Peter Armstrong, Florian Geuppert, Matthias MattingKleon even manages to both advocate meditation and take the crease out of the karmic norm:

As for meditation, it’s pretty simple: I put my kid down for a nap, sit at the top of the stairs, set my iPhone timer for 10 minutes, and close my eyes. That’s it. I’ve been doing it on and off for about a month and a half and I’ve felt less angry, less stressed, lighter.

And that gets us back to the anger, the stress…and couldn’t we all do with a little less of it in our interactions in publishing?

What do you think? Any contrarian views of your own that might show us some not-so-usual ways of looking at the issues?


Back to Table of Contents


View from the North Ten by Dave MaloneView from the North Ten: Poems after Mark Rothko’s No. 15 by Dave Malone

Inspired by the primary colors of Mark Rothko’s vibrant No. 15 painting, these poems give life to the canvas of the rural Ozarks. Chiefly love poems, the book explores not only the rugged Ozark and Rothko landscape, but also romantic yearnings, relationships, despair, and togetherness.

“Dave Malone’s View from The North Ten is a sensual, resounding vision set amid the pastoral Ozark region, a place rich enough to summon Tolkien’s magic. The poetry of Dave Malone is luminous and rewarding, renewing the world for us.”

—Jeffrey C. Alfier, Senior Editor of San Pedro Review and author of The Wolf Yearling

View from the North Ten is available at Amazon and other retailers. For an autographed copy, you can purchase directly from the author.


Main image: iStockphoto – SpanishAlex

Posted in Writing on the Ether and tagged , , .

Porter Anderson / @Porter_Anderson

Porter Anderson (@Porter_Anderson) is a journalist and consultant in publishing. He's The Bookseller's (London) Associate Editor in charge of The FutureBook. He's a featured writer with Thought Catalog (New York), which carries his reports, commentary, and frequent Music for Writers interviews with composers and musicians. And he's a regular contributor of "Provocations in Publishing" with Writer Unboxed. Through his consultancy, Porter Anderson Media, Porter covers, programs, and speaks at publishing conferences and other events in Europe and the US, and works with various players in publishing, such as Library Journal's SELF-e, Frankfurt Book Fair's Business Club, and authors. You can follow his editorial output at Porter Anderson Media, and via this RSS link.

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8 Comments on "Writing on the Ether: Contrarians Among Us"

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JosephRatliff
Well done Porter, again 🙂 There are two sides to this “What are publisher’s doing?” debate… and there needs to be NO emotion expressed at all to resolve it, from what I can see. 1. The publishers, for the most part, and I do pay attention to what they are doing, are marketing very “traditionally” (NY Book Review, NY Times, ads etc…etc…). This is because they operate, for the most part traditionally, and do so for their biggest profit opportunities (read: authors who will make them the most money). I don’t see the same effort for B-list, C-list, whatever-list authors.… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@JosephRatliff:disqus Hey, Joseph, Apologies for the late reply, I went into a pretty complex series of conferences and travel just as this Ether came out. Thanks for the kind words on the “it’s just a review” section – there’s simply too much heat on everything in publishing, I’m afraid, and this is part of it. I also think you’re right that most of the ruder people online would have a hard time being as vulgar and crass in person as they are on the Net. And in the earlier part of your comment, I think you’re completely right that all… Read more »
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[…] Table of Contents Three Valuable Views A Word for the Publishers Humming the Bookstore And Just Write It Already View from the North Ten: Poems after Mark Rothko’s No. 15 by Dave Malone Inspired by the primary colors of Mark Rothko’s vibrant No.  […]

Anne R. Allen
Back in the early days of computers, when I graduated from my Panasonic word processor to my very first Mac, the tech guy who showed me how to use it explained that one of the marvelous things about computers is that there are always at least three ways to do something: open or close a program for instance. “There’s no one right way,” he said. “They’re all right.” I wish more people would realize the wisdom of that young man’s advice. In the digital age, there is no one right way–whether we’re publishing or buying a book–or doing any sort… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@annerallen:disqus Hi, Anne, I think you’re right — there is a lot of effort right now to cope with comments sections gone wild. Usually, I fear, it means closing those sections, but for many sites (especially the news outlets, as you say), there may not be an option. The allure of “everybody gets to have their say” starts to wear pretty thin when what comes in is so grotesque. I think what bugs me — the part we can’t seem to get to — is why there are so many such wildly angry people out there. So much unhappiness and… Read more »
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