Named a Best Book of 2011: Englewood Review of Books and Hearts & Minds Books
“I read it in three sittings. Then I read it again. It’s a beautiful book, easily my favorite book on writing since Bird by Bird.”
—author Kimberlee Conway Ireton
Table of Contents
- Ether Exclusive: New PackaDRM in the room
- Sneaking a peek: 3 F+W confabs-West
- Amazonia: See? It’s not all about us
- Amazonia: The tall order
- Publishing: Potter envy
- Publishing: Meanwhile, out on the Pottermoors
- Advertising: Brother, can you spare a screen?
- Craft: Strauss, Morris – good help is findable
- Craft: Gardner, Bransford – where’s the fire?
- Craft: Coker, Greenfield – I said, where’s the fire?
- Craft: Weiland – structure’s end
- Quotes of the week: Madrigal, Howard
- Head spinners’ special: What’s going on
- Last gas: The coming D-Day beyond “books”
We want it to be friendly. It’s all about reminding the customer. We don’t believe that readers are pirates.
Hang on. Or as Tarzan would say to a heaving elephant, “Umgawa!” Wonder if saying that to our fine publishing obsesserati could slow them down, too.
Putting our messaging in there where it’s visible reminds them, “You’ve made a binding contract with the publisher, with the author.” It’s in the forefront of the reader experience. It makes them aware, so they won’t share the file.
Kevin Franco of Calgary’s Enthrill Books has come to the Ether, wise man that he is, to announce to you that PackaDRM is going to be made available to publishers and to authors who might be interested in using it.
And we’re packaging “DRM,” but not Digital Rights Management. This is Digital Rights Messaging.
PackaDRM is being developed as part of Enthrill Books, which we wrote about it on the Ether at the end of the year.
Fresh off “Day Against DRM” with Joe Wikert and Tim O’Reilly of O’Reilly Media leading the non-DRM charge, plenty of our colleagues are still driving around with “Death to DRM!” placards in their car trunks.
So let Franco get this much across to you:
We’re not trying to convert people who are working in strict DRM. And we’re not trying to convert people from no-DRM.
What’s important is that if you’re going to select “social DRM” or watermarking, we’ve come up with the best solution. In watermarking, we think we have a game-changer, the most effective way to use “social DRM.”
To understand what Franco’s doing, think Pottermore. (MorePotterMore is coming up later in the Ether, too, for you Harried ones.)
A part of what’s made Pottermore such a pants-wetting story in publishing is that Jo Rowling’s ebooks are non-DRM. They are watermarked. So what does this mean? This means you can get a non-DRM copy of a Potter book (eight copies for one price, in fact, in P’more’s case) and read each copy of that Harryness on any device you’d like. It’s not locked to a Kindle or a Nook or Kobo or your Android refrigerator door screen. However, the “watermark” encodes information about you as the buyer into the book. So if the copy watermarked to you turns up on a pirate Web site, Hogwarts knows it’s your version that is in illegal hands. You might want a Cloak of Invisibility then.
And this is generally called “social DRM.”
Adobe ebook DRM and similar schemes are a form of Restrictive Access Technology (RAT) in that they restrict end-users from how they can use the ebook they “bought” (technically speaking, licensed).
True DRM restricts how you can use your ebook — by whom and on which device.
Rhomberg goes on, by contrast:
Watermarking…does not restrict access in any way, which is a huge advantage to the reader (a.k.a. buyer/consumer/end-user). Digital fingerprinting (watermarking) is a technology for making usage trackable and hence TRAC is maybe a more descriptive acronym than “social DRM.”
So what Franco is talking about, in Rhombergese, is TRAC. You are not restricted on how you use your ebook. Your copy, however, can be tracked.
If Franco had a chance to breathe Ether with Charlie Redmayne, CEO of all Pottermore, how might he explain the difference in most watermarking (“TRAC”) “social DRM” programs and his PackaDRM?
Well, in addition to the trasaction ID inserted into the ebook — the one that makes your ebook TRAC-able to you if it gets into pirately hands — PackaDRM displays very visible messages to the reader at the beginning and end of the book. Franco:
The message can be customized by the publisher and contain information from the ebook file in combination with the consumer’s information.
Front and back of the book. A special message, complete with the customer’s email address. Here’s an example of the text:
This book is yours to read and it’s registered to you alone — see how we’ve embedded your email address to it? This message serves as a reminder that transferring digital files such as this book to third parties is prohibited by international copyright law. … If you think someone you know would love it (the book in question), recommend it to him or her and let them know where they can pick up their very own. When they are done, you can meet up for a coffee or tea and discuss!
Permission granted: you may discuss.
As I told Franco, this is very Canadian stuff. (One of his own board members said the same thing, it turns out, so I don’t feel too crassly American for making the observation.) It turns out that Canadian cordiality comes in with an expressly respectful tone — exactly what Franco is after here.
That wording took a long time to settle on. We had to get the message across in a firm way, but at the same time, we have to respect the relationship between the reader, the publisher, the author. Respect for the reader — the customer — is terribly important.
If I sound cautiously optimistic, it reflects a sense that the tide has not turned when it comes to the use of DRM or the study of the true impact of piracy. As I’ve covered before, DRM locks publishers and readers into specific platforms. It does not suppress piracy. Linking the two, as many commentors did when Macmillan made the announcement, conflates two different activities.
And others have spoken out this week in various conversations, with a clarification that the DRM issue really doesn’t dovetail well with those who’d like to back the car over Jeff Bezos. As one astute observer puts it: “There are many reasons not to use DRM, but it seems that the dream of dropping DRM and taking down Amazon is highly improbable.”
So why “PackaDRM?”
Franco was with many of us at New York’s Digital Book World Conference in January, when Mike Shatzkin staged Anobii’s Matteo Berlucchi in a major denunciation of DRM. As I wrote then on the Ether: “DRM went from gum on a shoe to a rebel yell once Matteo Berlucchi was given the floor.”
And Franco tells me he remembers exactly how Berlucchi started his presentation to the conference:
Berlucchi said, “Let’s talk about the elephant in the room.”
For more info on the PackaDRM in this room, be in touch with Franco. His column, just out with the Ether, on the subject is Packaged Digital Rights Messaging.
And F+W Media has all its westward-ho wagons pulling into a circle of sites for your perusal.
Looks like some interesting speakers and sessions ahead on the Left Coast.
So here it was, the Metropolitan Museum’s springtime Costume Institute Gala.
This year — and, in fact, opening today — the topical basis for the annual fund-raising gown-o-rama lies in an exhibition titled Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations. “Impossible” conversations because the two designers, Elsa and Miuccia, respectively, were not contemporaries. And also, perhaps, for another reason, adroitly pointed out by the Times’ Eric Wilson:
Mrs. Prada, one of the most influential female designers in recent history,…initially rebuffed the museum’s plans to mount an exhibition that compared her to Schiaparelli, who died in 1973. Mrs. Prada said in many interviews about the show that she had never been inspired by the work of her predecessor.
To our point here, you might notice in the finer print on the exhibition’s site page, “The exhibition is made possible by Amazon.”
And so it was that on May 7, if you happened across the retailer’s home page, you saw live streaming video from the red carpet arrivals at the Met.
Paparazzi screamed at the gingerly teetering celebs on the staircase. Vogue’s Billy Norwich did his usual amazing job of keeping everybody’s name straight and then reaching for them: “Don’t trip over the cord.” Elettra Wiedemann was there on another mic, gushing over everybody between Norwich’s chats.
On Amazon’s cover page. So uptown.
No gala-goers seemed at all upset with Amazon, either. No nasty comments about a “monopoly” or “freezing out the rest of us,” although the Times’ Stephanie Clifford in Amazon Leaps Into High End of the Fashion Pool, wrote:
Though characteristically tight-lipped on bottom-line details, Mr. Bezos said the company was making a “significant” investment in fashion to convince top brands that it wanted to work with them, not against them.
And compared to books, something by Michael Kors looks pretty good to Seattle. Clifford:
Because Amazon’s costs are about the same whether it is shipping a $10 book or a $1,000 skirt, “gross profit dollars per unit will be much higher on a fashion item,” Mr. Bezos said.
Big difference: In fashion, Bezos is telling the Times, the underselling strategy used in publishing isn’t in the cards:
Mr. Bezos said that, despite having taken a low-price approach in other industries, Amazon would not in fashion. “There’s a sophisticated markdown cadence in the fashion industry that we think makes sense and we’re basically following that established approach,” he said.
Rowling had zero digital revenue to protect and zero responsibility to anybody else for delivering it. All the major publishers have triple digit millions of dollars of Kindle revenue at stake and thousands of authors counting on them to deliver it.
And so, Mike Shatzkin in The ebook marketplace is a long way from settled, brings a merciful bit of reason to how it would be “a really scary thing” for a large publisher to try bargaining with Amazon for the Pottermore deal. It seems we could use more of that this week.
How easy it is for folks to forget the readers are just that wild about Harry. Not about everything else.
Dutifully, Shatzkin trundles forward:
But with Barnes & Noble now funded (by Microsoft) for battle for the next several years and Kobo and Apple committed to the fight as well, there’s a serious question as to whether Amazon would feel as comfortable going forward without one of the Big Six’s ebooks the way they have been willing to work without those from IPG.
What prompts this round of speculation — not that the industry! the industry! ever needs prompting — is Matteo Berlucchi’s write for TheFutureBook, Has Pottermore cast the Riddikulus spell on Amazon? No link-bait in that headline.
Berlucchi, who called on everybody to drop DRM right this very minute, damn it, in his DBW Conference appearance, now wants publishers to tell Jeff Bezos it’s their way or the highway, buddy.
Berlucchi is very good at asking everybody else to risk it all.
And he seems to feel that Jo Rowling isn’t the only sorceress strong enough to stare down Seattle. Turns out, Shatzkin is — carefully — willing to give Berlucchi some rope:
It’s easy for me to say, because I have nothing at stake, but I think Berlucchi is right. The big publishers can make this happen; it would change the game.
But, as he also says, these are complex issues freighted with serious potential losses if publishers who have no Potter protection were to go to Matteo’s mat with Amazon.
As in so many of our most hotly debated questions, all we have to do to get an accurate look at the future? — is relax, sit down, wait. But we’re none too good at that “calm down” stuff in publishing, Ethernaut.
So before you finish tearing all your hair over this one, you might want to see the next waft of Ether, just below this one: “Potter envy.” Or, if you’re mad as hell and you’re not going to take it anymore, go ahead and click here to comment
Berlucchi’s right, but the industry needs to take the Pottermore idea several steps further if they are to reap all the rewards it has to offer.
This is Suw Charman-Anderson in a contributor piece at Forbes, apparently in no mood to perform our industry’s Ceremonial Asking of Questions We Cannot Answer and plunging right on under the ice forthwith, in Pottermore: Developing A Blueprint For Futureproof Publishing.
There is a window of opportunity now to expand upon the concept of a publisher-centric ebook hub, to take Pottermore’s partial blueprint and use it to futureproof publishing.
At a time in which the digital transition has done what it has done — and is doing — to or for or about or in spite of publishing, Charman-Anderson’s phrase “futureproof publishing” rings probably closer to Berlucchi/Rowling’s Riddikulus spell than most whammies anyone has tried flinging at Seattle yet.
Any publisher who wants to truly woo me as an author has to give me access to realtime traffic and sales data; a Pottermore-ish platform would easily be able to do that.
Well, great. And all you have to do, Suw, is write a Harry Potter-ish universal blockbuster.
Did I just hear a boggart laughing? See a bit more, from “the Pottermoors,” below.
The point about Frankenstein – and other innovative ebooks – is that it is a new type of monster, one that would be impossible to create within the pages of a paper book. Created by a writer with a background in video games, the reader can influence the route the story takes by making choices in the character of the monster or of Frankenstein himself. Because it deals with multiple pathways, Dave Morris’s new text is longer than that of the original novel.
Noting that Dave Morris’ app, previewed on the Ether, Frankenstein, “leapt straight into the top 10 in the books section of Apple’s App Store on both sides of the Atlantic,” Guardian books editor Claire Armitstead at the Guardian is more inclined to see scariness in From Pottermore to Frankenstein, a new kind of monster is being created.
At least Armitstead knows how to ask an honest question:
A lot is happening but what does it all mean?
Dropping in loads of disparate publishing efforts, even harkening back to Amanda Hocking, our Example of Everything, Armitstead somehow gets herself tangled up in the worrisome research department and ends up wandering on across the heath wringing her hands.
No innovations come without health warnings – and a recent article in Time Magazine suggested that digital reading might damage your learning. It quoted Kate Garland, a psychology lecturer at Leicester University, whose studies on memory and digital reading appeared to show that the human brain doesn’t navigate digital texts as efficiently as paper ones. Her findings suggested that computer readers needed more repetition to absorb the same information as from a book, and that book readers seemed to digest the material more fully.
Honk if you’re tired of upheaval. (And sorry, but the next segment is even tougher.)
As TV viewing habits change, so will advertising. Stowe Boyd believes that the days of the 30-second TV commercial are nearing an end.
Surely we’re all shocked, I tell you, shocked at such a statement. (Not.)
Busy Emma Gardner, who seems to do anything but Lean Back 2.0 at the Economist, has this New report on “Social TV and the Second Screen.” And who am I to gainsay postfuturist Stowe Boyd? But weren’t we all on our computers while watching TV 15 years ago? And yet maybe the fact that TV ad-sales people could never get their heads around that one means that Boyd does need to stand up now — so they’ll think of it for mobile devices.
I can credit Gerd Leonhard for his foreword on the study, in which he has the grace to concede that it’s all right in our faces:
Let me recap the obvious: the Internet is now actually converging with television (or vice versa), the desktop computer as the most important place for entertainment or content is finally fading away, and mobile devices are where we ‘consume’ – I prefer to say ‘experience’ – most of what we want see or hear. Scheduled media is on its way out (except for sports, other live events and, maybe, news), and the crowd is now actually moving into the cloud, whether it’s for music, TV, movies, books or education.
- Graph (Sourced to Nielsen 2012) from Page 10 of “Social TV and The Second Screen,” Stowe Boyd, Work Talk Research and The Futures Agency.
And there’s an interesting graph in the report that indicates the majority of device brandishing TV viewers aren’t doing much related to the shows they’re watching, based on Nielsen 2012 figures.
- Sixty percent of tablet and smartphone owners surveyed are checking email during the program, itself. (And that drops only to 59 percent during the commercials. Maybe we need to work on the shows’ content?)
- Forty-six percent of those tablet and smartphone owners surveyed by Nielsen surfed for unrelated info during the program and the commercials. Riveted to the show, huh?
- Forty-two percent visited a social networking site during the show and commercials.
- Hell, 30 percent checked sports scores. What kind of crap were these people watching?
- Just 29 percent, per Nielsen, looked up info related to their show on TV. Nineteen percent checked out product info for an ad they saw (more men than women did this).
- And only 13 percent looked up coupons related to an ad they’d seen.
In a world in which new amalgams of commercial and literary elements are coming together — or being shoved together — it seems to me that the publishing community’s hold on story just might be something that could be leveraged a lot better than anyone in “Old TV,” as Boyd calls it.
My fellow tropical writer (and a man who can produce comics) Brad Meltzer tweets his heart out with his viewers during every edition of his TV show on the History Channel, Decoded. Folks on their many screens, yakking with the star of the show.
If you’re watching The Borgias, as I do, on Showtime — now in its second opulent season with Pope Jeremy Irons on the Throne of St. Peter — you’re seeing some simple early use of apps and soc-med to catapult Renaissance-era papal vengeance at us, on more than one machine. But why not a parallel production, streaming data on the historical underpinnings of the show as it airs? Savonarola has a bonfire ready for your iPad, but he needs introducing to today’s audience every time he shows up.
It’s Emma Gardner again, in fact, who turns up with Annette King of OgilvyOne London getting the two-screen bug in “As an ad agency, we’ll always be trying to lean forward”:
We’re really interested in the dual screen experience right now. By dual screen, I mean sitting in front of the TV with a tablet. You might be watching one thing on the TV, but doing something else on your tablet. And we want to start connecting those two things. If Jamie Oliver is making a special truffle recipe on television, you can use your tablet to find out where truffles grow in the world, or how to make Jamie’s recipe. You can get people involved through the second screen.
If nothing else, you can always read a good book on your tablet while the nonsense on TV carries on. You always want a second screen handy. Click here to comment.
Be sure the editor (or editors, if it’s an editing service) is qualified. You’re looking for professional publishing industry experience–preferably, as an editor for reputable publishers–and/or professional writing credentials (legitimately-published books, articles, etc.). If the editor has a website, a resume or CV should be posted there.
We do a lot of yelling and screaming these days about how authors simply must get outside, professional editing services. To my mind, this is true whether you’re trying to self-publish or sling-shotting your MS on a flash drive at the rococo facade of a legacy publisher.
I’m a little concerned only about her first comment about considering free alternatives such as:
…a friend who’s not afraid to criticize, a local writers’ group or critique circle, an online writers’ group (such as Critters Writers Workshop for SF/fantasy/horror writers), a peer critique community (such as Book Country or Authonomy), or a creative writing course.
In a hardship case, do what you have to do, of course. And if you’re in earlier stages with a book, you do want less expensive avenues of feedback, sure. But I’d say — and again, this is me, with no desire to put words into Strauss’ blog post — there’s a point at which a true run at the market goes far past the friends-and-family stage. And a professional developmental edit isn’t the same as exchanging input in a mutual-critique community.
It’s raining slush and nonsense. Readers who’ve bought unreadable books are muttering ‘vanity press’ all over again.
Morris is asked by a reader, “If people won’t use editors, can we realistically replace them with critique groups and beta readers?”
Morris’ answer is typically straightforward and refreshingly honest:
I.E., is it possible to get all this input free? Sorry, guys, I don’t think it is. In the real world that doesn’t come free. Agents and publishers do it as part of their job. Critical feedback of that type takes experience and judgement.
What’s more, Morris reminds us, we need to let “good work rise on merit.” Gaming reader reviews and jockeying for advantage around the ready-reader racetrack isn’t working.
Ultimately we need to reach readers way beyond our own little blogosphere of indie publishing. We need to win the respect of the major book reviewers, because right now we’re preaching to the choir, and this is not sustainable.
So in regards to Strauss’ post, I’d make the personal caveat (and I doubt that Strauss and I disagree on this), that bona fide professional work is required for a truly valuable result.
And that being the case, Strauss’ guidance is sturdy, needed stuff in terms of how to assess the viability of a professional editor. There are details under each of these important subheads:
- Be sure the editor (or editors, if it’s an editing service) is qualified.
- If you’ve been referred to the editor or editing service, verify that they’re independent.
- Be sure the editor you’re thinking of hiring has experience appropriate to your work.
- Look for a client list, or a list of published books.
- Ask for references, and contact them.
- Ask to see a sample critique or part of a sample edit.
- Make sure the business arrangements are clear–and get it in writing.
Strauss also offers you a fine list of red flags to watch for, again with extensive details under each subhead:
- If you receive a referral from a literary agent or publisher. (Strauss notes that this is hardly an automatic problem — she has specific types of scams in mind and explains them.)
- If the publisher or agent recommends his/her own paid editing services.
- If buying editing is a requirement of representation or submission.
- If you can’t find a resume or CV, or claims of expertise can’t be verified.
- If the editing is anonymous.
- If the editor edits any and all genres, all comers accepted.
- If the editor tells you that agents and publishers prefer manuscripts that have been professionally edited.
- Vagueness about specific services.
- Refusal of reasonable requests for information.
Agent Rachelle Gardner has quality on her mind this week, too (or maybe she just needs a good drink, I know I do), in trying to slow down the writers panting to see print. In Quality Books Take Time, she’s soberingly clear about her point, emphasis hers.
If you self-publish a book that sucks, you may permanently lose potential readers. They pick up the book, it’s poorly crafted, they don’t like it — and they cross your name off their mental list of good authors.
It’s true, of course, that traditional publishing — which faces so many unsustainable problems — has operated in slow-mo for far too long. It’s hard to fault authors for wanting to avoid that agonizing, often counter-productive pace.
But only amateurs believe that a book can be “turned” quickly like a video or a science project. When former-agent-now-CNET-social-mediatore Nathan Bransford asked in a recent post How Long Does it Take You to Finish a Draft?, I had a lot of messages from folks mildly scandalized that Bransford had said it takes him “between 6-8 months to write a novel.” Clearly, that’s enough out of the precocious Bransford.
As Gardner writes:
One of the main arguments writers use for self-publishing is the speed at which they can get their books up for sale. They’re proud of themselves for circumventing the laborious publishing system that — yes — takes forever. But many of them have nothing to be proud of. I’ve bought and read numerous self-pubbed books now, and in general the quality is noticeably inferior to what most traditional publishers are putting out.
All of those self-pubbers who are doing it poorly are giving a very bad name to the handful who are doing it well.
But in the end, there’s a lot to assess here, and it all falls heavily on many writers struggling to understand New Publishing’s requirements that they swim independently — even if on contract. These comments from Gardner and Morris, and those “common-sense suggestions” from Strauss, are a good place to start grabbing for a handrail as you head down these stairs.
Let me know — have you been scammed by a falsely represented editor or editing service? And what do you think of the burden of quality being shouldered now by authors? Is this what should have been the case all along? Or a completely unfair and creativity-crushing burden? Click here to comment
The biggest challenge is self-restraint. Publishing tools, like Smashwords make it fast, free and easy for any writer anywhere in the world to publish. But we don’t make it easy to write a great book. Many writers, intoxicated by the freedom to self-publish, will often release their book before it’s ready to be released.
After all, he’s got 121,000 self-published ebooks by 42,000 keyboard-bashing self-ordained writers aimed at the Nook, the Kobo, and all devices east of the Kindle. If anybody wants lots of writers to publish, publish, publish, it’s going to be Coker, right?
Wrong and wrong. Keep your cover jacket on.
He’s talking with Jeremy Greenfield at Digital Book World in an interview headlined Smashwords CEO Mark Coker: Indie Authors Need to Become Great Publishers. And Coker’s not saying what a lot of hustle-it-right-out-there self-publishers want to hear.
The biggest challenge faced by self-published authors, it’s not marketing, it’s not discoverability, it’s adopting the best practices of the very best publishers. It’s about becoming a professional publisher.
Now, this being the post-dignity era, Coker does go on blithely to push his own new brew:
If you look at the resources we make available to our authors, most notably the latest e-book that I published, The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success, we’re very focused on elevating the best practices of indie authors, helping to educate them and inspire them through the example of the success of other indie authors.
But even as that plug singes your eyebrows, I’ll hand it to Coker, he’s willing to say to his customers (self-publishing authors) and potential customers (every man, woman, and child, since they all now believe they’re writing books):
We want to inspire them to up their game.
So do I. I’d like about 95 percent of them to up their game in another profession for which they have more aptitude. But as long as they all insist on trying to write books (“because, you know, like, it’s the Internet”), I’d be grateful if they’d spend a little time with more of Coker’s thoughts here:
Indie authors need to learn to think like a publisher. There’s a lot of expertise that goes into connecting books with readers.
Coker is right in how he describes the reversal of leadership underway:
Authors are starting to ask two very dangerous questions from the standpoint of publishers: What can the publisher do that I can’t do for myself? …And, will it actually harm my ability to reach readers if I work with a large publisher? But these questions set up publishers to be in a precarious situation.
In his role as a kind of DBW cheerleader for the publishers, Greenfield, of course, comes back with: “That hasn’t stopped publishers from continuing to do what they’ve always done: publish and sell great books and make money doing it.” Faithful until the vertical goes horizontal.
Well, not to worry, Coker’s ready. Before Greenfield can start into “Give me a P…!” he has Coker’s answer:
When I look at the future of publishing, we all become service providers for authors. The authors are in control. The power has shifted from publishers to authors. Anyone who doesn’t believe that and honor that is going to go out of business.
I encourage you to read the interview in its entirety. You may be surprised to find Coker sticking up for the publishers on the Department of Justice action, at least sympathizing with them for “drowning in a swimming pool, scared about the future” in 2009 and 2010 — even if “it does appear that some publishers did some stupid things.”
In short, it’s an unusually long piece for DBW, in which you’ll find two or more sides of some issues represented and you may just have to make up your own mind. How Ether-esque.
Because there are many facets to everything and everybody. At the very end, Coker tells Greenfield, “I don’t have time to read.”
Your story and its conflict officially ended with your climax. Conceivably, you could end your story right then and there. But most books need an extra scene or two to tie off any leftover loose ends and, just as importantly, to guide your readers to the emotion with which you want to leave them.
In The Secrets of Story Structure, Pt. 11: The Resolution, K.M. Weiland practices what she preaches, inviting her own readers to look at — or for — something ahead.
The resolution is not just the ending of this story, but also the beginning of the story the characters will live after the reader has closed the back cover. It performs its two greatest duties in capping the current story, while still promising a sense of continuing life from the characters.
As practical as is most of her advice here — a hallmark of her work in this entire series on structure — I like the attention she gives to the “softer” elements of a good resolution’s potential, which are central regardless of whether there’s a series involved. Here are two of a list of five key points she makes:
- The resolution should give the reader a concrete example of how the character’s journey has changed him. If he was a selfish jerk at the beginning of the story, the resolution needs to definitively demonstrate his change of heart.
- Finally, the resolution should strike an emotional note that resonates with the tone of the book as a whole (funny, romantic, melancholy, etc.) and leaves the reader completely satisfied.
And happily, there’s still another segment in Weiland’s series to come. Next week, she’ll be getting into story-structure FAQs. I find this series from Weiland the sort of thing you specifically need if you think you don’t need it. Know what I mean?
While we’re at it, a new Weiland read on a topic dear to me and other supercilious critics:
The author’s need to balance on the narrow line between treating readers like they’re idiots and assuming they should know things they can’t.
Hey, I’ve met the readers. But, fortunately, this is Weiland writing, not me. She’ll handle it so much more gracefully than I could. Join her for The Fine Line Between Insulting and Bewildering Readers (both video and — so smart! — a full transcript for those of us who are sick, sick, sick of video).
I’m laughing all the way to the next section of Ether.
Readers aren’t stupid. They know when your product is cheap.
Doubly useful. ↬ Brian O’Leary
(1) Alexis Madrigal wrote this as the lead of his piece, The Pernicious Myth That Slideshows Drive ‘Traffic’ for The Atlantic. It’s a write I’d love to have slapped a few faces with in a couple of newsrooms that shall remain undesignated here. Here’s Madrigal, and his topic is the corporate fondness for slideshows on news sites (hey, 20 clicks out of one unique user!)
This myth that slideshows are the path to salvation has got to be put into a rocket and sent hurtling into the sun. People know when your product is cheap; there is no “trick” of the web. The sad truth is that to win on the Internet you have to do good reporting and analysis, write great headlines, empower individual staffers to embed themselves in communities that can serve up scoops and distribute finished stories, and understand the social ecosystems that bring visitors to your site.
That’s what a copyedit and a proofread does: it brings your book up to the minimum industry standard. Every time I mention this, I get comments and e-mails saying things like, “But if a reader likes the story, they’ll overlook misspellings, etc.” I’m just going to say this once, okay? ONLY IF THE READER IS YOUR MUM. Take an hour to read a few Amazon Customer Reviews and then see if you still feel the same way.
I hope, Ethernaut, you’ll consider leaving your eustachian tubes to science. Because I get these comments after each Etherly edition from folks who claim, “My head is spinning!” Balance appears challenging to so many in publishing, maybe you’ve noticed. Well, of course you have.
So, head spinner, if you find yourself wishing somebody would just sit you down and talk you through how on Earth we got here, don’t look at me. Instead, check Nancy K. Herther’s The eBook Wars: Amazon Versus the Rest. ↬ Don Linn ↬ Joseph Esposito
“It isn’t so much that publishers are entrenched as that this is a much more complex issue than readers might think—legal issues, and the rest of it. We are changing, but like with libraries, change takes time to do it right.”
That is — guess who — a publisher speaking with Herther for her piece, which comes to us from the academy. She’s a sociology and anthropology librarian at the University of Minnesota Libraries. Beyond a basic accounting of things, notably well-organized and sane, you’ll also find here a refreshing absence of the sort of the industry! the industry! mania that tends to afflict so many of the rest of us. There’s that word “rational.” Remember it? Herther is able to present things here in a rational way.
A few examples of how transactional occasions are described without emotional fervor — you may find this rational tone interesting — then I’ll leave you to gnash your teeth over it.
- Amazon isn’t the first company powerful enough to impose concessions out of its suppliers.
- Quoting Mathew Ingram: The e-book marketplace is a kind of oligopoly involving a few major players—primarily Amazon, Apple, and B&N.
- “I’ve had giants of self-publishing assure me that my problem is that I have to price all of my books at $0.99,” explains author Jim C. Hines, “but plenty of $0.99 e-books fail.”
- Except for DOJ and other potential legal/regulatory pressures, Amazon has little to fear. It is sitting on a huge pile of money, has strong customer loyalty, and currently controls the market. No wonder Amazon is so bold in its actions.
For trade publishers particularly, Omaha Beach is not about learning how to publish digitally — it’s about becoming software houses that support publishing functions. That’s a steep organizational cliff to climb.
In his column for Publishers Weekly, A soft landing on Normandy, Peter Brantley recognizes the current predicament of the industry as something far more complex than trying to adjust to new business modalities.
It is very much as if we are back in the Middle Ages scribbling on parchment, whittling our own quills from feathers we have on hand, drawing up whatever ink we have available. Our 21st Century parchment is a world-wide digital canvas, but our quills are hand-crafted.
What Brantley is getting at is existing limitations of form and format. They can’t respond fully yet to initiatives of substance. Put another way: never mind traditional vs. digital business relationships — we’re not even sure what we’re going to be publishing soon.
Brantley sees a Normandy yet to be fought, a struggle on the other side of publishing’s supposed “soft landing” in terms of digital format. He writes:
Regardless of the kind of content new publishing startups are thinking about building services around, at heart, they are oriented toward the web, not the page. Yet, quixotically, the web itself is not quite ready.
So wheels are being invented on all sides.
Almost every single startup that is delivering authoring tools…is building their own proprietary web-based layer…In other words, everything is baroque, and nothing in the standards space works well enough across the range of possible uses to be a default rendering environment.
What interests me here is a subtle signal that creative people — those writers we see madly rushing to get to market with self- or traditionally published books — may do better if they slow down, hang on to their new content for a bit, see what shakes out in terms of format, production platform, audience receptivity, and collaborative possibilities.
In craft sections of the Ether this time, the question has been “Where’s the fire?” Even for purposes of quality control, there are good reasons for unpublished content developers to bide their time, sit things out for a bit, improve the content while waiting to see where this transition takes us. Brantley:
It will get better, and likely quite rapidly, but what will be left after our whittling is an authoring environment that will be very, very different from what we have known before.
Main image: iStockphoto / donvanstaden
Named a Best Book of 2011: Englewood Review of Books and Hearts & Minds Books
“I read it in three sittings. Then I read it again. It’s a beautiful book, easily my favorite book on writing since Bird by Bird.”
—author Kimberlee Conway Ireton