Perfect Skin: A Novel by Nick Earls
A finalist in the 2003 Australian Comedy Awards and adapted into a feature film in Italy (Solo un Padre, Warner Brothers/Cattleya)
“Readers should enjoy this amiable, well-crafted and genuinely romantic book.”
Table of Contents
- Self-Publishing/Noe: uAreWhich?
- Self-Publishing/Greenfield, Hyde: Minutiae
- All Publishing/Sandusky: The Friendly User
- Companies/Mayer: Old and New
- Conferences: Publishers Launch BEA Presentations
- Conferences: Lots Ahead
- Headline: Best of the Week
- Libraries/Litte: Amazon Isn’t the Problem
- Startups/Wikert, Shatzkin: Citia’s New Friend
- Craft/Murphy: Have We Been Introduced?
- Craft/Morris: Use that Thesaurus
- Craft/Wendig: The Secret of Writing
- Last Gas/Ashlock: An Agent’s Art
What if self-publishing is only a stepping stone?
What made me crabby – no, furious – was the theme in several of the sessions.
You don’t want to make Victoria Noe crabby. Let alone furious.
“Be a success at self-publishing and you will be rewarded with an agent and a traditional publishing deal!”
When she signed on for uPublishU self-publishing conference at BEA, “traditional publishing deal!” is not the gist of the message she expected.
The first time I heard it, I thought I was just under-caffeinated. But by lunch, I confirmed that others heard it, too.
After all the bombast we’ve encountered from born-again authors about how DIY shall save the huddled masses yearning to be free of traditional publishers — and wear your sunglasses when you call it “indie” — Noe heard something else. And she has questions:
- I mean, what else should you think when successful self-publishing authors all talk about getting discovered for their great, new, traditional deals?
- What else should you think when agents say they won’t take on someone who self-publishes only?
- What else should you think when speakers tell you how to get noticed by traditional publishers as well as prospective readers?
Noe went to her Facebook author page on the matter. There, she calls into question a good many organizational drawbacks of the cute-named confab. For example:
I don’t think it’s too much to ask that for $150 you shouldn’t have to wait 3 hours to get a glass of water.
But her main concern is that a lot of the uPublishU presentations seemed to assume that self-publishers — at least those attending — are really trying to pull off a Hocking Switch, whereby Amanda Hocking managed to parlay her self-published “vampyre” oeuvre into a deal with St. Martin’s.
Note that the Hocking Switch may be, absolutely, what some authors are going for.
On the other hand, I get what Noe is saying. If you ride into a conference that specifically come-hithers authors who want to self-publish — only to sense when you get there that there’s an assumption you’re trying to claw your way into traditional publication — your horse has just turned another color right under you.
There were some strong people on the uPublishU agenda, too, including the Copyright Clearance Center’s Christopher Kenneally; Smashwords’ Mark Coker; Bowker’s Kelly Gallagher; Publishers Weekly’s Jim Milliot; Amazon’s Jon P. Fine; Kobo’s Mark Leslie Lefebvre; agents Steven Axelrod, Marilyn Allen, Laurie McLean and Marcella Smith; Wattpad’s Allen Lau: and more — some of whom we’d see the next day at Publishers Launch BEA. (More on that one below.)
So this was hardly a lightweight program tossed together for “the kids who write.”
And I don’t know the organizers of uPublishU. It would be great to hear from them if they’d like to give us their response on this. Was the tone intentional? Click to comment
I’d also like to hear from agents on the panel, since Noe felt she heard them say they wouldn’t take on purely self-publishing authors. This is interesting, and not what I hear from some other agents — not that they all work the same way, of course.
That panel’s title, by the way, was pretty cute, all by itself (not the agents’ fault): “THE X FACTOR: The Role of Agents in YOU Publishing.” I’m struck by how much cuteness seems to afflict event names (and some startups) in publishing. It gets cloying, doesn’t it?
For the rest of us, Noe’s observation gives us a chance to consider some things that may too frequently be taken for granted.
- Is it the goal of most self-publishing writers to attract the favor of a traditional publisher and get that contract?
- Do such organizations as Orna Ross’ new Alliance of Independent Authors work purposefully with two camps of self-publishing authors? — those who see their future in self-publishing and those who see it as that stepping stone to traditional contracts? Jane Friedman, host of the Ether and hashtag unto herself, talks this week with Ross, as a matter of fact, in this video, about how some authors find they really want a publisher to handle the administration of their marketing. The alliance must see diversity in what its members want, surely.
- And if self-publishing isn’t fully vested by most of its proponents as a potentially career-long strategy, then is it being accorded a disproportionate amount of attention?
I want to be published, and I’m enough of an impatient control freak to embrace self-publishing. That does NOT mean I’m skipping the universal need for editing, nor am I doing my own cover design. I know my limitations. I will pay for those services, and others, to support the level of professionalism that I expect in myself and others.
And she has a few words for those uPublishU organizers:
If you still believe that the goal of self-publishing is to land a big, traditional book deal, at least be upfront about that. Then people like me, who don’t have that goal, can spend their money and time elsewhere.
According to one indie author, Amazon doesn’t offer such a great deal when it comes to self-publishing. While his complaints have merit, he may have forgotten to read the fine print.
Open and shut. The problem is that we had to open and shut it at all.
Jeremy Greenfield at Digital Book World had the whole thing in a nutshell in two sentences, in Indie Author Says Amazon Takes More Than Fair Share of E-Book Sale Price. I’d quarrel with him, in fact, only on his clause, “While his complaints have merit.” I’m not sure that, in the end, this author’s complaints had merit.
Then he ran a blog post titled Amazon’s markup of digital delivery to indie authors is ~129,000%. Hyde went to great lengths to show that the Amazon Kindle edition far outstripped others in:
- desired reading format (51 percent Kindle to the nearest competitor, a PDF, at 34 percent); and
- book reading format (73 percent Kindle to the nearest competitor, iBooks at 11 percent).
Only to then report that his “book format take home” comparison put his Kindle per-sale take at $5.10 (on a $9.99 price), compared to $7 at iBooks, $9.25 on that PDF, and $6.50 on the Nook. The problem, as Hyde reported it, was that Amazon’s “70% royalty option doesn’t include delivery fees, even via wi-fi, which makes me ponder what their 30% cut includes.”
But, as Greenfield writes:
“In the Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing agreement, the company clearly states that there is a delivery charge for files. It depends on the country, but in the U.S., it’s $0.15 per megabyte — and other countries are comparable. At 18.1 megabytes, the delivery charges on Hyde’s book add up.
The delivery charges on Hyde’s photo-rich book, in fact, add up to $2.70 per sale (18 mbs at 15 cents per mb). Which is still considerably cheaper than throwing his book into the trunk of his car and driving it to Poughkeepsie to deliver it.
Most authors whose books are delivered by Amazon, obviously, don’t worry about this. A standard manuscript, book-length, is going to come in at about one mb. That’s 15 cents’ delivery on the Bezosian Whispernet ether. Such a deal. Hyde was coming in with a book 18 times the usual size. And by my calculation, Amazon undercharged him by 12 cents per delivery.
So is Amazon doing some heinous, nasty, secret thing to poor self-publishing authors?
One DBW reader wrote in to comment on what he called Greenfield’s “link-baiting story.” Commenter Gareth-Michael Skarka writes:
So the REAL story here is: Guy with much-larger-than-normal book file is charged *EXACTLY WHAT AMAZON SAID IT WOULD CHARGE HIM* (Seriously, kids — follow the link, then do the math.)
Greenfield, in answering Skarka, writes:
We thought it was interesting to note that Amazon’s 70% is not quite accurate when you read the fine print.
And, of course, nothing in business is accurate outside of the fine print. It seems unlikely that many writers will encounter a delivery fee of more than 15 cents, certainly on a text-only standard book.
Hyde, however, has a Jekyl side waiting for us.
He chimes in, himself, on Greenfield’s DBW write to say, “Bigger story to me is that Amazon is the *only* publisher to push delivery costs to authors.” Bigger story is really that he didn’t understand the deal he was getting and business happens, even to great guys and self-publishers. This can happen to a lot of folks on many levels in a new world of DIY.
Jekyl? On his own site, the latest update to that long post with the charts and graphs is a Never Mind:
UPDATE #5 My kindle .mobi is now compressed and resubmitted, I will now (only) see a 36% cut from Amazon for selling the book.
Which, if I read that correctly, means that for his unusually large book with its great photos, Hyde will get 64 percent royalty, not 70 percent.
And does that really sound so unfair for a book that is, as Greenfield handily tells us (I loved this factoid), six times the size of Haruki Murakami’s 900-page behemoth 1Q84? Who knew that doorstop comes in at 3 mbs?
Clearing the Ether.
It’s taken us a lot of hair-tearing, sky-is-falling, the industry! the industry! wailing to get even to this point. We’re strung out, we’re tired, we’ve got a startup in every garage and an alarmist in every pot.
If we get riled up about every bottom-line surprise encountered by a special-case self-publisher, we’re going to age ourselves in dog years and never live to see the dawn of The Great Digital Nirvana Ahead.
- I’d like to ask self-publishers and traditional publishers, alike — authors, especially, many of whom are new to business issues — to take deep breaths when things surprise them, disappoint them, alarm them. Check out what’s really going on before running the storm flags up the line, can you?
- And as for those of us who cover these things? We, too, need to ask ourselves whether the knee-jerk concerns of a single, potentially non-representative event (such as this one) really warrant the sort of play this escapade got. Do we need traffic so badly that it’s worth flogging a non-story? Do we think it’s appropriate to slag Seattle or anybody else for a mildly embarrassing tale of naïveté on the hoof?
One of my colleagues in an international critics’ association executive committee was an elderly, revered critic from Moscow, the late Melitina Kotovskaya. And in what became a kind of trademark laugh line for the rest of us, her serviceable English always prompted Melitina to open each world congress of the critics with the line:
Dear friends, what are we all doing here?
Her intent, of course, was to say something along the lines of “Colleagues, what is our topic today?” But I liked it exactly as it arrived in her translation from the Russian.
Each time we come out the other side of one of these pants-on-fire run-arounds that takes us absolutely nowhere — and leaves someone or some company, you can bet, besmirched in the eyes of somebody who just caught a moment of the fracas-in-play? — I have to wonder, dear friends, what are we all doing here?
Well, we’re in luck. Because I think Brett Sandusky may be the guy to answer that question, at least in this gassing of the Ether. Read on.
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An update to this segment of the Ether contains no changes (my original text stands), but the addition I can offer you now is a response from Amazon to a Cory Doctorow respondent, TwilightNewsSite.
Doctorow picked up on this vastly overblown confusion in a short post of his own titled Indie author gets sticker shock from Amazon “delivery fees.”
In answer to a request for info on the much-derided “Delivery Costs” of an ebook sold on Amazon — and its impact on the 70-percent royalty figure — the company is entirely forthcoming, as reported by TwilightNewsSite:
The royalty calculation is as follows: Equal to 70 percent of the amount equal to the applicable List Price for the Digital Book less the Delivery Costs (as defined above) for the Digital Book.
In other words, no surprise, no tricky business, and — in all but the biggest books — no significant charge. The Delivery Cost is the 15 cents reported per mb. Done.
Many of the comments on Doctorow’s post, as a matter of fact, take stark issue with both Hyde’s original portrayal of this as bad business and even with Doctorow’s characterization of it as “a bracing reality-check.”
As Max Kingsbury writes, “That “129000% markup” number is mega-bogus.” (That stupendous figure is in Hyde’s post title.)
And as NathanHornby writes:
I’m not sure what the argument is here. Amazon don’t take a cut and charge delivery as a means to pay for hosting, they take that cut because they’re a marketplace that puts your product in front of millions of people – they advertise that marketplace and spend millions on research to secure sales and aid in conversion.
There is some trend toward agreement that “delivery cost” is a confusing phrase for this clearly stated charge. I don’t find it confusing, myself. But more importantly , the fundamental wrongness originally alleged about the charge itself or about Amazon’s announcement or disclaimer of it? Moot.
As I wrote before, quoting Kotovskaya: Dear friends, what are we all doing here?
Over the course of the last few weeks I have had hundreds of conversations with so many different people about the state of the state of the publishing industry… And while many of these ideas bring to a head those issues which are most relevant to us moving forward, most completely ignore one thing that I feel is perhaps the most essential: user experience.
For publishers, this is (still) mostly a new concept. We are not entirely comfortable dealing directly with readers. And, the implications of transforming our businesses to be user-focused are huge.
A defining factor of a “digital revolution” as it moves into a population’s consciousness is that movement, itself. Digitization starts with the people — with their interest in it, its capabilities, its accessibility to them, its offer of good times on their devices.
But, let’s take a quick look around. In terms of the reader experience, we’re basically giving everything away.
Digitization is not handed down to consumers by a music industry or a news industry or, now, a books industry. In fact, those industries find themselves trying to keep up with their users.
While publishers create content, we almost always hand it off to others to deal with everything that could have an impact on the user experience of our products: we tend to rely on vendors for the actual code for our digital products, retailers define the sales experience, device providers rule the reading experience, third parties handle discovery (with the array of new-ish discovery services that seem to be popping up like weeds), retailers take on the majority of our customer service, bloggers do our PR.
- Do we really think that our partners don’t understand what they’ve reduced us to?
- Do we really think that the Seattle giant is not laughing all the way to the bank as they dictate from on high and we acquiesce with little protest to their every whim?
- Do we really believe that letting other people handle the majority of decisions that affect the user experience of our products is a worthwhile way to run a business?
This is one way the stance of publishers today is structuring the public’s expectations of the self-published community’s work.
When a Big Six publisher says they see no benefit to improving direct customer interaction though things like direct-to-consumer sales, what they are really saying is that they are fine with giving everything away.
- That they have no intention of ever creating user-focused products.
- That they don’t want a larger piece of the pie.
- That they willing accept the path of ignorance in regards to readers.
- That making better products and, along with it, making more money is not part of their plan.
Sandusky worries that publishers can’t regain a relationship with reader-customers. And that, of course, is an opening that will be exploited fastest by authors and independent publishers whose focus is on the user.
I spent a day this week at BEA. I did my first BEA about 10 years ago. This one wasn’t much different. I was walking the aisles with my business partner at Cool Gus, Jen Talty, and I told her: “Half these people are going to be looking for jobs in three years.”
Author Bob Mayer has re-issued much of his large backlist of titles — originally published traditionally — in digital editions. In the process, he’s created his own company, Cool Gus Publishing, to handle his own and other writers’ books.
I’ve dealt with most of the Big Six as an author. Not once, in 20 years, did anyone from there say to me this key phrase that I have now heard from Amazon KDP, Amazon 47North, Kobo, Audible and PubIt: “How can we help you sell more books?”
Rarely without a bitter comment for his experiences with major publishers in New York — something I’ve seen Mayer work to moderate over time — in DOJ, Authors Guild, BEA, and Hypocritical Authors Backing Up Words With Action, there’s a new element of hope.
Here’s another thing I notice about Amazon, Audible, Kobo and PubIt: Their reps seem to be having fun. They’re smiling, younger, and very focused on the bottom line of selling books. They want to try new things and they want to try them with author participation.
The reps from these companies are also honest. Listening to the Audible presentation, it was very up front: Will we help you in marketing your book? The answer: Not really. Not unless you’re really selling well. It’s your job as the author to get those numbers.
Russo was at BEA’s American Booksellers Association’s gathering to reprise the drubbing he gave Seattle during his onstage interview at the paidContent 2012 conference a couple of weeks earlier.
“Book publishers have been timid. What they need to do more than anything else is to find a spine. Like most bullies, Amazon will back down. You have to stand up.”
Mayer has a comeback for that:
I’m sick of the top 5% of authors who get coddled by publishers defending a business that treats its other 95% of authors as replaceable parts that they can easily toss on the garbage pile and replace. You show me a traditional author defending legacy publishing whose contract doesn’t get renewed, and I’ll show you an author whose tune changes very fast.
You don’t get a lot of happy talk out of Mayer. But you do get an echo of Sandusky’s call for that reader-centric adjustment to digital reality.
Publishers, agents, editors, bookstores, here’s something you basically need to wrap your brain around: the physical book you hold so dear is NOT the product you are selling. The story that writers create is the product. That story can be bought by the consumer in the physical form of a book, but it can also be bought digitally to be read or listened to. And the latter is going to become dominant sooner, rather than later.
And his meetings must have gone well. Because Mayer closes by conceding there could be light at the end of the tunnel, thanks to his dealings with these new companies:
Yes, I might even be getting less cynical about publishing, because it’s a very new world out there.
I turned 65 during BEA. People older than I am are getting harder to find at industry events.
Although other retailers stock books more than they used to, there are nowhere near the number of opportunities for publishers to talk to customers that there were even in 2009. But publishers are that much more interested in talking to any source of shelf space that they can and, in fact, non-book retailers often aren’t hit by the field sales forces.
And Shatzkin staged — with Michael Cader and Jess Johns — one of the best-organized, most efficiently delivered, and internationally aware conferences I’ve covered in publishing yet.
As I mentioned Publishers Launch BEA in last week’s Ether, I want to offer you this time the five presentations that #LaunchBEA has made available to everyone.
I recommend, you shoot through all these sets of slides if you can. If you’re short on time, consider taking a good look at the third one — Kelly Gallagher’s latest “eBooks Go Global” deck from Bowker.
The Bowker material — like Gallagher’s personable, deft delivery of it — has become among the most valuable parts of a Shatzkin conference. Gallagher was on-hand at the Digital Book World Conference in January.
Here, he brought forward new comparative material from Bowker’s Global eBook Monitor program on the maturing digital markets (the United States and United Kingdom) and a “rest of the world” study of how quickly 10 nations’ markets are catching up.
In the US, the number of book buyers who purchased an ebook between April 2011 and April 2012 grew 10 percent.
In our next section, I’ll list for you a series of upcoming conferences, which includes more stagings of Publishers Launch events.
With F+W Media and Tools of Change developing new conference programming, the outlook for major confabs is enriched this year. National and international events are being scheduled at a more nearly year-’round pace.
I’ll be adding to the Ether’s listing as we go along.
June 21-22 Milan: Editech in cooperation with Tools of Change – “Book publishing today is a market where digital and traditional coexist, where borders and frontiers blur and at the same time defy each other. It is a world where the roles of readers, publishers, authors, distributors refuse to be rigidly defined.”
July 26 NYC: Publishers Launch: Book Publishing in the Cloud – “A new summer conference about the benefits and opportunities afforded to publishers by cloud-based services and software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions.”
September 24-25 NYC: DBW Discoverability and Marketing 2012 (hashtag #DBWDM) – “Publishers and content developers: To successfully market a new novel, author, brand or app, you need to put your message where your readers live, work, and play: online.” (Use code PORTER to save on registration.)
October 8 Frankfurt: Publishers Launch Frankfurt – details to come.
October 9 Frankfurt: Tools of Change Frankfurt Conference – “Tools of Change Frankfurt returns for a fourth year on Tuesday, 9 October 2012 — the eve of the Frankfurt Book Fair (10-14 October) — gathering the best and brightest in our global publishing and technology community for a full day of intriguing keynotes, sessions, and networking.”
October 17-19 Hollywood: StoryWorld Conference + Expo (hashtag #SWC12) – “Learn to build your story into an exciting transmedia storytelling experience—and meet the partners who can make your dream a reality.” (Use code PORTER to save on registration.)
October 19-21 Hollywood: Writer’s Digest Conference West (hashtag #WDCW12) – “For the first time ever, Writer’s Digest Conference brings its real-world publishing knowledge, writing inspiration and networking opportunities to a West Coast audience in 2012. Join us in Hollywood to find out how publishing and tech developments affect writers, how you can make your work and your pitch irresistible, and what you can do to get going, get discovered, and get published. ” (Use code PORTER to save on registration.)
October 19-21 Hollywood: Screenwriters World Conference (hashtag #Screen12) – “Whether you’re a newbie or seasoned pro, you’ll find an educational track at Screenwriters World that covers what you want to know about writing, marketing and selling your feature, TV or web script.” (Use code PORTER to save on registration.)
October 20 Vancouver: Mini TOC Vancouver – “At Mini TOC, the presentations are just the jumping off point for discussions that involve everyone in attendance. We mix up the format so there will be some “thinky” idea-oriented sessions where presenters will lead discussions post-preso — and some “do-y” technical Q+As, where attendees can ask the experts on things like digital conversion, layout, and UX. It’s BookCamp, meets unconference, meets TOC.
October 22 Hollywood: Publishers Launch Hollywood: Film/TV-to-Book – “Books derived from film and TV properties have always found a vibrant market, and the burgeoning ebook marketplace presents a new and vastly expanded set of opportunities: publishing on a much larger scale, without inventory costs, and publishing without a far larger set of potential partners/service providers, or even publishing directly.”
November 7 Charleston: Mini TOC Charleston: The Age of Curation – “O’Reilly Media’s Tools of Change and BiblioLabs in cooperation with The Charleston Conference presents Mini TOC Charleston, a one day event of conversation focusing on the thriving publishing, tech, and bookish-arts community.”
One of the more intriguing areas of that expansion was the addition of automakers to Siri’s roster of partners. Apple announced that Audi, BMW, Chrysler, GM, Honda, Land Rover/Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz and Toyota would all have “Eyes Free” buttons in their cockpits starting in the next 12 months or so.
One of the slides from Bowker that I saw at BEA was that for individuals who have adopted a tablet, the number one thing that activities on the tablet have replaced is reading. Tablet adoption is on the rise and by 2015, tablet sales will exceed the number of PCs currently sold. Why is this troublesome for the book market? Because the biggest threat to publishing isn’t Amazon. It’s Angry Birds.
Jane Litte of Dear Author takes the entire libraries-publishers ebooks standoff out from under the green lampshades and into the light of day to make a clear point:
Publishing, whether it is traditional publishers, self publishers, digital first publishers, needs to invest in early reading for two reasons.
- First, early readers become paying adult readers.
- Second, early readers become adept adult writers.
Both readers and writers are needed for a healthy publishing ecosystem and investment in fostering the love of reading and writing is vital. There is no better place to do this than by investing in libraries.
Litte points out that Bowker’s work can help ease publishers’ fears that ebook lending will cut into sales:
Nearly a fifth of all patrons use the library to discover near content, a quarter purchased a book they discovered at a library and a quarter bought a book by an author they had discovered through the library.
More than a third of power patrons use the library to discover new content, nearly 40% purchased a book they discovered and nearly two thirds bought a book by an author discovered through the library.
For every two books they borrow, power patrons buy one. And, maybe most surprising, nearly two thirds of power patrons buy books that they had previously borrowed at the library.
Available data, Litte writes, may be relatively new, but it indicates that “lending increases sales rather than diminishing them.”
In order to defeat Angry Bird addictions, publishers must invest in the early reader and the early writer, in the nascent point of the publishing ecosystem. With digital library lending, publishers must follow the Nike directive. Just Do It.
How many times has someone proclaimed that reading has been reinvented by product X or platform Y? Too many to count, I’m sure. So what makes things different this time? That’s up to you to decide, of course, but I believe the approach Semi-Linear is taking with their Citia iPad app is game-changing.
That headline is Reading Reinvented. And it’s our good friend and colleague at O’Reilly Media Joe Wikert who is headed out on that “game-changer” limb to welcome Citia, which Semi-Linear CEO Linda Holliday introduced at Publishers Launch BEA.
I confess I’m not as bowled over by Citia as Wikert and others are. It’s a sophisticated form of Cliff’s Notes, really. A nonfiction book is deconstructed to reveal its themes and details. And then it’s reconstituted in a highly searchable format in the app.
Wikert’s term for this is “layered content”:
An important attribute of layered content is that the reader can quickly dip in and out of it, only drilling down as deep as they want. Even though they’d both be utilizing the same content base, two different people with two different needs could easily accomplish their reading objectives by only accessing the depths they prefer.
It’s important to note that in the video of Holliday’s introduction at All Things D, she says clearly that fiction is not being Citia-fied.
And Mike Shatzkin wrote up Citia ahead of #LaunchBEA, in “Citia” apps from Semi-Linear; a whole new way to present high-concept non-fiction. Like Wikert, Shatzkin is very high on the concept and on Holliday’s leadership. In his own compelling write, Shatzkin says:
Linda saw (an) opportunity both to fill a need and to build a business. Her objective is nothing less than to reinvent what I call “high-concept non-fiction”: books of ideas where the concepts are more important than the author’s prose.
And as much as I admire Shatzkin and Wikert — and as easily as I can see the apparent rationale of Holliday’s approach — I worry that this tack can seem to say, “Let’s get all that pesky writing out of the way and knock this thing down to the bare essentials.”
I fear, in fact, that this is what a lot of literature people, even in nonfiction, will feel when they read a phrase from Shatzkin like “the concepts are more important than the author’s prose.” Intellectually, especially if you know what a committed books man Shatzkin is, you get it. But something doesn’t quite feel right, at least initially, in the idea of deliberately stripping out the writerly work of the author.
In fact, it’s not a surprise that Kevin Kelly, whom we all respect, is working with Citia. His highly regarded book, What Technology Wants, he told us at TOC 2011, is “the last paper book I’m going to publish.” And now, it’s the inaugural book in the Citia display.
The press release describes the Citia process this way:
Using professional writers, editors, and designers, Citia reorganizes and condenses popular business/technology titles into a series of ideas and presents them to readers in a virtual index card-based system. The ‘idea cards’ for each book live in a 3D interface that allows readers to dive straight into the ideas that most interest them, discover and explore new concepts, and share beautifully designed excerpts with everyone in their social graph.
I haven’t seen Citia in action, myself, although I did see Holliday present it, very capably, at #LaunchBEA. I encourage you to read Wikert’s column, watch the video, see what you think.
Certainly, we all have more to read than we have time to read it. But is the answer really reducing nonfiction literature to piles of facts? If it is, this does look like an original way to do it.
The British sense of personal privacy is very different from the American one. Asking someone’s name, even implicitly by offering yours, is a premature violation of that privacy until some goodwill has already been established between you.
M. Lynne Murphy of the University of Sussex writes the “Separated by a Common Language” column as “Lynneguist.”
And should you be working as an American with British characters or as a British writer with American characters, you may find this a helpful bit of insight.
Murphy turns to Kate Fox’s Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour and another work, Passport to the Pub:
The British quite frankly do not want to know your name, or shake your hand – or at least not until a proper degree of mutual interest has been well established (like maybe when you marry their daughter).
It’s a fun read that includes a study’s comparison of how English, American, and Irish teenagers at parties generally handle meeting each other. The Irish, Murphy tells us, appreciate an “approach” in addition to a greeting. Something along the lines of, “Great party, isn’t it?”
There, you see? on this side of the pond, we call that a line.
Using a thesaurus does not make you a dinosaur.
Another Brit heard from, Roz Morris wants you to know it’s just fine to use your thesaurus, despite all those times you’ve been told it’s not cool.
I use the thesaurus all the time when editing, to remind me that more precise, more exciting options exist than the first word I thought of. I also use poetry, to encourage me to reach beyond the literal. (That might suit your genre, it might not. But Roget suits everyone’s.)
If you’re worried that the thesaurus will get you mired in “fancy” words, Morris reminds us that it has ordinary words as well as the more esoteric entries.
And she adds:
If you’re staring down an unbearable repetition and your mind is blank, where else are you going to find a better option?
Surrounded as we are by inspi-vational bloggers who want you all knotted up and unable to face your keyboard without their little daily prompt or goose or guilt trip, it’s good to hear the ever-irreverent Chuck Wendig get down to business and offer up the keys to the kingdom.
My secret is long-kept. It’s a brash, brassy alchemical recipe that, frankly, most writers simply cannot replicate. Its hoary, frothy reagents are direly specific, pointing the way toward forgotten and forbidden penmonkey magicks-with-a-k-and-made-plural. And yet, I’ve been sitting on this too long.
After drumrolling along like this for a bit, Wendig does, finally, toss you the goods in The Secret to Writing, both in text and in a lively graphic for your refrigerator door.
Agents love all their books—or one hopes they do. You might say they treat them as parents do children, loving each in their own way, trying not to play favorites, lauding one for being good at football, another at poetry, another at being funny or asking good questions.
Jason Allen Ashlock, chief of Movable Type Management, illustrates how well — and how generously — many agents can write. His post is titled after a Publishers Weekly review (so this isn’t entirely his own rightfully biased rave): A piquant mix of travelogue and culinary adventure.
Today I’m thinking a lot about one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever had the pleasure of being close to, Salma Abdelnour’s Jasmine and Fire: A Bittersweet Year in Beirut. It’s out this week from Broadway Books.
Then, just last week, there was Laura Hazard Owen of paidContent, ably moderating a panel titled Agents in Transition: Direct Publishing, New Deals, and Rethinking Sub-Rights at #LaunchBEA, the Publishers Launch conference at the trade show.
Owen — who soon would be embroiled in her coverage of the State Department’s request for a proposal from Amazon — heard agents at BEA tell us about the new attention required to metrics and the widening breadth of their work, what agent Jennifer Weltz described as becoming “our authors’ advocates in everything they have to tackle to survive this market.”
The strain is clear on the author side, as well: Victoria Noi — from our first section in today’s Ether — writes, “I’d love to have an agent. Not because I want a traditional deal, but because I want someone who knows more about this crazy business than I do.”
With the industry in such upheaval, with the needs of agents as well as authors shifting so rapidly and unpredictably, of course agents need to be worried. Not panicked. But worried, observant, proactive, watchful. Everybody has to be. This is severe flux and it’s not entirely safe, when major elements of a business are unhinged by new developments.
Salma’s a gifted travel and food writer, previously the restaurant critic for Time Out, the travel editor at Food & Wine, the food editor at Oprah Mag. So it’s a given that she can write about the food and wine and world of Lebanon, the shish taouk smelling lusciously of lemon and garlic, the small triangular pies called fatayer, stuffed with spinach and onion and spiced with sumac, the little bakeries that smell of hot butter, the texture of chocolate meringue pastries called succes.
But Ashlock wants to tell us that this book has more to do with living than eating.
Salma’s book is an exploration into the meaning of home, a kind of thought experiment: having left Beiruit when she was a young child and the country was fighting a civil war, and having spent every day and year since then wondering who she would be and what life would be like if she had not been forced to leave, Salma traveled back to Beirut to find out if it still had a place for her. And this book is a journal of that journey, a discourse on the idea of returning home.
And then Ashlock hands off to Abdelnour:
Walking out the gate and along the winding street that runs up the hill, I stroll by houses next door, some lived in now and some falling apart for years, their arched windows smashed, the stone partly eaten away, or bombed, or just decayed. Along that street, the smell of jasmine follows me from a neighbor’s garden, the bushes pushing over into the street, the way they do here in this country, the jasmine delicate but fighting for its space in the air. Can I make a home in the country, a place like this?
I suggest we all stop asking agents if they’re freaking out, if they’re going to pull through this crisis, if they’re retraining yet for lawn care and dry cleaning.
Accused by some of being the cruelest of gatekeepers, an awful lot of them, in fact, know very well the advocacy Weltz describes, the diligence Gardner brings to her desk, the abiding interest Bransford maintains in his former colleagues’ welfare — and the eloquence that Ashlock brings to bear on a client’s special work.
To turn off the fears, the confusions, the struggles, the demanding panels and morphing contracts long enough to write and support an artist this way? This takes spirit, and professionalism. It takes an agent who knows his author.
Abdelnour might have been writing about today’s agents working to think clearly through it all:
A dream to have long quiet stretches like this, walking and sitting and working in a garden, and blocking out the rest of the world.
Main image: iStockphoto / StephenMeese
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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.