WRITING ON THE ETHER: Silly Season

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, The Prodigal Hour


The Prodigal Hour by Will EntrekinThe Prodigal Hour by Will Entrekin

Six weeks after escaping the 9/11 attacks in New York City, Chance Sowin moves back home, hoping for familiarity and security. Instead, he interrupts a burglary and his father is killed.

“Audacious, genre-bending … a thrilling head-rush of a book.” Elizabeth Eslami

Find out more on Amazon and download a sample to your Kindle.


Table of Contents

  1. Amazon: They Still Think It’s a Bookseller
  2. Modern Prose: Bransford, Self-Stripped
  3. Creativity: Pettigrew Says Commoditize This
  4. DRM Doldrums: Smart’s Alleged ‘Magic’
  5. More on DRM: Sandusky Shares His
  6. Boys Reading: Norton Knows
  7. Craft: Pressfield’s ‘Turning Pro’ – Penn
  8. Craft: Pressfield’s ‘Turning Pro’ – Anderson
  9. Craft: Four entries, quickly
  10. Books: Reading on the Ether
  11. Last gas: What Agents Are Not Doing

Special note: Writing on the Ether now can be followed not only here at JaneFriedman.com (free) but via RSS at the Publishers Marketplace’s Publishers Lunch Automat, in the section, ePublishing and the Future. (A subscription is required for Publishers Marketplace and its many services — easily worth the cost.) The @PublishersLunch industry news service is led by Michael Cader and Sarah Weinman.


Amazon: They Still Think It’s a Bookseller

Every year Jeff Bezos does a stint as a customer-service representative, himself, dreading the “excruciating” calls that are left because defect reduction has eliminated the easy ones.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, Nick Earls

Jeff Bezos

The Financial Times’ major series on Amazon this week includes this anecdote in a story headlined The Bezos doctrine of ruthless pragmatism. And inevitably, there might be industry people who wonder which of our publishing CEOs is likely to get into the call center and make one-on-one contact with readers who are calling in with problems.

Well, you might wonder that until you remember that few of our publishing CEOs have had contact with readers, and especially not in customer-service settings.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, Nick Earls

Barney Jopson

Traditional publishing’s “customers” have been distributors and retailers, not readers, for the most part.

“I have an experienced customer service rep sitting next to me helping me because otherwise I would probably give really bad service,” Bezos said.

“It’s not that easy.”

No. It’s not that easy.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, Nick Earls

Brian O’Leary

And as Brian O’Leary wrote earlier this week in two blog posts, Commercial Plumbing and Algo Trading, lead writer Barney Jopson’s series is positioning Amazon much as Eric Hellman did in April.

We covered Hellman’s commentary then on the Ether.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, Nick Earls

Eric Hellman

His well-argued point, now borne out by others’ work,  is that Amazon is “fundamentally a company about scale” and about infrastructure, not about books per se.

“The publishing echo chamber is tragically unaware of how Amazon works.”

Jopson, this week’s series writer, is based for the FT in New York.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, Nick Earls

Sam Missingham

He joined journalist Philip Jones and TheFutureBook’s Sam Missingham Wednesday for their fortnightly online Radio Litopia show originating from the UK, The Naked Book.

“I thought you’d be American,” Missingham said to Jopson before the show started.

“No, no, I’m a Brit,” Jopson told her with a laugh from New York.

The recording of the show now is ready for you, The Great Amazon Debate, with a foreword by Jones: It all started in Bezos’ garage in 1994.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, Nick Earls

Philip Jones

And when asked by Jones to start the discussion, the FT’s Jopson was perfectly clear:

Whereas the company is still thought of as being an online retailer, it’s actually shifting away from that and toward becoming an infrastructure services company. It’s allowing other companies to take space on its website, it’s allowing other companies to use its warehouses, it’s allowing other companies to use its service. So as much as being a front-end store in its own right, it’s also a back-office service provider to other companies.

Now, some 39 percent of all things sold from the Amazon website come from these third-party suppliers. And that was about 33 percent a year ago.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, Nick Earls

Sheila Bounford

UK-based publishing consultant Sheila Bounford, in fact, spoke well to the gulf in understanding. She put it this way:

Amazon are a company that really understand technology and one reason there’s so much distance between Amazon and publishing is that we’re not a tech community and we don’t understand the foundations that modern businesses are built on.

When Jones asked Bounford if it’s not legitimate for other companies (and authors) to “piggyback” on Amazon’s technical power to do business, Bounford agreed that many are doing that and certainly must.

But I don’t think that’s an excuse to be ignorant of the whole technological climate and terms it’s happening in.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, Nick Earls

Dennis Johnson

Rob Nichols of independent UK publishers Constable & Robinson spoke highly of Amazon’s expansion of the market and their business in his company’s relationship with it. While Dennis Johnson of independent publisher Melville House was on the show from the States as something of a counterweight, having made himself a visible and outspoken critic of Amazon.

Johnson:

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, The Prodigal HourOne of the most devastating things that Amazon has contributed to the world is a devaluation of the book, of what a book is…denuded of its history as a revolutionary tool…a thing that should be a lot cheaper. It has a kind of set cheapness, it should be $9.99 except when it’s $1.99. That’s the worst thing I think it’s done to the culture.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, The Prodigal HourIn outlining and developing a widening picture of Amazon over the week’s FT series, Jopson has included the ironic point that Amazon can be seen as having to catch up in digital media.

In Amazon plays catch-up in digital media, Jopson writes with his colleague Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson:

Its ebook dominance has shown the ecommerce pioneer’s ability to upend industries around it even as it reinvents its own business…But while Amazon has transformed reading, bookselling and publishing, the ebooks innovator “is now a follower of others” in music and video.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, Nick Earls

James Bridle

The FT series on “The Amazon Economy” and the Naked Book show are well worth your attention this weekend, if you can find some time to spend with them, as is a specially illustrated piece from James Bridle, From books to infrastructure, with unique graphs and charting created by the design magazine Domus.

Writes Bridle:

The disparity between Amazon’s vision of the future of books and that of the traditional industry cannot be overstated…The open secret about Amazon is that it’s not a book company, or a retail company, or an Internet company; it’s an infrastructure company. Its warehousing and distribution services outstrip most other retailers, and in many nations, particularly in Europe, their warehouses are the largest in the country.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, Nick Earls

Domus’ key image, Simone Trotti’s infographic, an Amazon time-wheel

At times in news coverage, you’ll hear someone refer to a “silly season.” In general, it refers to the latter part of summer. Legislative bodies and other newsmakers go on holiday, the news cycle may ease a bit. And suddenly major stories seem hard to find.

I urge you to use this silly season. We all need to do some wising up.

This is a good moment in publishing to take advantage of these recently produced resources — from the FT and O’Leary’s posts to TheFutureBook’s show and Bridle’s elegantly parsed recounting of Amazon’s transformation, which has taken place all around publishing, without publishing catching on.

As Bounford says, we didn’t understand tech well. And now, we must.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, Nick Earls

Domus’ Simone Trotti here indicates locations of Amazon’s world facilities

And as Bridle notes:

If the Kindle restricts most of its users to content approved by Amazon — and it does — and if it walls up the reading experience and claims ownership over our highlights and bookmarks — and it does that too — is that forgivable in return for apparent access to all books, now, right now, forever? To what extent are we prepared to have our cultural experiences mediated or even controlled by technology? The answer, it increasingly appears, is quite a lot, and the Kindle, for better or worse, is the tool we have chosen to negotiate for us.

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Modern Prose: Bransford, Self-Stripped

But now the freedom of self-publishing will allow people with a non-mainstream vision to have their work out there, too. Books won’t have to be readable in order to find their audience.

Nathan Bransford, Are We Stripping Modern Books Bare?

Welcome to the bottom of the summer. Much like the bottom of the garden. Only instead of “faeries” with glistening wings and DRM-free Celtic music, the place is infested with pundits.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, Nick Earls

Nathan Bransford

Heat stroke may come into play here, too. But of course our good colleague Bransford is in California. Where we like to keep our vineyards and techies cool.

Bransford is an author whose third MG book in his Jacob Wonderbar series comes out next March. He’s also at CNET. Social media manager. You know what too much social media can do to a guy. Oh, that’s right, we don’t yet know what too much social media can do to a guy.

I’ll be the first to let you know.

Look, these things occur when any great people, like The People of Publishing, so totally trample the grapes of their own wrath that nobody wants to touch the stuff. So I thought we’d enjoy together — gently, and we’re laughing with you, not at you, Nathan — one such moment this week.

Then we can return to chewing each other’s legs off. The industry! the industry!

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, Nick EarlsIn his case, Brother Bransford was barreling along in a goodly way. He’d opened by answering an inquiry from a reader, Master Drew Turney, who wanted to know whether our drive to keep “moving the plot forward at all costs” was “purely modern” and “for the best?” (Clearly, young Turney has yet to read the Ether, where we thumb our noses at brevity and prevent drownings only by means of our trusty Table of Contents.)

Bransford told Turney that yes, this “keep moving” thing is both contemporary and positive, in literature. Aside from a gratuitous swipe at poor Proust’s “tangled mess of digressions, false starts, and drudgery,” Bransford did a find job of explaining that today’s bid for easy reads doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

Does consuming good literature really have to be wholly difficult? Stripping away the unessential is, I would argue, both a product of how books are now written (it’s way easier to strip¹ when you’re writing on a computer or typewriter than when you’re writing by hand), but also because it makes the books better. The modern era has proven that books can be both great and readable.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, Nick Earls¹In retrospect, we probably should have worried when Nathan got to that bit about “it’s way easier to strip when you’re writing on a computer.”  But you know, it’s the summer, he lives close to the water, we’re all moderns now, it’s California, you know how they are.

Along the way, in fact, Bransford does a nice turn on Moby-Dick (it’s free on Kindle at that link), explaining that it’s his favorite book “precisely because of its scope and its digressions and the sheer insanity of its vision.” More ¹stripping:

Moby-Dick ¹stripped down just to the plot would be about a hundred pages of a crazy captain chasing a white whale. But it’s so much more than that. In Moby-Dick, the unessential is the essential.

Essentially, Bransford has ¹stripped himself into a corner. He has hoisted the California Doctrine: literary work is just too hard to read, dude — we have destination sitcom-viewing to juggle. And to ensure peace in the valley (not that Valley), he tries to put forward the hypothesis that self-publishing ensures “that books that are quirky and strange and digressive will also be out there too.” Such as Moby-D.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, Nick EarlsSo we have here, at bottom (again), the peacemaker’s effort to say that yes, once upon a time, writing something more difficult than one-paragraph-during-the-commercials was appropriate. But “modern” tastes demand now that we strut a less encumbered verbiage on publishing’s stage.

Ever seen a guy fall up stairs? That’s how Bransford, for all the right reasons, ends up intoning:

Books won’t have to be readable in order to find their audience.

And it’s in his last line that we catch the conscience of this king of boy books. You get it, like the flow of Sweet Afton, a wistful note faint but glowing at the bottom (again) of his own digression:

Maybe digressions will make a comeback.

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Creativity: Pettigrew Says Commoditize This

Why do the demagogues think that saying “content is a commodity” spells doom for traditional publishing houses?

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, Nick Earls

John Pettigrew

This is John Pettigrew, who has had it up to here with this “content is a commodity” business.

They mean that content has somehow become trade-able in exactly the same way as bananas or salt or gold. For this to be true, one bit of content must be just like any other bit of content – there’s no difference between J.K. Rowling and Jane Austen, between the Huffington Post and The Times, between YouTube and Warner Bros.

It’s at TheFutureBook you can find Pettigrew venting his frustration in his cleanly headlined Content is not a commodity.

 My thanks to #author-#publisher @WillEntrekin and @ExcitingPress for an ongoing #Ether sponsorship at @JaneFriedman.com! http://ow.ly/c2He5People who bleat that content is being commoditized! in the dance-digital these days, he’s saying, just need to stop being alarmists.

The implication of “content is a commodity” is that this is something new, something that’s changed because of the Internet and digital technology generally. And, of course, the business of publishing is precisely and always about the buying and selling of content. So, if “content is a commodity” in this sense then this is actually something that publishing has always known and embraced rather than being something new that threatens us.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, The Prodigal HourIn case you’re about to ask which one he crawled out from under, Pettigrew is the digital strategic development manager for international education at Cambridge University Press. That one.

On the digital revolution:

We need to respond to it, to embrace it and to make the changes required to grow with it. But we won’t and needn’t be destroyed by it. The true challenge to the industry is not avoiding content (because it should somehow be free) but focusing on content and working out how to specialize and differentiate it.

That’s an uptown way to say stop being so silly.

Next time that someone tells us that “content is a commodity” and that publishing is consequently a moribund industry, let’s assert that publishers actually have exactly the same role they always have had – of getting quality content to customers.

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DRM Doldrums: Smart’s Alleged ‘Magic’

All the resistance to any kind of copyright reform, and insistence on DRM, makes publishers appear like whining children.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, Nick Earls

Rebecca Smart / Osprey Group

Nothing silly about that. Rebecca Smart is right. She’s CEO of Osprey Group (publishing illustrated military history). And in explaining her company’s non-DRM product stance, she gets off a resonant point:

The world does not owe the publishing industry a living and we need to prove that we add value.

These statements and, presumably, Osprey’s non-DRM posture, have won Smart some rightful applause for her article, Bring Back the Magic at ORGzine, an online magazine focusing on digital rights issues.

As she puts together her thoughts, Smart skirts one area of silliness — not just hers alone but several companies’ — we see at times these days.

We have recently announced the launch of an Osprey DRM-free series of ebooks, but in fact all of Osprey’s military history books are sold DRM-free on our website already, in both PDF and ePub format.

Like that tennis ball Serena Williams sent whizzing past her sister Venus’ ear in doubles at Wimbledon, you’re just getting a slight breeze off several publishers’ tendencies to strut their DRM stuff to a mildly tiring degree. She’s telling you that they’ve been DRM-free but they’re announcing it as if it’s…new. Hm.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, Nick Earls

Will Fowler’s “Allies at Dieppe” launched Osprey Digital’s new line in June

Decisions like Osprey’s, not to use DRM, have landed them now on the side of the angels. They’re to be congratulated, sure. But too much capitalization on this turn of events by a publisher reminds me of a punch line Brian O’Leary sent me in a tweet, postulating a pitch for print books: “DRM-free since Gutenberg!”

What Smart has pointed out is that non-DRM-inence! is a fashionable selling point these days. And, yeah, there are much worse problems than having to hear “We’re DRM-free!” every time certain publishers reboot their computers.

But Smart also seems to have spent quite a bit of time with the Letter to Emily White at NPR All Things Considered business in which younger music consumers’ habits of collecting music without paying for it gave us a whole lot of hand-wringing. A whole lot of comments, too — they’re stacked up 536 deep, as I write this.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, Nick Earls

Paul Resnikoff

Never mind this week’s piece from Digital Music News, in which Paul Resnikoff and a new report from Rutgers assert “It’s Actually Impossible to Run a Fully Legal Music Service…” Here’s one line:

Even Spotify, arguably the most promising legitimate service in years, looks more like a subprime mortgage variant than a defensible business model.

Back to Smart’s smart post. She’s quoting one Rachelle Drew Cox, who has written to NPR in an “Emily White letter” comment, saying that she “played the shit” out of an album she bought herself because (this is commenter Cox:) “There was something magical about music ownership that I lost a few years after that.”

Smart then goes on to quote Cox’s weepy kicker — “I want the magic back.”

In the special community of “Emily White” respondents, this “literally brought tear (sic) to my eyes” boohoos another commenter, yujeanscene, who responds, in turn to Cox wanting her magic back.

Damp, huh?

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, The Prodigal Hour#cmonson. We’re getting past the facts of the industry’s need to drop DRM. We’re easing down into a lovely summer evening’s bubble bath of sentiment. Not for nothing do the Greeks give us the word bathos.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s plenty right about Smart’s post. Nobody’s happier than I am to read her talking about the industry! the industry! whining about this and looking childish.

But bringing back “the magic” of non-DRM creative content ownership?

  • So Kindle owners are sobbing over their screens because they don’t really own the books on their Kindles? They only lease them, you know, and they’re stuck with the Kindle format, too. Do they enjoy those books any less? Do they not “read the shit” out of them, anyway?
  • And are we to assume, then, that Rachelle Drew Cox hasn’t “played the shit” out of her pirated music, too?  Or that maybe she and half-a-thousand others didn’t get a little emotional in responding to NPR’s smack-down of IP theft?
  • Can we really say that creative work itself isn’t the source of the magic? — that  DRM-free ownership is what we love?

So when you sit in the great cathedral at Bath, the Abbey, and the sweet force of an evensong all but knocks you into the Avon just outside, that “magic” is because you’re hearing it DRM-free?

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, Nick EarlsAnd when you buy your hardback copy of Joan Didion’s The Last Thing He Wanted and feel covert warfare in the Caribbean slide like an ice cube down your back, that “magic” is because you owned that hardback?

I’m laboring to make it clear that I respect Smart. All I’m suggesting is that we’re getting into some emotional overstatement here. It’s a very hot summer:

We, as publishers, have an opportunity, even a duty, to bring back the magic.

Nah, we just need to keep backing down this DRM thing.

Tears and reveries, in fact, obscure such market mistakes as DRM. You can bet a lot of people would say they’ve protected “the magic” against illegal use and sale with DRM. Which is wrong, too.

In difficult times, under industry-wide and personal strain, we all overstate. And when we do — just as when we whine, Smart is right — we sound…silly.

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More on DRM: Sandusky Shares His

eBook DRM is not only undesirable for digital products, it denies users a fundamental function of a book: sharing.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, Nick Earls

Brett Sandusky

Mercifully without asking for his magic back, Brett Sandusky gets the basics out of the way fast:

Clearly a reader cannot (easily) share an eBook that is “protected” by DRM. And publishers like to “protect” their content so that they can make dat money rather than have their content just given away and shared around. (Cf. Piracy myth)

Then he jumps onto a new pony:

In denying (readers) the opportunity to show off their collection and share recommendations with others, publishers are denying a central role of the literary arts.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, Nick EarlsAfter handing over his copies of Murakami and Anne Carson in On Sharing or Why DRM is fundamentally opposed to the book experience, he gets to the pivotal question:

Why did I offer Claire this somewhat esoteric book by a lesser known Canadian poet?

The answer:

Sharing a recommendation is not about “getting away with free books,” it’s about identity.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, Nick EarlsDon’t get lost:

The point here is that sharing is not about free stuff. It’s about identity and relationships and understanding and subconscious decisions and view points about other people.

And in the UX-y context of Sandusky’s world view (UX being user experience, you’ll remember):

Sharing is not a nice to have. It is a user need. It is a requirement. It is a fundamental, profound, and essential piece of a book’s raison d’être.

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Boys Reading: Norton Knows

To me, reading was hard and I was embarrassed that I wasn’t very good at it. I learned quickly that, like sports, if reading wasn’t something I could win at then it was best avoided.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, Nick Earls

Jeff Norton

Hardly an unfamiliar situation for many men. Generally, as youths, they’re assumed to be full of puppy dog tails and cussedness. It’s assumed that’s why they don’t read.

In his article, Winning the reading war, at TheBookSeller, Jeff Norton, in fact, reveals that he had an unusual advantage, a father very much on his side:

At home, my Dad tried to bribe me, offering an allowance based on a nightly page-count. He shared his childhood favourites like The Hardy Boys and the Tom Swift novels in an effort to inspire me through a type of intergenerational book club. I rarely made it past the first chapter of those books. They simply could not compete with the mythology and immersive worlds of the “Star Wars” films or even the “Transformers” television show.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, Nick EarlsTwo experiences intervened to help, Norton writes, both with a kinetic, participatory/interactive element.

First:

The books that caught my attention were thin with bizarre, otherworldly covers commanding me with a message of primary-school empowerment: “Choose Your Own Adventure.” I devoured these books. Suddenly, with short, concise chapters, reading was something I felt I could win at.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, Nick EarlsSecond:

When I moved to Pineland middle school for sixth grade, another type of book captured my imagination, the dystopian novel. This was my second inflection point. The book was called After The Bomb, written by Gloria D Miklowitz…the premise was so ghastly and frightening, that it demanded the reader to answer the fundamental question of dystopian fiction: what would you do?

For starters, I’d shake Miklowitz’s hand for writing a book that could pull guys into reading — in Norton’s case, into writing.

He goes on to say he’s taking all this into consideration in his own forthcoming book, MetaWars: Fight for the Future. (Not Metadata Wars, as I misread the title originally. Silly season.)

I wrote it to read like a videogame; hyper-visual, immersive and addictive. It’s my hope that it’ll become a young, reluctant reader’s inflection point; showing him that books can be for him and that reading is something he can win at.

I’m not sure how you write a book to make it purposely addictive. In fact, I’m hoping Norton will share that secret with me and nobody else. But otherwise, I’m delighted to find someone talking about boys reading and working on an approach. As he writes:

If we can put compelling books that compete with visual media into the hands of reluctant readers, I believe it’s an important first salvo in winning the war for reading.

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Craft: Pressfield’s ‘Turning Pro’ – Penn

This book seriously kicked my ass and I absolutely recommend you read it.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, Nick Earls

Joanna Penn

Joanna Penn’s commentary about Steve Pressfield’s new, self-published book, Turning Pro, hits several important high points. Her piece is headlined Recommended Book For Creatives: Turning Pro By Steven Pressfield.

I’ll add my own #PorterEndorsed to that recommendation without hesitation, and I’m going to follow these excerpts from Penn with some comments of my own.

Among Penn’s “lessons learned” from the book are (with explanatory notes on each). Where you see quotes, she’s quoting a line from Pressfield:

  • “The difference between an amateur and a professional is in their habits. A professional has professional habits.”
  • Distractions and displacement activities are the things that keep us as amateurs…They might also be aspects of life that we have attracted but actually stop us from creating.
  • “When you turn pro, your life gets very simple.”
  • “You and I, who are artists and entrepreneurs, live a life that’s closer to natural … We migrate. We follow the Muse instead of the sun.”
  • “Resistance hates concentration and depth … Resistance wants to keep us shallow and unfocused. So it makes the shallow and superficial intoxicating.”
  • “The amateur continuously rates himself in relation to others, becoming self-inflated if his fortunes rise, and desperately anxious if his star should fall. The amateur craves third-party validation.”
  • When we turn pro, “we now structure our hours not to flee from fear, but to confront it and overcome it. We plan our activities in order to accomplish an aim. And we bring our will to bear so that we stick to this resolution. This changes our days completely.”
  • Turning pro is a decision we make every day.

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Craft: Pressfield’s ‘Turning Pro’ – Anderson

Ambition, I have come to believe, is the most primal and sacred fundament of our being. To feel ambition and to act upon it is to embrace the unique calling of our souls. Not to act upon that ambition is to turn our backs on ourselves and on the reason for our existence.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, Nick Earls

Steven Pressfield

As Joanna Penn makes clear in her commentary above, Steve Pressfield’s 2002 The War of Art — its title turned so beautifully on his art-of-war military history work — is a text that has long bedeviled a lot of us, in a good way. Its introduction of Pressfield’s concept of Resistance, with a capital R, remains one of the clearest explications I’ve ever encountered of how we get in our own way.

And if anything, last year’s Do the Work — which he published through Seth Godin’s Domino Project at Amazon — was a disappointment, a kind of executive summary of The War of Art.

So it’s a relief and an enrichment to find that Turning Pro is an escalation of the War of Art material. Here, Pressfield goes farther, focuses his thoughts far more tightly, and gets off some of his most eloquently refined, singularly masculine statements of his principles yet.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, The Prodigal HourIt’s a joy to think about the maturation of your own creative prowess while reading the luminous example of Pressfield’s own advancement. He and his longtime editor and associate Shawn Coyne have together published this book under their own new independent imprint, Black Irish Entertainment, and have blogged about it extensively at Pressfield’s site.

Speaking of Godin, it’s ironic that one of the most powerful passages in Pressfield’s new, post-Godin-collaboration is found in his comments on “tribe,” a concept Godin relentlessly has promoted. Writes Pressfield:

Here’s the truth: the tribe doesn’t give a shit.

There is no tribe.

Nothing says this is a reference Seth Godin. But Godin’s association with the concept of a “tribe” of supporters is hard to overlook here. So is Godin’s fondness for the idea of permission marketing, when you read this in Pressfield:

The amateur believes that, before she can act, she must receive permission from some Omnipotent Other — a lover or spouse, a parent, a boss, a figure of authority.

But you won’t be hung up on thoughts of Godin while reading this book.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, Nick EarlsPressfield races past Godin’s marketing focus and develops the concept of a “shadow career,” which can serve as a deceptively legitimate-looking preoccupation while actually blocking the actual development of a genuine career.

Sometimes, when we’re terrified of embracing our true calling, we’ll pursue a shadow calling instead. That shadow career is a metaphor for our real career. Its shape is similar, its contours feel tantalizingly the same. But a shadow career entails no real risk. If we fail at a shadow career, the consequences are meaningless to us.

The shadow career, on which Pressfield spends a lot of his new book, is his biggest contribution since Resistance to the experience of a contemporary author, illustrator, designer.

By the end of his new book, Pressfield has introduced the idea of a professional’s work as a practice, a “prescribed regimen with the intention of elevating the mind and the spirit to a higher level.”

A practice implies engagement in a ritual.

And finally:

Becoming a pro, in the end, is nothing grander than showing up.

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Craft: Four entries, quickly

 

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, Nick Earls

Roz Morris

Blogging – should authors go self-hosted or not? Part 1: two bloggers who don’t and Part 2: two bloggers who favour self-hosting from Roz Morris feature bloggers Catherine Ryan Howard, Joanna Penn, and Virginia Quarterly Review’s Jane Friedman, host of the Ether here. Are these two informative posts at the right level for you in terms of where you are in your own Web life? Yes, if the following sentence is something you need to know more about:

Just to confuse you, there’s a version of WordPress for use on self-hosted blogs – WordPress.org.

 


Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, Nick Earls

Danyelle Leafty

In a useful complement to Morris’ posts, Danyelle Leafty gets into QueryTracker’s blog with The Anatomy of a Website. Pay special attention, please, to Leafty’s last section, “A word about design.” Here you’ll find the part that leaves me wanting to shake her hand:

White text on black backgrounds are elegant-looking, but they can be murder on the eyes of your reader. Especially if they are light sensitive or are prone to migraines.

 


Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, Nick Earls

Jenny Bent

It’s not WHO you know, it’s WHAT you write in your query from agent Jenny Bent is the second installment in her series on successful queries. We had the series’ kickoff piece in the last Ether. As Bent puts it:

You don’t need connections to be successful in publishing–just a really good query and manuscript. I’m featuring unsolicited query letters that captured my attention and got multiple offers of representation from different agents.

 


Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, Nick Earls

Rachelle Gardner

Responding — as the Ether did last week — to Alexandra Alter’s article in the Wall Street Journal on data-gathering accomplished through digital reading, agent Rachelle Gardner got into two key posts with more than 100 comments landing on each. The first is Your eReader Is a Spy, and the second is Does social media leave us over-exposed?

Wouldn’t it be great to know if people were reading your book in a day, a week, or in fits and starts over weeks or months? Would it help you to know if there was a certain point in your book when readers tend to get bored and drop it? And isn’t it fun to know what lines from your book people are highlighting?

 


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Books: Reading on the Ether

For an updated list of planned confabs, please see this Publishing Conferences page at PorterAnderson.com.

The books you see in our graphic (if you can see Flash) and in the list that follows have been mentioned recently in Writing on the Ether.

I’m bringing them together in one spot each week, just to help you recall and locate them, not as an endorsement. As challenged as we all are for time, reading remains the point.


 


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Last gas: What Agents Are Not Doing

The one consistency: many of the agents working in this arena say what they’re doing is not “publishing.”

 

 Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, Nick Earls

Rachel Deahl

Rachel Deahl at Publishers Weekly circled back around late last week to an issue that fuzzed up for many of us — lots of them do these days — after some initial angst months ago. Her article is The Agent as (Sort of) Publisher.

While there has been some grumbling in the industry about the ethics and logistics when literary agents start acting as publishers, many firms are now offering a suite of services in this area.

Deahl touches on Trident eBook Operations, which she notes is run by three staffers who are not agents at its parent literary agency, Trident Media Group. Some 200 titles are being processed there, she reports.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, The Prodigal HourShe also looks at Diversion Books, writing that while it’s “more of a publisher,” it’s also been “spun off into its own entity” by agent Scott Waxman whose eponymous agency created it.

A key argument that develops, it turns out, is that a normally engaged agent wouldn’t be able to find the time to also publish clients. You hear this from Mary Cummings of Diversion. She tells Deahl:

I see all the work that goes into [digital-only publishing], and I know that agents focused on agenting can’t do what we’re doing.

And that idea seems borne out by comments from agent Liza Dawson — who spoke well  to this issue at the Digital Book World Conference in January — and by agent Laura Rennert of the Andrea Brown agency. Rennert tells Deahl:

“We are helping our authors self-publish; we are not publishing them. They retain all their rights.”

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Will Entrekin, Exciting Press, The Prodigal HourDawson makes the point to Deahl, “I don’t want to be an e-publisher; I still work on commission.”

This is a useful read, a helpful perusal piece for the weekend. Deahl includes other locations and players, all of which, of course, see what they’re doing as something other than actually publishing their clients.

Nevertheless, the chief of digital publishing at agent Ed Victor’s publishing arm, Bedford Square Books, tells Deahl that Victor likes to joke about what they can say to publishers they pitch on their clients’ behalf:

“Will you publish this book? Because if you don’t, we will.”

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Main image: iStockphoto / Brazilian


The Prodigal Hour by Will EntrekinThe Prodigal Hour by Will Entrekin

Six weeks after escaping the 9/11 attacks in New York City, Chance Sowin moves back home, hoping for familiarity and security. Instead, he interrupts a burglary and his father is killed.

“Audacious, genre-bending … a thrilling head-rush of a book.” Elizabeth Eslami

Find out more on Amazon and download a sample to your Kindle.

 


Posted in Writing on the Ether.

Porter Anderson / @Porter_Anderson

View posts by 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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WRITING ON THE ETHER: Static | PorterAnderson.comWRITING ON THE ETHER: Static | Jane FriedmanWRITING ON THE ETHER: Digital Dustup | Jane FriedmanWRITING ON THE ETHER: Silly Season | PorterAnderson.comWRITING ON THE ETHER: Silly Season | Jane Friedman | Publishing Digital Book Apps for Kids | Scoop.it Recent comment authors

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KathyPooler
KathyPooler

Porter, I love that you presented this week’s Ether within the context of a “silly season”. It provides a bit of relief from all the chaos in “the industry.” It’s always good to” know the devil we are dealing with” but hearing specific voices chime in is refreshing, i.e. Rebecca Smart’s statement “the world does not owe the publishing industry a living and we need to prove that we add value”; Brett Sandusky’s idea related to DRM of “sharing being a user need and requirement; the agent discussion about data-gathering through digital publishing, sample query letters and the changing role… Read more »

Porter Anderson

Hey, Kathy, delighted to hear that you liked Jeff Norton’s good piece, too. It’s a great story because he DID have good family support for reading (too often, that’s missing) just as your grandsons have. And yet his response to electronic media was to be torn between reading and gaming, etc. Such an issue these days. I originally wrote up some of Louann Brizendine’s research — her superb book is The Male Brain — http://ow.ly/ccfGk — a grand and fascinating read that explains her scientific insights into why boys are the way they are, their biological need for movement and… Read more »

Peter Turner

Thanks for the piece, Porter. I’d suggest that people in “our industry” might take advantage of the lull offered by the silly season to ask themselves what business they are actually in.

Porter Anderson

That IS the question to ask, Peter. And in a way, you’re dovetailing the macro of the industry with the micro of the single careerist discussed by Steve Pressfield in his new book, Turning Pro. It’s covered today in the Ether ( http://ow.ly/ccey4 and http://ow.ly/ccevi ). Steve’s concept of what he calls the “shadow career” is a painfully pertinent thing, I’m afraid, for so many of us. And on the larger scale, you can’t help but feel that maybe the whole industry is chasing that shadow reality, the traditionalists’ world, that now can’t survive but isn’t yet firmly replaced. Very… Read more »

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