Table of Contents
- Conference Connoisseurship
- Beyond DBW: More Conferences
- Books: Reading on the Ether
- Last Gas: Can You Tell ‘Male Writing’ from ‘Female?’
Not that I would ever butt in on a conversation.
But here was Mike Shatzkin, the endlessly energetic chairman of Digital Book World Without End (it was that time of day), patiently explaining late Wednesday to an associate a key difference between DBW and the other major US publishing conference each year, O’Reilly Media’s Tools of Change (TOC).
TOC, Shatzkin was saying, issues calls for proposals of presentations from professionals in the technological and publishing space, while DBW is designed and coordinated by Shatzkin, himself, to reflect his perspective on publishing in transition.
“Mike,” I said, stepping in with my two cents. “Your conference is a point of view, your point of view.”
Shatzkin agreed with this (and was kind enough not to point out I’d butted in).
And DBW is holding forth in its final day here at the Hilton New York as the Ether goes to gas. Wednesday’s sessions were well-received, smartly paced, interestingly juxtaposed, and always worthwhile, a good start.
The Thursday sessions have been punctuated with new rounds of survey materials; Shatzkin’s much-anticipated interview of WOOL author Hugh Howey’s and his agent Kristin Nelson; and some sobering looks at the frequent divide between book discovery and point of sales.
Michael Cader at Publishers Lunch has a good accounting of the Howey conversation in DBW: Howey Gave Up Exclusivity “Because of the Hate Mail.”
Cader covers the interesting decision Howey made regarding exclusivity with Amazon, as the novellas of his series were picking up speed in the market.
Bestselling self-published author Hugh Howey addressed why he moved from Amazon’s exclusive program–KDP Select–to distribution across multiple platforms, even though it meant reduced revenues from his Amazon sales. “I did it because of the hate mail,” Howey said. “I was getting emails from people who owned other devices” and wanted to read his book.
As the two days of DBW have unfolded their sessions’ scope (we even heard DRM debated in a breakout session late Thursday), the skill of the presenters and conference organizers have come to reveal, as one longtime observer put it, that statistics at this point “start to seem to mean nothing anymore.”
Laura Hazard Owen
Partly because of the natural hurly-burly of contradictory views and partly because of the difficulty of categorically naming the actual causes of various effects, almost any point can be brought into healthy but frustrating contention. At paidContent, Laura Hazard Owen — who moderated an interesting panel with several agents about their efforts to assist clients — has published a comprehensive look at the day’s tensions in Why online book discovery is broken (and how to fix it).
She sums up the mounting dilemma of discoverability this way:
Readers who would once have discovered a new author by browsing in a physical bookstore might never encounter that author now. (The shift to online buying presents particular difficulties for nonfiction: Twice as many works of nonfiction are sold in physical stores as online.)
It’s not a bad thing that DBW reflects Shatzkin’s point of view.
DBW (like Shatzkin’s highly praised, sold-out Children’s Publishing Goes Digital pre-conference program on Tuesday) is animated by the unified, considered Shatzkinian viewpoint.
And this doesn’t mean that DBW is a his-way-or-the-highway affair, either. There’s debate—maybe more controlled explosion than wildfire, but debate. We heard some Wednesday in a CEOs panel; a bit in an innovation session; even something that might have been debate in a publishing-and-Hollywood panel if the participants hadn’t been more interested in showing off than getting down to business.
Nor does it mean that you won’t find a robust and superb point of view at TOC. In fact, you’ll find many POVs there. If DBW glows with the half-century of institutional memory that guides Shatzkin’s programming, TOC crackles with edgy peeks around corners and exhilarating leaps into the light of new understandings.
We’re all the beneficiaries of these two approaches. They are complementary—I urge you, if you can, to attend or at least try to follow both and to contrast and compare these energies and the POVs you encounter.
I even like the order in which these two powerful productions appear on the calendar.
This week, the fourth annual DBW is drawing a baseline right across the court of publishing’s appeal for effective ways forward. That industry-steeped POV is taking shape now, so that when the many voices of TOC come together in February, we’ll know what we’re hearing and seeing and learning and hoping.
But here is where this doing of DBW is so interesting. If DBW is that statement, that expression of a POV on the industry, the real challenge for those of us watching is to take it onboard authentically.
I wonder if we are when I hear so many folks grabbing onto the phrase “settling” or “settling out,” as in a suggestion here and there that ebook pricing may be soon “settling out”—or that CEOs may be be so upbeat on how the digital transition is going that they think things will soon “settle” for publishing.
This may not be the hardest truth of the POV at #DBW13. (9,383 tweets at the end of Day Two. Here’s the Epilogger event I’m running on it.)
“Settling out” may be wishful thinking. And “nobody dast blame these people,” to paraphrase Charley in Death of a Salesman. It’s been a long, exhausting digital disruption. We’d all like to see it “settle out.” Right now would be good.
But every time you hear one of our fine presenters slip in one of those “settling out” moments, I want you to ask yourself what else you’re hearing.
Shatzkin is never so simplistic, and neither are the industry players he has assembled for us this time. 120 presenters, all told. That’s a large chorus and it’s sounding pretty Greek to me.
We’ve just heard Marcus Leaver, chief of London’s Quarto Group (and formerly of Barnes & Noble’s Sterling Publishing), say this:
Less than 15 percent of our 2014 sales are going to be in bookstores.
And the other 85 percent of Quarto’s sales? Nussbaum asks him onstage.
Everywhere we can sell a book.
If you talk to innovators, they find the whole publishing industry incredibly frustrating and resistant to innovation.
Related reading: Note the new partnership Raccah’s Sourcebooks has made with Sesame Workshop to bring Sesame Street characters to Sourcebooks’ Put Me in the Story platform.
Startups are terrible at understanding the tribal nature of an industry [including publishing]. Breaking bread, meeting people.
I had the honor on Wednesday of hosting the Publishing Innovations Awards Luncheon, in which we recognized winners in 13 categories of ebooks, enhanced ebooks, book apps, and transmedia projects, from the Getty Museum’s luminous The Visions of Tondal to the World Bank’s World Development Report for 2012, a free iPad app. There’s a press release with all the winners ready: Publishing Innovation Award Winners Announced: Random House, Tonto Books, Warner Bros Digital Publishing Lead Pack.
But speaking of apps, here was Forrester’s James McQuivey—author, himself, of the coming Digital Disruption: Unleashing the Next Wave of Innovation—telling us that his annual DBW survey of 53 publishing CEOs reveals:
While 85 percent of publishers responding to Forrester’s survey produced apps [an average of 17 apps each], only 21 percent see revenue potential in apps.
It has been clear for some time that the expense and challenge of producing apps well—combined with a still uncertain market readiness for them—makes their viability questionable in the long term.
And yet, as Hannah Johnson reflects in her Publishing Perspectives write on the presentation, Publishing Executive Survey Shows Industry Settling into Digital, the message McQuivey seemed to want to put across was that things are “settling,” something we’d continue to hear Thursday.
Even as we convene on Sixth Avenue, Brett Sandusky nearby has posted Elephants in the room, an essay that calls on the industry to more squarely face issues including:
- “The Amazon issue” (Amazon is not represented at DBW this year);
- Independent bookstores; a need to allow digital to be digital (rather than seeing it as an e-replica of the print world);
- The agenting system (which Sandusky opines is “broken down”—I’m so grateful he didn’t write “is broke”—and to my knowledge is not a topic at DBW; and
- Self-publishing, which is, except in the Publishing Innovation Awards, largely invisible at DBW.
The self pub machine has done an amazing job painting us [traditional pubishing] as the villain and the fat-cat. Hell, Tim Ferriss based his entire book launch campaign around the idea that he was going to be materially damaged by Publishing’s (with a big P) long arm into the back alleys of all business.
Self-pub is not our whipping boy. And we need to stop playing into their portrayal of us. Get over it. People are self pubbing their books. We are not the gatekeepers and tastemakers any more. Stop automatically associating self-pub with crap, because it only plays into their game and diminishes our own industry.
The REAL pricing discussion at #dbw13 should be about the $3.50 bottles of soda in the lobby store. Boy howdy.
— Liz Scheier (@LizScheier) January 16, 2013
Our good colleagues at Digital Book World have been working to produce some quick coverage of the conference. Jeremy Greenfield and Deanna Utroske sensibly have captured some of our sessions more as question marks than as pronouncements..
An interesting moment during Wednesday’s good morning events gave us Michael D. Smith of Carnegie Melon in a session titled “Competing With Free: How Piracy Impacts Sales and Strategies to Fight It.”
The message here was mixed, and Greenfield captured some of that back and forth well in his quick write, Does Piracy Hurt Digital Content Sales? Yes.
The article is, appropriately, less hardlined than the headline suggests. Although Smith brought some excellent analysis to the stage and argued his points effectively, Greenfield takes care to turn the issue before he’s done with Hugh Howey’s avowed appreciation of piracy as an audience builder for his work.
And that’s where all of us need to live at this point, on the escalators of these conferences. Whether we think we’re going up or down, we’re still moving. And the best we can ask and expect from our conferences this season may be good questions with, at best, tentative answers.
— Sam Missingham (@samatlounge) January 15, 2013
How much will your publisher pay you? There’s a short, easy answer to this: as little as they can. Not because they’re heartless monsters, but because businesses pay as little as they can for their supplies, and charge as much as they can for their products.
That’s Cory Doctorow in Liability vs. Leverage: How writers lose when “piracy” gets harder, a new warm-up essay at Tools of Change, ahead of his February 12 keynote address opening TOC’s Author (R)evolution Day, the day-long conference for writers organized by O’Reilly Media’s Joe Wikert, Kat Meyer, and Bookigee’s/WriterCube’s Kristen McLean.
It’s a poorly kept secret that very successful writers often draw “advances” that are so high that they’ll likely never earn out — a sneaky way of paying an effectively higher royalty rate without setting business-wide precedent.
Writers write, by and large, because they can’t stop. The writers who say that if they can’t get paid they’ll get a real job and stop writing are either kidding us, or kidding themselves. Most successful writers spend years working for pittances, with no reasonable expectation of breaking out. “I plan on writing for a living” is about as realistic as “I plan on buying winning lottery tickets for a living.” If enough people try it, some will succeed, but it’s not what you’d call economically rational.
This is why I’d like you to read the good Doctorow’s fairly extensive article. He’s doing something we don’t see enough—he’s combining a pundit’s sharp eye for the industry with emotionally charged realities of his own writer’s sensitivities.
If that amalgam of authorial heart and business head can be carried forward through the whole Author (R)evolution Day roster of events and presenters, then we—I’m part of this TOC program, as I was part of DBW’s program this week—have a chance of breaking some meaningful new ground in the creative corps.
There’s an oversupply** of writing in the market. And to make things worse, there’s a chronic, and accelerating undersupply of publishers. If you’re a writer, you want there to be lots of publishers, in competition with one another. Competitors bid each other up, and whether you’re a lucky beginner or a big name, the likelihood that someone else will pay you more for your book goes up when there are more companies vying to buy it.
We have yet to hammer out a patois for publishing’s transition that’s fully understandable by writers. On most days, this means our authors not only are out of sync with the business core, but that they’re also feeling estranged from the very markets they need to inhabit.
When you read Doctorow here, you begin to hear an esperanto that can bridge some of this divide, fulfilling the promise of TOC’s entry into the creative space with a day of exploration and explication of the new conditions for debate and direction in the digital dynamic. If you’re not psyched by the possibilities here, then you’re not reading Doctorow.
Here’s the thing about fame: although it’s hard to turn fame into money in the arts, it’s impossible to turn obscurity into money in the arts. It doesn’t matter how you plan on making your money — selling books or downloads, selling ads, getting sponsorship, getting crowdfunded, getting commissions, licensing to someone else who’s figured out how to make money — you won’t get the chance unless people have heard of your stuff.
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February 12 New York City at the Marriott Marquis New York in Times Square. A first-ever author-dedicated daylong conference from the O’Reilly Media Tools of Change team, led by Joe Wikert, Kat Meyer, and Kristen McLean.
TOC Author (R)evolution Day (ARD): “This one-day conference-within-a-conference from the thought leaders at Tools of Change and Publishers Weekly is designed specifically for professional authors, content creators, agents, and independent author service providers who want to move beyond “Social Media 101” to a more robust dialogue about the opportunities in today’s rapidly shifting landscape.”
February 12-14 New York City (again at Marriot Marquis Times Square) O’Reilly Media’s Tools of Change for Publishing Conference: “Every February, the publishing industry gathers at the O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing Conference (TOC) to explore the forces that are transforming publishing and focus on solutions to the most critical issues facing the publishing world. TOC sells out every year—don’t miss its potent mix of fabulous people and invaluable information.” Under the direction of Joe Wikert and Kat Meyer.
For the record I love @HailoDublin works a charm!
— Eoin Purcell (@eoinpurcell) January 15, 2013
March 6-9 Boston AWP, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs AWP last year drew 10,000 attendees to icy Chicago (it looked like 40,000 attendees when everybody’s coats were on), and, per its copy on the site this year, AWP “typically features 550 readings, lectures, panel discussions, and forums, as well as hundreds of book signings, receptions, dances, and informal gatherings.” The labyrinthine book fair is said to have featured some 600 exhibitors last year. The program is a service-organization event of campus departments, hence the many (many) readings by faculty members and a frequently less-than-industry-ready approach that worries some of us about real-world training the students may be missing.
April 17 New York City paidContent Live: Riding the Transformation of the Media industry Brisk and bracing, last year’s paidContent Live conference was efficient, engaging, and enlightening, not least for the chance to see many of the talented journalists of Om Malik’s GigaOM/paidContent team work onstage — Laura Hazard Owen, Mathew Ingram, Jeff John Roberts (in history’s most difficult interview), Robert Andrews, Ernie Sander, et al. Among speakers listed for this year’s busy day: Jonah Peretti, Jason Pontin, Chris Mohney, Erik Martin, David Karp, Mark Johnson, Aria Haghighi, Matt Galligan, Rachel Chou, Lewis D’Vorkin, John Borthwick, Andrew Sullivan, Jon Steinberg, Alan Rusbridger, Evan Ratliff, and, of course, the two people the law says absolutely must be in every publishing conference, Dominique Raccah and Michael Tamblyn.
May 2-5 Oxford, Mississippi Oxford Creative Nonfiction Writers Conference & Workshops Susan Cushman follows her Memphis Creative Nonfiction confab with this year’s gathering at the shrine. Among faculty members: Neil White, Leigh Feldman, Lee Gutkind, Dinty W. Moore, Beth Ann Fennelly, Bob Guccione Jr. and Lee Martin. Pre-conference workshops or just the creature itself, your choice.
— Kevin Franco (@ocnarfnivek) January 13, 2013
I’m bringing them together in one spot each week, to help you recall and locate them, not as an endorsement. And, needless to say, we lead our list weekly with our Writing on the Ether Sponsors, in gratitude for their support.
Writing on the Ether Sponsors
- The Indie Author Revolution: An Insider’s Guide to Self-Publishing by Dara Beevas
- Grow Your Audience: The Author Platform Starter Kit by Dan Blank
The Stars Fell Sideways by Cassandra Marshall
- Handmade Memories: Poems and Essays, 1997-2011 by Guy LeCharles Gonzalez
- Seasons in Love by Dave Malone
- My Call to the Ring: A Memoir of a Girl Who Yearns to Box by Deirdre Gogarty with Darrelyn Saloom (Glasnevin)
- My Memories of a Future Life by Roz Morris (Red Season)
- Prophecy, An ARKANE Thriller by J.F. Penn (The Creative Penn)
- The Prodigal Hour by Will Entrekin (Exciting Press)
- Perfect Skin by Nick Earls (Exciting Press)
- Rumors of Water: Thoughts on Creativity & Writing by L.L. Barkat (T.S. Poetry Press)
- Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
- Digital Disruption: Unleashing the Next Wave of Innovation by James McQuivey
- The Dinosaur That Pooped Christmas by Tom Fletcher and Dougie Poynter (a Publishing Innovation Award 2013 winner)
- Dreamlander by K.M. Weiland
- Drinking Diaries: Women Serve Their Stories Straight Up by Caren Osten Gerszberg & Leah Odze Epstein
- Knot What It Seams by Elizabeth Craig
- The Last Will of Moira Leahy by Therese Walsh
- Miserere by Teresa Frohock
- Nail Your Novel by Roz Morris
- Pentecost by J.F. Penn
- The Ring Road by Edward Weinman
- Sell Your Book Like Wildfire by Rob Eagar
- Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier by Myke Cole
- Shuffle by James T. Raydel (a DBW Publishing Innovation Award 2013 winner)
- Sistine by Michael Hogan
- The Visions of Tondal by Thomas Kren (a Publishing Innovation Award 2013 winner)
- Wool by Hugh Howey
- The World Development Report 2012 from the World Bank (a Publishing Innovation Award 2013 winner)
There were a total of 1,045 guesses. Of that number 535 people correctly guessed the gender of the authors.
Frohock has been interested—as have I—in the practice many women authors adopt of using initials rather than their names in publishing. The rationale for most of these authors is based on an assumption I consider flawed: that male readers won’t read books by women.
If someone wants to argue that women need to use initials rather than their names for books in genres largely considered the province of male interest such as action-adventure, that’s one thing. I still think it’s flawed, but it’s at least an understandable if unproven guess.
What’s really curious is women getting into the initials thing in such genre ghettos as erotic romance. Must I cite E.L. James?—remind me, for whom does she need to appear to be a male writer?
Frohock has been assisted in her test by authors Mark Lawrence and Myke Cole (you can tell they’re guys because they don’t use their initials)—not scientific, “entertainment purposes only!” as Nathan Bransford always says. The question is whether readers can guess correctly whether a man or a woman wrote a bit of fiction.
Quoting Lawrence’s analysis of the voting by particpants in the Frohock experiment:
Given the 1,045 guesses and 535 correct guesses we can say that no statistically significant power to determine gender from writing has been demonstrated (under the assumption both genders were equally represented – they weren’t but it doesn’t introduce a large effect). With selection of authors drawn with equal likelihood of either gender then a random guessing machine making 1,045 guesses would expect to get an average of 522 correct answers and if it repeated the experiment many times we would expect 95% of the results to lie between 490 and 554 correct answers. So our result is well within the bounds of expected statistical variation for a random set of guesses.
For clarification, here’s Frohock:
In other words, people can’t tell the difference between male or female writing styles based on the prose alone.
Now, this doesn’t resolve for us whether it makes sense for women authors to hide their gender behind initials. That call lies in the realm of what some women think about men when it comes to reading, specifically that males won’t read female writers.
If one didn’t mind risking all kinds of flak, one might point out that this is pretty discriminatory thinking about men. Here’s more from Frohock:
People tend to associate emotive stories with women and “big idea” or action based stories with men. There might be some basis to that argument; however, when statements like that are made, then storytellers like Patrick Rothfuss and Stephen King, who tell very emotive stories, are shot out of the picture. Likewise, people who expect anything less than “big idea” stories from women are missing out on authors like Ursula K. Le Guin or Margaret Atwood. The list of male and female authors who don’t fit neatly into these two categories can go on, but the idea here is simply this: not everyone fits a niche or a certain style.
Meanwhile, I’ve been chuffed to see some new data snaking and snailing and puppy-dog-tailing across the Ether, suggesting that those nasty, book-hating boys may be coming around. For example, a new study from Scholastic on Kids’ Reading in the Digital Age has good news.
Most of the study’s headline fodder lies in survey results related to ebooks vs. print books. To wit:
- The percent of children who have read an ebook has almost doubled since 2010 (25% vs. 46%).
- Half of children age 9-17 say they would read more books for fun if they had greater access to ebooks – a 50% increase since 2010.
- Overall, about half of parents (49%) feel their children do not spend enough time reading books for fun – an increase from 2010 when 36% of parents were dissatisfied with time their child spent reading.
- Seventy-two percent of parents show an interest in having their child read ebooks.
You know what? The Short Ones can read on papyrus and stone tablets for all I care.
The overtake of print by digital is going to happen and it’s going to happen and it’s going to happen. Why can’t we just sit down and let it happen?
Look, if you need that e-fix, there’s yet another report written up by Jeremy Greenfield at Digital Book World in association with Play Science. It’s More Than Half U.S. Kids Reading Ebooks, New Report Shows. Here’s a nugget:
Some 54% of U.S. children aged two-to-thirteen are reading ebooks, according to the report, The ABCs of Kids & Ebooks: Understanding the E-Reading Habits of Children Aged 2-13. This is more than double the 23% of U.S. adults who are e-reading, according to the latest numbers from the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
And there are some nice graphics on the report from paidContent and GigaOM in Laura Hazard Owen’s report on the Scholastic survey, 54% of U.S. kids have never read an ebook: New report.
Nothing wrong with the report or Greenfield’s write or Owen’s charts. I’m just sorry we have to examine every single percentage point of change since it’s going to happen. But that wouldn’t be us, would it?
Of much more interest, however—because this is not a digitally inevitable set of findings—is Scholastic’s news that “one in four boys who has read an ebook says he is now reading more books for fun.”
Hm. Haven’t heard that element of the survey reported as much, have you? There’s more, emphasis mine:
Among girls since 2010, there has been a decline in frequent readers (42% vs. 36%), reading enjoyment (39% vs. 32% say they love reading), and the importance of reading books for fun (62% vs. 56% say it is extremely or very important).
What, you mean those saintly girls are reading less? And those awful boys are reading more?
Verizon Wireless charges a $30 upgrade fee, even within your upgrade period, plus buh-bye grandfathered data plans. Eff the future. #fb
— Guy LeCharles Gonzalez (@glecharles) January 12, 2013
Oh, no. This could screw up the whole thing about guys being too thick-headed and male-ish to read, and about girls being so enlightened and bookishly angelic, couldn’t it?
(OMG, all that erotic romance we’ve been tanking up to release as YA-beautiful-dead-girls stuff. What are we going to do with that crap if the girls slow down their reading? We’ve got 4,522 book covers ready to go with shirtless guys kissing beautiful women, damn it.)
Among boys? Scholastic reports “an increase in reading enjoyment (20% vs. 26% say they love reading), and importance of reading books for fun (39% vs. 47%). Reading frequency among boys has stayed steady, with 32% being frequent readers,” while that metric fell among girls, remember.
If not reading in the trailer park of digital publishing, what were those girls doing, then?
There was an increase in the amount of time they spend visiting social networking sites and using their smartphones for going online.
Don’t look at me. Tell it to Scholastic.
Or is it the Seventh Day Adventists,who sprang from Millerism?
— William Gibson (@GreatDismal) January 12, 2013
And stay undecided about that initials-instead-of-your-name business, that’s my advice. Wouldn’t put that initialed pen name into body ink yet, myself, if I were you.
We’ll ask Frohock to play us out here before I get myself into any more trouble:
Perhaps the publishers are right to ask women to submit their stories under pseudonyms. If a female name automatically conjures young adult/romantic/emotive story-lines in someone’s mind, and a good part of the audience suffers from contempt prior to investigation before the first line of prose is read, then the novel or story may never make it out of the gates sales-wise.
So the publishers succumb to subterfuge, the authors…also participate in the game, and you, the reader, are left to guess. None of this is new, by the way. Female authors have been hiding their gender behind pseudonyms for over a century. Likewise, male authors who write romance or other genres with a predominately female readership are asked to disguise their gender.
It may be another century before we can all come out of the closet and be judged by our prose, not our gender.
Think of all the breathlessly reported surveys between now and then.
It’s going to be a long century.
Why doesn't "third annual publication" have a hyphen ("third-annual") in many style guides?
— Emma Gardner (@EmmaBGardner) January 10, 2013
Main image / 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.