WRITING ON THE ETHER: Writers in the Inferno

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, blog, blogging, journalism, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, The Bookseller, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Digital Book 2013, IDPF, BEA 2013

Table of Contents

  1. A Renowned Author in the Inferno
  2. Not-So Divine
  3. Writers Selling to Writers

 

A Renowned Author in the Inferno

Renowned author Dan Brown got out of his luxurious four-poster bed in his expensive $10 million house and paced the bedroom, using the feet located at the ends of his two legs to propel him forwards. He knew he shouldn’t care what a few jealous critics thought. His new book Inferno was coming out on Tuesday, and the 480-page hardback published by Doubleday with a recommended US retail price of $29.95 was sure to be a hit. Wasn’t it?

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, blog, blogging, journalism, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, The Bookseller, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Digital Book 2013, IDPF, BEA 2013

Michael Deacon

I declare The Telegraph’s Michael Deacon our Ethernaut of the Week.

He has a caricaturist’s ear for Dan Brownese. His skill is arrayed in Don’t make fun of renowned Dan Brown. Sub-headline: The snobs and critics will have a field day with the US author’s latest work – but I’m not joining in.

Here you go:

I’ll call my agent, pondered the prosperous scribe. He reached for the telephone using one of his two hands. “Hello, this is renowned author Dan Brown,” spoke renowned author Dan Brown.

It is so springtime for us snobs and critics. Dan Brown has heaved another one at us. And despite the fact that I may be killed in a dark cathedral vestibule in Europe by a rogue member of the Druid Daughters of St. Daniel, I’m just going to deliver myself of this opinion right now: Dan Brown’s popularity does little to help promote or even encourage genuinely good writing.


Of course this is just one guy’s opinion. Do I look like a committee to you?

Many agree with me. But it’s just fine if you don’t. You’re wrong, needless to say, but I’ll respect your wrong-headedness to the ends of the Earth and here’s another of Deacon’s delights to get us out of this corner:

She pointed now to a writhing pair of legs, which protruded upside down from the earth, apparently belonging to some poor soul who had been buried headfirst to his waist….Langdon probed his memory and then shook his head, which pounded in protest.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, blog, blogging, journalism, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, The Bookseller, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Digital Book 2013, IDPF, BEA 2013Oh, gosh, wait. Sorry, that’s the real thing. How silly of me. Somehow I got hold of a line from the sample I picked up on Amazon.

That’s from Brown’s new Inferno.

Such prose is what Telegraph critic Jake Kerridge calls Brown’s “stylish gaucherie,” a lovely, apt phrase.

In Inferno by Dan Brown, review—sub-head: Dan Brown’s take on Dante’s Inferno is the thriller-writer’s most ambitious novel yet – and his worst— Kerridge actually gives Brown some meager ground:

As a stylist Brown gets better and better: where once he was abysmal he is now just very poor. His prose, for all its detailing of brand names and the exact heights of buildings, is characterised by imprecision. It works to prevent the reader from engaging with the story.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, blog, blogging, journalism, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, The Bookseller, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Digital Book 2013, IDPF, BEA 2013

Jake Kerridge

In the end, Kerridge writes, “this is his worst book, and for a sad, even noble, reason – his ambition here wildly exceeds his ability.”

And, as we know, Kerridge’s fellow critics (myself included) are lining up to decry the sausage-making sentences and save-the-world belly laughs of Brown’s work—while copies fly off the shelves (where you can still find a shelf) and the online sales pages. The book, as usual, will be cheered by readers who don’t care.

For that matter, not even the critics are chanting in unison, which is good—and not just because Gregorian plainchant predates Dante Alighieri by centuries.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, blog, blogging, journalism, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, The Bookseller, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Digital Book 2013, IDPF, BEA 2013

Molly Driscoll

Molly Driscoll in Dan Brown’s ‘Inferno’ gets mixed reviews but tops sales charts at the Christian Science Monitor has a much more balanced approach than the drubbing I offer you here.

Each time a Brown book is shot out of the big publishing cannon, we see this collision: the disciples of quality against the armies of entertainment.

And you know what?—Brown actually has a pretty sweet sense of humor. When Stephen Colbert calls him, at 80 million copies, “the second most popular author next to God,” Brown doesn’t miss a beat: “God has had two-thousand years to sell books, though.”

Here, you can see his somewhat ungainly Colbert interview. Brown, whatever I may think of his writing, is a really affable “renowned author.”

 

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, blog, blogging, journalism, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, The Bookseller, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Digital Book 2013, IDPF, BEA 2013I took over an apartment in Rome from one of the directorial staff on the Angels and Demons shoots and felt compelled to make the pilgrimage through that one.

I couldn’t get all the way through The Lost Symbol, which remains The Missing Film in the Brown oeuvre. Brad Meltzer had already done the Masonic DC business, in The Book of Fate.

Nicole Sperling at the Los Angeles Times in January’s Dan Brown: What’s the film status of his book ‘The Lost Symbol’? pegged pre-production to start sometime this year, but Ron Howard has ducked the direction of that one, can you blame him?

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, blog, blogging, journalism, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, The Bookseller, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Digital Book 2013, IDPF, BEA 2013And while our purpose here today isn’t a full excommunication, I can’t help myself: one more “tiny cup of grace,” as Rev. Daddy liked to call the communion service at church, from deacon Deacon before we move on.

This time it’s really Michael Deacon again, I won’t pull another Unreliable Virgil on you:

Renowned author Dan Brown smiled, the ends of his mouth curving upwards in a physical expression of pleasure. He felt much better. If your books brought innocent delight to millions of readers, what did it matter whether you knew the difference between a transitive and an intransitive verb?

By the way, that “renowned author” business? Deacon gets it honest. When Brown’s Lincoln Center event was streamed to Exeter, New Hampshire, his hometown, Aaron Sanborn began his report at SeacoastOnline:

Local fans of renowned author and Exeter native Dan Brown had a unique chance to be close to the novelist as he launched his book “Inferno,” on Wednesday night, even though he wasn’t physically present.

Even Brown’s Wikipedia entry: “Dan Brown (born June 22, 1964) is a renowned American author of thriller fiction…”

So we can just wipe those smirks off our faces. Charles Durning was forever a “veteran character actor.” Dan Brown is a “renowned author.”

And with that, the actual effluvium of today’s Ether finally is enveloping us and we’re going to have to get on with it. I have not come (only) to bury Dan Brown, but also to point out a couple of bad binds in which less-well-paid-and-visible authors find themselves today.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, blog, blogging, journalism, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, The Bookseller, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Digital Book 2013, IDPF, BEA 2013There’s a parallel here to the wrenching struggle many writers are experiencing with platforming.

In Monday’s Ether for Authors: The Author Solutions Lawsuit (hellish topic, in itself) at Publishing Perspectives, I touched on this battle.

It’s about creative focus and energy, and clawing your way back to the inspirational side amid the commercial demands of the marketplace.

We’re lucky enough in that discussion—here’s a direct link—to have compelling commentary from authors Robin LaFevers at Writer Unboxed and Roz Morris in London, with some good input from Donald Maass along the way.

I want to look now at a couple of larger-scale dilemmas facing authors. And I’ll warn you, I don’t come with answers here. I’d just like to see the debate brought forward so it rides a little higher in the community’s consciousness.

That would be good, opined the talented person.

Thank you, Deacon.

Back to Table of Contents

 

Not-So Divine

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, blog, blogging, journalism, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, The Bookseller, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Digital Book 2013, IDPF, BEA 2013As I revolved with the eternal twins, I saw revealed, from hills to river outlets, the threshing-floor that makes us so ferocious.

You don’t have to be so renowned as Dan or Dante to enjoy your own not-so-private Purgatory these days.

That passage from La Divina Commedia by il Somma Poeta has led scholars to deduce that renowned author Dante Alighieri, born around 1265, was a Gemini. This might have helped him sympathize with the competing pressures on authors today.

And he has an author page at Amazon—that is backlist.

I can divide these pressures, like his Comedy, into three parts or, for our purposes, three conflicts:

(1) There’s the one we’ve mentioned and won’t re-hash here today, the push and pull of the writer’s creative life and platform. How much damage is the art taking in the service of new marketing demands on writers? We don’t actually know the answer to that. Our gurus of writerly fan-base-building will claim they do know. They don’t know. Only time will tell us this.

(2) Then, there’s the one we’ve been flogging today, the writing vs. the renown; the reclaim that may or may not not be earned. This is the same dilemma that makes a classically trained tenor envy his brother the rock star. But what if it leaves you, as Deacon has it, “as happy as a man who has something to be happy about and is suitably happy about it”?

(3) And one more. This one I haven’t gone into before but every time a writer puts out another book about how to write a book, it gets more compelling. Rather than going directly to “mutual cannibalism,” let’s call it “facing out vs. facing in.”

As the industry chokes on a flood tide of new and mostly wretched content, when does the ploy of books about books start looking like cannibalism?—writers preying on other writers, the community facing in on itself instead of “writing outward” to the wider audience (we have to hope) of readers?

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Writers Selling to Writers

There’s no way to do this without appearing to pick on someone, so I want to apologize in advance for that.  It’s not my intention to unfairly single out anyone.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, blog, blogging, journalism, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, The Bookseller, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Digital Book 2013, IDPF, BEA 2013It’s slightly easier, if not much, to point to a company.

So let’s look at PBS MediaShift, for which I have a lot of regard, mind you. Let’s keep this one issue tightly contained in what it is: a new venture in publishing for a long-established and recently rising element of our community. No lack of respect is intended here.

This week, we’ve had the news—not in itself at all unwelcome—that, as our friend Laura Hazard Owen reported it at paidContentPBS MediaShift starts publishing ebooks; first topics: cord-cutting and self-publishing.

Owen writes:

MediaShift’s first two titles are How to Self-Publish Your Book (80 pages, $3.99) and Your Guide to Cutting the Cord to Cable TV (50 pages, $2.99). (I have to point out here that GigaOM’s also got a cord-cutting ebook, written by our own Janko Roettgers.) The titles are available through Kindle and the iBookstore for now and will eventually be available through Nook; print-on-demand editions will also be released, priced at $4.99 to $6.99.

To MediaShift and its executive editor Mark Glaser, welcome to publishing, sincerely.

But How to Self-Publish Your Book? It’s by Carla King, whom you may know as Miss Adventuring, the adventure-travel writer.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, blog, blogging, journalism, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, The Bookseller, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Digital Book 2013, IDPF, BEA 2013And King? Already has another how-to-self-publish book out: Self-Publishing Boot Camp.

Of course, so do Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch, Mark Coker, Shelley Hitz, Tim Daly, Jason Rich, David Gaughran, Kayla Fioravanti, Adam Jackson, Aaron Shepard, Daphne Dangerlove, Edwin Scroggins, Christopher David, Chris McMullen, John Tighe, Kate Harper, Tony Caputo, Jimmy Clay, Josh Blaylock, Shari Faden Donahue,  Euan Mitchell, Von Money, Mary Payton and Christopher Cole, Melvin Powers, Ted Nicholas, Dan Poynter, Robert Kroese, Peggy BarnesDeKay, Donna Monday, Anna Crosbie, Marilyn Ross and Sue Collier, Nicole Simmons, Ed Peppitt, Blake Webster and Steve Boga, Richard Jagger, Steve Weber, Darius D. Himes and Mary Virginia SwansonLisa Rusczyk and Joshua Grimes and Scott James.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, blog, blogging, journalism, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, The Bookseller, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Digital Book 2013, IDPF, BEA 2013

Carla King

Those are from the first four of 75 pages of results in a search on Amazon/Books for “How To Self-Publish.”

In other words, we already have that book. And we have it in many iterations. Some of them have appreciable distinctions. Others seem blindly duplicative.

Whatever happened to checking the marketplace to be sure you weren’t trying to invent an already widely rolling wheel? Is anybody offering that transcendent bit of wisdom in their redundant book on how to self-publish?

Laura Hazard Owen

Owen, as you might have noticed, even points out that her company, GigaOM, has a book out on cord-cutting, Cut the Cord: All You Need to Know to Drop Cable by Janko Roettgers. (It’s much to GigaOM’s credit that it hasn’t hurled yet another book about self-publishing on us.) Try a search in Books at Amazon on cord-cutting.

And before you throw your iPad across the room, yelling, “I have the right to publish whatever I damned well please,” I’m not talking about your rights. Yes, you have the right to publish whatever you damned well please. You also have the right to shoot yourself in one of the feet located at the ends of your two legs. Having the right to do something doesn’t make it the right thing to do.

One of the books I’ve highlighted on self-publishing has this subtitle: “See How Easy You Can Design Amazing eBook Covers for Self-Publishing.”  No, that should be See Why You Should Never Design Your Own Cover or Buy This Book.

In fact, you know the one book I can’t find? How To Reconsider Publishing: Grill Yourself on Who Needs That Thing and What Your Real Motivation is in Trying to Publish It, Trad, Self, or Otherwise.

One problem with so much how-to-write and how-to-publish material is that it’s a key source of the “Buy my book!” bombardment. Writers on many social media are speaking as much or more to other writers. Facing in, not out. If other writers are your customers, you want an especially deft touch in how you offer your wares.

This goes to all you authors out there who randomly DM people on Twitter: HEY PERSON I DON’T KNOW I GOT THIS BOOK MOVIE COMIC GAME KICKSTARTER BLOG POST THAT I THINK YOU MIGHT LIKE FOR NO REASON BECAUSE I DON’T KNOW YOU LET ME UNCEREMONIOUSLY HAMMER YOU ABOUT THE HEAD AND NECK WITH IT.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, blog, blogging, journalism, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, The Bookseller, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Digital Book 2013, IDPF, BEA 2013

Chuck Wendig

Could you guess? That’s renowned author Chuck Wendig, leaving writers-who-sell-to-writers (loudly) face down in his wake.

This goes to all your authors who spam me with: “Hey I think you might like my blog post on writer’s block / self-publishing / bacon enemas / donkey shows / blargleflargle [insert link I’m never going to click here].” At first I’m like, “Oh, are they actually talking to me,” but then I see they’ve sent the same goddamn message to 150 other people oh, and they follow like, 35,000 people and yet I’m not one of them.

In How Not To Market or Promote Your Shit, Wendig takes no prisoners.

Unwanted and invasive advertisement doesn’t work. We skip past commercials. We close any window that pops up that tries to elbow its message into our brains. Marketing and promotion needs to seduce us, and it does not seduce us with a hand grenade to the face.

The face. In which direction does it gaze?

Look, these are bad times economically. Some writers probably feel the only way to churn up cash is by selling cupcakes to each other, as John Updike had Rev. March describe the fund-raising ladies of his church.

And we have several strong community members who are “writing both ways,” if you will, both producing effective material for their readerships and creating valuable instructional material to sell to colleagues. That market viability is one criterion, of course, of real experience, although it still doesn’t mean we need another how-to book until the next Italian Renaissance.

 

 

 

We’ve never needed to put more attention into facing out, looking for audience, developing readers. Can’t we cool it on the how-to’s? Can’t we just let Writer’s Digest’s bottomless catalog take care of that? Okay, more Deacon. He’s more fun than me chewing you out:

“Thanks, John,” he thanked. Then he put down the telephone and perambulated on foot to the desk behind which he habitually sat on a chair to write his famous books on an Apple iMac MD093B/A computer. New book Inferno, the latest in his celebrated series about fictional Harvard professor Robert Langdon, was inspired by top Italian poet Dante. It wouldn’t be the last in the lucrative sequence, either. He had all the sequels mapped out. The Mozart Acrostic. The Michelangelo Wordsearch. The Newton Sudoku.

Or am I wrong? (Imagine that.) How many authors do you know who seem more renowned among their peers than among readers—not because these “thriving ink-slingers” (Deacon) are writing books only other authors could love, but because their output seems to focus on these redundant how-to’s designed to crib a few more bucks from fellow would-be renowned authors?

Back to Table of Contents

 


Main image: iStockphoto: The scupture of Alighieri at Santa Croce, by Emorae

Posted in Writing on the Ether and tagged , , , , , , .

Porter Anderson / @Porter_Anderson

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

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64 Comments on "WRITING ON THE ETHER: Writers in the Inferno"

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James Scott Bell
“. . . but because their output seems to focus on these redundant how-to’s designed to crib a few more bucks from fellow would-be renowned authors?” It’s impossible to know the motivations of “how-toers,” though I will say the ones I know (and I know myself, somewhat, though the adventure continues) do care about the craft of writing and sharing what has worked for them. Yes, it helps with cred if the author has actually done what he or she purports to teach (i.e., written a successful novel or ten). But oddly, many successful novelists don’t know how to teach,… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@jamesscottbell:disqus Yo, Jim, Great points, agreeing with you here. True, we don’t know what motivates each how-to writer, and what I can ascribe is really only what appears to me to be the effect, not the impetus, quite right. Also, I do think some are well-motivated to help. (I was so impressed with Elizabeth S. Craig’s #indiechat the other night, in that her sharing of what she’s doing in cozy mysteries as a new hybrid was just that, coming from a desire to serve.) We see this in your work, of course, we see it in your presentations at conferences… Read more »
Roz Morris fiction

‘People who know how to “how-to”…’ Love that. 🙂 As another ‘ow-toer’ I’m maintaining a discreet and helpful silence.

Porter, thank you for the mention. Your posts always reset a jaded creative brain. I laughed so hard at your juggling of Brownisms that I nearly split a tonsil
(located at the rear of the pharynx, behind the little punchball thing).

GrigoryRyzhakov

Roz, unlike many others who publish “how to”, you actually know what you are talking about, you have the right experience. You and James Scott Bell above are not the people Porter was criticising here, I’m sure

Porter Anderson

@GrigoryRyzhakov:disqus

No, exactly, Grisha, as I’ve assured both Jim and Roz, they’re not the pile-on how-to mongers I’m going on about. 🙂 They’re part of that group of author-instructors who both practice and preach, with proven published track records and the experience to show for it. Makes ALL the difference. 🙂

Porter Anderson
@twitter-329334210:disqus Gosh, Roz, I gasped, staring into the void of where your little punchball thing was meant by our Creator to have swung. Glad you didn’t split that tonsil (which would have required a five-page Brownian chapter, in itself), and thanks for your input here. Like Lord Jim up above us here, you DO know how to how-to, and I’m the thankful thanking the thanked for it, too. As you know (but needn’t stick your neck out to admit, lol), some producers of self-“help” are less “helpful” than others, and the total of material to choose from is about as… Read more »
Dee DeTarsio

I loved The DaVinci Code. I plan on reading Inferno, and thought the renowned author Dan Brown represented well on Stephen Colbert, in that adorkable author way.

From quoting bacon enemas to The Newton Sudoku, Porter, you’ve outdone yourself! But, the fact remains that the renowned author Dan Brown is beating both of the feet attached to his two legs all the way to the bank, proving storytelling trumps writing.

Porter Anderson
@facebook-817380507:disqus Hey, Dee, Great of you to chime in. I think a lot of things are ascribed to sales success. To my mind, Brown’s big numbers don’t “prove” many things beyond the mechanisms of entertainment marketing (which are the most powerful digital distribution elements in history). Once a name (“Dan Brown”) is established, if the story wobbles (try “The Lost Symbol,” even “Angels and Demons”), the fans can still be turned out because the electronic entertainment combine has ordained “this guy is a success, this is a ‘must-read,’ this is an Oprah, this is a can-do-no-wrong, sure-fire, sit-back-and-relax commodity.” And… Read more »
Bernadette

Dan Brown may not be the best writer, but he does have a gift with story, and the
story was what attracted readers to the Da Vinci Code. Stephanie Meyers (I
think that is how you spell her name) may not be the most gifted of writers
either. But readers love her. Maybe if other “better writers” stopped
wasting time debating the unworthiness of these bestselling writers and got
cracking finishing their own stuff, there would be less turmoil, and some
better books in the world

Porter Anderson
@a5219b36d4274c056c523bb450cf0c31:disqus Hi, Bernadette, Many thanks for your input here. While I disagree with you (I’m not sure even Da Vinci has such a good story, and Angels and Demons and Lost Symbol are really not strong story-wise), I respect what you’re saying and I know that many feel as you do. My work as a critic is never to say you’re wrong or that you shouldn’t like and enjoy what you do. In fact, the more independently you think, the happier I am. (Good critics offer their own opinions as starting points and touchstones for others, not in order to… Read more »
Bernadette

Porter,

After reading the article, and the condescending perspective cultivated here, I understand why so many kids are turned off by “great writing”. This kind of attitude, truly saps the joy out of both “good” and “bad” art, and to paraphrase Mozart in the film Amadeus, who wants to be a part of art that shits marble?

-B.

Porter Anderson
@a5219b36d4274c056c523bb450cf0c31:disqus Well, Bernadette, It seems odd to me that when someone says to you that your perspective is wanted and appreciated — in other words, when you’re welcomed as I certainly wanted you to feel welcomed — you experience condescension, then there likely is nothing I can do for you. We can certainly simply disagree, which is honorable and healthy. (Our nation was actually founded on disagreement, something many of our folks forget today.) Whatever you do, don’t let me or anyone else “sap the joy” out of something you enjoy. I only regret that most people in our culture… Read more »
Bernadette
Porter, I’m sorry if my response came off as negative to you. I didn’t intend it to be. I was not talking about a personal condescension from you to me. We have had our different POV’s, but I feel we have always respected each others opinions even if we disagree. I apologize if it was taken that way. (My fault for not being clearer in my attempt at communication). What I am rallying against is the literary snobbishness, that seems to be part and parcel with dissing someone like Dan Brown. It is possible to enjoy the Da Vinci Code… Read more »
AJ Sikes
Oh man, Porter, did I ever need to read this today 😀 Love it, and the laughs it inspires are so terribly, terribly welcome. Renown vs. right (as in, what’s right and what’s wrong). That’s the distinction for me. I’ve had a story picked up recently (pats self on back) and the publisher is constantly pushing me and all the others in the anthology to get out there and flog our wares to the buying public. Build a platform, get the renown. Be like Dan Brown (they actually said this the other day!) FFS, enough already. I write because I… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@f8089fc9074b34812a8c6b0347bb80ba:disqus Hey, Aaron, Thanks so much. Needless to say, we all have a natural happy resonance when someone agrees with us. But as I get a snootful (perfectly acceptable) from many who don’t agree with me, I’m especially glad to note that you have the kind of resilient humor-informed personality that could also come in to tell me I’m full of Dante’s doo-doo without disparaging every word as demeaning of the culture. One of the most interesting experiences in criticism is the remarkable defensiveness of popular diversions and entertainments. Those who enjoy them (and as I was laughing on Twitter… Read more »
AJ Sikes
Porter, Hope you didn’t think I was taking a swipe at you in my comments above. My use of the colloquial ‘FFS’ was directed at those folks who keep urging writers to PLATFORM PLATFORM and such, all with this idea that “being like Dan Brown,” (i.e., an author of great renown) is the goal of writing, and all else is folly. Seeing people fire across your bow here and over on Jane’s FB page is funny really. And not a little reminiscent of Lady Macbeth’s protests 🙂 Whence the cries of elitism? We’re just here saying we think Dan Brown,… Read more »
Porter Anderson

@f8089fc9074b34812a8c6b0347bb80ba:disqus

Not at all, followed you with no trouble, Aaron, and as you say, if you just dispose of the book when you’re done? — speaks volumes right there. Thanks!

-p.

@Porter_Anderson

Angela Ackerman
I think writers selling to writers is bigger than ‘how to’ books, and it has been for a long time. This is something I see a lot with fiction–YA fiction is what I see, but this could be because I am deeply embedded in this part of the community. Both Traditionally Published and Self Published authors spend too much time trying to ‘sell’ to their fellow writers through blogs that target writers instead of their actual ideal audience, FB & LinkedIn writing support groups, and wow yes, we can’t forget Twitter. Fact: most writers have other writers as their social… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@twitter-15418994:disqus Hey, Angela, Great input and thanks so much for it. Agree with you, of course, on so many in the community “facing in” with their social media work and it’s real interesting that you see this in YA a lot. It would be fascinating to see if there are genre distinctions in which authors seem to cultivate each others the most, as a matter of fact. And as for the question of the how-to writers, as I was saying to Jim, he’s right that we can’t know motivations. I’m not convinced that you and he and some fine other… Read more »
Angela Ackerman
The over-training comment is a valid one. This is something that has been bred into us I think, because the Traditional Industry has always offered a difficult climb to writers. If anything, it has grown even harder to summit that particular mountain as time passes. Where things get interesting however is the introduction of Self Publishing and the attractive, easy path it offers to an author wanting to get their book into the hands of readers. Once this route started to become more traveled, writers questioned whether banging their head against the proverbial wall of training, training, training was really… Read more »
JosephRatliff
Porter, you wrote: “Whatever happened to checking the marketplace to be sure you weren’t trying to invent an already widely rolling wheel? Is anybody offering that transcendent bit of wisdom in their redundant book on how to self-publish?” I don’t think it’s that Porter, I think we live in a time where the individual brands are getting stronger, and as such, I’m not buying Guy Kawasaki’s book on self publishing because it’s about self publishing necessarily… I’m buying it because Guy has my attention, and if he puts a book out on self-publishing and I’m interested in it… I’m buying… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@JosephRatliff:disqus Hey, Joseph, Thanks so much for reading today and for responding. I think you actually make the very best possible argument for the multiplicity of writings on any one topic — how-to’s on self-publishing or cooking or wine-making, etc. To the degree that personal brand is something you’re smart enough and diligent enough to follow and cultivate, I think you’re absolutely right to choose such guides according to the writers and voices you know and trust and appreciate. There’s simply not a thing to be said against that approach to choosing such work, I’m with you. My perspective —… Read more »
JosephRatliff
I thought about your perspective over lunch Porter, and the only broad, highly leveraged way I can see to ensure a newer reader of a particular subject such as self-publishing can sort through the “bigger pile o’ material” as you put it… … is to provide the tools to help them sort. For example, I’ve always suggested that every publisher — self, traditional, or otherwise — be required by some directive to publish a small selection of their work as a reading sample. This would especially apply in the case of selling their work through Amazon. If every single book… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@JosephRatliff:disqus Hey again, Joseph, Not only is this a great point you’re making about the importance of samples (and how did we live without them before? lol), but your last point is most intriguing of all: the idea that it’s an “author’s job to reach us, the reader, not the other way around” — especially interesting in this era of huge reading/recommendation platforms like Goodreads (with what, 17 million reader-members?). I wonder if there’s ever a time or situation in which we can hope to enlist the reader with equal responsibility for the discovery. How many readers might actually like… Read more »
JosephRatliff
I like this type of expansive discussion, where we get beyond the superficial, and into the meat of the matter. One important thing you just pointed to struck me Porter… “I wonder if there’s ever a time or situation in which we can hope to enlist the reader with equal responsibility for the discovery. How many readers might actually like to feel that they were half the battle of discovery and that safari-ing around for new authors and great books was as much their job as showing up in the jungle was the job of authors?” If we are to… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@JosephRatliff:disqus A lot of us are more than ready to see the trad-vs-self debate subside, Joseph, but that won’t happen soon, I’m afraid. Traditional publishing is legitimately threatened by the self-publishing movement in several ways and you might be surprised how staunch the resistance within what I like to call the industry! the industry! still remains. There are people trying to work in ways that accommodate and blend elements of both modes, but we don’t really know what’s going to pan out and what isn’t, and there are almost as many startup companies yapping around the scene as there are… Read more »
JosephRatliff

I can see your point Porter, but writing isn’t surgery, people (“everybody”) expressing themselves and being able to do so commercially… isn’t a bad thing.

Even though they can do so, unlike surgery, they won’t get to “operate” very long unless they know how to market effectively, and the “market” doesn’t reject them itself.

But I totally see your overall point, right now it’s that “early phase”.

Thanks for the exchange here Porter. 🙂 I enjoyed it.

Elizabeth Montesano Tully
Hi Porter, I have to agree with Bernadette and Dee Dee (below) that story does trump great writing. One of the reasons is that your average Joe cannot recognize great writing, but he knows what entertains. And I don’t agree with your claim that it’s the Marketing Machine. As a former NYer who now lives in small town Georgia, I can tell you that my neighbors are not reading novels to be part of the ‘in crowd’. I can also tell you that during the heyday of the DaVinci Code, the pastor at my church was rolling his eyes and… Read more »
Porter Anderson

@facebook-1616618172:disqus

Hi, Elizabeth,

Many thanks for reading the Ether and for your thoughts here!

I’m looking forward to the salvation of it all by the art of those flappers, would you kindly give them the address of the inudstry! the industry! and we’ll all be more than happy to let them do their good work. 🙂

Thanks for your views, always welcome and appreciated, good to have you, and a lovely anecdote, too! Wonder if that’s why Griselda goes out on that tire. 🙂

-p.

@Porter_Anderson

Victoria Noe
In the interest of full disclosure, I enjoyed DaVinci Code and Angels & Demons. I enjoyed them because I’m a cradle Catholic who loves a good conspiracy theory, especially when the secrecy of the Church so perfectly lends itself to this kind of story. And, okay, I liked them because they caused such a stir at the Vatican. It’s a flaw in my character. This authors-marketing-to-other-authors drives me a little insane. Yes, other authors are part of our readership. But the hard sell that James Scott Bell refers to is sadly common. I think that the pressure authors put on… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@twitter-240542789:disqus Hey, Viki, To jump to your final, good question (because I’ll forget and wander off, you know me), yes, the desperation we see in many authors — “buy my book!” — is built on highly unrealistic expectations that, ironically, can be partly seen in the Dan Brown model. Not his fault, I’m not saying that, “nobody dast blame this man,” as Miller wrote in Death of a Salesman. But one bad, bad result of the digital disruption’s emphasis on entertainment is that the big successes around us — the Howeys and Hockings and Eislers and Browns and such —… Read more »
AJ Sikes

Goodness gracious yes do we need to be better about saying that 🙂 It’s one thing to ask (as Amanda Palmer would have us ask) and quite another to demand, plead, stand on your neighbor’s porch and scream at their front door to be let in, etc.

Porter Anderson

@f8089fc9074b34812a8c6b0347bb80ba:disqus Indeed, Aaron, and I’m so glad that Huffington Post Books has now posted Amanda Palmer’s wonderful keynote from Boston’s Muse Conference at Grub Street! http://ow.ly/l9zwo
-p.
@Porter_Anderson

AJ Sikes

Yes, very happy that’s been made accessible to the wider public (who very much needs to hear it). Color me grateful that HuffPo gave Amanda a higher garret window to shout from 🙂

GrigoryRyzhakov
oh boy, this is a hellova blog, Porter. I couldn’t agree with you more on every single point here. Just some thoughts. The only reason many writers keep publishing “How To” books is because they sell far better than their fiction efforts. I have yet to find an indie author whose fiction outsells his/her How To book. If a writer spent a couple of years in the biz, they read some of those How Tos and decide: “Why? I can write at least as good as this” and finally earn some money. I’d be honest with you, I was tempted… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@GrigoryRyzhakov:disqus Thanks for your observations here, Grisha, Just to be clear, I don’t think we’re talking a genre issue here, either. It’s perfectly possible for super writing to appear in any genre whatever. “Genre” in and of itself is no badge of dishonor whatever. The actual fact of output before us tends to show that much genre work is less artfully rendered than we might wish, of course. (Probably the only leg up that literary work might have on it, then, is that in literary writing the quality is, in fact, a criterion expected, so it’s less easy — though… Read more »
GrigoryRyzhakov

a thought – perhaps, Brown needs a good editor who isn’t afraid to tell him his fiction needs improvement. Maybe Brown can’t be bothered – he’s famous after all; for some people this is the only thing that matters.

Victoria Noe

I wasn’t the only one bored by “Cats”?

Porter Anderson

@twitter-240542789:disqus

No, just the only one admitting it. 🙂

Joanna Penn
As a Theology graduate, I was thrilled back when Dan Brown made the religious conspiracy thriller popular. I loved Da Vinci Code & Angels & Demons, but Lost Symbol was bad … and unfortunately, all the critics are right about Inferno. I am sad to say how much of it I skipped over. It was that kind of page-turner. What is also strange is that it is NOT really about Inferno. Having recently read it and riffed off it for the Kobo Descent comp, Brown’s book barely skims the surface of Dante, preferring instead to do a guided tour of… Read more »
GrigoryRyzhakov

to write on Dante one needs to understand Dante. I remember it took me half-a-year to go through The Divine Comedy when I was at college, most of the time I spent on footnotes :). No book exploded my brain like that did, though Joyce and Castaneda tried as hard 🙂

Porter Anderson

@GrigoryRyzhakov:disqus
And somehow, if history were reversed, it’s very hard to imagine the modern Dante writing DA VINCI, based on the work of Dan Brown, isn’t it? 🙂

GrigoryRyzhakov
he he, I ‘d like to see that 🙂 Actually, it’s not hard to imagine for me at all. I have thought about it many times – of taking some famous trashy novel and “”fanfic”ing it into an intellectual literary book. Imagine “50 shades of Brain” receiving a Booker Prize. I decided not to attempt to do it, because I realise one would only do such thing for PR reasons, not for the love of literature. I have my own stories to be told, I don’t want to steal laurels from others. But I enjoyed the thought I must admit… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@twitter-19017772:disqus Boy, Joanna, Knowing that you’ve had some advance understanding of Brown’s new work (with your tie-in you produced with Kobo in the lead-in), that’s doubly confirming, actually, for me when you mention the slim Divine Comedy element. I’ve been surprised at this, too (I mean, richer material, you couldn’t ask for) and the packaging so fully appropriates Dante’s image and the name of the first part of the Commedia, it’s pretty atonishing that it turns into the viral-plague-release bioterrorism deal it is. Then again, much of the Da Vinci material skirted the artist and art, so maybe we should… Read more »
Roz Morris fiction

Chasing newly converted or revived readers? Brilliant idea! I am available for the ambush squad.

The trouble is, wavering readers are afraid that a book will be hard work or that most ‘good’ writing is only for people who have a literature degree. But plenty of those enduring writers are terrific storytellers. Their books work on anyone. Let’s add to your ambush list: Nevil Shute, Dorothy L Sayers, Stella Gibbons and Wm Somerset Maugham.

Porter Anderson
@twitter-329334210:disqus God, yes, wonderful adds to my KEEP READING! List. Alas, you’re so right, Roz, about the supposed “difficulty” of good reading. I’ve always been amused, for example, with some of my friends who think that, say, Henry Miller is more difficult than Arthur C. Clark! Quite the contrary! But they don’t try. They’re convinced our astonishing Miller is “Hard to read!” And for this, we have to lay a lot of blame not only at the feet of the industry! the industry! that has erected “Literature” as a big, high, difficult wall, but also at the feet of the… Read more »
Lara Schiffbauer
I think the “facing in” of writers is being noted widely, but not many people give suggestions on how to reach readers (instead of writer/readers) besides “word of mouth.” I would love to hear ideas on how to reach readers (beyond Wattpad and Goodreads) if an author doesn’t already have a large platform, whether from an established fan-base or a social media platform of writer/readers. It’s the big visibility question. The visibility issue is one place having a large platform of other writers supporting you is a plus, at least as a debut self-publishing author. They get the game. They… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@google-5ce3ebe229a10f212180ae59cfb3252c:disqus Hey, Lara, Thanks for this good input, very apt point. The support of a wide base of helpful fellow writers can, indeed, provide some visibility in online reviews, blog placements, word of mouth, etc., I have to agree. It’s a bit like smart corporations (I think there are a few left, lol), which realize that their own workforces are their best sales team, so the products are provided to the workers at a special rate or free, knowing they’ll then proudly walk around in the clothes or driving the car or demonstrating the phone and get their friends to… Read more »
Lara Schiffbauer
Hi! I’m off work now. 🙂 It was kind of a crazy day, so I hope I can get my mind settled to make sense. Anyway, I have read about finding niche markets to identify potential readers for non-fiction, fiction and even to develop blog readership. It seems to me that this technique works quite well for non-fiction and even blogs, but I can’t exactly grasp how you might effectively use a niche market for fiction. I can see where some categories of fiction would lend themselves better to finding a niche market (such as your examples, and historical fiction)… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@google-5ce3ebe229a10f212180ae59cfb3252c:disqus Hey, Lara, Sorry for the delay here. We need to coin the phrase “niche-ing for readers” (instead of “fishing”) for them, lol. Your questions are perfectly good and right. There’s nothing to say that specific niches of highly refined niche material — whether it has to do with a sub-genre or not — can find an audience at all. Nothing is guaranteed (which makes every bit of this all the more trying: it’s all speculative. The approach, however, in an example such as your use of my near-term historical Irish fans would be to try to find their gatherings… Read more »
Lara Schiffbauer
Wow, Porter. That was well worth the wait! Can I copy and paste this into a blog post for Tuesday? I’m seriously asking. I’ve got people watching my journey as a self-pub and one of the places I have cross-over with my non-self-pub friends is talking about marketing. And people are very interested. (Facing in, of course, but I face out on Fridays with my funny photos.) You did a fabulous job of explaining the niche-ing of readers. I wish now I would have used my own novel as an example, so I could have the benefit of your brainstorming!… Read more »
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[…] then I read this post from Writing on the Ether about the proliferation of writing and self-publishing books (PBS put one out? Really?) and […]

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[…] is as good as any in covering what you need to know. Jane Friedman has an interesting blog post on writers selling to other writers. It does seem sometimes as if the popular wisdom is, if you can’t sell your self published […]

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[…] the comments section of this blog post, a commenter by the name of Bernadette wrote something poignant, “Maybe if other ‘better […]

David Gaughran
Hi Porter, I missed your piece last week as I was busy releasing another How To 🙂 When I wrote Let’s Get Digital almost two years ago, there weren’t many guides on how to self-publish. Those that were out at the time either focused on the world of print or publishing service companies, or stuck to the technical aspects of formatting and uploading. Virtually none of them addressed *why* you should self-publish, and the first third of my book is a series of essays on the digital revolution and the new opportunities for writers. I also think it was unique… Read more »
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[…] Writ­ing on the Ether: Authors in the Inferno […]

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[…] I got busy in Writing on the Ether with some of Michael Deacon’s exhilarating Dan Brown parody—”using the feet located […]

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[…] web site. Porter does a weekly column there, “Writing on the Ether.” In last week’s post, “Writers in the Inferno,” Porter takes best-selling author, Dan Brown, to task just as his latest book, Inferno, was coming […]

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[…] section of this blog post, a commenter by the name of Bernadette wrote something poignant, “Maybe if other “better writers” stopped wasting time debating the unworthiness of these …”  Sadly, she’s right, those who can do, those who can’t, […]

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[…] Sarah Woodbury. There are a whole lot of books out there on self-publishing. Probably too many, as Porter Anderson lamented in Writing on the Ether this week. The one I see most highly recommended by successful indies is David […]

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[…] Sarah Woodbury. There are a whole lot of books out there on self-publishing. Probably too many, as Porter Anderson lamented in Writing on the Ether this week. The one I see most highly recommended by successful indies is David Gaughran’s, […]

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[…] Sarah Woodbury. There are a whole lot of books out there on self-publishing. Probably too many, as Porter Anderson lamented in Writing on the Ether this week. The one I see most highly recommended by successful indies is David Gaughran’s, […]

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[…] Sarah Woodbury. There are a whole lot of books out there on self-publishing. Probably too many, as Porter Anderson lamented in Writing on the Ether this week. The one I see most highly recommended by successful indies is David Gaughran’s, […]

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[…] Sarah Woodbury. There are a whole lot of books out there on self-publishing. Probably too many, as Porter Anderson lamented in Writing on the Ether this week. The one I see most highly recommended by successful indies is David Gaughran’s, […]

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