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.

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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?

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

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Porter Anderson / @Porter_Anderson

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

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