Writing on the Ether | JaneFriedman.com

iStockphoto / JoshBlake
iStockphoto / JoshBlake

By Porter Anderson | @Porter_Anderson


From Jan­u­ary 19, 2012
Part of my series of columns on pub­lish­ing, Writ­ing on the Ether, appear­ing Thurs­days through the kind (and brave) benev­o­lence of Jane Fried­man at JaneFriedman.com


Immediate seating available

For once, it doesn’t matter how cold it is in New York. As the first big annual F+W Media conferences of 2012 heave into action, the upholstery is toasty. ConfabWorld is cooking.

And we don’t have to wait for the massive Digital Book World Conference & Expo to open on Monday. Attendees of the Writer’s Digest Conference, which opens Friday, will find themselves in a Seventh Avenue salon superheated by the snickers of self-publishing authors who think they have the biz licked – and by the fuming of other writers determined to go less gently into that 99-cents furnace.

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To reassure you quickly: you don’t have to be there to be there.

If you’re not able to join us on the hearth and find your own chaise-chaude in our book-ly ballrooms, no problem. We’ll be sure some smoke gets in your eyes.

Warmed by the sociability of new media, our industry loves Twitter. Perhaps you’ve noticed. Well, of course you have. So keep these hashtags handy: #wdc12 and #dbw12. Another good one to add daytime ET on Monday is #dbwsum – that’s the DBW Marketing Summit.

I’m @Porter_Anderson in the Tweeterie, as you likely know, and you’re welcome to shoot up a flare with any questions. I’ll immediately hand them to Jane Friedman, otherwise known as Porter’s Brain.

Also: software willing, my site’s home page – PorterAnderson.com – will display a self-refreshing capture of hashtagged tweets. I’ll be doing my live-tweet coverage of select sessions, from top to bottom, in hopes of giving you a coherent account of the proceedings. And our community is unhampered by shyness when it comes to blogging, columnizing, opining, and scrawling on vacant walls at ConfabWorld.

You keep an eye on the tweets. We’ll keep you going with comely confabulation.

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I also can offer you a series of preview articles, with both text and video. Conference speaker Dan Blank of We Grow Media and I have put them together:

  • Preview: Digital Book World Conference & Expo 2012
  • Pre­view: Writer’s Digest Con­fer­ence 2012
  • Your Guide to Writ­ing & Pub­lish­ing Con­fer­ences, 2012
  • How To Get The Most Out Of A Conference

And as we the people of letters convene, I want to catalog some of the  kindling – sorry, wrong word – a few of the drier twigs, that’s better, which are fueling what surely is among the most fired-up conference season this business has seen since Margaret Mitchell fanned those other flames.

Every chair at the Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers is a hot seat. That’s because just about anybody who can make it to a registration table can accuse all the others of messing up everything — and be accused of messing up everything.

We’re going to see 70 agents slammed by 90-second pitches from 450 authors for three long hours at WDC.

And while the carpet is being replaced after that, cast a wary eye over this list of companies attending DBW. Yes, that’s Our Friends From Seattle and Google and Barnes & Noble and Apple and the Big Three-Plus-Three and the top 400 partners and rivals immediately south of them — all up in there at once.

Be aware that the nearest exit may be behind you. This could simply disintegrate into a 1,200-person brawl in the ballroom. Shall we finally start jacking up authors’ royalties? Royalties? I got your authors’ royalties right here. Why not just slug it out and be done with it?  (I like “brawlroom,” don’t you?)

Watch for discount code DBWFIGHT, $40 off on your ambulance ride.

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And as the news media close in for their special coverage, here are just a few says you might see the tracer fire fly on Reuters’ video:

  • How do agents feel about self-publishing authors these days? How do agents feel about publishers? How do agents feel about agent-publishers? How do agent-publishers sleep at night?
  • How do traditionally published authors feel about agents? And commissions? And self-publishing authors who brag about having no commissions?
  • How do small publishers feel about the Big Four-Plus-Two?
  • How do the Big Six’s staffers feel about being told in meetings, “You guys better digi-up”?
  • How do any of us feel about metadata? It’s driven Laura Dawson to knitting.
  • How do independent bookstore owners feel about the Interwebs?
  • How do librarians feel things are going? Pack a lunch before you ask that.
  • How do self-publishing authors feel about everybody? Okay, we, we know that already.
  • How does everybody feel about Amazon?
  • And does Amazon feel anything at all?

So don’t get comfortable, know what I mean? Don’t sit back and relax. Sit forward and be tense.

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I’m going to run you through a quick litany of multiple viewpoints. The road to ConfabWorld this year is paved with hot coals. Try to keep up:

I know a few agents, and they’re tearing their hair out. An agent recently told me “editors in big publishers are basically readers for marketing departments.” Another said in the past year she’d got more than 10 excellent books to editorial board, with all the editors staunchly behind them, but marketing vetoed them. An editor I know – very senior in terms of job title and the publisher she works for – laments that she is no longer allowed to accept the rich fiction she loves to read and has to publish shallow sure-fire supermarket titles.

London-based author, bestselling ghostwriter, and writing instructor Roz Morris writes these and more telling observations in Why playing safe in publishing is riskier than ever

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The major publishers have completely abdicated responsibility for producing the digital versions of their catalogs: it’s all handed over to amateurs. You see it throughout the industry. From the typographical horror of most eBooks, through to the lackluster iPad titles being produced.

Chris Stevens is interviewed by the Toronto Review of Books in Chris Stevens on Alice for the iPad, Book Apps, and Toronto: a Q & A

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It seems to me that those of us who sell goods – be they books, white goods, clothes or anything else – need to learn to think far more closely about the user experience.

Sheila Bounford in On Experience at Off the Page (and What of the Book?) before reminding us “Dr Seuss famously said ‘Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple'” in On Change (via Dr Seuss & W H Auden) 

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The overriding message…is that books are an entrepreneurial exercise, combining the selection of a subject, the self-confidence to stay with it through the reporting and writing ordeal, and a commitment to marketing the results, which for many authors is an especially unfamiliar process.

Peter Osnos at The Atlantic writes Good Writing Isn’t Enough: How to Sell a Book in the Digital Age, an article he bases on the Nieman Foundation for Investigative Journalism’s excellent Nieman Reports edition titled Writing the Book(a free download)

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While writing this post, it felt antiquated how bestseller lists still segment out sales by edition (hardcover, paperback, mass market, electronic). If these lists are printed to serve and inform readers—and perhaps that’s a huge assumption?—how much does this distinction matter, except to those inside the industry? How much do these distinctions serve to keep the old paradigms in place? (E.g., “hardcovers” are more important or meaningful than “paperbacks”?)

Jane Friedman, University of Cincinnati new-media professor, industry analyst, and long-suffering host of the Ether here at her site, preps for one of her presentations at WDC this weekend in eBook Statistics For Authors to Watch, writing, “You can not only find various data sets, you can also find many interpretations”

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As traditional publishers experiment with ebook sales…it seems they may be pushing self-published authors off the list…The average price of a self-published Kindle top-100 bestseller continues to drop, but a new look at these titles’ performance in 2011 suggests these books are facing increased competition from traditional publishers.

Laura Hazard Owen, who assiduously covers publishing for paidContent, has this interesting analysis in Did Self-Publishing Hype Hit Its Peak In 2011?

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Amanda Hocking’s “books from Trylle Trilogy were removed from distribution in August, will be republished in weeks, in print and digital formats – and cost a few times more…. In 2011 self-publishing was bearing the badge of novelty. Now it becomes the part of the digital publishing landscape…Publishers and authors would like to avoid such stories (as Hocking’s) and that’s why they’ll find each other much sooner – and that means that less good quality books will come out as self-published ones.

Piotr Kowalczyk writes up his Top Self-published Kindle Ebooks of 2011 [Report], as Jane Friedmannotes, a “helpful parsing of Amazon data” with which we can begin to discern “Is the 99-cent price tag for e-books wearing out?” and other issues

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We should stop thinking of self-publishing simply as a nice way for indie authors to be published. Viewed another way, measuring self-publishing activity calculates the amount of money Amazon (and others) are no longer sharing with publishers. And it’s growing.

The emphasis is mine. This ringing comment comes from the Milano office of ATKearney in its upcoming report at DBW. Mike Shatzkin, conference council chair, used it this week in his walkup to some of the data sessions in the conference ahead, Show me the data!I may give it one more ride in a later segment of the Ether, as one of the most penetrating evocations yet of the industry — inclusive of Amazon

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I get millions of hits a year on this blog. When people discuss self-pubbing, my name often comes up. But the people who visit this blog, and discuss my self-publishing efforts, are writers. Writers aren’t buying my fiction. They aren’t buying my non-fiction either–I have an ebook called A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing and it is among my lowest-selling titles. The people who buy me are readers, and the vast majority have never heard of me. Readers find me on Amazon, because Amazon has made it easy for my books to be discovered… If one of Amazon’s imprints offers to publish you, accept. Right now they are the only publisher who can increase your sales.

Joe Konrath – as he says, “People consider me to be one of the mouthpieces of the self-publishing movement” – here takes on The Value of Publicity, positioning it as fairly analogous to the standard author platform encouraged today

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We’ve compiled an informal account of all of the self-published ebook authors to make the NYT bestseller lists last year with an original work (thus we are not including reissues or short-form pieces). Contrary to the popular impression, the total number is…11. The authors, along with the date of the first appearance on the list, are:

Nancy Johnson (2/20)
Victorine Lieske (3/6)
Stephanie McAfee (3/27)
Heather Killough-Walden (5/1)
John Locke (5/8)
Courtney Milan (7/10)
Darcie Chan (8/28)
Chris Culver (9/4)
Rick Murcer (9/4)
CJ Lyons (9/11)

The one self-published nonfiction author to make the list was Sarah Burleton, whose WHY ME? debuted on the 10/2 list

Michael Cader, writing at Publisher’s Lunch in How Many Self-Published Authors Were Bestsellers In 2011? has the above sobering numbers, suggesting, as has been stressed many times, that the Konraths and Hockings (pre-St. Martin’s) are exceptions to the rule. And Laura Hazard Owen‘s headline above about self-publishing hype having hit a kind of peak in 2011, bears serious consideration

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Twilight and The Hunger Games showed young adult fiction to be a potential goldmine. Authors and publishers quickly latched onto the galaxy of online book sites, where a vast young readership roams, as the key to global success. But can you harness that energy? Should you even try? More and more bloggers are reluctant to host the author blog tours that now swamp book sites – only to find that publishers refuse them free advance review copies of the new books they want. Who wins there?

Julie Bertagna, in YA novel readers clash with publishing establishment at the Guardian reminds us that another issue dogging the industry is the abrupt diffusion of critical voices. The rise of blogging reviewers simply pulls the rug out from under yet another once-orderly, standardized element of business, the assumption and protocol of mainstream-media criticism. As Bertagna sees it, “The hardest thing a writer has to learn is that once you publish a book, it’s no longer truly yours.”

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It is undeniable: we are at transformation. And I suspect that 2012 may well be the most important year in any of our professional lives and, quite possibly, in the history of the book. With that in mind, I wanted to share some of our 2011 year-end results for Sourcebooks. While these data points are just for one publisher, we believe that they can help us better think about the year that we get to create in 2012. I hope that they help you as well.

Dominique Raccah, publisher at Sourcebooks, announces a superb performance for 2011, including an 19-percent increase in revenue growth and print-book sales running 11 points higher than the Bookscan average. It’s in the ebooks arena that she trumpets some of her most ebullient news this way:

Source: Sourcebooks Next "Some interesting results from 2011"
Source: Sourcebooks Next “Some interesting results from 2011”

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Click to read this week’s full Writ­ing on the Ether col­umn at JaneFriedman.com

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