The Royal Flush of Content: Aceing Big Brother—Part 2

In The Royal Flush of Information: Content is Queen, Community is King, Marketing is the Jack, and Passion is the Ten. Control of Content is the Ace.

Perhaps a decade ago, a book described how industries tend to wind up with three dominant players: Ford, Chrysler, GM; Wendy’s, Burger King, MacDonald’s. Blogger, industry maven, and co-director of PublishersLaunch, Mike Shatzkin thinks that the Web will wind up with three major aggregators of content. The candidates: Apple, Google, and Amazon, the potential
Big Brothers.

President Clinton’s Treasury Secretary Robert Reich believes that the largest banks are so big, corrupt, and irresponsible (San Francisco Chronicle, 11/6) that they should be broken up. In a hyper-connected world, information is the coin of the realm. Tech companies don’t care about writers, books, or publishing. Whatever their executives may personally believe, their job is to follow the money wherever it leads, putting profit before any other purpose.

Printed books have been around for 500 years; none of these companies or technologies will be around in 50 years. Giving Big Brothers the right to control access to culture will be a disaster. Now’s the time to end the bromance and split Apple, Google, and Amazon into companies with less power for controlling culture and less potential for becoming more corrupted by that power. Divide the Brothers before they conquer.

BTW: The Joker is the Future, which no one knows, and no one can predict or control. But as techno-visionary Alan Kay famously said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”
This is where you come in. Give your readers stories to rave about. Enlarge the possibilities for using technology to tell stories in new ways. Dazzle us with your creativity. We will love you for it, and the joke will be on everyone who rejects your work.

[Formatting anomalies not in draft. Suggestions welcome.]

I write the blog to help us both understand what we need to know about writing, publishing, promotion, and agents. I hope you find it worth reading and sharing. Rants, comments, questions, corrections, and ideas for posts greatly appreciated.

The 9th San Francisco Writers Conference / A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community /February 16-20, 2012 / www.sfwriters.org / [email protected] / https://sfwriters.info/blog / @SFWC / www.facebook.com/SanFranciscoWritersConference / 415-673-0939 / 1029 Jones Street / San Francisco, 94109

San Francisco Writers University / Where Writers Meet and You Learn / Laurie McLean, Dean / free classes / www.sfwritersu.com / [email protected] / @SFWritersU

 

More of the Same Only Different: BEA 2011

When one Editor-in-Chief was asked what kinds of books he wanted, he replied: “More of the same only different.” That also describes this year’s BookExpoAmerica. More technology booths, more discussion of ebooks, yet books still ruled the day. BEA was reaassuring. Publishers are responding to the changes in the industry, and as they have always done, finding ways to accommodate them. BEA is succeeding in reinventing itself to serve a rapidly changing industry. Librarians are helping to replace booksellers.

The biggest news was Amazon hiring Larry Kirschbaum, the former head of Warner Books and then an agent, to start a trade house, which calls forth a vision of the Six Sisters that dominate trade publishing becoming Three Sisters: Google, Amazon, and Apple.

The Bay Area was well represented on a panel about whether printed books will survive the growing e-valanche of ebooks and enriched versions of them. On the panel were representatives of the two most creative publishers in America: Workman and Chronicle Books, along with someone from Lonely Planet. They’re all doing well with pbooks.

Lonely Planet has had 9.2 million downloads of apps and has still seen double-digit increases in pbooks, although they invested in color to help make that happen.

Chronicle and Workman create books that can never be ebooks. Bob Miller of Workman showed a book for autistic children that included a brush for them to use. He also showed what looked like a bag of potato chips but contained things for cooking Italian food.

Another excellent panel discussed online promotion campaigns. One panelist had a list of more than a dozen elements of a campaign.

The biggest revelation of the convention for me: former Jossey-Bass Executive Editor Alan Rinzler saying that the future of publishing is self-publishing. This helps explain why publishers are starting e-imprints for authors they can’t publish otherwise and why agents are starting to publish ebooks.

Elizabeth and I rent a apartment in the Village, and spend a week or two before BEA seeing editors, family, and friends, and enjoying spring in the Big Apple. For us, BEA will remain an essential rite of spring: an annual reunion of people we only see at BEA; the chance to meet out-of-New York editors and new people, often by accident; gain new perspectives about marketing and publishing at the breakout sessions (which often have hashtags); hear about books at the editors’ buzz panel and the author breakfasts; and see what’s going on in publishing in one big room.

Next year, the convention is a week later, June 5-7. Hope to see you there.

www.larsenpomada.com / [email protected] / The 9th San Francisco Writers Conference / A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community / February 16-20, 2012 / www.sfwriters.org / [email protected] https://sfwriters.info/blog / @SFWC / www.facebook.com/SanFranciscoWritersConference /  / 1029 Jones St. / San Francisco, CA 94109 / San Francisco Writers University / Where Writers Meet and You Learn / Laurie McLean, Dean / bfree classes / www.sfwritersu.com / [email protected] / @SFWritersU

The Last Chance to Prevent Googleopoly?

 Google will do what is in (its) best interest at all times.

–Dave Rosenberg, open-source software executive

I have yet to see anyone discuss what is most dangerous about Google’s attempt to commandeer our literary heritage: Power corrupts. There is far too much power in the hands of fewer people and corporations than ever.

Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich reminded us is his March 27th column in the San Francisco Chronicle that: “…corporations exist for one purpose and one purpose only – to make as much money as possible….”  The actions of Amazon, the leading online bookseller, with customers and publishers have shown how the pursuit of profit can affect decisions.

Google’s noble goal is to make the knowledge in the world’s 130 million books available to anyone connected to the Web. Thanks to the exploding smartphone market, by the end of the decade, this will include most of the people on the planet. But Google’s equally noble commitment not to do evil hasn’t prevented it from happening. Digitizing books in copyright without permission created a firestorm of protest from the writing and publishing community.

Unless stopped, technology companies, prodded by political, financial, and competitive pressures, will control the culture for which they are the gatekeepers. Our literary heritage should be in a library available to all, not a profit center subject to corporate needs. Access to books is far more important than quarterly dividends. Allowing books to become victims of the corporate imperative will lead to evil being done to readers, writers, students, and publishers.

Consider this solution:

1. Google should seize the opportunity created by U.S. Circuit Judge Denny Chin’s ruling against its plan, because of concerns about copyright, privacy, and monopoly. Empower the publishing community to make decisions about how Google provides access to books. One of the wisest investment Google can make is to finance a nonprofit governing board with the ability to decide how best to balance access and profit in the public interest.

The board would include a representative from Google, the Association of American Publishers, the American Booksellers Association, the American Library Association, the Library of Congress, the Author’s Guild, the Association of Authors’ Representatives, the American Board of Higher Education, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the World Intellectual Property Organization, and perhaps other organizations.

2. Have these organizations elect a member to serve a single two-year term for the part-time position in return for the income the member presently earns plus expenses. The ideal candidates will have integrity, creativity, and a passionate dedication to the public’s right to access books.

3. Make the board’s monthly meetings transparent: televise them, including who votes for what, and post the text of its meetings on the Web.

If Google separates control and profits, the courts and the international book community will look more kindly on its efforts.

Lurking behind this issue are two questions as important as any we face:

1. How do we grant individuals and organizations enough power to be effective but not enough to be corrupted?

2. At a time of accelerating change, how do we enable government to solve huge, growing, complex, related problems?

History has proven Napoleon right: “Humanity is only limited by its imagination.” All that separates conception and achievement are time and resources.  Creativity and collaboration across media, disciplines, and borders will continue to unleash a growing torrent of wonders.

What we desperately need is a new group of founding fathers and mothers to reimagine the American dream and how to achieve it.. Whatever the dream is, books — in whatever form they take — will continue to be an essential part of it.

Joining Your Literary Community

Groucho Marx once said that he wouldn’t join any organization that would have him as a member. Fortunately, writers welcome other practitioners of the craft to their ranks. One  reason why now is the best time ever to be a writer is that there are more ways to connect with other writers than ever. Nothing will be more valuable to you than a community of writers who share your goals and challenges and who can advise you about writing, agents, publishers, and promotion. Writers need each other more than ever.

After two posts on critique groups, a reader asked about finding a critique group if you’re new in town. Here’s one way: meetup.com lists writing groups. Type “meetup writing [and your city]” in a search engine, and they come up.

But this is part of a larger question: whether you’re new in town or not, how do you join the writing community?  

In a word: ask!

  • You can ask writers, booksellers, librarians, publishers, book reviewers, writing teachers, freelance editors, and book publicists.
  • Ask your friends, neighbors, and co-workers.
  • You can ask at writing and author events, writing classes and conferences.
  • You can ask your friends on Facebook and your peeps on Twitter and other social networks. Googling “social networks for writers” yields 12,000,000 links for sites like Red Room.
  • You can ask at businesses you patronize.
  • Since writers participate in reading groups, you can search online for reading groups in your town.
  • You can also be entrepreneurial and start a group. If you need a place to meet, at least to get organized, bookstores and libraries are logical places to try. Schools, churches, and other nonprofits are alternatives. A bank or another business with a conference room may be willing to host the group, especially if a member works there.

If you don’t have a collaborator, you’re writing alone. But you can create a continually growing community of writers and others to help you the rest of the way. Writers who are eager and able to help you are waiting for you to find them. Start now.

Writing Wisdom

A Dan Piraro cartoon in Parade showed a medium sitting across a table from a customer with a netbook computer in front of her, and she’s saying: “We don’t use a crystal ball anymore. We just Google you.”

An editor interested in buying your book will Google you to get a sense of your presence online. Instead of a crystal ball, they’ll use a computer-generated profit-and-loss statement, along with feedback from colleagues, to help justify buying your book.

What wisdom about writing can I offer that will help you convince editors to say yes to your book? One or a series of books could be written about the wisdom you can gain from doing a job or practicing an art or skill. Some examples:

Biking

  • Riding uphill is harder, downhill more dangerous.
  • You have to know your bike, yourself, and the territory.
  • You have to expect the unexpected at any second.

Photography

  • You have to be the right distance from your subject.
  • You have to balance color, foreground and background, tension and harmony, and the elements in a composition to create unity.
  • Knowing how to use your camera will help increase your creativity.

Driving a Taxi

  • You have to look at what’s around you but also in the distance both for traffic and for passengers.
  • You will have slow and busy periods.
  • You will have good and bad luck; you hope that they will balance each other.

Writing

  • Reading is the doorway to writing.
  • The best reason to write is that you must.
  • You have to capture readers’ interest immediately and keep it as long as it takes them to finish your book.
  • If you have a problem with your writing, focus on something else, and your subconscious usually provides the solution.
  • Your proposal or manuscript is finished only when the people you share it with can’t figure out how to help you improve it.
  • You need mentors to supplement your learning about writing, agents, promotion, technology, and publishing.
  • The models for your books and career will light the way until you’re ready to find your unique path.
  • You have to maximize the value of your book before you seek and agent or publisher by test-marketing it, building your platform and communities of fans, and developing a promotion plan.
  • Promotion is more challenging than writing.
  • The writing you do about your writing is as important as the writing itself (Katharine Sands).
  • Publishers and literary agents are eager to find new writers as new writers are to be discovered.
  • Your passion for writing and sharing your work will see you through the challenges of being an author.
  • You will meet those challenges more easily if you’re clear about your short-  and long-term personal and professional goals.
  • You will succeed if you persevere, and the harder it is to achieve success, the more satisfying it will be.
  • And as I mentioned in the previous post, luck has a lot to do with a book’s success.

I found one of my favorite pieces of wisdom on a cloth bag that Workman Publishing gave away one year at BEA: “The more you garden, the more you grow.” You can grow by acquiring wisdom from any endeavor and you can apply it to writing. The more conscientious you are, the more you’ll learn. May you have all the luck you want, and may the wisdom above speed you on your way.

Following the Money: Publishing 2010

“Publishing exists in a continual state of forecasting its own demise; at one major house, there is a running joke that the second book published on the Gutenberg press was about the death of the publishing business.”

This is from a must-read article by Ken Auletta about the iPad in April 26th issue of The New Yorker. It includes numbers that follow the money in publishing as it migrates to the Web. They also provide a perspective on the business and where it’s going:

P-commerce

* Six publishers produce 60% of books sold.

* 70% of the 100,00 books that industry produces a year don’t earn back their advances.

*On a $26 book, authors receive $3.90 in royalties, 15% of list price on a hardcover book. Publishers make a $1 profit.

* More than 50% of revenue at Random House comes from backlist books.

* Since 1999, the number of independent bookstores declined from 3,250 to 1,400.

(On the other hand, the San Francisco Bay Guardian just gave a Chain Alternative Award to the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association, which has two new members this year.)

* Independents have 10% of sales, chains about 30%, big-box stores like Wal Mart, 45%, which pressures big houses, like Hollywood studios, to produce blockbusters.

* Publishers have to run two businesses at once: a traditional publishing business and an electronic business.

E-commerce

* Marcus Dohle, the Chairman and CEO of Random, said “The digital transition will take five to seven years.”

* There are 50,000,000 iPhones in the world, which O’Reilly Media vice-president Andrew Savikas calls “a great customer base” for book apps.

* Most publishers are giving a 25% royalty on e-books.

* Amazon’s 3,000,000 Kindles generate 80% of e-book sales, which Amazon achieved, in part, by selling at a loss.

* When Amazon customer can choose between a paperback and an e-book, 40% of them choose the e-book.

* Kindles users buy 3.1 as many books as they did twelve months ago.

* An Apple adviser who used Netflix to download movies compared bookstores to video stores ten years ago.

* Three behemoths–Apple, Amazon, and Google–are competing, so one of them can’t dictate terms.

* Author Solutions works with 90,000 authors.

What these numbers suggest is that publishing is going through a transformation. Old and new media companies will in time establish a business model that works for them and makes money for writers.

What these numbers can’t capture is the article’s engaging, rough-and-tumble portrait of predators at play or the importance of

* publishers in discovering and developing new authors

* independent bookstores in launching them

* writers who keep the whole enterprise afloat by sitting in front of their computers creating the art that makes commerce possible

Former Random House editorial director Jason Epstein said: “When I went to work for Random Houe, ten editors ran it. We had a sales manager and sales reps. We had a bookkeeper and a publicist and a president. It was hugely successful. We didn’t need eighteen layers of executives. Digitization makes that possible again, and inevitable.”

Author Lee Foster says “This will be a golden age for content creators.” You will create your future as a writer with your head, your heart, and your fingertips. Three cheers for content, whatever form it takes!