26 Jul

Publishing Industry, Take II: Marketing Devices

I have only a few minutes today, so I’m going to stay roughly on plan and talk about the differences between physical books and ebooks as marketing devices. They are very different, and these differences seem to me to be important to us newish writers.

The book itself (or I should say, the cover) is basically an advertisement, and its placement in a store can be a big deal. I was recently listening to a podcast that included a quote from a major SF publisher who said he considered a single book to be a 50-cent poster, and if he was allowed to he would send 20 or 50 to every bookstore and have them paper the walls with them because at that rate they are super-cheap advertising.

This is something an ebook can’t do.

Of course, us newbies don’t really care much about that, because last I checked I don’t see many of us getting huge bookstore space anyway. Still, as we move forward in our careers, it’s important to understand what’s being giving up along the way.

Cover art is most likely going to be important for ebooks, too. But most artwork for ebooks is going to be tiny, and click-throughs for new writers are likely to be impulse processes.

On the other side of the fence, an e-book goes viral a lot easier than a physical book. And a viral e-tide can be a powerful thing. However, most viral e-tides are connected to things that are free, hence, obviously, the big push for some folks to give some of their content away in order to create this tide (in hopes that it bleeds over into actual cash flow.

At the end of the day, similarities exist in that you still need to get in touch with the right people. An author needs the publisher to get his or her work in the right places in bookstores and whatnot, and if you want to advertise ebooks, it seems important to get the right sites buzzing about your work. The big deal here, of course, is that it’s far easier for new writers to network in e-space than deal with the publishing industry. It’s still a lot of work, of course (something I’ll probably talk about later), but it’s achievable. And we actually have the ability to market our own ebooks cheaply, but would generally struggle to market physical books. I mean, I could be selling ebooks from my site with probably a half-day’s work.

The question is whether that’s a great idea, and whether I want to keep up that effort … something I’ll talk about in another post or two.

24 Jul

Publishing Industry, Take Two: eBook Readers

The topic today is physical books vs, ebook readers. I thought this was going to be a simple post, but it’s grown to a behemoth, so I’m actually going to split it up into a couple days worth of conversation.

And so, as is my wont, let me back up a bit before I get going.

I mentioned the other day that I’m in what feels like a moderately unique and strange position of experiencing the process of growing up as a writer in both the past ten years and during current times. When I got serous about getting back into the shotgun seat, I decided to take a few conscious steps to re-enter the world.

The first month of my reentry I was to do nothing but write. This I accomplished.

Then for three months I was to begin posting with some fervor, and begin reading other people’s work–especially in newer short markets. I also fell upon the culture of podcasts and other social media, and endeavored to experience everything I could. I paid attention to new names, new editors, new publishing lingo, new ways of distribution, and new energy in areas like SFWA and whatnot. My whole goal during this period was to create a sense of understanding about how the world worked now.

The last three months have been about positioning myself to be ready to do some real work. This meant completing a few short stories, but mostly it meant completing my two novels (which grew unpredictably to three). It also meant getting more serious about re-energizing the networking part of the game. Having completed this portion of the process, I’m now fell ready to actually start. (I hear you…sounds like a stalling game to me, too. But seriously, I like to do my homework. I like to at least feel like I understand how things work, even if I don’t [grin]).

Through it all, though, there has been the writing, though. I figured that in the end one thing would be constant, and that is that it would always be about the writing.

Lately, though, I’ve begun to wonder about that.

I worry, really, that it’s not about the writing at all–or at least not very much about the writing. But I’m getting ahead of myself now, and before I go all curmudgeonly on everyone I think I should make a couple statements.

Statement 1: The next few posts are going to be about some specific things I’ve been thinking as I’ve gone about getting back into the game.

Statement 2: These are not really complaints, though sometimes they may sound that way. These are statements of position, comments on the state of the industry from this limited point of view. You may chose to see them as positive of negative as you wish.

Anyway, with that, let me actually get to my conversation regarding electronic book readers. I’m going to start by noting a podcast I recently listened to.

Adventures in SciFi Publishing recently included a long and very interesting interview with Tracy Hickman, who first came to prominence with the old Dragon Lance books, and has since gone on to become a big-big deal. You should definitely listen to it.

In it Hickman passed along two statements that I thought were notable here: First, that a book is essentially a souvenir, something that you keep around and put on your bookshelf if you liked it, and second that publishers need to change their focus away from being book printers and toward becoming an identifier of quality. When I first heard them, both of Hickman’s comments resonated with me. But as I let the statements settle on me, I think they are just a bit too simplified.

For example, while a book is a souvenir, it is also more than that. A book is a unique method of delivery. A book is a marketing ploy. A book is a storage device. A book is a physical experience.

I recently bought a Kindle, and I like it a lot–not as much as Lisa loves her Kindle (which is to the point where she will not read much of anything unless it comes in e-format)–but I like it a lot. It’s a nice device. But a physical book is a different experience, and there are things about it I miss when I’m reading ebooks. I do agree, though, that a book is also a souvenir, which an ebook certainly cannot be.

That last is an important idea. I think you need to pay attention to things that are unique about a format because these are the things that eventually define them.

To expound a bit, I mentioned that a book is a delivery method. This is true of both physical books and ebook readers. They are different delivery methods, but both serve the same purpose at that level of abstraction, hence these are weak differentiators. I also said a book is a physical experience, also true of both physical and e-books…and audio books as well, actually. But I’ll talk about audio later. Anyway, what’s important here is that because there is no contextual difference in roles of these two items regarding things like being a delivery method or being a physical experience, personal opinion matters. By this I mean that if I like one or the other better, then it wins for me. If you like the other better, it wins for you. There is no wrong answer, only what works best for you (unless you’re trying to make other people feel stupid, which seems to be the purpose of a helluva lot of communications these days).

So, Ron, what’s your opinion on these things and your ebook reader?

Well … it is clearly more expedient to buy an e-book and get it loaded up–except, of course, if you need to deal with format conversions and whatnot, which have a high annoyance factor. To be honest, my life is complicated enough without having to think about what folders I’ve put files into and how to click what buttons to convert them over to things my Kindle reads well…and the conversions suck half the time. It’s really easier to order the danged thing online and wait two days for the delivery to happen at my front door. It’s not as fast to order and receive a physical book, but it’s easier and at least as reliable.

Then there’s the physical nature of delivering the story.

An ebook reader does things a physical book can’t. Changing text sizes, for example (which is great for my aging eyes because my eyesight degrades a bit as the day goes at this point of my life). Or allowing automatic look-ups of words. These are great advantages. But a book can do things an e-reader can’t–specifically, I can peak deeper into a book more easily. I tend to do that a lot, I finger two or three or four pages forward to see where stopping points are. This is possible with an ebook, but if you have to go past a couple screens, the steady clicking gets annoying and it’s easy to lose you place. Also, for magazines, I tend to like to read shorter stories first, or otherwise pick around. This is nearly impossible with an e-reader.

I also admit I fight one more personal bias.

I’m a newish writer who has spent a lot of years working on my own stuff and reading other writer’s pre-published material. I have probably read and critiqued thousands of stories prior to their publication. When I read on a screen, it feels like I’m reading a manuscript, not a story. I have only recently realized this after I picked up a couple stories I didn’t particularly care for and read them on the Kindle. Now that I’ve figured this out, it’s easy to notice. When I read on the screen, I fight a mental surge that says this is not a published piece of work–it’s a mental block I need to overcome every time I pick up my e-reader.

Still, at the end of the day, for pure reading, I think I would read on the Kindle a bit before I would pick up a physical book.

It’s a close call, though.

That’s enough for today. Tomorrow I’ll plan to focus on other aspects of the ebook reader vs. physical book debates, and then I’ll eventually move on to what I think this situation means for us newbie-ish writers. That’s the plan, anyway.

We’ll see where the future takes me.

22 Jul

Chicago Survives Us

So, yeah. It’s been a few days, eh? Sorry about that again. Work has been a pain, and we’ve been traveling, and blah, blah, whah, whah…

But, it’s all true. I swear it is.

Here’s a picture I took of Chicago to prove it.

While there we also saw several interesting things like the Cirque Shanghai acrobats, and the art institute. So, there’s my get out of jail free card. What’s that, you say? I could have updated in the hotel room? Well, yeah, technically that’s right. But by the time we got back there each night we were pretty well done-in. Chicago for us, you see, is all about the walking (I estimate we did 13+ miles the last day).

Other good things about the trip:

– Lunch with Brigid & Nick (twice!)
– Seeing parts of Transformers 3 being filmed
– A boat tour (first time after all these years)
– Berry Chill

So, anyway. I didn’t mean to talk about that today. Instead, I was going to talk about the publishing industry. I’ve been thinking a lot about things the past few weeks–past few months actually. And since I’m in this weird space where I was coming up through the ranks five or so years back, then took a detour, and am now back again, I’m in a personal position to make some commentary about what’s changed and how it affects us newbies (yeah, I know I don’t qualify as a newbie in some circles, but I figure that I’m a newbie until I’ve been publishing novels for five years. So there you go).

After working in this new world for a few months now, I’ve got a few thoughts about the publishing industry, and so for the next few posts I’ll be stringing along a running, stream-of-consciousness ramble about things I think are relevant to newish writers as well as to readers as a whole.

Consider this your warning. [grin]

14 Jul

The Search, The Conversation

I was looking for my jump drive this morning. It was nowhere to be found. Lisa watched me with some reasonably self-contained humor as I determined that it was probably still at work.

Run time up to later this morning. Here is a rough copy of an IM conversation we held.

Ron: BTW, I found my jump drive. It was in my shoe.
Lisa: Of course.
Ron: I thought you would like that.
Lisa: My only question is whether you found it before you put your shoes on or after.
Ron: I always check my shoe for jump drives before putting them on.
Lisa: Uh huh.
Ron: You never know when those buggers will crawl in there.

11 Jul

Making New From Old

I was listening to a Scientific American podcast the other day while at the health club, and they ran a story about Alaskan dogs that were part of the Iditarod. Among the facts that the story gave was that these dogs burn an incredible number of calories while participating in this race, some ridiculous number like 12,000 calories a day. I mean, yikes. Totally awesome when you think about it, especially given the relative size of these animals.

Humans should get along on a couple thousand a day, for example.

These dogs, it seems, can also modify their systems to begin to dram energy from those calories directly from the bloodstream rather than letting it go through the liver first. Pretty danged fascinating, eh?

Anyway, the story got me to thinking about what would happen if humans used genetic material from a dog, which then got me to remembering a story I had written some time back. It was sitting firmly in my trunk, but I dug it out and looked it over. It is a story that uses the idea of building humans with genetic code from a specific animal in order to make use of its genetic processes.

I’m not in the habit of doing this because most, if not all, stories I put in my trunk are put in there for some very good reasons. This one, though, I decided I liked. And quite honestly, I’m a better writer now than I was when I first wrote it. I could see lots of big issues. But I’ve spent the last two days cutting it up and doing it over again.

And, of course I’m pretty happy with it. It’s always good to have a new story to put in the post.

Still, I don’t think I’ll be trunk diving anytime in the near future. Too scary as a rule. [grin]

10 Jul

Best Western

I’ve got another recommendation–this time it’s not SF at all. I stumbled upon PRI’s Selected Shorts podcast, which is a show that features various people reading short stories of some note to a live audience. Often I like the stories, sometimes I don’t.

In this case, I quite enjoyed “Best Western“, a short story by Anne de Marcken (read by Laura Esterman). It’s the second story in this podcast. The first is good story–Rebecca Curtis’s “Twenty Grand” as read by Jane Curtain. But “Best Western,” in my opinion truly shines.