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.

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.

Analog Picks Up “Ellipses…”

Still need to deal with all the contractual stuff, so nothing is certain. But news from New York is that Analog wants to publish my novelette “Ellipses…”

This is, as always, pretty good news.

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]

Diving Into the Wreck

I’m reading Kris Rush’s “Diving Into the Wreck” now. I’m a bit over a third of the way through, and I have to say I’m really liking it. It’s been a nice, easy read with a compelling character and an intriguing story. Reminds me much of SF I read as a kid, but with a modern sensibility. [grin]

Four Stories Available on Smashwords

Lots of things happening lately…you can find four of my stories available on Smashwords.

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.

C-buz Interview Posted

We’ve got a local site here in Columbus (Indiana, not Ohio) that focuses on creative people in and around the local area. They just posted an interview of me, complete with some nifty photos (including one of me and Albert Einstein!).

And, if you’re interested in something a little more science-y, here’s news of some folks trying to take on “Big Al.”

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]

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.

Filters … Grrrrr

I enjoy work, and I support a corporate environment’s right and need to filter what their employees are allowed to see while at work. That’s all good. And I work at a place that has a very workable and professional policy toward the use of the Internet. I like that.

I admit, however, that I struggle to see why we let ESPN and stories about Lebron James through, but block Scientific America. I’m sure it’s something in the group we’ve (likely) outsourced to.

But these are the kinds of things that just make you wonder.

Progress?

I hear you.

Enough about Picasso’s Cat and all that stuff. What about your actual progress? Are you becoming a slacker, or what?

The answer is, well, uh … maybe a little.

But it’s not bad, really it’s not. At least I don’t think it to be bad.

Between work and travel and spending time on marketing novels and the collection, I admit I haven’t had enough time to actually create words. There’s a much longer blog article coming on this topic sometime soonish, but I’m not going to go into it now. Not the time and place.

What I will say is that the spree of discovery writing on the novel I spoke of last is clearly broken, and so I’ve spent most of the last two mornings at the keyboard beginning to get into the design of the actual story. Thinking, you know?

So that’s my progress report.

Not brilliant, but steadily working. [grin]

Recommendations

I’ve been derelict in my duty. I should note that my friend Lisa Silverthorne has three stories available on Smashwords, including one of my favorite of her stories–”Rena 733.”

I can also vouch for “When Sparrows Fall,” which has a deep power to it.

But, honestly, I really, really love “Rena 733.”

Try one, I’m sure you’ll want them all.

Losing Weight and Exercise

As a general rule I’ve been trying to keep this little blog mostly about my writing, with a few tangential commentaries or links to things I think have some interest to the types of people who might be interested in me. Not that I’m always right, or anything. But that’s the basic plan of the place.

But today I’m stretching a little. So, bear with me.

Lisa sent me this story, which is somewhat relevant to us because, as I’ve noted a few times before, Lisa and I have been spending considerable time at the health club.

Quite honestly, I struggle with the story–particularly the headline.

For those who don’t click through, the headline asks: “Why doesn’t exercise lead to weight loss,” then the story goes on to explain that a collection of obese people were put through an exercise program without changing their diet and that they lost only seven pounds on average, with several losing only half that. So the first problem with this headline is, clearly, exercise actually did lead to losing weight.

I figure that the author did not write the headline. I assume that was a copy editor. But, even then I have to struggle with the lead portion of the article, which seems to be asking “why doesn’t exercise lead to MORE weight loss than this?” To that, I have to reply: Seriously? I mean, does one seriously have to ask why taking a collection of obese people and telling them to keep eating the same way that’s gotten them into their situation will severely limit the influence of exercise?

Just in case this is true, that one actually does have to answer that question, here’s the deal: assuming you are in fair health, either one of two things will happen when you exercise. (1) you will lose weight because the calories you burn off will offset those you eat, or (2) you will gain weight more slowly than you would have if you didn’t exercise. That’s the equation. It’s really very simple. Oh, sure, you can dig a little deeper to get some additional information and refine your weight control strategy (which this story touches on at its end), but the equation is all you really need to know about weight loss and weight gain. Exercise burns calories, and eating reasonable portions of a balanced diet allows exercise to do its thing.

Luckily, the article redeems itself a bit by quoting one of the lead researchers:

“The message of our work is really simple,” although not agreeable to hear, Melanson said. “It all comes down to energy balance,” or, as you might have guessed, calories in and calories out.

For the record, my BMI when we started going to the health club so often was 26.5, which put me in the “Overweight” category. Today it’s 23.4, which puts me clearly in the “normal” category. Lisa’s numbers are probably a shade better–and, yes, we’ve changed our approach to eating as well as exercising. Don’t get me wrong. We’ve not done any crash dieting. Such approaches would not work well for either of us, I think. I eat about as much as I ever did, for example, and I eat when I’m hungry. But we pay attention to what we eat, and we’ve gone to snacks that are more fruits and nuts than chips and cookies. Lisa takes her lunch to work, and I do the same a bit more than half the time (this saves money, too, of course).

So I’m sitting here wondering what it is that has me so perturbed about this article and its clearly misleading headline. To be honest, I’m not 100% certain. But it seems clear to me that we really don’t need this kind of confusing article being posted in one of the leading.

Picasso’s Cat & Other Stories is Now Available

So I’ve been absent for a bit. Sorry about that. The real job has been particularly hectic recently, and I spent the past two days in Mexico with limited time and net access.

The big news is that Picasso’s Cat and Other Stories is now available from The Merry Blacksmith Press. And if you order from the publisher’s website in the next 24 hours or so shipping will be free! If you ordered prior to this, your shipping will be refunded.

Very excited here.