I said it would be cool to add your signature to an ebook at a signing and three days later it's real!

It sure would be cool if I had a million dollars...


I'll let you know what happens on Monday.

As for the above, it's a good first start but their invasion of your Twitter privacy is a deal breaker (not to mention it's only for the kindle and I prefer the nook).


The Absence of Trees

Completely unrelated to my previous post (and apologies for its rushed nature), but I've been spending a measurable amount of time pondering book signings lately. Specifically how I cannot attend them. I don't buy paper books any more. It would be awkward going up to an author and asking him to sign my nook. Mostly because I don't want him/her signing my nook. I don't want him/her signing its protective covering, as that will inevitably wear out. (I put it through its paces.)

I've been envisioning lately a laptop, an appropriate collection of cables, and signature files that could be created and then transferred to the user's ereader. What would be even cooler was if my ebook already had the code to accept such a file and once the file was present, the signature would appear within the ebook itself. That would be thrilling.

I wonder if anyone is working on something like that.

Reevaluating the Briar Patch

I have--to this point--been consistent regarding my opinion of self-publishing and its relevance to my own career. That opinion has not been very positive. For all the anecdotal examples that are bandied about the internet of self-publishing success, the majority of self-published work (in my own anecdotal exploration) is atrociously bad. Of course it is. There are no quality controls on self-publishing. You write it. You publish it. It's out there. It is only as good as your talent, skill, and editing can make it.

Conceding this front, the "self-publishing is the New Publishing" argument has moved to revenue. I've seen Amanda Hocking's name everywhere, but nowhere have I seen an assessment of the quality of her work, only that she's made a lot of money. And despite some popular blogs claiming that the one proves the other, here in this blog we know that to be a load of crap and will not tolerate the claim during intelligent debate.

Having friends who have already self-published, my pursuit of traditional publication was immediately met with questions of why I just wasn't self-publishing. My assertion (and one I continue to make) is that pursuing traditional publishing makes you a better author. While I've always been the best in any group environments I've participated in (classes, organizations, writing groups), this is the big wide world here and the internet has brought the best together. I am not the cream of that pile. Not yet, at least, but that's where I want to be. Self-publishing offers no hurdles, no comparative challenge for me to improve or a yardstick in which to measure that improvement. I want to query, find an agent, and sell my book preferably at auction because I have improved to the point where my work is something worth arguing over.

There is the persistent briar patch of writing and rejection, however. Writing is subjective, every agent will tell you (often including it in their form rejection). It may not be that your query or your book were bad so much as it was it simply didn't appeal to them. With the dwindling number of fantasy agents out there (not counting urban fantasy because I don't write it), the sample size is incredibly small. If your book doesn't appeal to twenty people, you're pretty much done with that cycle.

At the same time, it's an easy excuse to avoid looking critically at your own work. Was it simply a matter of taste or were you not good enough? Was your query bad? Was your book bad? Are you writing derivative, unoriginal work? Are you cliche? Irrelevant? Contrived?

It is a fine line between losing to subjectivity and losing to not being good enough (a line I find most people miss, opting for the latter scenario rather than the former).

Elsewhere in the briar patch is consistent theme or style. Do you pursue stories that run against the grain in that it could find an audience but has greater difficulty finding an advocate in a diminishing market? Are you simply too outside what is accepted? You see that one a LOT. But does that mean it can't be true? Again, a thorny question with an answer that could be one side of the coin or another.

Self-publishing as a response to rejection is avoidance, I think. The answers could be true that you are good enough and just too far out there but that a market awaits you if you only had a chance. Absolutely. But too many people use those excuses for me to ever make such a claim and actually believe myself.

That brings us back to the Konrath/Hocking Paradigm. Self-publishing as a form of superior revenue generation. There's too much anecdotal argument here for anyone not to cling to whatever argument they want to believe. But given the sheer volume of self-publication, I think if it were the superior money maker across the board, that picture would be clearer to all who looked at it.

There's a but to this. You've known it was coming since my first sentence. My company made an announcement on Thursday, one I don't know was public or internal so I won't repeat it here. Suffice it to say, i've had a long-standing opinion of where publishers needed to go to survive the ePocalypse, forming their own markets and improving author royalties on ebooks. The announcement effectively turned us in the opposite direction.

Now, I'm not running around with my arms above my head saying publishing is doomed. For all its glacial pace publicly, privately publishing moves very fast. New ideas begin and die before they ever come to fruition. Five different strategies for the same solution may begin simultaneously, allowing the strongest to survive. This new direction may not make it out of the year. But if it does, if it becomes the norm, I may throw my hands above my head and start saying publishing is doomed.

This is an important moment in publishing's evolution with powerhouses positioning themselves for the future of the industry. For the first time in the past couple years, this is the first time I've seen one of the big six intentionally adjust its strategy in a way I feel cedes market positioning to a rival.

If it continues down this path, the pressure will cause the company to buckle. Amazon's 70% will represent nearly three times the royalty rate offered by traditional publishers while securing its massive dominance of the book market through digital distribution.

Sure the 70% thing's been going on for awhile, but this new pivot has caused me to sit up and take notice. In addition to becoming a better author, I've been pursuing traditional publishing with the expectation that the industry would win out in the end. This is the first sign that I might have bet on the wrong horse.

As such, for the first time ever, I'm genuinely considering self-publishing as a viable course for my career. I'm still querying agents and pursuing traditional publishing, but I'm open to alternatives. I just have to walk through the briar patch and answer some hard questions.

Could It Be Any Clearer

Pearson, Inc is the parent company that owns Penguin and Pearson Education. They are the world leaders in trade and educational publishing, respectively. It also owns the Financial Times, Dorling Kindersley, and other ventures. Their 2010 numbers were just released. One point in particular is of relevance to people like you and me:

Last year [2010] almost 30% of all our revenues were for digital products (42% if you count those blended paper/digital programs). Our digital education platforms now serve almost 60 million students, up 43% from last year.

Let that soak in a little bit. The LARGEST publisher in the world made 30% (or 42% if you prefer) of its revenue from digital products. And the fact that they differentiate between digital and digital/print blend is HUGE. These aren't fudged numbers. Pure digital content made up nearly 1/3 of the revenue of an $8.7 billion year.

That's 2,610,000,000 dollars in digital revenue. 2.6 BILLION.

The digital age is here, my friends. Welcome to the future.

At the End of All Things

More and more often, one of the arguments against ebooks I'm hearing is: When society collapses and there is no more power to charge the ebook or run the servers or what have you, I'll be happy with my paper books.

It's a hyperbolic example, but not for the reasons I think they're intending. I think they're going with the "if the world ended" as an extreme example, but I think the extremity is to believe you'd have time for leisure writing once a power grid collapsed.

Without electricity, your entire day just got dedicated to survival. You'll need to learn how to make candles or lantern oil. You'll need to learn how to farm. You'll need to learn how to stockpile necessities for the winter.

When you have a finite number of candles and your daylight is spent staying alive, when exactly does all this reading happen?

(This all assumes you survived the initial riots that decimate the population and you don't use book pages for kindling on your first sub-freezing night.)

(A little binger to brighten your day. ;)

I'll Make a Bajillion Dollars!

So, as we all know, the reason there is still resistance to the ebook is because some people worry about losing their pretension. How can one prove that one is better than those around one if they cannot see that the book one is reading is clearly far beyond the reading level of everyone else gathered.

There had been a quickly-abandoned proposal of creating ereaders with screens on both sides, one for reading and one for showing the cover. Given that nearly all ereaders are immediately put into a protective cover, this proved a waste of time and monies.

But there must be a way we can welcome the coming epocalypse while maintaining our pretentious superiority! Well, there is, with the Selbomatic eBook Attenuated Label (SEAL-the bad ass of ebook covers).

Take the standard design for an ebook cover. Thick, padded sides with straps to hold in your ereader. Cut a rectangle into the top cover and shave off a few millimeters so there is a book-like divot in the cover. Slice an opening in the side. Print out a color image of the cover of the most pretentious book you want people to think you’re reading (and if you’re really concerned about looking superior, I suggest you actually read the book too lest someone else ask questions you cannot answer). Put the paper image between two thin pieces of plastic, then slide them into the opening until the image is situated in the divot. This divot being in truth a window to your intellectual superiority.

Ideally, you could manufacture this entire thing, but if your intellect can’t wait to be on display, you can accomplish it with a razor blade and a file. I am now accepting start-up capital.

Print is Killing Publishing

Whether you love the smell of paper books or not, digital distribution will be the primary means of accessing text-based media within your lifetime. Three years ago I was in a meeting of department heads and vice presidents and all the people that make decisions on things. We were discussing the company's ebook strategy. Three years ago, Flashpaper was new and xml-ebooks were in their first iteration. We were on the precipice and most people didn't know it.

We're now over the precipice, in case you're wondering. We're falling. Argue all you want that you prefer paper. We'll hit the bottom soon enough.

Flashpaper seems like old hat now. XML is realized (not fully, as we continue to experiment with enhanced ebooks). HTML5 and CSS3 are the vanguard of the mobile revolution, where computers play second hat to smart phones and tablets. The entire publishing paradigm is shifting and those companies that deal with text-based media are trying to figure out how to handle such a rapidly changing market.

At this meeting, standing a the precipice, we discussed the marketplace, the challenges of digital sales, and most importantly, the challenge of pricing. I asked what I thought was a simple enough question: Why don't we just sell content directly to the consumer?

Now at the time, ebooks represented less than 1% of total sales. MUCH less. The industry moneymaker at the time (and currently, though not for much longer) was paper books. Paper books sold in stores and online at Amazon. A book's marketing budget was much smaller than what was needed to force any one particular title to the forefront of the consumer consciousness. So much of the business depended on customers finding the books while looking for other items. (You know the "people who browsed this item also looked at X, Y, Z" suggestions on Amazon? Those are a big deal.)

The answer was as simple as the question. We can't sell directly to customers because it will upset the market. Cutting the middleman out of a particular part of the market would rock the boat for the much larger revenue generator.

In truth, the answer isn't so simple. It is short, but it embodies so many challenges that publishing isn't willing to tackle. How do you set up a marketplace? Which department owns it and maintains it? Will this require new staff and the costs that go along with them? How does a marketplace work? (I cannot express to you the number of meetings I had to have with directors and VPs explaining what meta-text and catalog searching is.) How do you handle international sales? How do you draw users to your market without the goods of other publishers that are offered in the collective of a place like Amazon? How do you establish industry market standards without provoking (more) anti-trust accusations? How do you sell books?

Did you catch that last one? How do you sell books? Publishers are really good at selling books to the market. Publishers are not very good at selling books to the customer. The industry grew up in cooperation with the market, not in opposition to it. Publishers do not have the staff, the institutional knowledge, or the will to bring anything but a marginal effort to bear when it comes to direct selling.

How does that affect you and me? You get the agency model of ebook selling. Ebooks cost as much as their hard-back brethren because the cost still accommodates the middle man. Rather than a 50/50 split between author and publisher, the whole thing is muddled by including a third party to act as a literary fence.

With the inclusion of self-publishing arms and fourth-party catalogs like Smashwords, marketplace e-bookshelves are less accommodating than ever for browsing. There aren't enough ways to hone searches aside from direct keyword searches. If you want to see fantasy, you get sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. And a LOT of it. And a lot of that, self-published. Sure Tor might not represent 100% of the fantasy market, but when you trace so many of the imprints up to their parent corporations, you'd be surprised how many of them are owned by the same people (Penguin owns at least four different fantasy imprints. Tor at least three, and so on). Bundle all these titles into a top-notch database driven search engine, slap a nice marketplace on the front of it, and all of a sudden you don't need to charge $17.50 for an ebook. You can charge $10 and make more money than you ever did before.

With the rapidly changing distribution paradigm, the obligations of playing nice with the market because of print will soon be meaningless. The problem is, by the time that happens, the publishing industry will have given up any opportunity it had to establish itself as a market option for readers of its work, will have allowed Amazon to muscle its way into the industry despite spats with Macmillain (which I still contend Amazon won despite [or because of] the application of the agency model to ebook pricing [something that will bite publishers in the ass]).

The game is being played while we fall. When we hit the bottom, the game ends, the new era of publishing begins, and only one victor will get up and walk away. The more we fall and the more I see the game played, I predict that victor to be Amazon. If decisive action is not taken, publishers, authors, and customers alike will lie broken and bloodied at the foot of the Cliffs of E-sanity.

Clarification, Explanation

I changed my twitter profile recently from "I write." to "I write in the morning. I make ebooks all day. I write in the evening. I do other stuff." There was some confusion to this statement. It was presumed that I self-publish in ebook format, and that is not the case. I work for a publishing company as a media project manager. One of the things I am responsible for creating is the ebook (in its many formats, pdf, xml, flash, etc). I changed it because in the pub-o-sphere, the paradigm of agents giving advice to aspiring writers, they can forget that we have day jobs too. I have eight years in publishing, six of those in media production. I have participated in the creation of estrategy and worked the guidelines for xml creation from typeset PDFs of finished books. So, you can imagine, when an agent tells me I'm wrong about ebooks, it grinds my gears. The closest an agent will get on the production side is perhaps giving feedback on a cover. When it comes to this part of the business, the paradigm is reversed. There is a caveat to all this.

On my website, I list the jobs I've held. At the bottom of the list is my current job in educational publishing. My web presence elsewhere is part of the trade publishing community, blogs, twitter, just like how all of you found me at one point or another. In that environment where there is a limit to characters or an amount of time you can make your point before readers go on to the next post, I leave off the "educational" because most people don't understand the difference. I also say I work for a big 6 publisher because I do not want to say which publisher it is and there isn't a term any of you would understand otherwise. I do work for the parent company of one of the big six. I am in their higher education division rather than their trade pub division.

Here's why this matters: 1) The acquisition of trade titles is different than the acquisition of education titles. For all my bad experiences with a perpetually late editorial staff that has no understanding of production or media (of which there are many), I have no basis to claim the same for trade.

2) I do not want it to appear as if I am intentionally deceiving people or suggesting that I have a role in trade when I do not. I have never worked in trade and never intend to do so as anything but an author.

Here's why it doesn't: 1) In corporate strategy sessions, technological strategy often has to take into account both sides of the business. Efficiency is always the key word and a method I use for making my ebook is highly likely to be used on the trade side as well. Disparate systems cost money!

2) Print and media in general are established workflows that are not affected by what they are publishing. Printing a book is printing a book. You need to know your trim size, your paper weight, your final page count, the weight of the paper for the cover, and various milestones for your schedule. The subject matter of the book doesn't matter. The printing process is the same. The same is true for media. An enhanced ebook is an enhanced ebook. File format matters MUCH more than subject matter. Is this thing for Kindle? Nook? Our own proprietary ebook viewing system? The skill set I have in media transfers 100% to trade.

So there you go. Full disclosure. I work for the largest publisher in the world. So often people say largest and they're just talking about trade, when in fact they should consider trade and education. It actually obscures a lot of "predictions" on where publishing is going because people only focus on trade. Educational publishing puts trade publishing to shame. So when you think, oh no, ebooks are going to kill publishing. I laugh. I laugh heartily. Trade publishing is having difficulty adjusting to ebooks, but Education has been pushing as hard as it can for years to get to this point. The ebook revolution is a gold mine for educational publishing. Where does educational publishing lose the most money? Not piracy. Used book stores. How do you sell an ebook to a used book store? Exactly. A collapse of the trade division of my company would see total yearly revenue drop by only 25%.

The end of publishing? Oh no, my friends. This is only the beginning.

(Technical note: The information in this post is stated as personal observation and without review by my HR department. The information is non-proprietary and represents experiences gained working at two separate publishing companies over the course of 8 years. Chill.)

BLUE FIRE, Writing to Age, and the Agency Model for eBooks

 BLUE FIRE by Janice Hardy released today. Some how, I switched the 10 and the 5 and thought it wasn't coming out until Friday even though new books come out on Tuesdays. I are dumb. So I get an email while riding the train into work saying the download is available. I turn on my nook's wifi to see if there's a signal on the train. There is. And I promptly download the new book, setting aside the two other books I'm still in the midst of completing (those being ROSEMARY AND RUE and JULIET). As a personal note, this is the first ebook I've ever pre-ordered.

I was introduced to Janice's first novel, THE SHIFTER, through Kristin Nelson's blog when she discussed the challenges of titles. (THE SHIFTER was originally titled THE PAIN MERCHANTS, which is a much cooler title but was thought it might inhibit the target market from buying this title.) Kristin being an agent I want to work with, I have looked over all the fantasy novels she has sold so far. Now, I'm a bit finicky in my fantasy tastes. If you give your main character a "cool name," it's an immediate turn off. This was the first of Kristin's fantasy novels that piqued my interest.

I actually passed on it the first time, though. Then she did a second blog post where she posted first pages. She was illustrating how important first pages were and how little Janice's first pages changed from what she sent as part of her query and what they submitted to publishers in an attempt to make the sale. They were very similar, almost identical. (Hence, first pages are important. But then, so are the rest of them. :) Reading the first pages, I felt like it was a book worth buying. Two days later, I had finished the entire thing. I read it again about six months later. It's a short but solid work. I am glad that the second novel came out when promised and not fallen into the sophomore slump of coming out years after the initial success.

What really shocked me about this series is that Kristin called it Middle Grade. Wow, really? It has a young protagonist, absent sexuality (other than young infatuation) or profanity, and most violence is threat more than execution. And it has a short word count. But still, Middle Grade? I would have assumed YA (sure, the line between the two isn't as distinct as between genres, but I don't usually read YA and I never read MG--I thought--so this came as a shocker to me).

I have one young-reader's story. Without it being finished, I don't know it's classification. MG is kind of new, really. Everything else I write is most certainly adult. I have graphic violence, profanity, sexuality, and all used (I think) in a manner appropriate to the work. Could I take it out? Could Otwald, aged 18, be the star of a YA TRIAD SOCIETY rather than the adult fantasy as I've written it? Until today, I never even considered it. I don't write YA. I have no interest in writing YA (with the exception of HOUSE ON SANDWICH NOTCH LANE). But "The Healing Wars" is a solid story that never seemed "young" to me. It's well written and an immersive setting. I have no qualms reading it. But writing it..?

I don't know, man. I just don't know. That's really the point of this post. Most of the time I just think of YA as the genre every agent and her sister reps when there are less than 30 agents remaining that accept submissions for adult (non-urban) fantasy. Now, let me be clear, I'm not pondering this to possibly expand my available agent pool. I'm just pondering on the state of adult fantasy all together. Between YA and Urban Fantasy, the genre is much diminished.

One last thing to note about BLUE FIRE. I bought it for $9.99. I bought so many more books last year before the agency model was implemented with ebooks. I was buying them left and right. Now that they're being priced $5 higher, I won't buy them. This makes me sad. A lot. There have been a number of books I wanted to buy that were priced too high.