Category Archives: digital publishing

9

Whether a borrower or a lender to be…

I usually take a look at Twitter while I eat lunch and today this little gem, retweeted by publishing newsletter Shelf Awareness, caught my eye:

 

My first thought was, “Josh Malina is nicer than me.”

Now, in some ways I’m happy to lend books. If I loved a book, I want my friends to read it so that they can love it too – or so that we can argue about why we thought it was so good/not so good. Here in the DGLM office we often borrow books back and forth (DVDs too – in fact I currently have Lauren’s Sports Night DVDs, featuring the aforementioned Josh Malina – but I digress.) Books, staplers, post-its, everything is fair game in the office, right? Just don’t touch my peanut butter.

But sometimes I really, really love a book in a way that’s linked to a specific physical copy of a book. And then I’m verrrrrry reluctant to lend it out. Sometimes because I’ve scribbled notes all over it. Sometimes because I got it at an author event and it has a special inscription or signature. And sometimes, nonsensically, I loved the book so much that I want to hold on to the exact physical object that I held in my hands while I read it. The book is a physical symbol of that intangible and cherished reading experience.

I know this horcrux-like attitude doesn’t fit very nicely into the digital age. But the lending of books is a beloved part of the reading experience that hasn’t transitioned quite as easily to the e-books experience. It’s getting easier and easier to do it impersonally, whether you use the Kindle Lending Library, your city library, or subscription services like Oyster. It’s not so easy, however, for passionate readers to share e-books with each other like they could do with paperbacks – shared digital books often require both readers to use the same device or service, and usually come with time limits.

This is this kind of digital growing pain that has as much potential for excitement as for inconvenience. Think of the amazing new borrowing inventions that lie just around the corner! In the meantime, I’ll be separating my books into two categories: “Go Ahead, You’re Gonna Love It” and “Do Not Touch My Precious.”

Are you a free spirit when it comes to lending your books, or do you have precious no-touch copies like me?

 If you’re an e-book reader, what are your suggestions for improving options for e-book borrowing?  

3

Speed Limits

Writerly corners of the internet have been abuzz this week about this little piece in the New York Times: Impatience Has Its Reward: Books Are Rolled Out Faster:

The practice of spacing an author’s books at least one year apart is gradually being discarded as publishers appeal to the same “must-know-now” impulse that drives binge viewing of shows like “

House of Cards” and “Breaking Bad.”

While 24-7 internet culture may be shifting our entertainment expectations, digital publishing is surely of influence as well, with its quicker production schedules and near-instant distribution options. Digitally published authors often hope to capitalize on the binge impulse by including sell pages in the back of their e-books with links to their other titles. As the article quotes,

“It’s so much easier to buy books online,” Ms. Weis said. “The temptation is right at your fingertips because you don’t have to go to the bookstore. We have to play to that.”

As with any new innovation, an accelerated pub schedule is not going to be one-size-fits-all success for every book. As traditional publishers experiment with some of the speedy strategies that have served self-pubbers well, they’re accepting some risks alongside the advantages:

But for many writers out there, all this talk of release dates and market trends is still ahead of you, in the tantalizing future when your book is published. It’s a dream come true for readers to discover your work at all! Don’t be impatient as you pursue this dream – the most important place to slow down is before your project even gets to the market. Not just writing a great book, but revising and re-writing, polling beta readers, incorporating professional editorial input. Digital publishing can seem like a quicker path to the finish line, but it’s still more of a marathon, even a relay, than a sprint.

What do you think? Is the binge-watching spirit of Netflix spreading to the book business?

Do authors need plenty of time to hone their work and build anticipation, or should they shift their focus to publishing schedule that feeds a (hopefully) hungry market?

Is reading changing?

I’m on vacation next week (Yay!) and for reasons I’ve never really understood (perhaps therapy would help), I’m in that clear-my-desk-of-everything-I’ve-been-meaning-to-take-care-of-since-January mode while being suddenly bombarded with contracts, manuscripts, and proposals that I’ve been waiting for roughly since, well, January and which have chosen this week to make an appearance with an “urgent” flag attached to them.  Of course, it’s my blog week as well so, in full pre-vacation madness, I shamelessly stole Jim McCarthy’s idea to ask his Twitter followers to suggest a topic for him when he returned from his travels. Several people helpfully responded to my plea and I very much appreciate their input.

The one idea that jumped out at me was submitted by our client Kevin Grange: “People are increasingly reading in shorter bursts on various e-devices. Should we construct stories differently? Thoughts?”

Partly, I sparked to this one because I’ve been fantasizing about which of my books I’m going to lug a physical copy of and which ones I’m going to add to my Kindle Fire.  (My grasp, as always, exceeds my reach here, folks.  I’m packing books like I’ve been sentenced to solitary confinement in Siberia instead of a week at the beach with my family.)

Despite my initial impulse to deny that my reading habits have changed at all and that, therefore, there’s any need to change the essential structure of storytelling,  Kevin’s question made me realize that I do, indeed, read in shorter bursts when using my Kindle (or any other electronic device).  In part, this is because, I don’t care what anyone says, my eyes get tired more quickly reading a screen.  Mostly, though, it has to do with the fact that Words With Friends, Ruzzle, Facebook, and the whole of the internet is also on my Kindle along with the 300 other titles and manuscripts residing therein.  So, if I hit a dull patch in my book, there’s always something else to take its place.

But does this mean that authors need to write shorter?  Shorter sentences?  Shorter paragraphs?  Shorter chapters?  Shorter books?  And is it already happening?

Thriller writers have known for years that trim chapters ending in cliffhangers build that all-important momentum, leading inexorably to the climactic scene involving a sinister villain, a put-upon hero(ine), and lots of weaponry.   But, does the fact that increasingly we’re ingesting our literature on e-readers mean that even literary fiction and nonfiction are conforming to the dictates of our ever shorter attention spans?

Instinctively, I want to say they are, but I’ve no solid data on the subject.  Basically,  I’m going to keep this in mind as I read and edit and consider new projects.  Meanwhile, I’ll just restate Kevin’s very good question here and ask what you all think.  For the writers out there, are you consciously shortening your stride when writing?  And for the readers, do you find, as I do, that you have less stickwithitness?

0

Getting to Know You

As Jane told you last week, I’m the new kid on the block, and I’m excited to be working with DGLM’s clients on their digital projects.

If you read my bio, you know that I was born a bookworm, and probably not long after that started obnoxiously correcting other people’s grammar. So it’s no surprise that I got myself an English degree, had a bookstore gig for a few years, and then came to NYC to work in publishing in 2009. Along the way, I’ve learned a lot about the challenges and the opportunities of the digital publishing revolution, and am eager to put that knowledge at the disposal of DGLM’s authors.

Since I’m new here, I bet you’re curious about what I read! In general, I am obsessed with literary fiction, especially if it’s witty; well-written thrillers with smart twists; and pretty much anything with an unreliable narrator. (That admission might lead you to question this blog post – don’t worry, it’s entirely legit…or is it.) After all, whether you love e-books, paper books, or a little bit of both, it’s all about the storytelling.

Creatures of Habit

Over the weekend my roommate was showing me an app on his smartphone, one that analyses your sleeping pattern. You place your smartphone in bed and by charting your movements the app is able to determine whether you are in a deep sleep state or a light sleep state. The app then programs your alarm to wake you up in the light sleep phase closest to the time you wish to wake up, thus ensuring that you will start off your day bright eyed and bushy tailed.

What interested me about this device however is that its output consists of graphs, numbers and statistics, data which does not visually reflect the more subjective and emotional side of sleep, which is dreams. Does the empirical complement or explain the ethereal? Can raw data explain why I always miss the last minute winning goal for my boyhood soccer team? (It’s a recurring dream, so I’ll always get another chance).

With this swirling around my head, I was drawn to this article on the Guardian. The article posits that e-books are a different genre from print books because, “With the book, the reader’s relationship to the text is private, and the book is continuous over space, time and reader. Neither of these propositions is necessarily the case with the e-book. The e-book gathers a great deal of information about our reading habits: when we start to read, when we stop, how quickly or slowly we read, when we skip pages, when we re-read, what we choose to highlight, what we choose to read next.”

To link my personal anecdote with the article – will the e-book and its possibility to trace and digest our preferences change the role of our relationship with books? Much like the alarm being set to suit the sleeper, will the e-book become malleable to the reader’s preferences?

I am still chewing this over and over. I see the journalist’s point, that by being able to extrapolate a reader’s reading habits through an e-book we would be able to see what kind of reader we are through a set of data, that can then be used to adapt the text, “If 50% of readers stopped reading you postmodernist thriller at page 98, the publisher might recommend that for Version 2.0, the plot twist on page 110 be brought forward.”

It is indeed an interesting perspective to the future , but is not yet the reality, which is why I am still mulling over the possibilities over private vs. public reading habits. In the meantime, let me know what you think of this article. Is this the way you view e-books? I’ll get back to you in a future blog post with more thoughts on this debate and I’ll let you know if I ever score that winning goal!

The best of all possible worlds

Last night I walked a couple of blocks down Fifth Avenue to the brownstone home of the Salmagundi Art Club for a panel discussion of “Publishing in the Digital Age” hosted by the Deadline Club.  It was a miserable evening, weather-wise (as soon as I walked out the door of 1 Union Square West, the heavens opened, cabs splashed water as I waited for the lights to change, and my hair took on the proportions of Diana Ross’ favorite wig), but the panel discussion was lively and informative.

The question on everyone’s mind seemed to be “Should we panic about the state of the book business in the wake of the digital revolution or do we dare be optimistic.”  Our job on the panel was to illuminate the big issues preoccupying publishers and authors while attempting not to freak anyone out.  Overall, my fellow panelists and I were quite optimistic about the opportunities digital publishing affords while still admitting to twinges of regret over the passing of the traditional, wood paneled, musty smelling industry we all came of age in.

The optimism on our end came down to “choice.”  Authors have more choices now than they ever did.  They can self-publish easily and relatively economically if they choose or they can go through the traditional channels and, if that doesn’t pan out, go back to the idea of self-publishing.  Before e-books, if an author was rejected by enough agents and publishers, the idea of printing and distributing his or her own work was a daunting one.  Now, it’s a relatively painless process.

So, how is this good news to us inside the industry?  Well, what empowers authors usually empowers agents and, perhaps to a lesser degree, publishers.  Publishers and agents still provide an invaluable service in terms of curating literary material.  We still bring experience, love of craft, and critical acumen to bear on the process of book making and we’re pretty good at it.  And, authors and readers know this.  While self-publishing is now a thriving business, traditional publishing continues to publish more (digital and print) books every year.   And readers continue to buy these curated products.   Despite the perception of the business as the Titanic wildly trying to skirt the iceberg, publishers are making real efforts to keep up with the changing times so that they can bring their traditional talents to bear on the work authors are producing today.

Not to get all Panglossian about it, but isn’t this the best of all possible worlds?

Building Books

As December rolls around, the perpetual question of “What would you like from Santa” is to be found in e-mails from supremely organized family members.  Just as well, then, that a compendium of “Best of 2012” lists abounds, and over the last few days I have been taking a gander at these lists, most obviously the lists for best books.

One of the ubiquitous occupants of these lists is the “book” BUILDING STORIES by Chris Ware. Although, in one review I read, calling Ware’s work a book, would be doing the book a disservice. BUILDING STORIES comes in a box and is compiled of fourteen pamphlets that readers are free to read in whichever order they choose. Readers are then able to re-order the sequence in which they read the materials again and again. In a sense, where is the last page of this book?

Or does there necessarily have to be one? Ware’s book in a box certainly grabs your attention through its inventiveness, but should we be at all surprised? With the expanding array of reading devices, the way we read books is growing ever more diverse, and what we read is becoming ever more multifaceted in the digital world. Books such as HISTORY OF A PLEASURE SEEKER have grown to become an interactive nest of audio, pictures, archives and art.

With these new forms of storytelling, where do you stand as an author? Is Ware an author in the traditional sense, or more of a compiler of artifacts? What do you think of multimedia being a part of your reading material? Is the digital reader set to become a digital explorer?

Book Discovery

When I’m talking about eBooks with authors, something that always comes up is the idea of discoverability– how to get readers to actually find and purchase one of your titles. With so many titles out there, which is especially true on sites like Amazon, how do you get a reader to find your book?

So I was particularly interested in this survey posted by Digital Book World earlier in the week. What is fascinating about the findings is that people are using more and more ways to discover new works. According to Kelly Gallagher, who presented the results, readers use 44 different techniques to discover new titles. That’s a lot of ground to cover for an author.

The author of the DBW article puts it best when he says, “Imagine the complexity: a 27-year-old female romance reader from suburban Indianapolis who reads on a tablet computer but spends most of her time browsing the Web on her laptop versus a 43-year-old female romance reader living in Los Angeles who reads and buys exclusively on her e-reader. They’re both romance readers and female, but couldn’t be more different otherwise when it comes to how they discover and read books — and reaching them takes different marketing tactics.”

Something that also caught my eye: the #1 way people discover books, no matter what kind of reader they are? Either in person or through personal recommendations.

So where does an author begin? And do you find yourself discovering books in new ways?

 

7

Serial for dinner

One of the great things about the digital revolution is that it’s opening the market to different kinds of formats, some new, some old. One of the most successful and most interesting companies to take advantage of the opportunity is Byliner. They got off to a great start in 2011 with the publication of Jon Krakauer’s damning reporting on author Greg Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute and his book, Three Cups of Tea. Entitled Three Cups of Deceit, Krakauer’s more-than-article-length, less-than-book-length work proved that people were willing to pay for great investigative, long-form journalism, even if it wasn’t 80,000 words. They’ve continued with other similar successes, blazing a trail in this rather new format.

But they’re looking to revive old formats, as well, and I was thrilled to read that they’ve decided to delve into the publication of serial fiction. I was just discussing with an author of mine her desire to publish serialized fiction and lamenting the lack of outlets for it. (Or, rather, the lack of money-making outlets for it. As she said, the world of fan fiction is almost entirely serialized storytelling.) I predicted that serialized fiction would become a viable model, but not until a major name got the ball rolling and proved that there was a market. And Byliner made my prediction come true both quickly and rather spectacularly: they’re publishing two serialized stories, Positron by Margaret Atwood and 15 Gothic Street by Joe McGinniss. Atwood’s sounds very, well, Atwood, and McGinniss’s story was described as “Law & Order set in Lake Wobegon.” Both authors’ followings seemed primed for an experiment like this, and it’ll be interesting to see how they perform. I, for one, am a big fan of experiments in underused formats, and I’d love to see this become another venue for authors’ work. And, as someone whose reading time is limited, I’d love something that’s easily digestible and doesn’t require a huge investment of time in one sitting, while also providing a over-arching story.

What do you think?  Will we see a return to Victorian-era serialized novels? Or is this just another passing trend?

Lessons from History

I don’t know if you heard, but eBooks are changing the way people read and the way books are published. The digital revolution is turning the publishing industry on its head and forcing everyone—from readers to publishers to authors—to change and evolve.

But what is interesting to note is that a little more than 80 years ago, publishers and readers were experiencing the same thing. Mental Floss has this pithy history of the paperback book and how it transformed the publishing industry during the late 30’s and 40’s.

Basically, in 1939, a company called Pocket Books began releasing paperback books for $0.25 while the best-selling hardcover books were going for around $2.75. The low cost of paperback books was enabled by their cheaper production costs. (Sound familiar?) Publishers and authors originally scoffed at such cheap products, but when nine million paperback books sold in six months, authors and publishers jumped at the opportunity. (Notice any parallels?)

Needless to say, paperback books have become a mainstay of the publishing industry. And looking at their very similar history to eBooks, I wonder if a lot of the naysaying about the digital revolution is wrong. Do you think eBooks are just the next evolution of reading? Or are we really headed for the end of the publishing industry as we know it?