Category Archives: e-books

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Smells like a bestseller!

Like many in publishing, I was an English major…by default more than practicality, because I was pretty good at reading and writing, knew I wanted to spend my life obsessing over commas, and ran screaming from the room the first time a science teacher broached the possibility of dissecting a sheep’s eyeball (still one of the worst experiences of my life). To this day I don’t really understand the principle of gravity and find it highly suspicious.

My science aversion has not kept me from accumulating quite a few science-loving friends, though; in fact, my college roommate double-majored in chemistry and physics and is now a science professor in upstate New York. She’s always trying to trick me into sciencey things, like a poetry reading based on the periodic table of the elements, which actually turned out to be pretty fun. (Plus there was wine there – fermentation is one scientific process I am not averse to.)

So I was not surprised to find this post from her on my Facebook wall today: a scientific breakdown of the smell of books. You know what I’m talking about –  that big whiff of delicious mold when you step through the door of a used bookstore; the fresh perfume released when you crack the spine of a brand new hardcover. Old or new, the smell of books has been a favorite topic of nostalgians and those resistant to the lure of digital reading. But did you ever stop to wonder just what produces those beloved aromas?

This chemistry website did, and their in-depth report will no doubt enthrall those of you with room in your brains for science and literature.

Do you prefer the aroma of old books or new books? What burning literary question do you think science should turn to next?

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Is This Trip Necessary?

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post expressing my enthusiasm for Julian Fellowes’s decision to launch his upcoming novel BELGRAVIA as an electronically-enhanced weekly web serial that will include links to all kinds of cool supplementary material in each installment.

Now it looks like a new app called Crave is poised to outdo Fellowes. Dedicated to romance novels, it is targeted at the young Smartphone user who only has a few minutes to read between texting friends and checking Instagram and Twitter accounts. A typical Crave romance novel will be available each day in bite-sized 1000-word chapters, and as the reader scrolls down, the text will be periodically interrupted with brief film clips and gifs (often of a hunky actor playing the male lead), text messages between the characters, even notifications from the characters directly to the reader.  As this Huffington Post article explains, “the folks behind Crave think this format just might save the novel.”

Yikes! I didn’t know the novel needed saving so badly that it might only survive in such an interactive slice-and-dice form. As exciting as it is to see the reading experience assuming different dimensions in the digital age, I have to wonder whether this dumbs the whole thing down a bit as it caters to ever-shortening attention spans. There’s a lot to be said for the immersive experience of focusing on a book for long stretches of time while we put everything else on hold. But perhaps for many people that is becoming a luxury, or—worse—a  chore, one that demands intermittent distraction.

Or maybe Crave and whatever other apps it spawns will be just another choice for readers, not the one that necessarily becomes the norm. It will certainly create a new genre and a new platform. And some novels developed with Crave in mind may become an entirely valid and valuable entertainment choice. I’d love to hear other thoughts on this. Let us know what you think, and whether you’ll give this kind of reading a try.

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The importance of positive persistence

Last Wednesday, there was a piece in The New York Times titled “The Plot Twist”.  In it, the writer, Alexandra Alter discussed the fact that e-book sales were slipping and print book sales were rising by about the same percentage rate.  This, after the dire predictions of four years ago that e-book sales would overtake print sales in a very short time.

I remember when e-books were the topic everyone was talking about.  Many of my colleagues in the publishing business were predicting the demise of print book publishing and of the entire business as we know it.  We were all—publishers, agents and authors—frightened about what would happen.  And then nothing did.

Although we at Dystel & Goderich did begin a digital publishing program in order to help some of our clients self-publish, we didn’t panic.  We felt this was a natural alternative for those authors whose books were out of print but which could still find a readership.   In fact, the program has served us well and will continue to do so in the future.

I found that through all of the sturm und drang of the negativity of the past four years, I kept looking forward, signing new authors, adding to our staff of super talented agents, and knowing that, in the end, print books would survive.  And they did and will continue to do so.

Thinking positively during those difficult days wasn’t easy.  Everyone seemed to be shaking their heads and worrying about the future of the business.  I have found though, over the years, that worrying is paralyzing—that the only way to keep going is to think positively, to find those projects and strategies that will move us forward and to use my energy to make them happen.

Again, this idea of positive persistence is one I have lived by and will continue to do so as it is the only way to keep growing both as an individual and as a mentor to my staff and clients.  I urge you all to think about this and how this concept plays out in your lives.  I would be most interested to hear your thoughts on the subject.

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It ain’t over till it’s over

As the press has noted, with the passing of Yogi Berra, we’ve lost not only a baseball legend, but a legendary quipster, whose wit and wisdom (real or attributed) applies to so much beyond baseball. And one of his most famous Yogisms, “It ain’t over till it’s over” came to mind yesterday when I saw the front page article on the Times proclaiming that, hey, print isn’t dead after all!

Now, anyone who’s been keeping up with this blog and publishing news in general already knows that e-book sales have plateaued, and that both print and bookstores have had a nice resurgence over the past year. But as they usually do, the Times provides a nice overview, especially when it points out that the ABA counts 300 new independent bookstores since 2010, and that the big publishers are expanding their warehouse space to keep up with demand. And in their even-handed way, the Times does point out that both new e-readers and pricing could lead to an e-book resurgence, though I find it hard to imagine the $50 Kindle will lead the way…

Instead, I wonder if most people will end up as hybrid readers—e-books for travel, work, maybe for certain genres, and print for the rest. You might draw a parallel of sorts to the record biz, where hipsters gather physical vinyl for home listening but use Spotify on the go. If that becomes the new normal, then maybe the more prescient Yogism here would be “It’s deja vu all over again…”

Anyway, I’d love to know your thoughts on this. Has anyone ditched e-books completely at this point, or vice versa? If so, why? And if you’re a hybrid reader, how do you divvy up your reading between print and e?

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Reaching A Younger Generation of Readers

This past spring, a few English majors from my college (including me) got the opportunity to have lunch with M. NourbeSe Philip, a Canadian poet and writer of all genres, and she asked the small group around her, “Do children still read books?” By books, she meant hard copy books, not digital versions. As some diehard English majors are wont to do, the table exploded in reassurances that yes, hard copy books were still very much present and who reads off Kindles/Nooks/iPads anyway? From there, we embarked on a cultural and social discussion about the importance of children holding a book in their hands, why hard copy books will probably always exist., etc.

Four months later, I started babysitting for a charming family who moved to NYC from Hong Kong with two gems of boys. (I’ve honestly never seen better behaved children in my life and they do homework when asked to without much griping. A dream!) My main reason for being there—other than giving their mom a break—is to get them to try and read more. Their mom mentioned with a wry grin that they prefer using the iPad or computer to picking up a book, and do you think you could install a love of reading in them, please?

ipad-ereaders

As a kid who didn’t have access to digital reading, I’m a hard copy book reader myself. But I’ve found myself reading manuscripts on my iPad because those are digital and it’s a matter of convenience. The majority of people I know who are big readers have some kind of digital reading device. And last summer, I had a conversation with an agent at another literary agency about audiobooks and how to reach a wider, more digitally driven audience. “Certain demographics,” he said, “aren’t going to pick up a book. They’re going to be plugged in. How do we reach them?”

I think I’m going to bring my small charges to the Strand and turn them loose. I’m hoping that being surrounded by books will get them excited to choose a book to bring home. (So yeah, it’s a little bit of bribery, but you know. Babysitting is half bribery, to be honest.) Fingers crossed that somehow in my time with them, they start being enchanted by books they can hold and smell and turn pages in.

So that being said: any suggestions for books for active boys around ages 5 and 7 who love soccer, Legos, and have lived in two countries already?

Any predictions on how kids will be reading in ten, fifteen, twenty years?

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Collapse of the Kindle?

E-readers like Amazon’s Kindle have forever changed the publishing world, but are we seeing the beginning of the end of the e-reader? Amazon has been getting its fair share of bad press lately, and now it can apparently add declining Kindle sales to its list of troubles.

I absolutely loved Jennifer Maloney’s piece in The Wall Street Journal, and in my opinion, I think she is right: the phone will drive future book sales—not the e-reader. With our increasingly mobile lifestyle, convenience and the ability to multitask are king, and our phones afford us both. I bought the iPhone 6 Plus, in part, so I could take advantage of the huge screen and read whenever I had a moment, which is exactly what I’ve done. My Kindle has been useless ever since (and to be honest, I think I lost it but don’t really care). Carrying around a phone and an e-reader seems counterproductive when just one can easily accomplish the task.

I’m very curious to see how publishers take advantage of this burgeoning trend to package books for the mobile phone. Amazon’s dominance in the book and e-book marketplace began, in part, because of the Kindle and the necessity for a complete book buying ecosystem to accompany the e-reader. Amazon’s Fire phone was a bust, so what does it mean for the retail giant as Apple, Google, and other players continue to flesh out their bookstores and build up lively reader communities for phone readers?

How do you read e-books? An e-reader? Tablet? Smartphone? Over someone else’s shoulder? Oh, and this drinkable book is amazing. Just another reason why print books are best.

Honeymoon’s over. Can this marriage be saved?

So, the talk lately (around here at least) is that e-book sales are slowing down—significantly enough that doomsday prophecies about the health of the format are being bandied about by the ever-unflappable* publishing community. Through several Amazon initiatives that are too complicated and, well, tedious to go into here, that monolithic company has undermined the Indie publishing world it mostly created as well as undercut sales of  traditionally published books.  Then, there are the studies that say that print reading gets absorbed more efficiently into your bloodstream.  And, finally, there’s the “Hipster Effect” which makes anything retro cool again—so the youngsters are all reading paperbacks on the subway instead of Nooks–combined with the “Geezer Effect” which makes all this newfangled technology suspect and terrifying.Kindle and Book

All of these things really add up to just this:  there’s been a correction in the digital book market.  The quick growth of the last few years has slowed down as consumers have gotten used to the idea of a new product, road tested it, and decided that, while nifty, it’s not the be-all, end-all.  Does that mean e-books are over.  Uh…no.  This format has legs, in my opinion.  But, it does mean that it is going to have to get creative about competing against its print counterpart and all the other media we’re collectively obsessed with.   And, that means that publishers, e-publishers, and e-tailers as well as authors are going to need to come up with ideas on how to make this a category that works on its own terms but also complements the underlying publishing rights—i.e., the copyrighted content.

For my part, I’ll just keep doing what I usually do—read both my Kindle and the thousands of print books cluttering my house and office—and wait to see how sales actually look once the dust finally settles. 

What do you guys think about the long-term health of the e-book market?  Is the slowdown a good thing or bad, in your opinion?

 

 

*sarcasm

 

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Learning to read

Here’s the thing.  I’ve become deeply attached to my Kindle Fire.  I can watch Orange Is the New Black on it while I work out.  I can play the twentysome games of Words With Friends I’ve got going at any given time.  I can read The Washington Post—helpfully delivered free for a trial period by the very thoughtful Jeff Bezos, who now owns the venerable publication.  I can look at the fashion magazines I used to subscribe to physical copies of.  I can find recipes for my weekend cookfests (the chili-polenta dish I tackled last week was delicious).  I can impulse buy (that little clothes steamer is a marvel)….

However, the thing I seem to do the least on my Kindle these days is read the more than 300 books stored in it.  Part of the problem is that, while I am a fan of digital content and really appreciate how much kinder this device is to my perennially aching back—which, of course, got that way from a lifetime of lugging around hardcovers and manuscripts and hunching over thousands of pages (my eyesight is bad too)—I still prefer the heft and feel of the paper product.

As this piece in The Guardian tells us, we actually absorb less information electronically because part of the reading experience involves an array of sensory input that helps us recall the physical space the words appeared in (as well as our own physical space) while immersed in the narrative.  I used to pride myself on my idiot savant ability to find a passage in a paperback I’d read 20 years ago fairly quickly by visualizing where in the book I’d come across it.  You can’t really do that on a Kindle or other e-reader, as these devices flatten the reading experience and turn it oddly two-dimensional.  Also, my Kindle doesn’t smell like anything other than plastic and maybe nail polish remover that I spilled on it while using it as a platform to do my nails.  Real books smell like musty old shops, like winter evenings, like nostalgia, like adventure.

THE DISAPPEARING SPOON

My point is that I need to learn to read better on my digital devices and I need to do more of it.  Because with all of the distractions (see my first paragraph above) these devices allow and foster, it feels like books are an afterthought.   And, I don’t mean to be overly dramatic but when books become an afterthought, civilization as we know it is over.

So, given that e-reading is better for my back, I’m going to make a concerted effort to get more acquainted with the book side of my Kindle.  If nothing else, it should save me money on all the duplicate copies of titles I have lying around my house and hibernating in the Cloud.  What about you guys?  Do you have these problems or is it just me?

 

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Pulling an Oprah

As agents, our number-one job is to look out for the best interest of our clients, from the scope of their writing careers to each individual project. Just as we’ve signed up a number of successful self-published authors and helped them achieve traditional publishing contracts, we also suggest digital self-publishing to our traditionally published clients when that seems to be the best option for them.

But not every author has the time, interest, or know-how to self-publish an e-book. DGLM to the rescue again! Our digital publishing program, run by yours truly, exists to assist them with the details, from lining up freelance editors and cover designers, to building e-book files, to strategizing marketing initiatives. Authors who have taken advantage of this service include those with a sizable backlist, like David Morrell, as well as talented debut writers with projects that just haven’t found a home.

Why am I talking about this today? Because we have a free gift for you! And you! And you!

We’ve put together an e-book sampler that includes excerpts from eight thriller titles self-published by our clients.

Help yourself to our Thriller Almanac!

ALMANAC FINALKindle     Kobo     Google Play      iBooks

We’re curious to see how giving away a free sample could boost sales in this genre, and we’ve asked each of the participating authors to spread the word in their social media circles.

And now we want your input! If you’re an avid e-book reader, please let us know what you think of this sampler.

Are the end points for each excerpt exciting enough to make you want to buy the whole book? How do you discover new e-book authors? What’s the perfect price point to tempt you to take a chance on a series you’ve never heard of?

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When publishers compete–or not?

No, I’m not blogging about the highly competitive (hah!) Publishers Softball League, though I do have many happy memories of cutting out early summer afternoons to play left field for the Penguin Penguins, only to get our butts kicked by the NY Times and Time Magazine. Who routinely stocked their teams with ringers, by the way–so much for journalistic integrity!

Instead, I wanted to point you to our friend Mike Shatzkin’s recent blogpost about subscription services, and how Penguin Random House has opted out of the game. Mike makes a convincing argument that PRH is making a mistake here, but what really struck me more than anything else was his opening statement:

“I sometimes feel like I’m the only guy in town… contemplating out loud how Penguin Random House might use its position as by far the biggest commercial trade publisher to make life a bit more difficult for its competitors.”

Indeed, with all the consternation over Amazon, the notion that publishers might actually try to compete against each other for market share seems beside the point. And according to Mike, it seems like PRH is avoiding opportunities for competition, whether by wrongheadedness or design. I’d add, too, that from my agent’s perspective, it feels like PRH is NOT flexing its muscles, whether by limiting submissions or demanding contract concessions. Rather, it feels like they’ve gone out of their way to stress that the merger hasn’t affected business as usual, nor will it in the future.

But how long can that last? Especially now that Amazon and Hachette have come to terms, I would certainly expect PRH to be under more scrutiny. Mike suspects that a competitive move in kid’s ebook subscriptions is coming is coming down the pike, though that seems fairly minor to me. But I’ll be very curious to see in the new year if at some point PRH takes over from Amazon as the publishing industry villain–or at least competes for the title.