“What is code?” illustrates rich content potential

The painful reality is that we still live in a print-under-glass world, struggling to produce content that leverages our powerful phones and tablets. I was explaining this to a publisher recently and the phrase “escape velocity” came to mind.

In simple terms, escape velocity is what’s required for an object to break free from another object’s gravitational pull. For example, a rocket being launched from earth or, in this case, a publisher trying to create content that’s more deeply engaging than simply putting the print edition on a digital screen. In the latter case, everything from significant print revenues to industry indifference represent the gravitational pull that needs to be escaped.

The latest example proving we’re still in the print-under-glass era is a terrific Businessweek article called What is code?  The fact that rich and engaging pieces like this draw so much attention and are so few and far between proves we’re still only in the early innings of digital content innovation and evolution.

If you haven’t read the article I highly recommend you take the time and carefully go through it. If you’re not a programmer you’ll learn a lot. But even if you’re a coding master you’ll still learn a thing or two, including how content will eventually take baby steps away from today’s print-under-glass approach.

Here are the most takeaways I got from this Businessweek article: 

  • Measuring visits and reading time – I opened and closed it a few times before finally reading the entire piece. I found it interesting that a pop-up noted how many times I had opened it previously as well as how long I had already spent scanning it. This information may not be valuable for a magazine article but it would be very useful for tutorial content to see how long it takes to learn a subject. It would also be extremely valuable for publishers to discover where readers tend to spend the most time.
  • Dynamic visuals – Be sure to check out the circuitry animation that appears at the start of the second section. If you’re not familiar with the concept of logic gates, take a minute or two to read the callout and watch the animation. And have you ever wondered what happens when you press a key on your keyboard? There’s another animation for this and, as the callout notes, quite a few things happen behind the scenes before the key you pressed appears on your screen. Note that neither of these are “enrichment for enrichment’s sake”. Creating deeply engaging content like this requires a great deal of work, especially when it comes to figuring out exactly what type of dynamic visuals will add to the experience, not interfere with it.
  • Deeper dives, but only if you want them –Note the rounded rectangular numbered items interspersed throughout and how they’re used as pop-up notes. It’s not the best UI element but I love how they quickly provide more depth without taking the reader away from the current paragraph. A key here is to provide this additional depth unobtrusively. The best UI enables a smooth reading flow for readers who don’t care to read these pop-ups while ensuring the additional content is easily accessible for those who want it.
  • Annoying visuals – As good as this Businessweek article is, it would have been even better without the animated blue box character with the black hat and flower. The designer probably felt it added personality or maybe even gave the piece an attitude; in reality, it made the whole experience feel like a 1980’s experiment featuring a Walking Dead version of the Charlie Chaplin PC Jr. character. The lesson here is to focus on functional value rather than gimmicks.

If you read to the end you’ll discover another feature that combines something useful with yet another gimmick, which is unfortunate.

I applaud Businessweek and author Paul Ford for helping show the possibilities of a post-print-under-glass world. Here’s to hoping escape velocity is just around the corner and soon this sort of content will be considered standard, not edgy.

Lessons learned at Book Business Live

The team at Book Business recently hosted a one-day, invite-only event in NY. I had the pleasure of attending as well as moderating the first panel of the day, Transforming Your Company for the New Era of Book Publishing.

The day was filled with highly engaging discussions featuring panelists from McGraw-Hill, Pearson, Hachette, Cengage, Perseus, Rodale, HarperCollins and Scribd. Here are a few of the most interesting points I took away from the event:

Direct-to-consumer (D2C) and competitive pricing – Towards the end of my session an audience member asked our panel the following question: How is it possible to build a direct channel when Amazon is always going to at least match, if not undercut, your prices? Clancy Marshall of Pearson provided a terrific response. She noted that her team is focused on creating a broader, more compelling learning environment, not simply trying to sell a book at the lowest price. This is perhaps the most important thing for publishers to keep in mind as they build out their direct channels: It’s all about creating a reason for consumers to come to you, not simply trying to offer the lowest price. You’ll lose 100% of the time if you’re trying to build a D2C channel based solely on low prices.

What's next, now that ebook sales are flattening? Join me at a free webinar on April 28 to see how to drive revenue growth. Click here to register.

What are you going to do with that data? Tom Breur of Cengage told an interesting story of a correlation they noticed between text highlighting and student performance. They looked at the performance of students using a particular title and tracked how often the student tended to use the ebook’s highlighting feature. It turned out that students who highlighted more often generally got lower grades in the class. Their conclusion: Students who highlight are just skimming, not closely reading the text. The real question here is this: As you and your organization gather more data from ebooks, what will you do with that data? It reminds me of those registration cards that used to appear in the back of print books. I once worked for a publisher who had an office with stacks and stacks of those cards, carefully filled out and mailed in from their readers. The cards were just sitting there, taking up space and collecting dust. Gathering the data is just the first step. In the Cengage scenario, I’d like to think they’re developing ways for their platform to help highlight-happy skimmers become more engaged readers.

The lean model is alive and well – I almost stood up and cheered when Mary Ann Naples of Rodale mentioned their use of the lean startup model. We first started talking about the lean approach at Tools of Change several years ago and it’s great hearing that at least one publisher has fully embraced the concept. If you’re not familiar with the lean approach you’ll find all the resources you need here.

Indirect and direct can coexist and thrive – Mary Ann Naples also helped explain how a publisher’s D2C efforts don’t have to conflict with indirect/retailer channels. She talked about the importance of building community, something I believe is critical for publishers to create consumer brands, not industry brands. Further, she pointed out that a publisher’s community-building efforts help establish a compelling D2C solution while also helping their product stand out in the crowded indirect channels. In short, community can be leveraged to build a stronger consumer brand across all channels.

Focus on your biggest fans – I loved this point made by Rick Joyce of Perseus. He talked about how the music business is so good at selling more products to a band’s mega-fans. A broad consumer approach is fine but what about that portion of your list that tends to have the strongest following? It might be a particular series or author, for example. Are you creating the deluxe editions, the boxed sets, the must-have versions that those fans crave? And are you working with that part of your customer base to build the community foundation of your D2C efforts?

Kudos to Denis Wilson of Book Business and all the speakers who were remarkably transparent in their discussions and audience Q&A. If you ever have a chance to attend one of these Book Business events I highly recommend you make the time for it.

How digital can be a companion for print

Congratulations, print publishers. You dealt with enormous disruption these past several years and you managed to avoid the same fate as your music industry counterparts. For example, most book publishers still generate 70-80% of their revenue from print. How many music labels can say they generate anywhere near that percentage from CDs?

Is the survival of print a good thing or a bad thing? Rather than worrying about that one, here’s the question we really need to think about: Why do we treat these two formats as mutually exclusive?

Depending on what they’re doing, why do consumers tend to use either print or digital but almost never use print and digital for the same product?

I’ll use myself as an example... Believe it or not, my wife and I still subscribe to our local print newspaper, the Indianapolis Star. Our subscription plan includes a digital version as well as print. When I’m at home I always read print and never bother opening the digital edition; when I’m on the road, of course, I’m limited to a digital-only experience.

Why do I never bother opening the digital edition when I’m home? Because it’s just a digital replica of the print edition I read over breakfast. OK, there might be a few extra bells and whistles in the digital edition but they’re not significant enough to get me to open the app after I’ve read the print edition.

The same is true for books and magazines. Digital simply replaces print, so there’s no reason to use both formats for any given title.

I think it’s time to reimagine digital as a companion to print, not simply a replacement for it.

Today’s digital editions are nothing more than print-under-glass. They’re digital replicas of the print product. As a result, we tend to buy one format or the other, but rarely both.

I used to publish technology books for IT professionals. Many of those books on programming languages and productivity tools had companion websites. The websites offered additional content, sample files and other goodies that didn’t come with the book. These sites also represented a way for the publisher to dynamically extend the original content with additional elements and coverage, some of which might not have been available when the book was originally published.

I’d love to see the industry evolve to the point where each print product has a digital companion, not just a print replacement. The digital companion would extend and enhance the print experience and would be an optional add-on to the print product. Some of these digital companions could be free but the more valuable ones could have a price.

Btw, publishers could offer these companions exclusively on their websites, converting print customers who bought from Amazon and elsewhere into direct customers. Promote them in the print product and bring those customers to your website where you can build a direct relationship, up-sell, cross-sell, etc.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article called Why Johnny doesn’t like e-textbooks. Maybe Johnny doesn’t want the print-under-glass digital edition of the textbook, but I’ll bet he’d be interested in a digital companion for the print textbook featuring notes from other students, cheat sheets for test prep, sample quizzes, slide decks from class lectures and better explanations of key topics from other students and teachers.

Textbooks aren’t the only products that could be further monetized with digital companions. Just about any type of content lends itself to digital extension and enhancement. We just need publishers and authors to start thinking of digital as a companion for print, not simply a replacement.

Unlocking the hidden value of archives

The cost of scanning, converting and digitizing content seems to decline every year. As a result, we’re seeing all sorts of print archives being converted to digital products. The problem is that too many publishers are applying the “if you build it, they will come” approach to these archives.

Simply creating the digital archive might be good enough for a small market of professional researchers, but it will never attract the larger consumer audience; flipping virtually flipping through stacks of old content loses its appeal fairly quickly.

Curation is the important step required to make these archives interesting to the largest potential audience. It’s all about the many stories the archive content has to tell. Some of these stories will be interesting to one audience while another story appeals to other segments.

Let me give you a couple of examples. I grew up in Pittsburgh during the years when the Steelers and the Pirates were dominant teams in football and baseball, respectively. The Pirates last won the World Series in 1979 and the local papers featured coverage of every game in the regular season and postseason. I’d love to read the story of the season from spring training through the final game of the World Series.

Roberto Clemente was one of my childhood heroes. He played for the Pirates from 1955 through 1972 and was killed in a plane crash on December 31, 1972. The local papers had hundreds of pages of content about Clemente and his career between 1955 and early 1973. I’ve read a few books that were written long after his death and while they were generally quite good they’re not the same as reading the articles that were written as his career unfolded.

That’s an important point. Plenty of books have been written about historical events, global leaders, celebrities, etc. No matter how much research is done by the authors on those topics, there’s nothing that compares to reading the articles that were written when those events took place, when those leaders took action or when those celebrities did whatever celebrities do.

The curation opportunity exists in at least two formats. The first format is the collection. This is where the curator collects the relevant pieces of content and stitches them together to tell the story. The results can be put in front of the paywall to attract eyeballs or maybe serve as a teaser for a paid product. They can also be placed behind the paywall as part of a premium subscription option or as a separate paid product.

The other format involves ebooks. Those collections can be quickly converted into the popular formats and placed in ebook distribution channels. This represents a completely new distribution model for some publishers (e.g., newspapers and magazines); it’s an incremental revenue opportunity of remixed content for those already participating in the ebook channel.

One of the concerns I hear from publishers is that they simply don’t have the resources for curation. Their teams are already stretched too thin and they can’t justify adding to staff.

I have one word for publishers in that situation: crowdsourcing. Think of your most active users, fans, readers and subscribers. How many of them might want to help curate your content to create new products? Also, can you use the Wikipedia model, where the crowdsourcing work happens for free? If not, can you create an affiliate program for curators to earn some income from their efforts?

Finally, think outside the box and don’t limit yourself to just one type of content. For example, one of my favorite books is FDR, by Jean Edward Smith.  The author meticulously researched Roosevelt and provided an amazing story of his life.

But what if the ebook edition provided access to the newspaper accounts of the most noteworthy decisions Roosevelt made in his life? It would have been wonderful to veer away from the book every so often and read the accounts of the events that were written when they actually took place, from the point of view of the journalists in the midst of it all.

A hybrid product like this represents a new opportunity for book publishers and newspaper publishers. Properly curated, this sort of product could easily command a much higher price than the traditional ebook on its own. I’d like to see book publishers venture out of their comfort zone and start exploring new concepts like this. It’s a terrific way to unlock the hidden value of archives and give consumers more of what they want to read.

In the future, all content will be layered

Once upon a time the broadcast model was the only viable option for content distribution. The newspapers, magazines and books we read were the same regardless of our personal interests or where we lived.

The web and other digital models offer more personalization, of course. That’s why your Google News feed looks considerably different than mine, for example.

In the not-too-distant future I believe we’ll see a radically new level of personalization beyond the keywords and other techniques used today. That new model will feature layers of content, with each layer customized for a different user experience.

An example helps illustrate this vision…

Apple likes to update their Mac OS X operating system from time to time with plenty of new features. The best way to communicate what’s new in the next release depends on whether you’re educating a long-time Mac user or a complete novice. I’ve been on the Mac platform for several years now so I don’t need guidance on the basics. A newbie needs that information though, so how can Apple (or a third-party publisher) create content that addresses the diverse needs of expert and novice as well as everyone else in between?

One option is where the application presenting the content offers different views depending on the reader’s knowledge level. For example, there would be user level buttons where the reader can tell the ebook app how knowledgeable they are so that the content is customized for their level.

It’s important to note that the base of content remains the same for all users. But by providing a bit of information to the app, the user gets an experience that’s more in line with their needs. Layering the content enables publishers to offer multiple lenses through with the material can be viewed and each lens is optimized for a different type of user.

Content layering is something I’ve been writing about for several years now. That vision is starting to become a reality thanks to work being done at Olive Software where I serve as director of strategy and business development.

I invite you to get a glimpse of what I’m describing by attending a free webinar we’re hosting later this month. The event takes place at 1:00ET on September 30. Click here to register and reserve your spot.

Why econtent prices will erode even further

If you think econtent prices are too low today, well, in the immortal words of Bachman Turner Overdrive, you ain’t seen nothing yet. In fact, “nothing” is precisely where more and more econtent prices are heading. Here are a few reasons why:

eInk dies while tablets reign – It’s no secret that sales of dedicated e-reading devices, mostly featuring the eInk display technology, are fading. eInk was terrific in the pre-tablet days, particularly since it was so lightweight, you could go weeks between charges and the price was right. More consumers are opting for multi-function tablets these days though and that means publishers are no longer simply competing with each other; on a tablet you’re also competing with games and other addictive time-wasting apps. As publishers struggle to maintain relevance and eyeballs many will undoubtedly become desperate and experiment with lower and lower prices.

More and better free content competition every year – Look around and consider all the terrific free content options out there. Whether it’s long-form like Wattpad or breaking news like countless websites, every year consumers seem to have less and less reason to open their wallets for econtent. Today you have more free options than you did a year ago and a year from now that number will only go up further. 

New, lower pricing models driven largely by startups – Even if your competitor’s content isn’t free it’s still often much lower-priced than traditional publishers are comfortable with. Startups don’t have all the infrastructure and fixed costs of a traditional publisher so it’s easy for them to experiment with lower pricing models. Look at what Oyster and Scribd are doing in the ebook marketplace. These two startups are bringing the music subscription model into book publishing Consumers (like me) love it because they’re spending far less and able to read so much more for one low monthly price.

Digital first, print never – Most traditional publishers are still operating with a print first mentality. They view e-version sales as incremental, a way to drive a bit more ROI for their print product. The market is already starting to favor digital first publishers though and that trend isn’t going to change. Digital first publishers tend to be younger, more aggressive organizations, ones that are looking for volume, not necessarily top-line revenue or even profitability (in the short term).

Kids and freeAs this recent survey notes, the younger generation thinks your content should be free. Content sharing is their way of life. Good luck changing their thinking as they gradually become a larger part of your target audience.

Are you discouraged yet? Don’t be. There are plenty of ways to combat this trend and even turn it to your advantage. Stay tuned…that’s the topic of next week’s article.

The value of a dry run

Stephen R. PolandIn the early days of flight, airmail pilots conducted dry runs or “pathfinder” flights to test the flying schedule, survey landing strips and facilities at intermediate airfields, and acquaint themselves with the full length of the route. Flying new airmail routes without the pressure of delivering actual mail enabled the postal service to work out the kinks before the stakes were raised.

While not as critical as challenging the bonds of gravity and delivering the mail on time, conducting a dry run in your digital content development process helps you “get it right” before publishing and marketing front line titles or content.

As one of the co-founders of a small publishing startup, 1x1 Media, I look for opportunities that help us build our processes and release better products. Our startup provides how-to content for startup founders and entrepreneurs. We’ve launched the first title in our Startup Crash Course ebook series, Startup Crash Course: Angel Funding. We are on track to publish our next Startup Crash Course ebook within the month, with our next series also in development.

Rather than learning the ropes of delivering ebook content to the various digital platforms while publishing our new series, we first conducted two dry runs using content we already had available. My co-founder, Lisa, rescued the rights for one title back from a large publishing house, and for the other, we enhanced a public domain title first published in 1914. We converted these pieces of content into two ebooks published on four platforms—Amazon’s Kindle, B&N’s NOOK Press, Apple’s iBooks, and Google Play.

Publishing a few “dry run” titles enabled us to address many decision points, including:

Software tools. Choosing which software to use for writing and editing, formatting, image creation, cover creation, and final ebook formatting and layout can be daunting. But a little trial and error with free or low-cost solutions and help from power tools such as InDesign can speed the process along.

Production processes. Our dry run titles enabled us to establish file naming conventions, experiment with image dimensions and resolutions, and learn how text formatting and styles flow through to the finished ebook file on each platform.

Platform specs and requirements. Each ebook distribution platform follows a variety of technical specs and requirements. We ironed out details such as file formats, file size limitations, ISBN usage, screen shot formats, and sample chapter formats while creating our dry run titles.

Financial calculations. Test titles gave us a chance to calculate the financial impact of content length and pricing decisions. For example, Amazon (US) charges a delivery fee of $0.15 per megabyte for titles enrolled in its 70% royalty option. With pricing, royalties, and costs understood, we can build a simple P&L and make decisions about marketing budgets and promotion activities.

Timelines. While our schedule for editing and proofreading the dry run titles fell within a typical timeline, the time it took to tweak the formatting for each ebook platform was an unexpected hurdle. The time it took for a new title to get approved and go live in each particular store also cropped up as an issue. For example, we learned that Apple’s iBooks approval timeline is rather lengthy, taking several weeks for a title to get approved and go live. After our dry runs, we can plan around these schedule issues for future titles.

Build or buy. While we decided to slog it out, learning the details of formatting our titles for several ebook platforms, the toughest moments of preparing our dry run content caused us to consider using one of the numerous services available to help prepare content for online publishing. Depending on the scope of content in your online publishing or archiving plans, consider evaluating and partnering with an experienced digital content service provider to help maximize your content.

Like the early airmail pilots making pathfinder flights to ferret out swampy landing strips and calculate flight times, our dry run ebook titles gave us the opportunity to make mistakes, build internal processes, and learn to use design and production software tools before we launched the first series titles.

If you are new to digital content publishing, consider conducting a dry run or two. The lessons learned by running the full cycle will pay off big when you’re ready for the real deal. And, yes, even low profile dry run titles can make you a little money while you sleep—ours do.

This article was written by Steve Poland. Steve is an advisor to startups and the co-founder of 1x1 Media, a publisher of how-to content for startup founders and aspiring entrepreneurs. Steve and his co-founder, Lisa Bucki, are the developers of the Startup Crash Course series. This summer, look for their new Founder’s Pocket Guide series. Steve and Lisa live in Western North Carolina, where Steve flies a 1946 Aeronca Champ over the Blue Ridge mountains, occasionally landing on grass strips and often tormenting Lisa with his obsessive use of checklists.

The best time NOT to self-publish is…..(never)

Marcy GThere are so many op-eds these days on when or if to self-publish but more so, features on the inferiority of self-published works just by virtue of fact they are self-published. This premise is applied even if the self-publishing author has the budget, foresight and professionalism to engage all manner of expert editors, proof readers, formatters, designers and thoroughly research the distributing and promotion of his/her work, the resultant book will be very bad. Worse, it will be amateur in content and looks.

 There’s also an assumption (somewhat fear, vs. empirically based) that without sufficient social media or platform, books (even great ones) won’t get noticed. I’ve seen a zillion writerly blogs with this headline: If you publish it who will find it/you? This suggests that Shakespeare (et al, Dan Brown, Elizabeth Gilbert, JD Salinger, James Patterson, Ayn Rand) without benefit of Twitter, Facebook and Instragram or a YouTube book trailer of Othello, would never have been discovered. This is to further suggest that we as authors, creators, publishers and readers actually believe form trumps content. That means greatness, is a deux et machninas/medium-is-the-message is a fail from the get-go and a Pulitzer would never percolate to a deserved level of consciousness and find a collective of readers who know a good thing (or alternatively, what they want) when they find it  - however they find it. But trust me (and the author of 50 Shades of Grey), they do and will find it.

What astounds me in the vast acreage of articulated opinions on these issues is a few-fold.
For one thing, there’s a passion, even a nervous derision or tempered contempt or dismissiveness offered to self-published authors in most of the opinion pieces I’ve read. Although I am Canadian, it is a divide akin to Tea Party-ers and Democrats, i.e. it’s a visceral thing.

There’s the assumption that a self-published author is a never-published author or can’t-find-a-book-deal author or more to the point: self-published = poor quality. How long has that been patently untrue? It’s such an old trope that to suggest self-published means inferior only marks you as out of the loop. Moreover, the articles I’ve read also seem only to refer to fiction writers when there are many other types of authors.  I am, in fact, a cookbook author, another genre of author now in the fray. Let me explain a bit about cookbook authors.

Cookbook authors are writers (we are not verbose home economic teachers – we are specialty writers with a second specialty in food. Some, as I am, are trained chefs in addition to being wordsmiths). Consequently our challenges are even more than regular writers. We battle the plethora of amateur recipe blogs and infinite numbers of free recipes (sometimes even our own when we encounter our own recipes on repository sites), the charisma of celebrity chefs on TV, blogs or YouTube phenoms. In addition, our books require expensive food photography and complicated book design, our recipes need extraordinary copy editing and we also need legions of volunteer recipe testers to make sure our recipes work. When it comes to food photography in our cookbooks, many a time my advance (in traditional publishing) was a quarter that of the food photography/photographer budget.

In short, if you think self-publishing the average black-and-white 300 page paranormal novel is difficult, try self-publishing a 300 full colour cookbook. No one (sane or otherwise) would chose to do this alone – not even Mrs. Jerry Seinfeld, Rachel Ray or the ex-Mrs. Billy Joel. Jamie Oliver and Ina Gartner (Stephen King or Joanna Rowlings) could well buy Random House ten times over (I imagine) and even they don’t self-publish. Why? Because even the well-heeled and well-connected use publishers for their cookbooks (or novels) because it’s hugely difficult – even with a team assisting you. Writing is lonely enough – who wants to be a self-publishing author? Unless of course, you had to…(Did I also mention that recipes are not copyrightable, stolen constantly and generally free online?).

So it’s not about money – because given self-publishing garners you 65% royalties or so versus 15% royalties in traditional publishing, if it was, wealthy authors would indeed, do it themselves. On the flip side, what is more prestigious (or used to be) is saying you’re a Random author or Scribner author – at least, when that meant something and had a fiscal bottom line.

But here’s my pain: overall there is a premise that if you self-publish you are either an inferior or unaware author or (and this one blows me away) having had a reasonable advance, you somehow chose to ‘go rogue’ and venture into self-publishing due to a misplaced vanity press adventure spirit or thought you could out earn on your own what a traditional publisher was offering you.

As a traditional and well-established cookbook author (nay, a Julia Child 1st Book Nominee) with track record and solid book sales, I don’t see myself represented in these discussions and yet I am part of a silent majority – the mid-list cookbook author. Furthermore, let it be said that I find it hard to believe that any traditional author, with great book numbers, a brand, a platform and a plan would consider self-publishing if in fact, the advances hadn’t shrunk dramatically. It’s not a whim choice; it’s a have-to choice. We love what we do and we’re not ready to call it quits. We have reason to believe we have something to offer a large amount of readers.

After 25 years of great publishers, great cookbooks and what I thought was an upward spiralling career, I self-published my first cookbook, When Bakers Cook, two months ago. I did this not because I wanted to but because I had to. I love words, books and in my case, creating ambrosial baking I want to share with my readers. As publishing up-ended itself (blame transitions of the times, publishers being old school and late in their response to the new world of everything, the economy and….life itself) I realized (with skepticism, then denial, anger, sadness and then finally, pro-activeness), I had three choices (and early retirement or marrying rich weren't in the trio). I could quit and be a Wal-Mart greeter, I could take tiny (untenable) advances and supplement with freelance writing or I could dive into the Bermuda Triangle of self-publishing.

I’m a Taurus and we don’t quit so I chose Door #3 - self publish.

It took me three years (when I was otherwise wallowing in self-doubt and existential, mid-life angst about my value as a baking author) to simply research the self-publishing partners and players. I had no idea what formatting really meant and I had to cobble the budget to pay my editor, copy editor, indexer, proof-reader, photographer and publishing costs with Create Space and Kindle. Let it also be said that some of the talented staff I hired were recently let go from the prestigious traditional publishers.  And let it also be said that we can no longer assume that having a traditional book deal insures a ‘team’ of editorial and sales help – things are lean everywhere. Speaking more directly to that, I recently was in Barnes and Noble and stumbled on a cookbook by a great colleague by a huge publisher renowned for their wonderful cookbooks and in this book was a 3-page addendum of text and recipe errors (my own self-published cookbook has but one error – and it’s a homonym). My point is: we can no longer assume ‘perfect’ and ‘quality’ is only the domain of traditional publishing.

Despite having a complete manuscript, self-publishing took me another 13 months to get my book out. When Bakers Cook launched on December 20th  2013; thanks to a galley physical copy I had to send to one editor, it was later named one of the Best Cookbooks of 2013 by the Washington Post. It continues to sell quite nicely, day in, day out. I am now working on my second self-published cookbook, due for this summer, as well as a book on tango and one on scent and probably I will indeed, publish my book of poetry. Why? Because ….I now can. And I am quietly and proudly building my own backlist. While I respect and miss my publishers (who I also feel bailed on their mid-list authors), I am no longer waiting for a publisher (or worse, the sales force or book buyer at Barnes and Noble) to determine I am the next hot trend or its derivative, or have enough platform to merit a book deal which is about the same as four freelance features for the Huffington Post or such. This is a new publishing world and what looks like something (like the best of illusions) often isn’t. Twitter followers don’t necessarily distill down into book sales and a good Google ranking doesn’t make me the next Julia Child. But how we hate to release an old romance – however bogus it really is.

In those 13 months (and horrific learning curve) of self-publishing, as my spirits and confidence rose, I noticed the put-down features on self-publishing. I couldn’t fathom it. I also tried many times to share my great adventure which it has been and continues to be. Few, if any colleagues, struggling themselves, wanted to hear. Overall, I’ve had a sense I’ve betrayed something or someone and crossed a line into a land I never wanted to visit, albeit as its sole resident and ironically, one who is beginning to thrive. That’s the part I still don’t get. I’m not unique as a mid-list author having to face things I hadn’t anticipated. I am not unique in forging a new path but why would authors, both those traditionally published and those eking by, be so disparaging to their fellow authors on the subject of self-publishing?

I never wanted to self-publish. I imagined a continuance of Random House, Harper Collins book deals for my growing baking author platform and more features in the leading newspapers and online venues. I envisioned more Christmas baskets from my publishers, publisher web staff to help me with my blog and website, publicists to set up my interviews and promotional spots. Instead, I am now River Heart Press (my own imprint) and I am boldly going where I went when I was 12 years old and was editor-publisher of my own street newspaper The Goldman Times. That little girl knew then what this grown woman/adult author is just learning all over again. Better to publish than to perish.

Here’s my take-away. If you want to publish – whether you’re rife with talent or no one has dared tell you you’re not – do it. If you are traditionally publishing and even established but have another genre of book your current publisher won’t consider – do it. If you are incredibly talented, passionate and have wonderful book numbers and fate or the times have left you without a chair in the musical chairs of book deals – do it. If you’re a reader who’s hungry for new, for good or great, don’t overlook the unknown, ‘selfie’ scribes out there. They are writing for you. There are no ‘sides’ in all this – there is no either/or approach. There are pros and cons to it all but overall, between no book or an ‘ok’ self-published book (in content and production) and a potential Pulitzer prize winner (or thwarted or unattempted dream) languishing in your drawer or a Word file – I will take the mediocre (or not) self-published book. I suggest you do too.

Oh and by the way, addressing the EIR (Elephant in the Room, aka Jeff Bezos, Amazon and company), when editors, agents and publishers I’ve worked with for years forgot to call or email me back on so many occasions, one email, eight hours later, garnered a call from the Jeff Bezos executive team to see how they might expedite my self-published cookbook when I encountered a snag. So the Big 6 (now, Big 5) might walk and talk like the sauve and handsome gentlemen publishers they are, the EIR is the one who was most attentive and offered the most respectful TLC. I got Cadillac service on the self-publishing journey for my $248 publishing ‘package’.

And to my colleagues who try so hard to dismantle my efforts to stay afloat and bring my words and recipes to my readers, I say – jump into the pool. The water’s warm, there’s plenty of room.

This article was written by Marcy Goldman. Marcy is the host of www.betterbaking.com, now celebrating it’s 17th year online, an independent baking site that also has been successful monetized since 2004.  A cookbook author of several titles, she recently published When Bakers Cook, rescued her bestselling, but briefly-out-of-print A Passion for Baking. This spring, look for her first book of poetry, Love and Ordinary Things and this fall she will launch The Baker’s Four Seasons. All her books are doing very well, in print and as ebooks. She avoids most social media, focuses on creating content and is the most happy she’s ever been.

Lose control of your content


When recently being interviewed for the release of my urban fantasy novel Dying for a Living, I was struck by this question: You give away a lot of free books…Why?

It is a legitimate question. After all, why wouldn’t people be curious as to why I gave away my book for free? Yet the question hung on, following me, popping up again and again—as I made a cup of tea, when I sat down to work, as I slipped on my coat and prepared to step out into the day—and it was only later that I realized why this was such a fascinating question.

First of all, artists are generally very protective of their work. And why shouldn’t they be? We spend a good deal of energy creating it and then a good deal more advocating for its right to life, to exposure. Then when the dissenters roll in, we spend yet more energy defending it—which is to say that may aspects of the creative process engage the professional artist in this particular way, eliciting specifically these kinds of reactions—the desire to control one’s own content.

And this raw emotion is further complicated in the digital age. Three hundred years ago, an author did not have to worry about a pirate running off into the night with a million copies of their book. What pirate would want to carry that many books? It would be too cumbersome for the heister to imagine such a thing.

But now, as your eBook sits so vulnerably exposed on the World Wide Web, piracy of that volume is possible. Even seeing the words together World Wide Web brings to mind a kind of Earth-sized book-eating spider that will run off with that novel you gained fifteen pounds while writing. Has no one respect for your sacrifices?

For these reasons, I acknowledge that today’s artist certainly has fresh challenges in comparison to generations’ past. But I also want to entertain the idea that one could “lose control” of their content, and it will still be okay. The more important questions: Do you have faith in your content? Did you create your content for the purpose of sharing it? For creating that magical reading experience for someone, as it was once created for you?

If the answers to these questions are yes, then piracy is not the problem.

Neil Gaiman has some wonderful thoughts on this and you can learn more about them here.

Gaiman makes the wonderful point that most people find their favorite writer (or favorite artist) through the free route—from a book in the library, from a friend, etc.

When you lose control of your content, when your goal is create magic rather than horde your materials, you increase the risk of finding those adoring fans. Those people who will buy all of your work, follow your blog, your process, come to your readings, viewings, etc. These are the people who tell everyone about you—your greatest marketers.

There could be many, many of these people out there—but not unless they know about you. And that is Gaiman’s argument, I believe, that the people who will truly support you and bolster your career, will not pirate your work.

So for this reason, it is best to relax your grip on your content. You don’t have to throw everything you’ve ever created into the wind, but you can relax.

Of course, there are supplemental considerations for the professional artist as to whether or not “free” is best for you. Evidence suggests that it helps your “weaker” projects sell more but hinders your bestsellers. You should read Joe’s article on this here before making any decisions about your content.

But what I’m proposing—for myself as much as anyone else—is that we move through the digital age with a little less fear regarding our content. Have a little more faith that—just as the right books came to us at the right time—that our work will find its audience*. We should focus on sharing the magic that drew us into this business. And if we believe in our content, then we know the magic is there. We just have to release it.

*with the help of marketing, of course. Take a bit of responsibility!

This article was written by contributor Kory M. Shrum, poet and author of Dying for  a Living. Her poetry has appeared in North American Review, Bateau, and elsewhere. She lives in Michigan with her partner and a ferocious guard pug. When not writing, she can be found teaching, traveling, and wearing a gi.

The birth of the Social Media Serial

Jade_Maitre_750pxA few weeks ago, Joe discussed the importance of placing content "where the eyes already are", and creating an experience for readers that is "fully integrated" – or at least, as close to that as possible.

His article struck a chord with me, because I am about to embark upon a reading experiment that is, to my knowledge, the first of its kind. On April 1st 2014, I am releasing my prize-listed novel, A Short Death, for free on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Tumblr. Called a “Social Media Serial”, the book will be serialized into chronological social-media-friendly chunks, allowing readers to receive the latest installments simultaneously, in the convenience of their newsfeeds.

In this experiment I am teasing out the extent to which social media can enthrall us across a more sustained narrative. More importantly, I am seeking to discover new ways that writers can connect with readers in a shared experience.

Where did my inspiration come from?

I’m a photographer as well as a writer. In the world before social media, when I used to send photos to my friends by email, few people opened the attachments. But when I put my photos on Facebook, my images suddenly had a more engaged audience.

I looked at Farmville. And poking. And all those other useless things that people were doing and telling me about in regular newsfeed updates. The more I mused on these quaintly absurd and wasteful uses of our time, the more I realized why people were looking at my photos. When you are in the Facebook universe, you look for reasons to stay there. The inexorable pull of social media makes you want to be there in case something happens, even if nothing does. You form relationships with your news feed. On one level, you begin to live there.

Then I wrote a book

A Short Death was an experimental fiction. It told the story of Se, a sweet and hapless nineteen year old teenage boy who was killed on the beach in broad daylight in Rio de Janeiro. Inspired by a real murder that I witnessed in Brazil in 2005, the fictional account that I later created sought to unnerve the reader; to invoke the same kind of confusion and emptiness I felt the day it happened. The story I wrote was set in an absurd universe that emulated Brazil in its places, its language and symbols, but remained removed from the country Brazilians would recognize as their own. Its use of the second person heightened the sense of discomfort; of being a foreigner in Brazil, or indeed anywhere, regardless of literal home.

It was short-listed for Australia’s largest prize for an unpublished manuscript. It went through a few cycles of feedback and editing with a commercial publishing house. In the end this process stopped because the commercial and artistic concerns of the project failed to align. To be specific, the reader’s report requested that Se be rewritten like Holden Caulfield. I felt that was at odds with its genre as absurd fiction. I put the book away in the proverbial bottom drawer and decided to think before I decided what to do with it.

What are books?

Books are of course products: mysterious products that may or may not resonate with readers, subject to the whimsies of timing and trends. The way in which all these soap bubbles seek to rise to the top is via exclusion: more than music or art, the worth of a book rides upon its authority. Authors and publishers define themselves by referring, specifically or implicitly, to a supposed objective quality that makes the book worth reading. This is our idea of a good book. There is a sense that it is something objectively inherent in the work.

Yet inspiring a reader in this way can ignore the nature of a book as a two-way process. It mistakes publishing for a presentation rather than a relationship. In truth, it’s a communication. And while we often think of solitary writers plunking away at their keyboard, and lone readers thumbing a paperback on a hammock in the sun, in doing so we can mistake the form for the substance. A story is a shared experience; never private. The writer and readers share the world of the book.

Accordingly, I felt that offering A Short Death to its readers should invoke something more than objective qualities. Better understood as a shared moment between reader and author, I turned my mind to how the reader could feel the story of Se’s death on a beach in Brazil in their private lives, viscerally, as they read.

How is the Social Media Serial different from an e-book?

I decided that a Social Media Serial could accentuate the shared experience of a book. To communicate with readers where they were, merging the world of the book with their own private worlds, and in a forum where they might easily communicate their synchronized momentary experiences with others sharing the journey.

A Short Death will therefore take place where readers are already congregating, and create an integrated experience that will allow them to enjoy the content without having to go elsewhere to find it. In seeing the book appear on their news feeds, it has the opportunity to become integrated with their usual daily activities; to merge with their real social lives.

I also sought out other artists to see if we could collectively invoke sensations that would stimulate this idea of an experience more intensely while reading the book. In this fashion, A Short Death is also an artistic collective that offers extra-sensory stimulation complementary to the story.

Aurally, from April 1, musician Oliver Grimball’s album Anodyne Holiday will set the soundtrack for the ten week journey into the life of Se. It is complementary to the style of the story, and very much sets the scene for reading. As an independent album, Anodyne Holiday is a turntablist, music and lyric driven project where Oliver blends classic hip hop with spoken word. As a compliment to the novel, it similarly explores new territories. Described in the press as "…visionary in a way that hip hop nowadays seldom dares to be,” the album was said to have wordplay that is “origami like - microcosmic with hyperlinks throughout; smooth from the heart to hit the cardiac dead center."

For people seeking physical and visual overlaps between the story and life, readers will also be able to purchase fashion inspired by the plot, designed by the talented Paris-based underground street artist, Spizz.

In terms of temporality, there is a sense that the main character, Se, will be 'born' at the launch of the book on the 1st of April. When the book finishes on the 12th of June, the book will be removed from all social media channels, emulating his death once more.

Following the story as it unfolds on social media will ask readers to enter into the experience of the book with a spirit of openness; preparing them to feel provoked and unsettled, and offering them a participatory role in a shared momentary experience.

These are the aspirations of the Social Media Serial.

What do I hope to gain from releasing a book like this?

That you experience a new way of reading. You can read A Short Death by following on FacebookTwitter, Pinterest or Tumblr.

This article was written by contributor Jade Maitre. Jade is a writer and photographer who is passionate about creativity and media. She has worked as an editor for human rights publications at UNESCO, a communications consultant for NGOs, was the director of two artistic projects in Brazil, and wrote online news, interviews and gossip for MTV Australia. She has also been published as a travel writer and a journalist. She currently photographs for Getty Images and is the co-founder of the premium site for European vacation photographers, TripShooter. Jade is currently based in France.