virtualDavis

\ˈvər-chə-wəlˈdā-vəs\ Blogger, storyteller, flâneur. G.G. Davis, Jr's alter ego…
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Summer Squash and Doodles

Summer squash blossom doodle, 2012

Summer squash blossom doodle, 2012

Rain stopped. Drought started. Sun soaked scorcher after scorcher. A heavenly week! Playing on Lake Champlain at last. And bracing for the return of rain tomorrow…

And so it goes.

Garden’s in a funny state. Corn, waist high, is already tasseled and covered in silky corn. Pigmies? Most plants stunted, endeavoring to recover from a month and a half of rain. Zucchini squash are still a week or so pre-blossom. Totally unusual for mid-July!

Summer play time with family has been a long anticipated treat, and ongoing preparations for another semi-solo storytelling show (Doodler’s Guide to Essex, NY) is in the final pages of prep. Much news, but it can wait. For now I’ll squash summer-so-far into a couple of timely publishing and doodling reads:

Fascinating! All hats off to friend and Depot Theatre board colleague, Kim Reilly, for putting me onto this doodle news story. If you’re too sun-logy to read the full article, here are the gems.

What do you get when you ask 56 Nobel Laureate scientists to cartoon their greatest discoveries?

Photographer Volker Steger fearlessly tackled the challenge during an annual meeting with Nobel Laureates in the Bavarian town of Lindau. And what resulted was gritty, unpolished and playful — a far cry from the research itself.

When the scientists entered the room, they were greeted with a blank sheet of paper and a pile of crayons, and without warning, asked to illustrate their discoveries. “The resulting pictures show surprised people, who haven’t had time, really, to polish their pictures or burnish their reputations,” Hunt writes. “No aides or colleagues were on hand to help, no slides, no Powerpoint: these people had been ambushed!”

“Perhaps the public would prefer to invest them with a gravitas, a dignity befitting to their status, but in truth, most of these people had fun finding things out, and if this shows, it’s perhaps a good thing,” Hunt said. “It ought to help demystify the austere aura of scientists as priests of an arcane, impenetrable religion.” (PBS NewsHour)

The emphasis is mine. The reason should be obvious. And if not, I hope to see you at the Depot Theatre in Westport, NY on July 23 for further explanation.

My mind is obsesses with the storytelling potential for doodles. Especially quick, un-precious doodles. Doodling is discovery. And it just might be a fascinating way to crowdsource very abstract ideas in a universally accessible way. Or so I’m beginning to believe. Doodle experiment v1.0 is less than a week away. Then hoping to refine and retest in August and September/October at different venues. Drop me a line to share doodle advice, resources or secret sauce.

Commit. Begin. Now.

What will you do? (Image by virtualDavis)

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back — Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”

~ W. H. Murray, The Scottish Himalaya Expedition, 1951

Murray’s passage has occasionally been maligned because he erroneously attributed the following couplet to Goethe.

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!

Okay, let's do this!

It strikes me as a bit petty to toil in criticism in the face of useful motivation and beauty. Besides, boldness does pack plenty of power under the hood. And — whoever we credit with the seed that grew into this passage — the most important message is shoehorned into the last three words underpinning all commitment. Begin it now. What will you do?

Faust: Begin it Now

And, by the way, if you’re feeling persnickety (or just curious) here’s Goethe on the matter of dallying, boldness, commitment and action.

Enough words have been exchanged;
Now at last let me see some deeds!
While you turn compliments,
Something useful should transpire.
What use is it to speak of inspiration?
To the hesitant it never appears.
If you would be a poet,
Then take command of poetry.
You know what we require,
We want to down strong brew;
So get on with it!
What does not happen today, will not be done tomorrow,
And you should not let a day slip by,
Let resolution grasp what’s possible
and seize it boldly by the hair;
it will not get away
and it labors on, because it must.

~ Goethe, Faust I, Zeilen 214-230 (Goethe, Faust and Tricky Translations)

Now are you ready to begin? Begin it now!

Publishing Hatchet Job

Just over a year ago Digital Book World‘s Editorial Director, Jeremy Greenfield (@JDGsaid), helped “leak” a Hachette Book Group internal document reminding the team why traditional publishers remain relevant. The outline sparked a wildfire, igniting debate and speculation.

Perhaps we’ll be able to discuss their 12-month review soon. Until then, here’s a lighthearted mashup — a mostly-found ode to publishing past, curated with a graffiti poet’s irreverence — to help prime the pump.

Publishing is complex,
Finely tuned machines
Whirring behind the scenes
Despite calm, collected facades.
While uppity “self-publishing”
Is a misleading misnomer,
A slipshod hodgepodge
Of hyped-up author services,
Our full service publishing
Connects content creators
And content consumers
In meaningful, pedigreed
And value added ways.
We all but guarantee
Widest possible readership.
Have you forgotten how?
Here’s a helpful cheat sheet:
We discover outstanding
Talent (with jumbo platforms).
We cull the best from the rest.
We invest in our authors,
Funding their creativity and
Fueling content collaboration.
We invest editorial expertise,
In-house publicity gurus and
Spendy strategic marketing.
We leverage global retail
And distribution partnerships.
We’re a new market pioneer,
An agile, risk-taking innovator
Exploring and experimenting
Even when a positive outcome
Isn’t 100% iron-clad guaranteed
(Such as those gimmicky apps
And enhanced digital books.)
We build author brands and
Protect intellectual property.
We have nicely appointed offices
And lots of employees just like you
Because it’s worth it. You’re worth it.
Go, team, go! No, wait…
Stay, team, stay. Please?

Apologies to Hachette (who deserves credit for catalyzing critical if overdue debate about why traditional publishers are relevant in today’s publishing wild west) and Jeremy Greenfield who after all, was just the messenger. Actually, he’s an always-timely, almost always sage messenger who has emerged as one of the oracles of the Post-Gutenberg Paradigm.

Apologies as well to you, my tolerant reader. I’m a perennially curious flaneur, not an expert on the rise and fall of publishers. You’ll find no wonky wizardry here. I’ve taken liberties aplenty. My mission, after all, is to entertain, not dispense wisdom. For that you’ll have to hunt elsewhere… Sorry!

Afterward

Among the throng responding to Hachette’s internal memo, J.A. Konrath’s advice to publishers stands out.

Publishers should stop trying to convince themselves and others that they’re relevant, and start actually being relevant. Here’s how:

  1. Offer much better royalties to authors.
  2. Release titles faster. It can take 18 months after a book is turned in to be published. I can do it myself in a week.
  3. Use up-to-date accounting methods that are trackable by the author, and pay royalties monthly.
  4. Lower e-book prices.
  5. Stop futilely fighting piracy.
  6. Start marketing effectively. Ads and catalogue copy aren’t enough. Neither is your imprint’s Twitter feed. (Digital Book World)

Thank you, J.A. Konrath (@jakonrath) and thank you Hachette. A year later, where are we?

Publishing, Piracy and Libraries

Publishing, Piracy and Libraries

Brian O’Leary’s “The first, best defense“, a Low Country lesson on publishing, piracy and libraries, makes a compelling case for simultaneously fostering book demand and reducing book piracy by improving libraries’ ability to lend digital content.

While whizzing through Dutch towns and farmland on a train ride from the Amsterdam airport to Den Haag for an International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) meeting, O’Leary observed that the Netherlands has effectively resolved its perennial low-land-high-water challenges.

Like Venice, the part of the Netherlands that I saw seems to have made peace with the water around it. Rather than try to prevent an incursion, they’ve created conduits to absorb and redirect it. ~ Brian O’Leary

Publishing Incursions and Conduits

O’Leary contrasts Holland’s water management solution to increasingly prevalent efforts to “storm-proof” cities, especially as global warming, rising ocean levels and unpredictable weather patterns threaten populated areas around the world. The two opposed responses to natural forces prompt O’Leary to wonder about the way that the book publishing industry is responding to threats of digital piracy.

Fears of piracy led to locked content that requires technical skills to manage and unlock. Fears of cannibalization lead to high prices, replacement requirements and in some cases a refusal to sell to libraries. Library budgets are stretched to support new infrastructure. Reader experiences suffer on all counts. ~ Brian O’Leary

Libraries As Publishing Allies

Libraries, O’Leary suggests, could serve as “conduits to absorb and redirect” the forces driving piracy in the book publishing. If publishers and libraries can sort out digital lending concerns in a mutually agreeable manner — soon — then the impetus for piracy would be greatly reduced. In other words, rather than trying to “prevent and incursion”, create a channel for the demand that fuels piracy.

There is a market for content whose price is effectively zero. Publishers have a choice: serve that market and get paid by libraries; or ignore that market and teach readers how to pirate content. I’m still with the idea that libraries are the first, best defense against piracy. ~ Brian O’Leary

I’m persuaded by O’Leary’s post in part because he draws such a simple, elegant parallel between water management in the Netherlands and digital content piracy management in publishing. But O’Leary’s piracy and libraries post coincided with my signing up for a library card at the Belden Noble Memorial Library in Essex, NY.

From Den Haag to Essex

I can’t explain why it’s taken me several years to get a local library card, but I can tell you that I was thrilled to discover that this quaint but microscopic library three doors south of my home is wired. Online lending. Online request and tracking. Online ebook access! Integrating the libraries of Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties via a simple, online resource is an extraordinary gift. And while finally diving in might slightly decrease the number of print books, ebooks and audio books I purchase, it will also increase my consumption, if for no other reasons than ease and they’re free.

Thank you, Brian O’Leary. Thank you, Holland.

The 4-Hour Chef’s Not So Simple Path to Buzz

The 4-Hour Chef's Not So Simple Path to Buzz

The 4-Hour Chef’s Not So Simple Path to Buzz

Four Hour Ferriss has done it again!

Tim Ferriss (@tferriss), the author of The 4-Hour Workweek and The 4-Hour Body, may soon prove to be the sellingest banned author alive. His latest foray into the self transformation space is called The 4-Hour Chef, and Ferriss is quick to point out that it’s more than a how-to-cook book.

The 4-Hour Chef

Whether you want to learn how to speak a new language in three months, how to shoot a three-pointer in one weekend, or how to memorize a deck of cards in less than a minute, the true “recipe” of this book is exactly that: a process for acquiring any skill. The vehicle I chose is cooking. Yes, I’ll teach you all the most flexible techniques of culinary school using 14 strategically chosen meals, all with four or fewer ingredients, and all taking 5-20 minutes to prepare (literally, The 4-Hour Chef). But I wrote this book to make you a master student of all things. (fourhourchef.com)

A master student of all things! This, after all, is Ferriss‘ passion and strength. He loves to learn (and learn totally, efficiently and thoroughly), and his books are first and foremost toolkits for lifelong learners. Ferris who advises and teaches for the Singularity Universitywhich focuses on leveraging accelerating technologies to address global problems“, is always racing the clock. Even in interviews, he sounds like he’d rather accelerate the Q&A.

The 4-Hour Bestseller

While I expect to enjoy and reference The 4-Hour Chef as much as the first two, what I’m really waiting for is the book he should write next: The 4-Hour Bestseller. It seems inevitable given the transformative forces at work in the publishing world. Ferriss has opined often enough on the present and future of publishing, and he’s a guerrilla master of self-promotion and book sales/marketing. Could his definitive guide to successful publishing in the digital age be far behind The 4-Hour Chef?

I’m anticipating a detailed, step-by-step guide to the art and science of book publishing focusing on the following:

  1. researching, niche targeting, writing and revising your book
  2. leveraging social media, etc. to build book/author platform
  3. editing, representing, strategic fine-tuning your manuscript
  4. publishing your book in the brave new world of 21st century publishing
  5. sequencing a book launch with high-impact, symphonic precision
  6. promoting and selling the heck out of your book!

If he’s not already working on The 4-Hour Bestseller, I’d be surprised. And disappointed!

The 4-Hour Chef Update

121126: True to form, Four Hour Ferriss is chronicling The 4-Hour Chef book launch through his blog, offering up a transparent glimpse of his strategy to peddle the hell out of The 4-Hour Chef despite being banned by 700+ bookstores nationwide! It’s a savvy PR move, effectively enlisting us, his readers and fans, to help fuel his publicity campaign by keeping us in the loop. Think of a grassroots political campaign. Think of community organizing. Damned effective. But not remotely exploitative because Ferriss is simultaneously sharing his process with anyone and everyone interested in learning how to roll out a successful launch. In other words, he’s offering us section #5 of The 4-Hour Bestseller for free! Whether he ever actually creates the book or not, it’s an example of Ferris’ value-added approach to community building, networking and marketing. His post “Marketing/PR Summary of Week One” reveals the staggering impact of his roll-out, listing bookstores, offline/online media and partnerships that would inspire envy among the launch gurus at any traditional publisher. Kudos!

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Penguin Random House: Big Six Realignment Begins

Penguin Random House (Image by Marco Leone)

Penguin Random House (Image by Marco Leone)

By now you’ve heard the latest publishing industry scuttlebutt: Random House and Penguin are shacking up. But unlike many celebrity pairings which fuel the rumor mill (Is it a marriage of passion? Convenience?), this high profile marriage offers neither surprise nor mystery.

Penguin Random House is obviously a marriage of survival.

Like two gilded empires arranging a desperate diplo-nuptial alliance, these Big Six giants are defending their hegemony in a publishing marketplace increasingly dominated by Amazon, Apple and Google.

The book publishing industry is starting to get smaller in order to get stronger.

[The Penguin Random House merger] could set off a long-expected round of consolidation as the industry adapts to the digital marketplace… The merger will create the largest consumer book publisher in the world… [enabling] greater scale to deal with the challenges arising from the growth of electronic books and the power of Internet retailers.

[...]

Facing those challenges, the major publishers have been expected to join together, getting smaller in number and bigger in size… They could all now face increased pressure to consolidate in response to a combined Penguin Random House.

[...]

HarperCollins has already signaled its interest in consolidation… Analysts also said there could be matchups between large publishing houses and smaller, independent ones. (NYTimes.com)

Not a surprise. Inevitable. Catalytic at the very least and potentially transformative. But, too little too late? Perhaps.

Compare Penguin Random House’s potential leverage.

Penguin Random House would potentially have the market power to negotiate better deals for itself. That said, the company’s $4 billion in revenues in 2011 put it at about a tenth the size of Amazon with its $48.08 in revenues. (Forbes)

Bob Mayer dismissed the question of leverage in a tidy quip over on Nathan Bransford‘s blog.

How are they going to “battle” Amazon? Two very different entities.

And while NY is at least a year or two behind the digital age, making a larger entity certainly isn’t going to enhance change when they’re going to spend their time learning to merge, rather than advance. Small, agile publishers are the wave of the future and this was a step in the wrong direction. (Bob Mayer, via Nathan Bransford)

Leverage is leverage, especially given the massive publishing/retail bandwidth Amazon represents, but one wonders if it might take all of the Big Six merging to arm wrestle Amazon. And that might pose a few monopoly obstacles.

More likely, I imagine, will be increasingly widespread (and rapid) transformation among the traditional publishing companies. Much top talent will become free agents and many entry/mid-range talent will transition to other industries as the traditional publishing empires downsize and adapt leaner, more agile, customer-centric and creator-centric business models.

While a transition of this magnitude is inevitably destructive and scary, it is bound to fuel innovation, and this excites me and many other storytellers. Let the realignment begin! Who will follow Penguin Random House?

New Tech, New Wants

A Sony WM-FX421 Walkman, for stereo cassettes.

Sony WM-FX421 Walkman. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Technology creates our needs faster than it satisfies them. (Kevin Kelly)

My Monday morning muse for your ruminating pleasure is actually not mine at all. It’s a quotation from Kevin Kelly’s 1998  New Rules for the New Economy. No longer new, of course, but if you missed out before you’ll find that it’s still relevant and eerily prescient. And did I mention that the blog version lives on his website? And that it’s free?

According to Kelly, we’re hurtling forward, inventing technologies to satisfy our desires and — in the process –  discovering new desires.

Our wants are compounding exponentially… technology creates ever new opportunities for those desires to find outlets and form. (Kevin Kelly

Although the illustrative example, a $50 Sony Walkman (remember cassette tapes?), seems practically ancient, I can’t help but transpose an iPad or even a Kindle Fire.

When a merchant sells a consumer a new Sony Walkman for $50, he is in fact creating far more demand than he is satisfying–in this case a continuing and potentially unlimited need for tape cassettes and batteries. (Paul Pilzer)

Transposed for the digital age:

When a merchant sells a consumer an iPad, he is in fact creating far more demand than he is satisfying–in this case a continuing and potentially unlimited need for digital products (ebooks, videos, games, apps, etc.), physical accessories (from practical screen protectors and card readers to fashion carrying cases), non-physical accessories (warranty extensions, maintenance contracts, customer support, etc.), software updates/upgrades, and–let’s be totally honest–hardware upgrades because sexy new models with more memory, faster processors, longer lasting batteries and retina displays are the MSG that keeps consumers coming back for more!

With writers, publishers, editors, agents and booksellers wandering the Wild West known as the Post-Gutenberg Paradigm, it’s more evident than ever that technology creates more demand than it satisfies. Increasingly tech-centric publishing and storytelling is catalyzing an avalanche of new non-book formats to satisfy consumer demands. New options are invented daily, and yet we’re only beginning to glimpse the world of storytelling possibilities around the corner. Technology is simultaneously sating and creating new demand, seeding storytelling innovation and inventing new consumer desires… Suppose I’m bullish on storytelling in the digital age?!?!

Productivity, Publishing & Apex Predators

Amazon is going to destroy the Big 6, destroy bookstores, destroy 95% of all agents, destroy distributors (Ingram, Baker & Taylor), and revolutionize the publishing industry by becoming the dominant force… Blaming Amazon for your eventual downfall is like blaming a lion for being king of the jungle. (Joe Konrath)

The Chama River Canyon Wilderness. Scull Bridg...

The Chama River Canyon Wilderness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m graced with one more week writing with Benedictines and coyotes in a desert canyon. What a life! It’s hard to believe that almost three weeks have already flowed past with the burbling Chama. Productive time, but it’s passed in a blur. Twelve to fifteen hours of writing, rewriting and editing every day except except for Saturday. Yesterday was an exception. I cut out late in the afternoon and drove in to Santa Fe to celebrate a friend’s birthday. An inspired and inspiring evening with new and old friends. When asked which of the trails I’d hiked and ruins I’d explored during my stay in Abiquiu I surprised myself by responding, “None.” Not a single adventure! And despite the missed opportunities (fortunately I’ll be back), I was amazed to realize that I’ve actually managed to stay focused and on task. Totally on task! For a change.

That said, there’s still ample toil ahead. I habitually underestimate how much time projects will take, but I have the growing sense that one of the lessons I’m meant to learn during this sequestered month is to let go. To find closure. To move on. And with the storytelling and publishing worlds evolving faster than ever in history, I’m accepting that it’s critical to launch Rosslyn Redux and move on the the next project and the next and the next. Time. To. Move. On.

Time will tell whether Joe Konrath‘s much cited assessment of Amazon’s role in the future of the publishing industry above is clairvoyant or bluster. But the lesson isn’t just in his bold prediction. The lesson is in the jungle. And the harsh desert. And I’m learning to listen… Not just to the coyotes who sing outside my window each night. But also to the muddy old Chama.

Ol’ man river,
Dat ol’ man river
He mus’know sumpin’
But don’t say nuthin’,
He jes’keeps rollin’

He keeps on rollin’ along.

A quick post before I wind my way back into the Chama canyonlands. Thanks for your indulgence over the last few weeks. Anticipate me back to my noisy self in April. Cheers!

Writer’s Digest Conference 2012, Sunday

Take a skinny dip in the data stream from the last day of the Writer’s Digest Conference 2012 (WDC12). After the intensity of the last two inspiring days, most attendees are simultaneously exhausted and sad to go. The energy, connections, and cross pollination at WDC is infectious, so saying good bye to new and old friends is tough. Back to the garret! But with a band of new co-conspirators. Read the rest of this entry »

Writer’s Digest Conference 2012, Saturday

Day #2 of the Writer’s Digest Conference in the chilly, slightly snowy Big Apple… The mondo snow blizzard promised was not delivered, but you wouldn’t know one way or the other inside of this world-unto-itself hotel and conference center. What follows is a mashup, a digital scrapbook. Enjoy! Read the rest of this entry »

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