virtualDavis

\ˈvər-chə-wəlˈdā-vəs\ Blogger, storyteller, flâneur. G.G. Davis, Jr's alter ego…
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Storytelling from Cave Fire to Kindle Fire

Storytelling from Cave Fire to Kindle Fire

Storytelling from Cave Fire to Kindle Fire (image by virtualDavis)

Isn’t digital storytelling just enhanced storytelling? It’s just the newest chapter in humanity’s quest to improve the way we tell stories. We instinctively yearn for better communication, for storytelling innovation. And yet digital books, audio books, multimedia books tend to meet resistance despite their obvious appeal.

New scares old. Old doesn’t quite understand new. Or doesn’t want to…

In “Is It A Book, Is It A Movie…No, It’s Movie-Book!” we get a glimpse at the book world’s awkward response to digitally enhanced storytelling.

Many eBook writers shy away from multimedia publishing, preferring instead to stay with straight text… An eBook that features multimedia is not an eBook, they say. It’s… an app… What IS an eBook with multimedia? Can we continue to call an eBook an eBook knowing that now it may feature multimedia? … What about audio books? … [Or] movie-books… (Technorati Entertainment)

Let’s call it digital storytelling. Or storytelling in the digital age. Maybe we should just call it storytelling, because — no matter how resistant the publishing industry and book critics and schools and libraries may be — the public is embracing (and will continue to embrace) storytelling in all of its innovative new forms.

Let us imagine the first time a storyteller added innovative new technologies to their bag of tricks. Picture the proverbial caveman standing by the bonfire with his family, talking about the hunt from which he’s returned with a week’s food. In telling the story of creeping up on his prey, he describes his cautious steps, following the fierce Bigmacosaurus, slowly, quietly all afternoon. Until afternoon turned into evening. As daddy caveman describes the fall of night he slowly extinguishes the campfire leaving his wife and children sitting in the dark around the glowing embers. They pull closer together, absorbed in the story. Now dad begins to pace around them in the dark as he speaks, so that they are never quite sure where he is, and he begins to breath deeply, hoarsely, imitating the sounds of the Bigmacosaurus. And suddenly he leaps across the embers and pretends to drive his spear into the Bigmacosaurus, just barely illuminated as he writhes on the ground, bathed in the dull red glow of the embers.

The end.

“Time for bed, cave kiddies!” he bellows. But they don’t move. They cling to their mother, scared to death.

So dad adds kindling and blows on the embers, resuscitating the fire. Within a few minutes the interior of the cave is once again illuminated. The children are less afraid, but still too nervous for bed.

“But what if the other Bigmacosauri followed you home?”

“Yes, what if they come and get us tonight while we sleep?”

Dad takes a charred branch from the fire and proceeds to draw a picture on the cave wall. In the crude illustration a hunter with a spear crouches in tall grass beside a herd of Bigmacosauri. He explains to his children that he discovered the heard around mid-day, far away. He draws the sun directly overhead, and adds wavy water to portray the lake located half a day’s journey from the cave. Then he moves down the wall and draws himself in the mountains pursuing a single Bigmacosaurus, the sun much lower to the horizon now. He explains to his children that he successfully split the heard, forcing the biggest Bigmacosaurus to run toward the mountains which lay between their cave and the lake. He draws a herd of stampeding Bigmacosauri running off into the distance where the sun sets on the far side of the lake. His next drawing is of the the hunter right next to the Bigmacosaurus, spear high in the air about to plunge. A crescent moon is high overhead. He explains to his children that he wanted to drive the Bigmacosaurus as close as possible to home so that he could minimize the distance he would need to carry the meat. He explains how hard it was because wild Bigmacosauri are scared of cave men and don’t like to come near them. But daddy cave man succeeded, and now they have plenty of food. But the next time he wants to hunt a Bigmacosaurus, he will have to go all away around the lake to the far side where the sun sets. He draws one last picture, looking across the vast lake at tiny Bigmacosauri no larger than ants speckling the horizon beneath the setting sun.

The children have fallen asleep in their mother’s arms, so the parents carry them to their beds and tuck them in.

So far, nothing’s unusual about this, right? Just another evening at the cave.

But when the parents tuck themselves in, the cave man’s wife rolls over to her husband to whisper.

“I don’t know what you thought you were doing tonight, extinguishing the fire, making all those beastly noises, reenacting the hunt, drawing on the walls. Look how much you scared the children.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare them so much. I always tell them stories…”

“I know. Stories are good. But all that other stuff, it’s just, I don’t know. Not right. Can you just stick with storytelling? Just words?”

“Yes, dear.”

“Thank you. Good night.”

“Good night.”

But the next day the cave kiddies beg for a story. “Like last night, daddy. Not the boring old way.”

“Yes, like last night. Pleeease?”

Mother grimaces.

Father looks at mother and shrugs.

Fast forward. YouTube, Audible, Vook, iPad, Storify and SoundCloud blur past. From cave fire to Kindle Fire… Onward!

Amazon Snaps Up The 4-Hour Chef

Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Chef

Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Chef

While word warriors continue to battle over the death/rebirth of publishing, I’m inclined to agree with Paul Carr that the “the golden era of books isn’t over. The golden era of books is NOW!

In terms of both unit sales (up 4.1% from 2008) and revenue (up 5.6% from 2008), American publishers experienced a bumper year last year.

And the good news doesn’t stop there: thanks to the Kindle and the iPad, people who three years ago would never have strayed within 500 feet of a bookshop (and still wouldn’t) can now buy the latest James Patterson as easily as downloading Angry Birds. People who weren’t reading for pleasure, now are. This is good.

Even more interestingly, Amazon has extracted from amber the DNA of pamphlets and short stories (and maybe even serial novels) and given them a chance at new life in the form of Kindle Singles…

So, yes, given that the publishing industry is thriving, new formats are emerging, dead formats are coming back from the grave and top flight authors are making tens of millions of dollars a year, it’s something of a stretch to argue that the golden era of books is over. Moreover, it’s considerably less of a stretch to argue that the golden era of books is now. (TechCrunch)

And what better proof than Alison Flood’s announcement in The Guardian on Wednesday: “Amazon strikes first ‘major’ publishing deal“?

Amazon.com has made the first “major” acquisition for its New York-based publishing imprint, snapping up rights in bestselling self-help author Timothy Ferriss‘s new book The 4-Hour Chef.

Ferriss is author of the New York Times bestsellers The 4-Hour Body and The 4-Hour Workweek… The 4-Hour Chef will, said Amazon, build upon the “4-hour” philosophy “by transforming the way we cook and eat”. It will publish the book in print, digital and audio formats next April.

Ferriss, whose previous books were published by Random House imprint Crown, said that his decision to move to Amazon Publishing “wasn’t just a question of which publisher to work with. It was a question of what future of publishing I want to embrace.

“My readers are migrating irreversibly into digital, and it made perfect sense to work with Amazon to try and redefine what is possible,” said the author in a statement. “This is a chance to really show what the future of books looks like, and to deliver a beautiful experience to my readers, who always come first…” (Guardian)

Amazon, who’s publishing imprint is headed by Larry Kirshbaum (formerly the CEO of Time Warner Book Group), stands to dominate the future of print, digital and audio publishing, and veteran book creator/peddler Tim Ferriss has now driven this message home once and for all!

Ferriss has opined on the state of the publishing industry before, often defending his choice to work within the traditional publishing industry, but he’s a savvy thinker, investor and self promoter, so I wasn’t surprised to discover that he courted Amazon rather than vice versa.

The opportunity to partner with a technology company that is embracing publishing is very different than partnering with a publisher embracing technology. (TNW Media)

Could the message be more clear? I’m looking forward to reading The 4-Hour Chef!

Related articles

Digital Book and Audio Book Integration

Drew Frish of Electric Type on digital and audio book integration

Electric Type's Drew Frish on digital/audio book integration

Drew Frist is the founder of Electric Type (@electrictypeco), a digital book publisher who just released their debut digital children’s app, Jungle Book: The Story of Mowgli & Shere Khan. It looks delicious! Check out the promo video, and I’m guessing that if you have kids you’ll head over to iTunes before long.

In a recent video response to the question, “What are your thoughts on audio books?”, Frist expressed a wish that I’ve been trumpeting for months: it’s time for user friendly digital book and audio book integration. Print books are familiar and nostalgic. Digital books are cheap, quick, frictionless and they eliminate paper cuts. Audio books are perfectly portable and they expand our reading opportunities to the car, the gym, the ski slopes.

Why aren’t we bundling all three? This value-added merchandising play is not only good business in an increasingly competitive publishing world, it’s actually better than all three. In short, bundling digital, audio and print is better than the sum of its parts.

Most of us still love paper and ink. Bindings. Smells. Easy marginalia. Worn pages. Dog eared corners. It’s a habit with some enduring benefits (ever read your iPad in full sun?) and a viable long tail. In short, many readers still want print books.

Digital book detractors have not immersed themselves in the experience. Just my two cents, but I find it hard to believe that print book purists don’t accept that there are some amazing opportunities with digital publishing. Instant access to almost everything no matter where you are. Did I mention instant? Did I mention cheap? Did I mention searchable content? Okay, the technology is still new and rather clunky, but progress is being made at warp speed.

I admit that once upon a time I scoffed at audio books. Remember when they were recorded on tapes? When they were almost all abridged? When the audio book technology and availability were more hindrance than help? I changed my tune almost a decade ago when my then-fling-now-bride and I were commuting between the Adirondacks and Manhattan. Five hours in the car wrestling with tailgators and snow storms was transformed into five hours of “reading” books that we might not otherwise have taken the time to squeeze into our busy lives. Outstanding recordings, many by the authors themselves, and none were abridged. In those early days we listened to CDs. Remember those? The advent of compact disks reduced the need to abridge books because they could hold so much more data than tapes. Before long we transitioned to MP3 downloads from places like Audible.com and enjoyed the dilated offerings and the instant access. Driving bliss. It wasn’t long before audio books crept into my workouts, flights, train rides, etc.

So spoiled! So many choices. So much bickering about which one is best.They’re all best! Do you remember this video?

We have so many amazing resources at our fingertips, and yet we live in a culture where opinions are celebrated without necessarily stopping to evaluate or analyze them. Remember debate? No? It was a logical, quasi-methodical framework for constructively addressing differences of opinion. Weird, right? I know. Now we just shout opinions, whine opinions, burp opinions, snore opinions, regurgitate opinions, sweat opinions and generally excrete opinions around the clock. It’s cool. It’s social…. ;-)

An avalanche of opinions. But are we evaluating and analyzing this avalanche of opinions, or are we just scrambling to keep our heads up and our opinions spouting? Is anyone stopping to ask if print books, audio books and digital books need be mutually exclusive? With such distinct merits and appetites for all three, it would make a world of sense to zip them all up together in the same pair of pants so that they could audition for the lead roll in our storytelling opera.

Some of my best book experiences lately have resulted from buying all three formats, and in many cases re-consuming large sections of the work in multiple formats. Active writers, researchers and thinkers would relish the opportunity to:

  • buy a bundled, multi-format title from their favorite seller
  • tuck into the hammock to read the print book in the shade of a towering oak tree
  • continue the story on their iPod while mowing the grass
  • bookmark a quotation while listening to the audio book so that they can send it off via Twitter or email
  • sync the audio book with their digital book reader to pick up where they left off
  • quickly locate and share the bookmarks via email, blog post, Facebook, etc.

So often while I’m listening to an audio book I’ve yearned for a quick and easy way to bookmark, quote or share a passage. So often while reading a digital book I’ve yearned for a high-quality audio performance to pick up where I need to leave off to drive to a meeting. So often while reading a printed and bound book I’ve yearned for an efficient way to search for a passage…

Isn’t it time that we integrate digital books and audio books seamlessly in a single, user-friendly app? And wouldn’t it be great if this integrated digital app were bundled with a print copy? It’s a win-win-win proposition!

Sunday Supper

Frog cartoonFelt grand enough after dinner last night at Turtle Island Cafe, but awoke this morning feeling like I was drowning. Nightmare? No, I was actually struggling to catch my breath. Seems that my lungs were suddenly extremely congested. And my ears and nose.

So… I took my vorpal sword in hand (read Dayquil) and dealt the beast a few quick blows. Deft swordsmanship and plenty of hot tea subdued the bronchial beast marginally, and I set about adapting my day. I bowed out of a monthly writing group this afternoon and a public reading of Karen Lewis’ play The Perfect Wife held at The Depot Theatre.

That was the bad news. The good news? As an almost forty year old who’s voice neglected to drop the desired octave at puberty, I’ve long envied those radio announcer baritones and basses who can make a snippet from the AP or the weather report sound like chocolate melting over a candle. Today was my moment of glory. Struggling to catch my breath all day, I’ve nevertheless hummed and sung myself hoarse, hitting notes that I’ve never hit before and will probably never hit again. Joy! Griffin, my almost three old Labrador Retriever keeps cocking his head and wondering when his “momma” is coming home from Charleston to restore a little normalcy. That’s right, my bride joined John Davis (@trekeast) last Thursday for a paddling leg of his epic 4,000 mile human powered adventure. But more on that in a moment.

First, I’d like to back up. What’s up with the title of this blog post, you’re probably wondering. What’s this about Sunday supper? Good question! Silly title really. Probably smorgasboard would have made more sense. Or digest. But enough with the food references. Basically today’s post is what might have been the conversation around the table if we were sitting down to catch up over a slow Sunday supper. Make sense?

Okay, so that’s the title, but what about the silly frog? That was a quick doodle that I made this morning after figuring out what was going on with my breathing and funny voice. Actually, it’s more than that. It’s a hat tip to Hugh MacLeod (@gapingvoid) who’s book Evil Plans has entertained and inspired me over the last couple of days as much for the quirky-but-clever cartoons as the simple message he drives home with miniature sound bite chapters.

Everybody needs an Evil Plan. Everybody needs that crazy, out-there idea that allows them to actually start doing something they love, doing something that matters… Every person who ever managed to do this, every person who managed to escape the cubicle farm and start doing something interesting and meaningful, started off with their own Evil Plan. And yeah, pretty much everyone around them — friends, family, colleagues — thought they were nuts.” (Hugh MacLeod, Evil Plans)

It isn’t rocket science, nor does it pretend to be. After all, a book that relies as much on cartoons as prose to make a point isn’t about pretence and pontificating. It’s accessible and lighthearted. And following close on the heels of Guy Kawasaki‘s (@guykawasakiEnchantment and Seth Godin‘s (@thisissethsblogPoke the Box I fell surrounded by kindred spirits: initiators, starters, creators, shippers, adventurers.

If there were more hours in the day, the week, I’d dish up quick reviews of all three of these books. Don’t count on it. Instead, read them yourself. Quickly. They’re all available digitally, and both Enchantment and Poke the Box are available as audiobooks too. Perfect for the car or the gym! Evil Plans doesn’t really lend itself to audio with all of those terrific cartoons, but I bet MacLeod could pull off one heck of a Vook

In other news, yesterday’s “Loquacious Flaneur” continues to evolve, so I’ll wrap up and curate a few last tweets before taking my vorpal sword in hand (read Nyquil) and dealing the bronchial beast a few last blows before surrendering to sleep!

Mentors & Mavericks: Writer’s Digest Conference 2011

On January 21-23 I attended the 2011 Writer’s Digest Conference. I arrived focused on my book, my book pitch and my publishing goals. I left focused on new friends and acquaintances, a community of writers and publishing industry professionals who shared their visions, ambitions, guidance and encouragement. Listen to my wide wandering reflection on this transformation or read audio transcription.

I’ve collected the social media artifacts from those three days into an illuminating if cumbersome archive of the event:

I’ll continue to curate and weave my commentary into this collaborative coverage in the days ahead. Please contact me (@virtualDavis) to recommend blog posts, etc. that I’ve overlooked. Thanks!

The highlight of the Writer’s Digest Conference was the people. I’m referring to both the  presenters and the other attendees. As a writer, I find that it’s all too easy to disconnect — to become isolated — not socially but professionally. And yet, I love to connect and interact. I yearn for feedback and criticism and guidance and encouragement. This is a big reason why I teach, act, blog, flinflan, tweet and tell stories. Writing demands connecting and community. Last weekend’s conference delivered both, engaging me directly with writers, readers, publishing veterans and innovators.

In addition to the curated archives above, I’ll blog on several of the most memorable presentations over the next week or two. I’d like to start today by acknowledging one presenter who profoundly impacted me, Jane Friedman (@janefriedmanThis woman’s a dynamo! Behind those coquettish ringlets and a smile that feels like a bear hug from an old friend, Jane Friedman is all genius. No joke. And not only publishing-smart, but savvy-smart. And generous-smart.

You see, I was Friedman’s student even before attending her “Your Publishing Options” session on Saturday morning. She didn’t know it; she didn’t even know me. But her No Rules blog has been a critical component of my crowdsourced MFA in recent months. Then, a little over a week ago, I attended her “3 Secrets for Selling Your Nonfiction Book Live Webinar“. Ninety minutes of real-time Friedman instructing me how to compose an effective book query. Great class!

She answered questions and disected queries submitted by participants in the webinar. My learning curve went vertical. But the most helpful was yet to come. I’d mentioned to Friedman that I’d be pitching my book at #wdc11, so she revised my bloated book overview into an amuse-bouche to tempt literary agents during the Pitch Slam. And she did so almost immediately despite the fact that she was preparing for her battery of presentations and traveling halfway across the country. She communicated and encouraged me via three separate social media channels. All, without having ever met me!

In short, Friedman had won my gratitude and admiration even before her Saturday morning presentation on traditional publishing, niche presses and self-publishing. Then she proceeded to deliver what was easily the most organized, efficiently delivered and content-rich presentation that I attended all weekend. She observed that all three publishing options are relevant today (“they’re almost all on equal footings now”) and mapped out the pros and cons for each. She instructed us to evaluate how we connect with readers in order to select the publishing channel most compatible with our own strengths. Although the self-publishing route demands the greatest entrepreneurial spirit, Friedman emphasized that all three require writers to actively market and promote their work. Nobody is exempt.

Friedman illuminated the dark nooks and crannies of today’s publishing world while empowering a capacity audience of aspiring writers to chart their own course. She acknowledged that it helps to have a “partner” or mentor in the publishing community, and I realized why she’d already had such a profound impact on me. Her blog and webinar are the closest I’ve come to having a writing mentor since college, half a lifetime ago!

I’ve written since high school; I’ve taught writing; I’ve edited and published online and offline journals; and I’ve even mentored others. But I’ve never sought out an experienced, confident coach to help me become a published author. Why not?

I suppose, like many writers, I’ve identified the writing practice with solitude, with head down focus and perseverance, with forging my own course. I suppose, like many writers, I’ve been stubborn and overconfident that I can (must?) navigate this adventure independently.

But Jane Friedman and Dan Blank and Richard Nash and Patricia V. Davisand Al Katkowsky and a half dozen literary agents and several dozen writers grabbed me, jerked my blinders off and showed me that I’m not alone on this journey. We’re a community full of wise mentors and inspiring mavericks. Writers who opt out of this community are sacrificing the very guides, resources, and opportunities which can accelerate their progress as writers. And they are overlooking the friendship and encouragement of the most compatible colleagues out there!

And so, I return to the Adirondacks, to my desk, to my manuscript. But unlike my writing practice before the Writer’s Digest Conference, I have discovered a new passion, focus, strategy and community. I am now ready to seek out the mentors and mavericks who will shape my adventure. I’m ready to embrace my fellow adventurers, starting with a warm “Thank you!” to everyone I met at the Writer’s Digest Conference and to those of you who followed along via #wdc11. And I am ready and eager to bear hug all of you who follow, support, critique, encourage and teach me via TwitterFacebook, the virtualDavis blog and my Flinflanerie newsletter. Thank you!

2011 New Year’s Resolutions

Hangover remedies shared by @SandraOldfield

Hangover remedies shared by @SandraOldfield

“I do hereby firmly resolve…” Each year as a child I wrote these words on New Years Eve. There was an uncomfortable gravitas that came with putting my resolutions down on paper, sitting in the living room with my parents, my brother, my sister, knowing full well that we would all be expected to share our resolutions aloud. Knowing full well that some of my inked goals were not new, were repeats from a year prior (and perhaps the year before that and so on.) In other words, some new years resolutions represented failures. By reaffirming that I would undertake what I had failed required humility and honesty. It also created optimism and hope. I had failed, but now I would succeed.

“I do firmly resolve…” That’s powerful language. A powerful act.

As an adult the gravitas diminished. Over time I abandoned much of the soul searching and honesty of defining and sharing specific, personal, intentional, meaningful resolutions. Toasts and lighthearted bravado eclipsed reflection and goal setting. Champagne, dancing, singing, hugs and kisses and thumps on the back. Each year I still try to jot down a few goals in my Blackberry to refer to over the course of a year, but the ritual of my childhood definitely lapsed.

Until this morning. I awoke knowing that something was missing. It was time to plant my keister at the honesty table for a little tough love. Did I rock 2010 the way I could have? Did I seize the most important opportunities? Did I achieve or significantly progress toward my goals? Have some of my goals changed? Is it time to weed out longstanding ambitions that perhaps no longer matter and replace them with new ones that do?

Before long my reflection yielded to hopes and plans for the new year. I scrawled out two pages of changes, improvements, goals and accomplishments for 2011, and then I massaged them into a prioritized, categorized layout. An action plan.

I felt pretty good.

But it’s easy to feel good writing lists, dreaming of what we want to achieve. Easy and often fleeting. The gravitas was still missing. The accountability. The humility and honesty that resulted from speaking my resolutions aloud as a boy. From owning and sharing and responding to questions and making a public commitment. “I do firmly resolve…”

Having dropped my parents off at the airport yesterday afternoon to fly home to Chicago, and since my siblings are far, far away, the tried and true ingredients for resolution gravitas were absent. Time for new ingredients. Time for reinvention!

Here’s what I’ve decided. I’m going to share a few resolutions with you to see if there’s gravitas to be had. To see if forging a compact with my virtual family can help me keep my 2011 resolutions. Don’t worry, I’m not going to swamp you with two pages of “Take the dog on more adventures” and “Share better wine with more friends” and “Go fly fishing!”

Like everyone else, I’ve pledged to supersize my fitness regimens. Yes, both of them!

Just as physical activity is essential to maintaining a healthy body, challenging one’s brain, keeping it active, engaged, flexible and playful, is not only fun. It is essential to cognitive fitness. (This Year, Change Your Mind)

That’s right. Part of effective New Years Resolutioning is going on the record and proclaiming your goals openly so that others can help you monitor your progress and ultimately succeed. You in? Thanks.

My #1 resolution for 2011 is to deliver Rosslyn Redux to its audience:

  • to publish the print memoir and the ebook;
  • to record and distribute the audio book;
  • to publish the video series;
  • to perform the one-man show;
  • and to share my quixotic publishing adventure with you as I move toward my goal.

Whiplash? Thwappp! It’s real. It’s happening. It’s now. And I’m going to take you along for the ride via twitter, video, blogging, storify and [hopefully soon] broadcastr. A glimpse inside the adventure of a newbie writer courting a publishing industry doing the funky chicken in time lapse animation. You with me? Hang in there. Things are liable to get even more confusing in the months ahead, but we’ll muddle through. And laugh at ourselves plenty along the way.

Did you read 37 literary resolutions for 2011? I liked Janet Fitch’s marginalia ambitions:

My book-related resolution for 2011: To converse more with my books. To write in the margins. (37 literary resolutions for 2011. What’s yours?)

As I plunge head over heels into an exotic publishing adventure, I’m going to chronicle the conversations along the way. I’m going to write in the margins. And I’m going to share my marginalia with you. In fact, I’ve already started… I hope you’ll help keep me honest, focused and determined. And I hope you’ll bust my chops when I get distracted, discouraged and/or delusional. Thank you!

I do hereby firmly resolve to publish Rosslyn Redux in multiple formats and to share my experiences over the next year while moving toward this goal. Gravitas!

Debbie Stier: Book Publishing as I See It

Debbie Stier speaking at BookExpo America 2009

Debbie Stier (@debbiestier) first came across my radar when HarperStudio was born… A book publishing outlet that made sense in the 21st century! Publishers who understood (or wanted to understand) the digital migration. Unfortunately bravery and vision weren’t sufficient, and HarperStudio was recycled. (Read the HarperCollins explanation memo to employees.) I was disappointed that the project was abbreviated, but proud of HarperCollins for taking the risk in the first place.

One of her homeruns with HarperStudio was Crush It! by Gary Vaynerchukwhich I’ve “read” three times (the print edition, the audio edition and the Vook edition) as much for Vaynerchuk’s energy, self-confidence and optimism as for the opportunity to compare assets distinct to each platform. I imagine Vaynerchuk has been a good fit for Publishing’s Optimist Prime. In an interview with Marian Schembari last June Stier conveyed unabashed enthusiasm for the future of publishing.

“I love that word-of-mouth is scalable. I love that anybody can share, and connect, and spread the word about great books and ideas without ever having to get permission… I’m allergic to bureaucracy. Publishing is full of protocols; I find it frustrating when people see their role as putting up barriers and looking for problems. I’d rather make something great happen… It’s liberating to know that you are in control of your own destiny and don’t have to hope that the gatekeepers allow you to be recognized.” (Digital Book World)

Stier’s perspective has encouraged and reassured me during my foray into the book publishing jungle. And it’s not all bluster and bravado. Stier’s track record speaks for itself. And she’s EVERYwhere! (I have a hunch that she may secretly have invented the social web between book launches.) The other day I was speaking to my wife’s cousin, Cali Williams Yost (@caliyost) about her experience publishing Work + Life and now working on her second book, and Stier’s name inevitably popped up: “She is wonderful and amazing!” Scanning some of the titles Stier has worked on I realized that my mother-in-law’s friend, Dotty Frank, has also been touched by Stier. The Stier Factor! And when I registered to attend MediaBistro‘s eBook Summit I discovered that she was slated to be one of the panelists. (Did I mention that Debbie Stier is EVERYwhere?)

During her eBook Summit presentation she announced that she’s departed HarperCollins, and that she hasn’t yet announced her next plan. She did mention that it is somewhat unrelated to book publishing but will draw upon her publishing experience. Hmmm… Perhaps something to do with the SATs?

As for promotion strategies in the publishing industry Stier articulated in no uncertain terms that

“everybody should have a digital presence… You’ve got to be part of it to understand, or else you’re not feeling the culture of it.”

She also skimmed over relevant tech/communication trends that she sees emerging. Mobile, mobile, mobile. There’s an adavantage to early adopters. If you use an iPhone, try out Instagram. In publishing, she explained, mobile strategy is mostly tied to apps (location-based and otherwise), etc. In other industries texting and QR codes are making major inroads, but publishing lags behind! This is an opportunity. First mover advantage. She touched on Foursquare and mused on behaviour changes like the gym rat badge. If you are writing nonfiction, Stier said, think of ways that FourSquare could overlap. Tips are key! And many other smart uses too. Leave breadcrumbs where you wrote the book, ate a meal, had a drink, etc.

Stier also emphasized the importance of “caring”. Adopt the Zappos strategy as DELL has recently learned. Care. Gary Vaynerchuck’s new book, The Thank You Economy, is precisely about this. In only a few short minutes Debbie Stier had nailed it. Boom, boom, boom.

Unfortunately she had to depart earlier than anticipated and we didn’t connect aside from a few tweets and this sad image but kind message on Tumbler. Soon, I hope, to meet the legendary Debbier Stier in person.

Is Print Publishing the New Vanity Press?

 

All is vanity
All is vanity by quinn.anya, on Flickr

[Seth] Godin, a best-selling author of marketing books such as Tribes and Permission Marketing, felt he no longer needed his traditional publisher. Notably, Godin defined “publishing” far more broadly than did Penguin Group. He plans on distributing his content in a number of media—audio books, apps, podcasts, print on demand, etc.

As for the value of publishers, Godin commented: “Publishers provide a huge resource to authors who don’t know who reads their books. What the Internet has done for me, and a lot of others, is enable me to know my readers.” … As someone who has had six books and innumerable articles published by traditional print publishers… I have seen the transformation of a raw manuscript into an edited, indexed, laid-out publication. It is a sight to behold, and certainly something I couldn’t do on my own.

That said, if publishers can’t find innovative ways to create new markets for an author’s content, and if more successful authors shift to Godin’s model, we may get to the point where print publishers are seen as the vanity press and high-quality self-publishing is the new professional standard. If writers do not know who their audiences are, they can, in essence, ride the coattails of the marketing channels of a traditional publisher. If, on the other hand, they have already built their readership through other avenues, they may rely on their own reputation for credibility, rather than on the imprimatur of a publisher, to sell their books. econtentmag.com

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Don’t Write, Create

Writers basically have two choices: they can build enough of a platform to entice an acquisition, or build one that’s bigger than just books and enables their long-term independence. (And by independence, I mean making a sustainable living, not just self-publishing your book via Amazon or Lulu or Smashwords and declaring yourself an “indie”.)

Similar to work-for-hire vs. creator-owned, it’s evolving into the difference between being a writer and creator. In the digital era, writers sell stories, while creators build storyworlds.

The former is a transaction-based existence focused on the traditional publication of books or articles, with everything else viewed as ancillary. The latter is an approach that sees traditional publishing as just one of many ways via which a storyworld — your fictional universe — can be experienced, and focuses on your ability to reach and engage with readers across a variety of channels. (loudpoet.com)

Why “limit yourself to just writing and publishing a book?” Guy LeCharles Gonzalez asks over at loudpoet.com. The ever burgeoning array of media channels is encouraging a new era of writers, storytellers who see the transmedia evolution as an exciting and promising renaissance.

What about you? Do you long for the black and white publishing world of yore? Or are you ready to embrace the multimodal storytelling opportunities emerging today? And tomorrow?

Thus Spoke Seth Godin

In the still buzzing world of “Seth Godin versus print publishing” much has been said in favor and against Godin’s announcement that he will no longer publish books traditionally. I’ve been fascinated with the debate. I’m an unabashed neophyte in the world of agents, editors, publishers and book retail, and I profess to know little as a still-hopeful in the world of publishing. But I’m a fan of Godin’s ideas, energy and quasi oracular vision, and I’ve been fascinated with digital storytelling in its diverse and perennially morphing potential for a decade.

Back in the shadow of Y2K I lead a workshop in Paris for teachers called Storytelling in the Digital Age that explored the merits of (and methods for) embracing new narrative media in the classroom. That workshop evolved into a semester-long elective for high school students at the American School of Paris, exploring the roots and evolution of storytelling while developing a methodology for digital narrative craft. Remember, those were heady days when Dana Atchley was at the peak of his all too short life.

It’s stunning how much has changed since then. Staggering. And not a little scary (ie: “One Dark Side of Publishing Changes“) either… But it’s also thrilling and exhilarating! And inevitable. Though not everyone agrees on this last point. In evidence, consider this poignant request from the sage, book loving Gail Hyatt:

It’s true that things are changing drastically in the world of words and ideas. Nobody knows this better than you. You’re a big reason. The possibilities are being realized faster than we can absorb them. However, in my opinion, the end of traditional publishing has not yet come. Not at all. It has a most crucial and vital part to play in feeding our souls and our minds and challenging us to change our lives. I see this fleshed out in my own home. Mike’s chair is the perfect example. Propped in the seat is his laptop, waiting to be awakened for the day. The iPad is perched on the side table next to THE DIP and the highlighter, and the is Kindle peaking up from his briefcase on the floor waiting to be compared to the newest Kindle which will arrive sometime today. I want to encourage to rethink this “quitting.” You say one has to know when to quit and when to stick. Don’t quit that which is obviously sticking. You and your works have a place in our lives that will never be unstuck and we’re very grateful for that. I think your best work is yet to come … and that’s saying A LOT! Maybe not right now. Maybe it needs to ferment for several years. Who knows? All I hope is that, when it does come, you don’t quit and you give it to us in every form possible—especially traditional publishing. Please reconsider. (The Treasure Hunt, by Gail Hyatt)

And while Gail Hyatt is begging Seth Godin not to quit, many others are excoriating and chastising him for his decision. Fortunately, there are also some level heads approaching Godin’s announcement with a more metered, more academic interest. For instance, Mitch Joel shares the feedback from his literary agent, James Levine, regarding four critical considerations for other writers considering emulating Seth Godin:

  • Fan base. Must be fanatic, very large, and inclined to read the author’s works in digital format. This won’t work right out the gate for authors whose main following is in print.
  • Marketing savvy and support. Aside from being very smart about marketing, the author needs to have the staff in place to execute, execute, execute, daily, daily, daily. Many authors will underestimate how expensive and time consuming this is.
  • Long term money goals. The author needs to be able/willing to forego the short-term guarantee from a publisher [known as "the advance"] and bet on long term sales direct from consumers (the per unit revenue to the author is much bigger when the author acts as the publisher).
  • Platforms. It’s important to realize that this approach will make the most sense for authors who make most of their money by speaking/consulting to business audiences. In this sense, books are a form of advertising for the more lucrative services provided by these authors. (“You Are Not Seth Godin“)

Joel adds two further essentials: a top flight editor and a team of performance driven sales reps. Starting to sound like going the Seth Godin way involves launching your own publishing company? To some degree, yes! Joel goes on to remind us that Godin’s ability to make this brave decision nevertheless relies on more than these parts. Godin tirelessly invested “decades of doing tons of things… that all had him in direct connection with the people who will buy his books from him, talk about it to their peers and evangelize his always-brilliant thinking.” In short,Godin has a world class platform. Do you?

What Seth, The Wall Street Journal, the book publishing industry and the literary agents aren’t telling you is that you can – in fact – be just like Seth Godin. These Digital Marketing channels are here for you (and they’re free – if you don’t count the time you need to put into them). In text, images, audio and video you too can publish how you think to the world… instantly. You too can share with others, build relationships and get your ideas to spread. You do not have to rely solely on mass media to help spread the word. And, you’ll know in short order, if your idea has traction… and you’ll be able to track how that idea spreads and connects.

In the end, you are not Seth Godin, but you can be. (“You Are Not Seth Godin“)

In Seth Godin’s words, “The business race is on to have the relationship with the reader.” According to Mark Coker (CEO of Smashwords) “the distribution advantage of having new titles in bricks-and-mortar bookstores will have to be weighed against the potential financial advantage of retaining ownership of a new book and distributing it as an e-book or on a print-on-demand basis.” Makes sense, right?

But others argue that this misses the point. Joel J. Miller argues that Godin has misunderstood “what traditional publishing is about. We sell books to people who love them, to people who crave them, who love bookstores, who love reading…” True. And you sell books to lots of other people who don’t love them but need them, rely upon them, etc. And you may be missing an opportunity to sell books to lots of people who simply haven’t considered buying them because they don’t love them, don’t need them, don’t rely upon them, etc. Right? Wrong, says Miller.

Godin’s basic misapprehension is that people don’t like books. There are billions of dollars exchanged every year that say differently. If you’re a reader, your own habits probably say differently. Mine do.

The second misapprehension is that books are a clunky way to deliver and spread ideas… For people who love them, there are few things more elegant or efficient than books…

A third misapprehension is not Godin’s fault. It’s our own. Godin’s personal business model is perhaps set up for him to succeed with this independent adventure. Good for him. Most authors, however, are not set up to go it alone. Likewise, most publishers are not set up to translate many of Godin’s ideas into their models. As authors and publishers, we should spend more time trying to please our customers than trying to justify ourselves to, or square our practices with, Seth Godin. (“What Godin gets wrong“)

I think this last issue is probably true. At least until the new digital publishing industry matures and begins to offer plug and play solutions to many of the challenges an indie author would encounter. And true too that most traditional publishers aren’t equipped to learn/adopt much from Godin.

But the first two “misapprehensions” strike me as somewhat naive. Sure, some people like and will continue to buy books, and many of those book buyers do indeed consider print books to be elegant and efficient. I am one of those book buyers. I love books. I will always love books. But that’s not the point.

I also love wine, and I am particularly fond of the ritual of opening a good bottle of wine. Cutting the foil is like breaking the wax seal on a letter or document, bold and permanent and assertive yet beautiful and not a little poignant. Once the foil or leading is trimmed away tidily, there’s no greater satisfaction that removing the cork from an aged but well maintained bottled of wine, each twist of the corkscrew adding to the anticipation…

It’s easy to romance wine corks. It’s easy to romance books. And with luck and sufficient numbers of passionate book and wine consumers, we’ll be able to enjoy both for a long time into the future. But screw caps, with all of their oenological, environmental and economic logic are making rapid inroads, and the likelihood of screwcaps gradually eclipsing corks is increasing with every vendange. The point isn’t that some of us prefer corks, but that the industry is changing because there’s greater oenological, environmental and economic value in screwing than corking! Does that mean that corking is dead? Probably not. But it’s likely to become exceptional, less widely available, and more expensive. Miller seems to miss this inevitability.

Literature is like running. It’s not for everyone, but for people who love it stopping after four blocks fails to satisfy. There are miles to go. It’s immersive. It’s also time consuming, but real readers are like real runners; you settle into a good pace and time evaporates. People whose primary reading is Facebook and street signs might not get that. Fine. Selling books to them is a waste of time and effort. Thank God that’s not the task before publishers. (“What Godin gets wrong“)

Whether or not literature and running are similar is a dabble for another day, but it’s clear to me that Miller’s off target. The shifting of the publishing industry from print to digital isn’t about those who love books, love running or love corks in their wine bottles. And if his oversimplified notion that the digital alternative to elegantly bound tomes is blog posts and Facebook, then it’s no wonder he’s confused and concerned. We’re at the dawn of digital publishing. The user-friendly innovations that will propel digital content into the next century aren’t even dreamed up yet. NookKindleVook, etc. are mere prototypes for the next generation of content conveyances. But they are already considerably more evolved and useful as digital publishing platforms than blogs and Facebook!

Clinging to an industry which has largely grown obsolete is lamentable, but failing to recognize the inevitability of the shift and failing to recognize the enormous potential represented by the shift is indeed naive. Let’s be frank and honest; the publishing industry not only resisted change, it kept its head in the sand for far too long. This change isn’t happening overnight. It isn’t an unanticipated fluke. It’s been a gradual evolution, the slowly building wave that only recently has started to crest!

The music industry offered possibly the best case study and the most abundant lessons. If the Big Six had studied the music industry over the last decade and adapted the most successful lessons, they’d be surfing the wave now instead of paddling like mad! But the music industry is only one example. Reflect back on the transition from traditional film photography to digital photography. Remember the detractors, the naysayers, the purists, the film lovers, the darkroom junkies, the overconfident executives who scoffed at the need to reinvent cameras, developing and photography. And note too that evolution from film to digital photography is responsible for the virtual ubiquity of cameras today. Every gadget imaginable includes a camera, and the proliferation of photo sharing, archiving and publishing gadgets demonstrate that this evolution had the effect of democratizing photography. It also opened up massive markets that had been overlooked or unfathomable prior to inexpensive digital cameras.

I suspect this example is particularly relevant to the transition in the publishing industry today. Some people love books and bookstores. Agreed. But look at how many do not. Look at how many never even consider books. And recognize that like digital photography which has proliferated beyond anyone’s wildest expectations, the transition to digital publishing will similarly transform the production and spread of information. And though we’re not all Seth Godins, not by a long shot, this brave new world of digital publishing will make it possible for you, me, anyone with ambition, intelligence and hard work to develop a platform and build an audience who appreciate, justify and contribute to our literary creations.

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