ˈvər-chə-wəlˈdā-vəs Serial storyteller, poetry pusher, digital doodler, flâneur.

Keri Smith on Creativity (and Book Midwifery)

Who is Keri Smith?

Who is Keri Smith?

I’m long overdue with a post about Keri Smith (, and what better way to make up for that then by sharing some of her awesome advice on creativity. Both of the pointers I’m quoting below actually come from a post called, Seven Steps to Getting Published, but as far as I’m concerned they’re all about creativity, creativity, creativity. And maybe even more than “publishing” they read like wise tips for successful book “midwifery”!

But first, by way of introduction it’s time to meet one of the most innovative book artists currently in the game, Keri Smith. It’s not too far a stretch to say that she is reinventing the concept of bookness, silly-putty-ing it into one of the most unconventional vehicles for creativity and adventure bound up between covers.

Here’s a more official blurb from her website:

Keri Smith is a Canadian conceptual artist and author of several bestselling books and apps about creativity including Wreck This Journal (Penguin) [check out her readers’ cool creations here: @WreckThisBook], This is Not a Book (Penguin), How to be an Explorer of the World -the Portable Life/Art Museum,(Penguin), Mess: A Manual of Accidents and Mistakes (Penguin), The Guerrilla Art Kit (Princeton Architectural Press), Finish This Book (Penguin), and The Pocket Scavenger (Penguin). (

Keri Smith on the Carpet

Keri Smith on the Carpet

I’m a little obsessed. For the last year I’ve been pouring over her work, each time feeling like I’m come across a co-conspirator. In fact, some of her books feel like they were born out of my own head. Only they weren’t. And her head’s done it better.

That said, I feel like these two creativity tips might have been borrowed from my head. They sound so familiar I could have written them myself. Only, I didn’t. She did. Again. So I’ll defer to Keri Smith.

Keri Smith on the Shelf

Keri Smith on the Shelf

1. Let your idea have it’s own life. This sounds a little strange but what I mean by this is once you have the idea in your head don’t try to control it too much. Let it tell you what form it should take. It really helps at this point to go for a long walk and just LISTEN it may be several long walks. Let the words and images evolve. With my most recent book it took over a year for me to know what form it would take. I had ideas for content and had begun writing but no overall format to tie it all together. I didn’t worry about it too much but just let it “be” for a while. One day while reading a book on “intuition in business”, a concept popped into my head. This concept was “play”, and it tied the whole book together and became my focus from that moment on.

2. Really enjoy yourself and the process of creating, the best work will flow out of you. People will respond the most to things you did with passion, as opposed to things you forced. Don’t worry about whether it would sell, or what’s hot in the moment your target market, or what a family member recommends. Be honest with yourself and the process. (

See why I think that they’re both really more about book midwifery? They address the creative process from first flickering vision through generations of revising and refocusing and wrong turns and Ah-ha moments. They are all about the creative flow state that I’ve been discovering/pursuing over the last couple of years.

Listen. Play. Be honest. The rest will take care of itself.

Thanks, Keri Smith!

Surrounded By Books

Surrounded by Books: 10 Second Pause

A publishing world evolution. Print. Digital. Books. Gadgets. We’re bombarded with speculation, doomsday nay-saying and snake oil promises. Exciting. Exhausting. Time to take a rest. Just for a moment. A short rest. Here. On this bookshelf… Aaahhh.

Why Writers Need Bloggers

I’ve come to see book bloggers as indispensable to authors, especially first-time authors.

~ Miriam Gershow

When Miriam Gershow (@miriamgershow) published her novel The Local News she landed coveted reviews in The New York TimesMarie Claire andLadies Home Journal. Home Run! Or not…

It turns out that even a top drawer print run and allstar mainstream media buzz, the job still fell to her to keep the novel visible and selling. And she did, due in part to her discovery that book bloggers are an essential (and friendly) ally.

One of the most surprising things about book publishing is that after the initial fanfare and reviews and readings… there is almost a deafening silence… suddenly it was my responsibility to keep the buzz going. (Guide to Literary Agents)

For Gershow, and for an ever-increasing parade of authors, the blogosphere and its social media cousins offer affordable word of mouth relationships directly with readers. As the data maelstrom grows louder and more overwhelming, more and more readers are tuning out. Traditional marketing channels are less effective than they used to be. But bloggers invest themselves day after day in cultivating a loyal readership. Blogger recommendations are respected, trusted and acted upon.

I do know that when a book is talked about in the blogosphere—especially by the insatiable bloggers with their insatiable readership—it keeps that book alive in the public consciousness.

Besides, authors have far greater accessibility to bloggers than they do to mainstream media outlets. So time and effort invested in courting bloggers is far more likely to pay off. But that’s not all, Gershow confides. Writers need book bloggers for their delicious soul food!

And… bloggers are good for the writer’s soul… They remind me that what I’m doing matters. And for that alone, they are worth their weight in books.

EBooks: Supplement or Supplant


The future of the book Ramin Setoodeh suggests, is coming into view. Quickly. What exactly this future will look like is anybody’s guess, but the publishing industry has reached a tipping point.

Electronic books now outsell paperbacks on Amazon, the retailer recently announced. And Borders, the second-largest bookstore chain in the United States, is reportedly considering a bankruptcy filing. (Newsweek)

Setoodeh asked some book-blokes what they foresee, and here are a few takes on the future of publishing in the digital age.

Books are going to get both longer and shorter. I think they will be more affordable. Books are pretty expensive. Publishers are so silly because they focus on “We’re not going to be selling so many hardcover books at $26.” Yeah, but you’re going to sell infinitely more electronically, so what are you complaining about? ~ Judith Regan(book editor and SiriusXM host)

You have to give readers a choice, between a richer experience with paper and board and cloth, and a more sterile experience through an electronic reader. We just try to make every aspect of the physical book as good as it can possibly be, because that’s our greatest hedge against the dominance of e-books. ~ Dave Eggers(author and founder of McSweeney’s)

The new immigrants don’t shoot the old inhabitants when they come in. One technology tends to supplement rather than supplant. ~ James H. Billington (librarian of Congress)

We’ve maintained in the last few years there will be fewer bookstores. Barnes & Noble will benefit from that. We have the best real-estate and business model in the world. Books are still a majority of what we sell in stores, but they are becoming less and less… ~ William Lynch(Barnes & Noble CEO)

I’m particularly keen on Billington’s take, though I’m not certain he’s right. At first, yes. But over time I suspect there will be more supplanting than he anticipates. Time will tell.

The post wraps up with a quotation from Joyce Carol Oates who reads books and newspapers on her husband’s iPad while traveling but still prefers books. I’m agree. I love books. And yet, I’m a digital native, and frequently surprise myself by opting for digital over print. Sometimes efficiency, accessibility, ease and/or economics trump tastes and aesthetic preferences. Often, actually…

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!

EBook Summit 2010 in Review

Panelists at eBook Summit 2010

What does tomorrow’s publishing world look like? MediaBistro’s eBook Summit dove into the “New Era of Publishing” on December 15, 2010 at The New Yorker Hotel to explore “some of the most pressing industry issues” and to assist writers, editors, publishers and agent in navigating “the changing industry ecosystem.”

In January I start pitching Rosslyn Redux (Writer’s Digest Conference 2011) to a publishing industry that is not only new to me but new to itself. I figured this conference would serve as an informative industry barometer for me and an up-close-and-personal glimpse at how traditional publishers and agents are adapting to the Post-Gutenberg Paradigm. The day was an eye opener. I’ve overviewed the highlights here…


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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.

Books and Beer

It’s no mystery that the folks at Just Beer at Buzzard’s Bay Brewing are a slightly quirky bunch, so it should be no surprise that their newest version of India Pale Ale is served up with a novel idea: A hard-boiled detective tale in twelve chapters, one on each of the 22-ounce bottles in a 12-bottle case.

The Case of the IPA, the name of the beer and the story, is a result of the melding of the minds of brewer Harry Smith, author Paul Goodchild and owner Bill Russell. The noir-style tale, reminiscent of “The Maltese Falcon” author Dashiell Hammett’s gritty detective novels and his serial magazine stories of the 1920s and ’30s starts off with the main character, “a two-bit shamus in a dirty, gritty, bluesy, and cool city of some renown” who is summoned to a wealthy businessman’s “swank starter mansion in the ‘burbs” and wraps up 264 ounces later. And Russell has one suggestion for readers: “Please don’t drink Chapter 12 first.”

Goodchild, who described himself as an artist who doesn’t count on royalties, said he came up with the idea of writing a story on Buzzard’s Bay beers about five years ago, but it didn’t fly until the Just Beer brand started making the 22-ouncer, just the right size for each chapter. “At first I thought about writing a science fiction serial because I love that genre, but I didn’t want people to think we were pandering to kids. This serial is decidedly adult — not XXX — but a hard-boiled detective, noiry serial; it’s perfectly oriented to the IPA. I’m a big fan of Dashiell Hammett,” said Goodchild. (Herald News)

Is it too late to pretend I invented this? This may be one of the most compelling reasons yet to focus on print publishing versus digital publishing. I mean, how often do folks offer up virtual cocktails on Twitter, etc? And how disapointing are they when you toss them down the hatch?!?! But this is the real deal. Analog literature for the mind and soul…

eBook FAIL?!?!

Zany and intriguing book concept! Jonathan Safran Foer’s Tree of Codes is a timely reminder that ebooks can’t do everything…

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Print Publishing’s Bastard Cousin


Founders Dirty Bastard Scotch Ale

Looks like “old school” publishers and authors are continuing to struggle with the transition from print publishing to digital publishing.

At The National Book Awards last night, books were being celebrated, but eBooks not as much. The New Yorker’s Andy Borowitz called the eBooks, “The bastard cousin of the print book” and Patti Smith begged the audience not to give up physical books. In her winning speech she said, “There is nothing more beautiful in our material world than the book.” (eBookNewser)

The bastard cousin? Hmmm… I’m not quite sure how that works, but it’s a catchy epithet!

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