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

Book as Enduring Symbol

As we watch the book transition into its fraught future, will the eventual scarcity of traditional volumes mean we can no longer recognize an image of that rectangular thing as a symbol of “learning, poise, wisdom and moral fortitude?” Or will the book as a symbol spring eternal? ~ Porter Anderson (Writer Unboxed)

Porter Anderson (@Porter_Anderson) takes on “Book as Symbol” and concludes that it is as perennial as spring. Though debating Porter is an enjoyable sport, I rarely find the opportunity, such reasoning undergirding even his lighthearted and sarcastic observations. Instead I pass along the unfathomably clever comments I appended to his post…

le bibliophile

Le Bibliophile (Credit: Wikipedia)

I’m a bibliophile by default, and a digital reader by convenience. No. Scratch that. I am a reader by default and a print book, digital book and audio book omnivore by habit. And increasingly by appetite. In fact, I often purchase and “read” a title in all three formats. Bundling anyone? After all, print books still make awfully quaint wrappers.

“If anything, I find we badly overuse the traditional book as a symbol.” ~ Porter Anderson (Writer Unboxed)

Indeed! A nostalgic eleventh hour attempt to ensure the symbol’s immortality? I’m reminded by Vaughn Roycroft’s anecdote (read Porter’s post and then scan down to Roycroft’s comment to enjoy his quirky story) of a library and garden designer I once knew who sold fancy folks learned libraries by the foot. Paneling, bookshelves, paint, leather club chairs, carpet, musty odor and collector’s edition books. Silly gobs of money for guilt tomes that might as well have been hacked spines glued into 4″ shelves.

English: Mabie Todd Swan 14k gold flexible nib

Mabie Todd Swan fountain pen (Credit: Wikipedia)

That said, the book will endure, not just as a symbol, but as a luxury. An indulgence. A preference. Many of us after all still age wines to perfection and draw ink into fountain pens despite the preponderance of cheaper, easier, more abundant and better marketed alternatives. I haven’t ever ridden in a chariot or published poems on stone tablets, but I instantly recognize both in humanity’s timeless iconography.

And what a joy it will be one day many decades anon to creak open the dusty spine of a vintage Quixote to read aloud to my grand nieces and nephews… Even with Porter’s Campari stains obscuring some of the text.

What do you think? Will the book endure as a symbol? Or perhaps it follow the slide rule and the Ford Pinto off to EFFI (the Elysian Fields of Forgotten Innovations, which incidentally, might be near Pine Point…)

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. (

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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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!

Born Again Books

Book Sculpture by Guy LarameeWith the increasing popularity of electronic readers and e-books, the future use of hard-bound books also comes under question… French Canadian artist Guy Laramée tackles it from a decidedly philosophical — and creative — perspective, carving intricate, three-dimensional landscapes that look amazingly real up close. (TreeHugger)

Based in Montréal (only an hour and a half north of me), French Canadian artist Guy Laramée tickles the already ticklish debate over the destiny of printed books. Fusing art and anthropology Laramée carves books into sculptures which arrest the viewer not only with their intricate three dimensional beauty, but with the cascade of questions each piece compels. Why books? Why vintage books? What are the implications of destroying words and ideas in order to create romantic, usually natural scenes? Read the rest of this entry »

Arm Wrestling Amazon for Authors

Amazon Kindle

Amazon Kindle (Photo credit: agirregabiria)

Would you arm wrestle a two-ton gorilla? What if your life depended on it?

Mike Shatzkin tackles the two-ton gorilla in the publishing room in his post “Competing with Amazon is not an easy thing to do”.

According to Shatzkin, traditional publishing has no other choice but to belly up to the bar, prop their elbow on the sticky surface and palm-to-palm it with the furry behemoth. Daunting but unavoidable. Shatzkin identifies the foundation of Amazon‘s power play:

  1. Amazon is, by far, the most book-industry-focused company that is actually active in endeavors much larger than the book business…
  2. Amazon executes. Their hardware and software and platforms and content delivery all work just about perfectly…
  3. Amazon is the runaway market leader in the only two segments of the book business that are growing — ebooks and the online purchasing of print — and they are cleverly leveraging the leadership position they have to make challenging them even more difficult in the future… (The Shatzkin Files)

Amazon sounds more like a three-ton gorilla! Shatzkin acknowledges that competing with Amazon won’t be easy, and his perspective may oversimplify the equation for the sake of painting a clear picture, but — let’s face it — the picture’s clearer every day!

There is really only one way for publishers to compete with Amazon for authors in the future and that’s to find book customers Amazon doesn’t have, either by working through other retailers or by creating direct publisher-to-customer contact. The percentage of sales which go to Amazon is the single most important barometer of a book publishing company’s future. Of course, every publisher wants to make their Amazon sales grow. Their challenge is to make other sales grow faster. (The Shatzkin Files)

And with Amazon’s newest venture, the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library, that proposition is growing even more challenging than it already was.

Ramit Sethi and Tim Ferriss on Publishing

Tim Ferriss and Ramit Sethi (video via

Ever wish you could sit down with a couple of bestselling authors and ask them what they think about the whole digital/traditional publishing debate? Here’s your chance. Sort of…

Tim Ferriss (Image: Scott Beale)

Tim Ferriss (Image: Scott Beale)

Tim Ferriss (@TFERRISS) and Ramit Sethi (@ramit), both New York Time’s bestselling authors, dish up raw, unfiltered and honest impressions of today’s book publishing world. They discuss both the benefits and the drawbacks of traditional publishing and self-publishing, and — though this video only offers one-way info flow — you could always shoot them follow-up questions via Twitter.

Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweekclimbed to the coveted top slot on The New York Times, Business Week, and The Wall Street Journal bestseller lists, and Sethi’s I Will Teach You To Be Rich popularity continues to drive more than a quarter million readers to his blog every month.

If you’re wading into this brave new world of digital publishing, it might make sense to listen to these guys!

Publishing Updates for Tim Ferriss

Tim Ferriss publishes The 4-Hour Body.

Tim Ferriss publishes The 4-Hour Chef.

Publishing Isn’t Broken

Publishing isn’t broken, or so says Jane Smith over at How Publishing Really Works, and here’s why. The very best books from the very best writers get published; books get sold; and writers, agents, editors, publishers, etc. get what they want: money. Phew. Good to have that sorted out so tidily. Unless, of course, it’s not really that tidy…

For decades, the publishing business has worked pretty well. Writers write books; agents sell those books to publishers; publishers make the books available to the market. Money flows through the system from reader to writer via the publisher and agent. Everyone involved makes money, and gets what they want… Be very wary of new models of publishing. The old one works just fine. (A New Model for Publishing?)

Smith suggests that the only breakdown in the publishing world is unskilled writers, agents, etc. Granted, there’s plenty of room to point the finger at unqualified contenders, that’s always fun and easy. But it seems that Smith is overlooking vital current concerns about whether or not the traditional publishing environment is broken, outdated, inefficient, etc. She talks a lot about money in traditional book publishing. This makes sense because the Gutenberg Paradigm is expensive to maintain. Whereas evolutions in technology, book selling, and readers’ habits have enabled modern publishing alternatives that make book publishing less expensive. Much less expensive!

Mainstream publishing isn’t broken: it has its flaws, certainly, but it still works. It still publishes books which show clear commercial potential; works to make those books as good as they can possibly be; and then gets those books into as many sales points as it possibly can. Just because it does that by only publishing the very best books from the very best writers, and consequently rejecting the majority, doesn’t mean that it’s broken: just that far too many writers are not yet good enough at their craft for publishers to risk investing their money in them.(Publishing Isn’t Broken)

Correct, rejecting the majority does not mean traditional publishing is broken. Correct, many writers undoubtedly are not worthwhile investments for traditional publishers, either because they are not sufficiently skilled writers or because there isn’t a big enough market for what they write. But this fulcrum of commercial potential is dramatically shifted when we consider the modern publishing industry’s efficiencies. Digitally distributed ebooks cut significant time and cost out of production and distribution. Print on demand (POD) publishing dramatically reduces up-front costs for book publishing. And these are just two cost cutting shifts that favor new models of publishing over traditional models of publishing. And less invested in a new title means less risk of failure and a lower ROI threshold. It means that the market can be used to evaluate the viability of a new book rather than a committee, an editor, even an agent. This means more variety and risk is possible for new books. It means niche markets become far more viable than they were in traditional publishing.This is hugely exciting!

Publishing cannot focus solely on bringing works of staggering genius to the attention of a grateful reading public, or on nurturing and supporting novice writers as they learn their craft and experiment with exciting risky new projects: while that would be nice for those novice writers it wouldn’t be nearly so nice for the publishers’ shareholders who would have to provide funds to publish the many turkeys such an approach would undoubtedly hatch, nor would readers appreciate being provided with all the unreadable tripe which might well result… [So] publishing books which will sell well has to be the publishing business’s main focus. (Publishing: Broken Or Not?)

Broken or not, Smith highlights one of the biggest challenges that traditional publishers face today: the economics are changing. The old way no longer works just fine. “Re-imagine the future,” Debbie Stier says. “Forget the old way. It doesn’t work in the new economy. Stop trying to control; make something useful and help people use it; get out of the way.” Amen. I’m anticipating a publishing industry that will be far more agile, flexible and stripped down. Far less costly to sustain. Far more in sync with readers, writers and consumer habits.
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