How to INCREASE Your Book’s SALES

Group of business people and men handshake reflected onto table with documents.

Authors: Here’s How To Make A Deal!  By Brian Feinblum

(My friend Brian is the Chief Marketing Officer, and SVP at Media Connect, formerly Planned Television Arts, arguably the nation’s largest and oldest book promoter. He is one of the consultants and advisers who works with Lincoln Square Books’ clients. — Peter Rubie)

When I first started marketing the PR services of the firm that I work for, Media Connect (called PTA back then), one of my first clients helped me land another client through triangular trade. It’s something I highly recommend for authors.

So here’s what I did: I was looking to work with Entrepreneur Press, which at the time published Entrepreneur magazine and had a book line as well. The publisher proposed hiring us to do some work that we’d normally charge $15,000 to $20,000 for, promoting several books on big radio tours. However, rather than pay us cash, they offered to provide us with several full and half-pages of ads in their magazine that normally would sell for double our fee. I had never done anything like this before. What will I do with these ads?

Before I declined, I queried some of my business author clients and it turned out one of them wanted to market his book, about living The American Dream, to entrepreneurs – the very targeted readership of this magazine. He ended up paying us more than what Entrepreneur Press would have given us, but less than what their magazine would have charged him. Everyone won. That three-way deal is known as a triangular trade.

Getting a third party to help you close a deal can be quite helpful – and fun. Bartering often gets you more value than using cash. Why? Because people value things differently but when people hear a dollar amount, they all want to get a discount or feel the number’s too high. But if I say to my neighbor I’ll trade you my three-year-old lawnmower for your five-year-old snow blower it sounds like a fair trade. Who knows what each of us actually paid for those items? The price back then is different than today’s and who knows if there was a special sale going on.

So how would this work in your world?

First, think about what you want or need. Have an idea on what it costs. Second, think about what you can trade – a service, your time, a thing, a favor – and grasp what it could be worth to others. Third, find people to trade with. If you can’t find a good trading partner, invite a third party in. If you can give person A something to trade, he can give you something that you now can trade with person B. And what you get from person A can now be enjoyed by yourself.

Authors typically want or need the following:
· A way to sell books
· Testimonials
· Positive Reviews
· Media Coverage
· Advertising
· Speaking Engagements

So how can you trade for these things?

Let’s talk about advertising. Let’s say you want to advertise on a particular site and it costs $350. Rather than pay it upfront and risk losing money if few or no sales come in, you suggest a partnership, where the site gets a % of all sales that come in. Potentially, the site can earn more than $350 – or it can earn little to nothing. It’s all about trading profits and risk.

Now, let’s say that offer is declined. Your follow-up proposal could be to split the cost. Pay $175 up front and for sales earned beyond that cost to you, profits are split based on agreed percentages.

Ok, let’s say they don’t agree to that either. Here’s another option – pay them in books. Your book, with the cover price of say $14.95, costs you $3 to produce. So you net $12 per book. To get to $350, you’d need to sell about 30 copies – and earn a $10 profit – although due to shipping costs, you may have to sell more like 45 copies to break even. So you tell the website you’ll give them 25 free copies (costs you $75 +shipping) and tell them they can resell them and keep the profits. They let you advertise at no additional cost. What do they do with the books? They may have a way of selling them to people they know and are connected with. They may trade them with someone else for something they value. Or they could give them as a premium to people who sign on to their subscription site or who sign up for other products or services sold.

So you see, there are ways to cut costs or reduce risks or combine offers.

In fact, in the scenario above, you could have traded your books with those of another author, if you feel you had a place to unload them on – or a means to sell them.

Another example of a triangle trade is to work with people who have sister companies or a network of connections. The more people they know, the more likely you can find a deal in a three-way trade.

Now that the wheels are spinning in your brain, go out there and make a deal!
Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, Media Connect, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2014

Turning “Fact” into “Faction” – on writing a memoir

Business man walking on a high tightrope Memoir writing is increasingly popular as a storytelling genre, but there are pitfalls even to what you might think is the easiest thing to write — adventures based on the story of your life. Someone once said it’s the closest thing to writing poetry a prose writer can do. Whether that’s true or not, what is true is that writing a good memoir is like walking a tightrope — the details of the narrative have to be compelling, but the details in the end aren’t what makes the memoir work, it’s the universality of what you’re saying that is important.

Susan Faludi’s recent book In the Darkroom is a good case in point. Faludi is arguably one of the most important feminist writers of the last 30 years. In the summer of 2004 she received an email from her 76-year-old father, a man she had barely spoken to in nearly 25 years. When her mother divorced her father Faludi was 16, and her father responded to the news with what Faludi describes as “a season of escalating violence.” His unexpected 2004 email said, “I have decided that I have had enough of impersonating a macho aggressive man . . .” and announced he had recently had sex reassignment surgery and was now Stefánie Faludi.

Would you want to read more? I think the odds are strong the answer is yes. The fact that this really happened makes it compelling, but the fact that it is also in part an exploration of gender roles and expectations, and the way Faludi writes her memoir defies obvious conclusions and explanations, also makes it universal.

Whether you have Macmillan publish your memoir or you do it yourself, publishing a memoir about outrageous events (which is why we read them) and turning them into edge-of-the-seat adventures can be seriously problematic if you can’t validate what you are saying actually happened. These things will return boomerang-like if not handled professionally. That’s why it’s always useful to hire a company like Lincoln Square and it’s editors and copyeditors who are trained to spot the unintended sinkholes in the road before you actually reach them. (We can’t do anything about fabrication however. We accept what you say is true and may be able to point out where things may start setting off some bells.)

Fictionalizing nonfiction is like walking a tightrope — deliberate deception clearly crosses a line that, for instance, Lorrenzo Carcaterra’s bestselling book Sleepers frankly hugged. He at least warns you that while the book is true, names and details have been changed to “protect” characters in the story. In other words, while it’s true it’s also not exactly true either. It’s up to the reader to figure out exactly how far Carcaterra went in stretching the truth in the drama.  (E.L. Doctorow once famously said that all novelists are professional liars, but because they are forced to admit they are lying, they end up telling the truth.)

Another well known deception that clearly crossed the line was James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces, his 2003 memoir of being a 23-year-old alcoholic drug abuser in a Twelve Steps-oriented rehab center. Margaret B. Jones’ (aka Margaret Seltzer) Love and Consequences,  was a “memoir” of her life as a white foster child raised by a black single mom in gang-infested South-Central Los Angeles. Once the book was out and gaining some attention her older sister “outed” her by saying it was all made up.

We live in a “gotcha” culture, and the more a book becomes successful (which is surely one of the reasons we publish in the first place), the more scrutiny the book and its author get. The real shame of it is that the writers mentioned above (and others who fell victim to the same problem) are usually pretty talented.

Sarah McGrath, the editor at Riverhead who worked with Ms. Seltzer for three years on the book, told the New York Times she was “stunned” to discover that the author had lied.  “There’s a huge personal betrayal here as well as a professional one,” she said. Meanwhile, Cyndi Hoffman, 47, the older sister who “outed” Margaret, commented about the publisher: “I would think that protocol would have them doing fact-checking.”

But as Geoffrey Kloske, then publisher of Riverhead Books said, “The fact is that the author went to extraordinary lengths: she provided people who acted as her foster siblings. There was a professor who vouched for her work, and a writer who had written about her that seemed to corroborate her story.” He might have added that she also signed a contract with a warranties clause agreeing to tell the truth.

The whole point being, whether you are published through a mainstream company, or create your own company to publish your book, you should go to great lengths to make sure your dramatic story is verifiably true.

Mimi Read, the freelance reporter who wrote the profile of Ms. Seltzer that brought down her house of cards summed it up: “The way I look at it is that it’s just like when you get in a car and drive to the store — you assume that the other drivers on the road aren’t psychopaths on a suicide mission. . . .  She seemed to be who she said she was. Nothing in her home or conversation or happenstance led me to believe otherwise.”

We are all prone to exaggeration. But beware telling people that instead of walking past the gorilla cage in the zoo, it became a life and death struggle with that gorilla as you tried to rescue a hapless child from its grasp. Almost certainly, the more successful your book, the more likely it is that someone somewhere will check out the truth of what you say and call you on it if you’ve gone too far.

 

Trends in Book Discovery

 

How do readers find new books? What makes readers pick up a book when they haven’t heard of the author? The Penguin Random House consumer insights team polled a panel of more than 40,000 readers to find out how readers discover books and what influences their reading and buying choices. With a little help, such as the kind we specialize in at Lincoln Square Books, it’s fairly painless to create a book that is the equal of anything you might be able to read from a mainstream publisher. But then the rubber hits the road — you need to get your book into the hands of its intended audience.

Jill Greto is part of the Consumer Insights team for Penguin Random. Here’s her latest article for the Penguin Random Author’s newsletter with some interesting information for anyone pondering how to attract attention to their book in this very “noisy” world we live in.

http://authornews.penguinrandomhouse.com/trends-in-book-discovery-infographic/?cdi=%7B(pid)%7D&?ref=Email_B2C_2016-4-13

Trends in Book Discovery

BY JILL GRETO|APRIL, 2016

How do readers find new books? What makes readers pick up a book when they haven’t heard of the author? The Penguin Random House consumer insights team polled a panel of more than 40,000 readers to find out how readers discover books and what influences their reading and buying choices.

 

Important New Facts All Indie Writers Should Know About Tech Power in Publishing

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Smart indie writers and publishers can learn a lot from studying how the mainstream is engaging and tackling the issues of modern publishing. While indie publishing does not have the heft of the mainstream, it is much more focused on the needs of the author, and much more agile in adapting to the marketplace. Here’s a report on how trends in publishing continue to shape and influence the book world for everyone, regardless of being mainstream or indie. The 2016 Digital Book World conference was held in March in New York City.  Peter Rubie

 

From The Bookseller.   (Published March 9, 2016) by Gayle Feldman

What a difference the passage of six years makes, Mike Shatzkin reminded us, introducing the Digital Book World conference in New York yesterday (Tuesday 8th March).

Since the first DBW in 2010, there has been the opening of the iBookstore; half of all physical shelf space has been lost; the Department of Justice has changed the playing field; self-published authors have blossomed, putting downward pressure on price; indie stores have seen a resurgence; Amazon has got into bricks-and-mortar, another front in their war for dominance. And that’s just a few among many developments.

Shatzkin said he saw publishers’ “greatest challenge” now as creating platforms to communicate with readers, and their “biggest failure” as not giving authors help to build a digital presence. The tech sector is gobbling the revenue pie, forcing content creators to eat a lot less.

The most talked about presentation of the day came early, from Jonathan Taplin: former road manager for Bob Dylan, producer for Martin Scorsese, and currently director of the Annenberg Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California. The theme, “Sleeping Through a Revolution,” is also the title of his book coming from Little, Brown in 2017.

Taplin is worried that “platform, and not content, is king.” That’s not what the Internet’s countercultural founders wanted at all; they were into moral purpose and decentralizing control. It’s time we put moral and spiritual purpose into the framework, he argued.

He traced where things went wrong back to Peter Thiel – a Stanford libertarian follower of Ayn Rand – who founded PayPal, and set an example for others with his “who’s going to stop me” philosophy. Thiel and his followers wanted no government regulation; no taxes (e.g. the no-sales-tax “gift” to Jeff Bezos); no copyright; and no competition.

That has brought untold pain for musicians, journalists, many creatives working in film and TV, and moved money that would have gone to them over to Google, Amazon, and Facebook. Marry Thiel’s libertarianism with the late Justice Robert Bork’s idea that “the only thing that matters is price” – a concept that all too successfully infiltrated the Department of Justice – and you understand how Google has been allowed to accrue 90% of search share; Facebook, 75% in mobile social; and Amazon, to become a dominant monopsony in books.

Sounding like Senator Bernie Sanders, Taplin asked: “Is this tech revolution great for everybody or just a few at the top of the Forbes 400? Since 1980, wages have become separated from productivity. The world is getting less free. Google sells ads next to ISIS videos on YouTube. Huxley was right: we’re living in Brave New World today, and in a Colosseum culture, where Donald Trump has 6,000,000 Twitter followers.”

How, he asked, do we start a new revolution? Begin by taking antitrust enforcement seriously. We also have to ask how to use this economy to foster “artist cooperatives” (like Magnum in photography, or Sunkist in agriculture) to counterbalance tech power.

Dr Jessica Sanger of Germany’s book trade association Borsenverein dived into the nitty-gritty of two German antitrust cases. She referenced a June 2014 complaint about Amazon requesting a publisher to pay a higher discount on e-books; when the publisher said no, Amazon delayed deliveries of the publisher’s print books to customers (sound familiar?).

In June 2015, the European Commission launched a formal probe, but instead of concentrating on coercion, focused on a different aspect: Amazon’s asking for a “most favoured nation” clause. As of now, the practice of delayed deliveries has stopped, and Germany’s Tolino alliance is managing to compete with Kindle.

The second case involves Audible. The German Cartel Office launched an investigation in November about restrictive practices. Although it is ongoing, just the fact of the investigation has resulted in some of the restrictive practices having stopped.

Sanger noted that “the authorities prefer tackling restrictive practices. They’re not keen to go into abuse of dominant position – they need to do too much research to prove it.” The Borsenverein, as a trade association, “is not anti-Amazon. But [they] have made us more consumer-orientated, and we are not scared to tackle anti-trust law, an American invention that is being put to good use in Europe.”

The need for scale to compete in a world dominated by the tech companies was emphasized again this week with the announcement of the sale of Perseus’s publishing divisions to Hachette, and its distribution business to Ingram.

In a Q&A with Shatzkin, John Ingram, chairman and c.e.o. of Ingram Content Group, acknowledged that “this signals a change in our center of gravity. Going forward, the company will look more into the marketing area – discoverability…. It also allows us to be more aggressive about investments.”

Refreshingly, he admitted that when he got into digital early on, there were some “tough years” when things didn’t go well, and he had to deal with pressure from his relatives at the family-owned Ingram business. He made mistakes. “But we had to believe and hang on. There’s always tension between control and innovation. You’ve got to be open to cultural change. This isn’t my father’s Ingram.”

That necessary openness to change was emphasized as well by Mary Ann Naples, formerly of Rodale but who is now taking over as Disney publisher; by Sourcebooks founder Dominique Raccah; and by Quarto c.e.o. Marcus Leaver. For Naples, “transformation is the new safety, and company transformation rests on personal transformation. Embrace failure to play your best game; don’t let it paralyze you.”

Leaver talked of the “mindset change” he had to institute when he took over from a founder who had run the company for 36 years. “We changed from profit to purpose; hierarchy to network; control to empowerment; and short term to long term.  There was a huge lack of clarity and purpose and transparency. Fear of the unknown and unknowable had to be taken out of the creative process. If the person at the top of the tree says ‘I failed,’ it gives permission to the people in the room to make mistakes”.

Now Quarto “behaves as one organization with 44 imprints or businesses that are dynamic portfolios. We used to have 275 separate websites; we cut the publishing to ten categories, and sell as per those categories.”

The proof is in the pudding. Quarto is a listed company, and on 17th March, will announce $13.5m profit before tax, surpassing analysts’ expectations.

Sourcebooks is also on a roll; bucking the trend, its e-books were up 13% in 2015. Its personalized “Put Me in the Story” series is its most successful product. “The strategic problem is to add more value. Don’t worry about perfection; you iterate and start scaling. Understand the consumer experience. The goal is to fail fast and succeed faster,” Raccah advised.

Top 10 Writing Tips for Lawyers (as well as everyone else).

writing-in-the-dark-1497115-1599x1200Many writers confuse putting words down on the page, which is really a form of coal mining, with editing and shaping those words, which is really where writing gets done. Writing is about thinking, and the question that should always be uppermost in your mind when you write (indeed, it’s a great idea to have it on your computer monitor or in a note on the wall that you see every time you look up from the screen) is: What am I trying to say?

Simple right? But don’t confuse simple with easy.

As you contemplate writing THAT BOOK, you know, the one you’ve threatened to sit down and write for years now but somehow haven’t yet started, here are 10 tips to make getting into the water a lot easier. That’s what Lincoln Square Books does best: we help you get out of your own way, so you can finish what you’ve always wanted to start.

  1. Legal writing asks of the author that they are familiar with the “language” of the law. Words have very specific meanings that don’t always apply in the “civilian” world most of us occupy. (“Alien” is a good example.) So while it feels like you spend your time writing “jargonese,” the strength of practicing legal writing is that it forces you to look at every word you use and be aware that it has a specific job to do in the context of your project. In your own writing, whether for business or pleasure, let each word carry its own weight, and don’t be afraid to get rid of those that don’t.
  2. Real writers are first and foremost readers. Keep up your own reading for pleasure. If all you read is serious books, treat yourself to a “pot boiler” once in a while. If you read a lot of genre fiction, try something a little more intellectually challenging. One of the signs that you are improving as a writer is noticing that your taste in reading is becoming more challenging.
  3. It takes both confidence and humility to write well. Don’t be afraid to take advice on whether or not you are saying EXACTLY what you intend to say. (It’s easy to rail against the idiots that don’t get what you are trying to say, but, just maybe, you’re not saying it as clearly or as well as you could.) Too often we assume because we know what it is we’re trying to say, others will know it as well. Don’t assume your readers know what you mean, and be clear and concise, and ELEGANT in your language. Understand grammar and punctuation and use it correctly. Hunt those errant commas! Keep your paragraphs short, if you can. Long paragraphs exhaust readers.
  4. I know you probably read it in high school, but go back and read Strunk&White again [White, E.B., and William Strunk, Jr. The Elements of Style (Macmillan Company, 1959)]. You’ll be amazed what a wonderfully example of the very thing it is trying to teach you, that little book is.  Make sure you have  good reference books nearby, like dictionaries and thesauruses (or thesauri, if you’re picky). If you’re writing narrative nonfiction check out LSB founding partner Peter Rubie’s, The Elements of Narrative Nonfiction: How to Write the Novel of True Events (Linden Publishing)
  5. Know what makes good writing. This is more than just noting and being able to follow the rules. Good writing is like good art, most people know it when they see it but they can’t always exactly say why. Good writing is organized, with thoughts flowing naturally from one paragraph to another. It is clear and unambiguous. It is concise. It uses good grammar and capitalization in a natural way. It is free of typos because you proofread it. It does not assume your readers know much about your subject. ALWAYS make sure your citations are clear and THERE. If you’re working on a book you can put your cites in the back to keep the flow of the narrative humming along but support your arguments as best you can.
  6. Practice “writing” every day if you can, don’t just churn out stuff. Know the rules of writing and try to use them, even when you’re just composing emails and letters. Your job may force you to use a legal tone, but it’s worth remembering one of the most quoted people in modern U.S. Supreme Court Opinions is Bob Dylan. If you can, say it like it is and don’t be deliberately ambiguous. Try not to sound, on the page, like an opera singer who’s decided to “slum” by singing rock n’roll.
  7. Keep in mind that your writing is the best way to put over your ideas, and may well be the only chance you get to really connect with others. Remember rule #1: writing is about thinking. Know what it is you want to say, and then say it clearly and with organization, and hopefully with some poetry (even if it isn’t Bob Dylan.)
  8. Leave plenty of time to REWRITE your piece. Let it sit, like a good wine or piece of meat, so the sediment sinks to the bottom and the juices settle back into the meat.
  9. Use an active voice — the one we speak in most of the time. (I did this, you did that.) The power of the active voice can’t be underestimated. It is immediate, it is engaging, and it avoids passivity which in turn implies an aloofness or distancing of the narrator, which can be off-putting to many readers. Think about the rhythm and length of your sentences. Don’t. Make. Them. All. The. Same.
  10. Write in Anglo Saxon, it is the heart of transparent English. Avoid adjectives and adverbs as much as possible. Try not to “Frenchify” your vocabulary with long, somewhat ornate words, for which there are perfectly good and much shorter Anglo Saxon alternatives. (Hide things, don’t adumbrate them, or salt them away.) Don’t use two words when one will do. Just make sure it’s the right word.

Reinventing The Book Club

Subscription Services

Subscription Services

There are interesting things going on in the book world these days around how we deliver and consume books, which is good news for indie authors and publishers. While the number of services has shrunk (Oyster recently closed and a lot of its staff went to work for Google Books), a lot of people make the case that owning “units of content” has become anachronistic when it comes to listening to music and video (a lot of people just subscribe to Netflix or Amazon Prime, or Spotify and Apple Music). So what about books? Mainstream publishers still believe most people buy and own books because it’s the most convenient way to “consume their product,” though they are beginning to explore other ways readers get their books, like subscription services and book clubs.

So this alternative pathfinding by publishers that parallels the music and video worlds has opened up opportunities for indie publishers to explore using subscription services like Kindle Unlimited and Scribd as possible ways to expand their reader base and help readers discover new authors and their books. Unlike music and video, that can be readily consumed in a couple of hours or less, a book is still a commitment of time over days in many cases, and thus owning it is more convenient than feeling like you have a gun to your head in order to consume it before the clock on the “borrow” runs out and you have to spend more money in order to finish the book you have out on loan. (Public Libraries just increase the time at no cost to you if you ask them regardless of whether it is a print or digital version.)

So as ebooks grow and take a larger share of book sales, and print sales become more available through vendors on the web, book publishers are re-assessing their “own-this-content” only model as digital content expands.  But people forget (including some in the publishing industry) that it was the book industry that started the book club idea, where by subscribing to a particular club got you more focused and cheaper versions of books you wanted to read, delivered to your door every month. And that model, while it took a hit because of the growth of mega book stores like Barnes&Noble that once stalked the landscape like dinosaurs but are now fading away, is resurfacing in a new guise in the digital world. And the reason is that book clubs, subscription services, whatever you want to call them, help shrink the overwhelming choices readers face and and as a result help readers and authors find each other like singles hoping to find Mr. or Ms. Could-Be-For-Me.

Authors and publishers, indies in particular, face an uphill battle in finding readers for their books. Everyone is so focused on getting the product done they don’t stop to think enough about distribution — ie., who’s going to read it once it’s done and how are you going to get it to those readers. Some readers come from friends or acquaintances, or clients, and others come from just blatant publicity and marketing about your book. You need to know who the core audience is for your book, and like a pebble entering water, that is the place you need to concentrate on first when publicising and marketing your book. Like the concentric circles that spread ever outward from that pebble entering water, the publicity about your book reaches groups and individuals who are less obviously connected to your core group.

But how we read is evolving. I don’t believe we are abandoning the printed book, at least any time soon in our lifetimes anyway, but the options of digital reading are a terrific way to get your writing in front of diverse readers. One of those options is the emergence of subscription services for reading. A subscription service essentially treats book reading like revamped versions of a book club, which in turn is a variation on a private library, or a service like Netflix.

Once upon a time, it was common for, say, The Doubleday Book Club, or the Military Book Club, to send books directly to a member consumer who has agreed to purchase a certain number of books per year from the club in return for a vastly cheaper and immediately available version of a best selling book, or books, that are often the latest offerings from a publisher.

So the idea of a subscription service model for readers is not completely new or unexpected. We’ve been doing it for years and continue to do it in the digital world with magazines for example through apps like Zinio or Press Reader. The ebook has made this a more affordable way to deliver a book to a reader rather than receiving it in the mail.
Prevailing wisdom is that the successful model of streaming music and videos via an app such as Amazon Prime, Spotify, or Netflix has primed the consumer to become atuned to a subscription model, and so books are slowly falling into line with this style of purchase. It is particularly useful for acquainting readers to a writer’s back list. (That is, titles already published and available as ebooks, print on demand books, or other formats.)

Is a subscription model of book sales good for authors? For all that they help authors — until they suddenly don’t — what is not good for authors is a retail monopoly (e.g. Amazon) or reduced income/revenue streams. The subscription model works to give readers, and publishers, more options. It works this way: The user gets a free trial, then pays perhaps $8.99 or $9.99/month. He or she can then read as many ebooks, comic books, or audio books as they want. You get unlimited access to their entire book libraries for this monthly fee. You can read as many books as you want, for as long as you want, and with each service, you can download books for offline reading. Unlike a traditional library, there are no due dates, so you can hang on to a book for as long as like, just like you would with a Netflix DVD. But, like a library, you do not own the books you read, and if you cancel your subscription, you can no longer access any of the titles you’ve saved. (It’s worth noting that actually, when you “buy” an ebook from Amazon you don’t actually “own” that either if you read the purchase fine print.)

Here are potential services to consider.

Scribd pays the publisher (that would be you, the indie/publisher author in this case) a good rate every time a subscriber reads one of your books past a certain threshold (about the same number of pages as “Look Inside The Book”). Scribd takes a risk that some readers read more than the $8.99 cost, but just like with a gym membership, many don’t read to that cap.

Scribd is similar to Oyster (below), and has a catalog of more than 500,000 books that you can borrow. The app is simply designed, with books organized into genres and curated collections for you to browse. Both services have many of the same books and seem to add the same books at the same time though not entirely. Scribd has audiobooks, many from publisher Penguin Random House, and more than 10,000 comics from Marvel, Archie, Boom! Studios, Dynamite, IDW/Top Shelf and Valiant.

One perk of Scribd is that beyond just e-books, the service also gives you access to thousands of documents, which include court cases, scientific studies, and even self-published books.

 

Kindle Unlimited costs $9.99 per month, and offers around 600,000 books that you can rent for as long as you want. The book catalog includes many popular and best-selling books, some of which you won’t find in the other services, including the “Hunger Games” and “Harry Potter” series. There are also plenty of classics.

With Kindle Unlimited instead of an app you instead sign up for the service, and then download your choices to your Kindle. (You can also use the Kindle apps for iOS, Android and Windows Phone to find and read books as well.)

You can’t yet download Scribd or Oyster books onto dedicated e-ink readers. The apps only work on tablets.

Lastly, though this is more for those who want to read rather than distribute their works at this point, it’s worth checking out what your local library offers in terms of ebooks and etexts.

Quite a few city libraries carry large catalogs of ebooks, both new releases and older e-books, that you can borrow for free. All you need is a library card. The only downside is that the books you borrow have a limited lending period with an expiration date, and it’s sometimes difficult to renew e-book titles.  What’s more, not every title is available, as part of the license the library signs with a publisher allows for a set number of “copies” of the book to be available for lending just as if the ebook was a print version of itself.

So when it comes to distributing your book and expanding your ebook reading experience, you should start exploring the library and subscription service options as a way of getting the attention of more readers.

Math and Publishing: A Report of My Phone Call with a Young Student

The email read: “My algebra teacher asked me to contact someone in a profession I’m interested in pursuing to find out where math is used. Is there someone in your organization I could speak to?”

“Yeah, me. I love speaking with young people,” I wrote back. “I’d be glad to be interviewed for your homework assignment.”

Later that day I was on the phone with Madison, an eighth grader from Florida, who loves reading and writing and is in a special accelerated program where her teacher (who I’m certain is a good one) strongly believes education needs to be relevant.

Where is math used in writing and publishing?

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Madison reads above her grade level. When she was in third grade she read at the seventh grade level. Now fourteen, she’s currently enjoying The Pearl by John Steinbeck. I suggested she try the Dragonriders of Pern series by Anne McCaffrey. She has a tenacious policy never to abandon a book once she begins reading it. Half our conversation focused on questions about what I do for a living and half focused on the initial issue of mathematics.

I told her I had gone through college-level calculus in my studies.

“Where do you use math?” she asked.

“In accounting expenses and income and figuring out how to charge for my services… In calculating the tips on my lunch bill when I eat out with clients and colleagues… In trying to apportion the time in my day… In figuring out how many inches the spine of a cover needs to be based on the page count of a book and the thickness of the paper stock the interior is being printed on…”

“Anywhere else?”

“Knowing math has made me appreciate the world. it comes up sometimes when I’m editing or writing a book. For instance, did you know that sine waves from trigonometry can express sound waves? Or that everything in nature can be expressed in fractal patterns? That the human brain find harmony in the geometry of the golden mean ratio, which shows up in music, in swirling seashells, in the proportions of people’s faces, and in Ancient Greek and Roman temples?”

Sometimes I work on books that are about science and include math. Being able to comprehend those books has enriched my thinking.

It was an awesome question that I highly recommend everybody consider. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting Madison by phone, and I got the sense that she’d make a terrific editor in due course because, among other things, she said she could tell about people’s personalities from their writing.

Her last question to me was: “How do you think I could best prepare myself for a career in publishing?” A very good question to ask, especially since the world is always changing and our skills need to change along with it. I figure she’s got eight more years to prepare to launch in life. By then the publishing field may not look much like it does now–considering that technological development makes the computer systems and software we use obsolete every two to four years.

What remains when everything else in this industry changes? Ability to discern quality writing. Ability to articulate perception from reading. How human beings connect. After a few moments of consideration, I suggested she get on her high school and college newspapers, keep reading voraciously, and when she liked something a lot and thought it was well done to make a point to read it a second time and try to figure out what about it made it work.

That last suggestion in particular is probably good advice for all writers–of any age.

If you’re reading this, thanks Madison! I hope you have a good summer.

So, What’s a “Book” These Days?

post2I was recently reminded of my visceral connection to books by a conversation with a friend. Ed, who works in TV, is a Manhattanite like me, and was talking about having to visit his late father’s home on Long Island on one of his weekends off, a journey by public transportation that in the snow, rain, and wind biting winter cold can be what we in the City call a “schlep.” He was going out there to deal with some 3,000-odd books his father had collected over the years. “He was a voracious reader,” said Ed. “I have to figure out what to do with all these books, some of which are quite unusual, like an autographed 1938 travel guide written by Eugene Fodor.”

After a few moments of conversation I confessed to Ed that my knee jerk reaction on hearing of this unexpected treasure trove was to catch a ride with him and spend the weekend browsing the bookshelves cherry picking titles I would take home. Of course, I wasn’t going to do that even if I could because it’s impractical, there’s not enough the room in my apartment. But Ed’s news reminded me that when I find myself surrounded by towering stacks of books I somehow feel at peace in a way that others talk about why they go to church.

I wonder if my eleven-year old son, who is a reader and professes seriously to want to become a writer, will ever feel or think about books the way I do.

“It’s a confusing time for those of us who read and write for a living.”

 

edwardianPublishing, in its broadest sense, includes newspapers and magazines as well as books as we commonly understand them, and it breaks down into two groups: disposable reading, like newspapers or mass-market paperbacks that you give away or throw away once you’ve consumed them; and material you’d like to keep on your bookshelves (real or virtual) and revisit from time to time. And there’s the rub: real or virtual.

It’s a confusing time for those of us who read and write for a living, and it’s not just about digital books versus print books. Contrary to popular belief, reading isn’t a “passive” act, but a dynamic one involving the reader’s active engagement in the experience. But that engagement is changing, or evolving (take your pick). Consider, for example, a viral YouTube video in 2011, “A Magazine Is an iPad that Doesn’t Work“ showing a one-year old girl giggle and poke an iPad, and then try to do the same thing to a printed magazine with increasing frustration.

Is a Magazine Really Just an iPad That Doesn’t Work?

The girl’s father concludes in a printed caption that, “For my daughter, a magazine is an iPad that does not work. It will remain so for her whole life. Steve Jobs has coded a part of her OS.” He goes on, “The video shows how magazines are now useless and impossible to understand, for digital natives . . . medium is message.”

There is a naivete here (let’s be kind) that displays an assumption the child will never learn to enjoy and appreciate the printed book as she gets older, which I seriously take issue with. It doesn’t take into consideration, for example, that babies like to touch, bite, and taste anything and everything. And if it moves, it delights them, and the ones that can talk say, “Again.”

But it does play into a discussion that is driving the publishing industry as it undergoes a paradigm shift that is clearly comparable to the Gutenberg revolution in the 1450s, and decisions are being made as to how our reading matter is going to be presented to us that are much more than just cosmetic, whether it be on printed pages (books), or eInk pages (dedicated digital books), or backlit images of pages perhaps with added sound and images (books as apps).

What’s Best, Print or Digital?

The video also points out something else about printed books and how we learn to read at an early age. That is, to develop a book habit you need as a child to actively engage on a regular basis with printed books with another human being (ideally a parent), in order to get the most out of the reading experience later in life. A disdain for books of any sort, rather than a passion for them, is arguably the greatest divide between the classes at the moment, particularly the working class, and the greatest hindrance to upward mobility.

The experience of learning to appreciate and enjoy the printed book early on is somewhat akin to how each of us learns what our idiosyncratic “comfort foods” are. The ebook, in the broadest sense, then becomes a kind of shorthand reminder of that experience. And to maintain the societal value of books, we have to make readers out of too many stressed parents who were not encouraged to read as children, and were forced to read the wrong books at school.

“Book people” have to somehow convince them to not take the seductively easy way out, by giving young kids in particular “addictive” electronic toys that, unlike “real” toys and books, engage some but not all of the senses. The adults justify their lack of engagement with the children as something forced on them by modern lifestyle choices, rather than admitting that at least on one level, the electronic toy is a convenient nanny, albeit an addictive one. In short, you can tut-tut or applaud the one-year-old and the iPad, or sit her on your knee and read an engaging book with her nightly, create a reading habit and a love of books, and reap the rewards when she or he starts school.

“A disdain for books of any sort, rather than a passion for them, is arguably the greatest divide between the classes at the moment.”

 

In 2001, several years before Sony released their eReader, Marc Prensky coined the term digital native in a seminal essay, “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants“ (from On the Horizon, MCB University Press). Very crudely, a digital native is anyone born during or after 2000. A digital immigrant is someone born prior to that date, though the definitions, like the terms themselves, are fluid.

Dividing people into digital natives and digital immigrants is controversial. Some digital immigrants (such as Steve Jobs, for example) surpass digital natives in tech savvy, but the idea that early exposure to technology fundamentally changes the way people learn is clearly beginning to impact how we pass along knowledge to others, the next generation in particular. And books are an indispensable part of that process. Using one kind of technology (and the printed book is a beautiful example of unmatched technological efficiency and design grace) does not preclude understanding and using other forms. But the cliché, to the man with a hammer everything looks like nail, aptly describes the swirling discussion about what kind of book form, electronic or printed, is best?

Dividing Our Attention

Ferris Jabr, in an April, 2013 article in Scientific American, “The Reading Brain in the Digital Age” puts the question this way:

“As digital texts and technologies become more prevalent, we gain new and more mobile ways of reading—but are we still reading as attentively and thoroughly? How do our brains respond differently to onscreen text than to words on paper? Should we be worried about dividing our attention between pixels and ink or is the validity of such concerns paper-thin?”

If we lose the printed book, as some argue is inevitable, we don’t just lose an antiquated form of the book, we stand to make the whole experience of reading superficial. And that threatens a lot more than an entertainment delivery system. It impacts how we pass along knowledge and complex ideas that can’t always be readily reduced to images. We are becoming a society that reveres the visual over the abstract intellectual power of words to the point where the profound is made superficial, and our ability to think creatively is limited to 120 characters. We’re OD’ing on manipulated emotion, often confusing melodrama with relevance and reacting rather than considering.

Visually Dominated

Friends and acquaintances enamored with the idea of the new inevitably replacing the old because it will innately improve their lives, proselytize that we are becoming a “visually dominated” society and printed books are going the way of Victorian buggy whips. But the story of reading and writing is a relatively new one, dating back only 5,000 or so years. In terms of human history this is almost yesterday morning. Curiously, some of the earliest forms of writing, such as Sumerian cuneiform and Chinese hanzi (and Japanese kanji) involved characters that began as pictures and took on a more profound meaning than just representation the more they were used. So as far as the impact of the visual is concerned what’s new is really old, it turns out.

Another curious fact is that the term we use for navigating digital texts is called scrolling, a direct reference to linear reading that forces the reader to start from the beginning and move in a straight line to the end (such as reading the Jewish Torah). The invention of the printed book by Guttenberg in 1454 was not just a revolution of industrialization over artisanship, but of how we read and learn. The printed book became an example of non-linear reading (you can jump almost instantly from page 8 to page 273) that spurred an explosion of learning and creativity that in turn profoundly shaped the development of civilization for the next 600 or so years.

Digital Text Can Hinder Intuitive Learning

As we look forward, the idea of what a book is will likely also be informed by a growing body of scientific evidence that points to the conclusion that, for many people if not all, while ebooks are wonderful tools in certain circumstances, digital forms of text greatly hinder most people taking in long texts in an intuitive way, because they are being forced to engage in linear reading (scrolls), rather than non-linear reading (print book).

Screens appear to demand more of our mental resources while we read, so those who use ebook for text books, for example, have a harder time remembering what they’ve read, and need to revisit the same text more times than those who read the same passages on printed pages. The book, in other words, needs physicality to it, a sensuality the virtual can only remind us of but not fully give us, that is as important to our educational and spiritual well-being as the need for a real spousal partner, compared to the more unsatisfying relationship you can have with an online, emotional “safe” partner you can turn off whenever you want.

“I don’t think ebook manufacturers have thought enough about how you might visualize where you are in a book.”
—Abigail Sellen, Microsoft Research Cambridge

 

Jabr sums this up in his Scientific American article this way: “As an analogy, imagine if Google Maps allowed people to navigate street by individual street, as well as to teleport to any specific address, but prevented them from zooming out to see a neighborhood, state or country. Although ereaders like the Kindle and tablets like the iPad recreate pagination—sometimes complete with page numbers, headers, and illustrations—the screen only displays a single virtual page: It is there and then it is gone. Instead of hiking the trail yourself, the trees, rocks, and moss move past you in flashes with no trace of what came before and no way to see what lies ahead.

The Feel of a Print Book Is More Important
Than We Realized

“The implicit feel of where you are in a physical book turns out to be more important than we realized,” says Abigail Sellen of Microsoft Research Cambridge in England and coauthor of The Myth of the Paperless Office. “Only when you get an ebook do you start to miss it. I don’t think ebook manufacturers have thought enough about how you might visualize where you are in a book.”

So, in the end, I think the discussions about what makes a book becomes deceptively empty. Neither ebooks nor print books are going away any time soon, and for good reason both have strengths and weaknesses that complement the other. The danger is in taking a position that says only one form is valid and the other doomed. There’s room for all in our homes, it seems, as long as you use them sensibly.