I will be offline for a while, metaphorically following a road less-traveled. I expect that road to converge with the online world again, perhaps in 2014, but only time will tell.
The one thing I’m sure of today, after giving the issue a lot of thought, is that I can’t split focus between that journey and posting here even on an intermittent basis. As I said once long ago, my river only flows in one direction. And that’s ever more true as I grow older.
Comments are closed in the interim.
– Mark Barrett
When I originally decided to use CreateSpace as the print-on-demand (POD) publisher for my short story collection, The Year of the Elm, one of the main attractions was its tight distribution integration with Amazon.com. (CreateSpace is a subsidiary of Amazon, and an amalgam of two companies that were acquired by Amazon in 2005.) I have always been opposed to proprietary e-book formats, so making my work available for Amazon’s e-readers was less of a draw. However, because I already offered the collection in multiple e-book formats on Smashwords, adding a Kindle version was essentially adding a market, not a product. Offering a print-on-demand paperback and selling it through Amazon, however, was a whole new proposition.
The conventional wisdom about distributing a book through Amazon is that every independent author should make their work available on that site. In fact I’d wager that every person reading this post believes that to be one hundred percent true. And as someone who felt a definite thrill when I first saw my work for sale on Amazon I understand the appeal. Instead of waiting for a publishing-industry gatekeeper to green-light participation in the market on an equal footing, Amazon makes it possible for you to green-light yourself. Who’s gong to turn that down? (I mean, other than Groucho Marx, and, apparently, me.)
Over the past two years or so, much to my surprise, I have slowly come to the realization that my work doesn’t and probably never will belong on Amazon.com. Incongruously, this evolution was accelerated and crystallized over the past couple of months while trying and ultimately failing to compel the Bing search engine to find my work on CreateSpace’s out-of-the-way e-store pages. Yes, the fact that royalties are higher on CreateSpace than on Amazon is a plus, but that’s about the only obvious business-related advantage in choosing CreateSpace over Amazon. Yet I’m still convinced I’ve made the right decision.
Before exploring my rationale in detail, however, a couple of stipulations. First, there is no question that Amazon.com long ago became the default bookstore for the country if not the world. Tell most consumers to order a book and they will, without thinking, click over to Amazon because the association is that complete. Second, it is also clear that Amazon does an excellent job of facilitating purchases and fulfilling orders. Since many people already have an Amazon.com account, and because Amazon does everything possible to make purchases effortless, there is literally no easier way for most people to buy a book.
Given those two truths, it should be obvious that any self-published author who chooses not to make their work available on Amazon.com is an idiot. And for a long time that’s how I felt as well. Until, that is, I started thinking about what I’m trying to do by self-publishing my own work, and about the relationship I want to have with my readers. That’s when it dawned on me that what Amazon.com wants and what I want are not the same thing, which in turn led to the realization that how Amazon gets what it wants is not something I want to be part of. Read more
Until recently it was easy for the traditional publishing industry to puff its condescending chest out and hide behind pretense and bluster, but the staunch gatekeeping the industry practiced was always a shell game. Works and authors deemed unprofitable were labeled not good enough, while works and authors that could be packaged, edited or ghostwritten for profit were granted admission into the literary sphere.
As I’ve noted numerous times, the claim that the publishing industry provides cultural stewardship has always been a lie. The very fact that screams are now emanating from corporate publishing offices tells you that self-publishing is not inflicting cultural carnage, but merely decreasing revenue and decentralizing power in the industry. Many of the people who make their living in those offices continue to toe the party line despite the obvious shifting landscape, but at best that has been a delaying tactic and at worse complete delusion.
There will never be any shortage of celebrity-driven bilge in the literary world, but as many celebrities have discovered to their horror, having a bankable name doesn’t guarantee you’ll get what you want in any business. If you’re a movie star the studios will jump at the chance to produce your next genre blockbuster, but if you’re trying to fund a small-budget art film you’re going to have as much trouble raising studio money as an unknown actor with dream. The only difference is that the studio can slam the door in the unknown’s face, while they have to go out of their way to shower you with sincere and deeply felt sweet nothings. Likewise, if you’re a literary fixture or a rising star the publishing world will be happy to take another volume of whatever you’re famous for, but if you want to wander into the short-fiction weeds or publish an experimental work you’ll probably find few takers. Unless of course you’re willing to give them more of the good stuff in the bargain, in which case they’ll begrudgingly kick your pet project out the door and support it with marketing that meets the bare minimum of their impossible-to-enforce legal commitment. Read more
Back in the day, when publishing a book was an enormous labor requiring dozens of people focused on a tight production window, stamping out typos was an incredibly important goal. Beyond the obvious embarrassment of allowing a typographical gaffe into print (something that still holds today), the production process itself made typo-hunting imperative because publication involved print runs of a specific number of books at a time, and most books only received a single printing. Meaning any typo would appear in every copy of a work, with no opportunity to fix the problem after it was discovered.
Print-on-demand (POD) publishing, including self-publishing, has changed that dynamic completely. While typos are still embarrassing, and you should do everything humanly possible to omit them from your work, text can now be fixed in anticipation of future orders as soon as a mistake is discovered. Unfortunately this welcome aspect of POD technology has not caught up with long-standing reader reaction to typos that formed in the print-run era.
Recently I was told, almost by chance, that a typo had been found by a third party in my grandmother’s posthumously published POD memoir. (The word “liker” should have been “liked”.) After cussing myself out for not catching the mistake, what struck me was that there was no imperative behind this information when it was told to me. Instead of treating it as useful or helpful it was seen simply as an amusing anecdote, and one that had been all but forgotten until I triggered that specific memory by pure chance.
In the print-run era of publishing this reaction obviously made sense because readers and writers were powerless to make changes unless another run was ordered. But in the POD era that’s not the case. Fixing that typo required only that I update one file, upload the updated file, then wait for the file to be approved by the POD provider. This took about sixteen hours, the vast majority of which was waiting time, not work.
Call it crowdproofing, call it being a good literary citizen, call it whatever you want. If you find a typo in something you’re reading and you like the work or the person who wrote it, please take a moment to point the author to that mistake — preferably via email rather than in the comments of a blog or other public space. All you need do is put “Typo” in the subject line and point them to the page and line in question, and I guarantee that 99.99% of the people you do this for will be truly thankful. As for the ungrateful 0.01%, you’ll profit by learning that they don’t deserve you.
– Mark Barrett
After weeks spent goading and cajoling the Bing search engine to see a web page that has been published for over two years, I thought I had finally achieved my goal.
I’m not sure how a search site and it’s tech support minions can find and then lose a site after it has finally been indexed, but Bing has managed to perform that neat feat. Which means there’s really nothing left to hope for except that Microsoft will pull the plug on Bing and let it die because it’s utterly worthless for search.
– Mark Barrett
Want to be a wildly successful author? All it takes is a big pile of cash:
In the cases mentioned above, the authors hired a marketing firm that purchased books ahead of publication date, creating a spike in sales that landed titles on the lists. The marketing firm, San Diego-based ResultSource, charges thousands of dollars for its services in addition to the cost of the books, according to authors interviewed.
As ResultSource’s website points out, hitting best-seller lists can mean fame, and potentially lucrative consulting assignments.
“Publishing a book builds credibility, but having a Bestseller initiates incredible growth—exponentially increasing the demand for your thought leadership, skyrocketing your speaking itinerary and value,” ResultSource says.
ResultSource’s principal, Kevin Small, declined requests for an interview. On its website, the company outlines its ambitions: “‘We create campaigns that reach a specific goal, like: “On the bestsellers list,” or “100,000 copies sold.’”
Note that this is not about self-publishing, but about publishing. Which means this kind of thing has been going on one way or the other for a very long time.
Also, don’t miss the Wall St. Journal refusing to comment about the issue in a story appearing in the Wall. St. Journal.
– Mark Barrett
Barnes & Noble may be getting out of the e-reader business:
Riggio, the chain’s founder, largest stockholder, and chairman of the company’s board, is looking to buy both the Barnes & Noble Booksellers brick-and-mortar business and Barnesandnoble.com, according to an SEC filing.
The company’s e-book, e-reader, and tablet division, Nook Media, would apparently be spun off or possibly even shut down if the deal comes to pass. The Barnes & Noble board’s strategic committee must still review the plan and the company said in a statement that there is no timetable for that happening yet.
I still don’t own an e-reader, but of all the devices on the market I thought the Nook Glowlight was a big step in the right direction. The lesson here is not simply that you should be careful which product you buy among competing manufacturers in any market segment, but that there are long-term risks inherent in adopting a proprietary device-and-service solution for your e-reading habits:
There has been no word yet what might become of the Nook division, or what this move could mean for Nook device and app users who have downloaded books, magazines, and apps. Microsoft currently owns 17.6 percent of Barnes & Noble’s Nook subsidiary. The software giant did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
It may well be that the iPad and Kindle will dominate their respective markets, but that doesn’t mean they’re without similar risk. If you’re sinking money into digital copies of anything, make sure you have the right to take those copies with you to a new device if the device you’re currently using goes under. Because sooner or later, all devices go under.
– Mark Barrett
My quest to get Bing to be able to see two e-store pages on CreateSpace.com remains at an impasse. (You can see the pages here and here, and you can see Bing fail to find them here and here.) The robotic email tech-support droids at CreateSpace insist that everything is fine on their end and that the problem is with Bing. The robotic cut-and-paste email tech-support droids at Bing insist that CreateSpace has never submitted a sitemap by which they can index that site, and have repeatedly given me instructions on how I can do so even though I have repeatedly explained to them that I am not the site owner.
Now, I know there’s no joy quite like the joy of being crushed between two monolithic and ruthless companies like Amazon and Microsoft, each of which is 100% committed to pretending that it is customer friendly as a means of owning all internet traffic and content throughout the known universe. So it’s not as if I don’t appreciate how fortunate I am to still be alive at this point.
Having said that, if you’re Microsoft, and you’ve launched a search engine to compete head-to-head with the best search engine in the business — which, oddly enough, seems to have no problem finding the two e-store pages that Bing is resolutely blind to — you would think you might have a better approach to maximizing the efficiency of your search engine than adamantly insisting that people register and log into your Bing Webmaster Tools site so you don’t end up looking like an idiot.
(Have I mentioned that I’m not actually the webmaster or owner of CreateSpace.com? I keep forgetting whether I’ve mentioned that or not.)
If you’re Amazon, and you’re interested in making your CreateSpace.com site available via the smaller of the two dominant search engines in the US, it seems to me that at some point you might actually go ahead and submit your sitemap to Microsoft’s Bing search engine, even though you hate Microsoft as much as you hate Google and Apple combined. And if one of your customers wrote you multiple times to say that they couldn’t find their e-store pages via Bing search, you might actually do a proactive check on your own to figure out what the problem was, and work with Bing to resolve it instead of dumping it back in your customer’s lap.
Having put in multiple hours trying to get this problem resolved over the past week I am now giving up. A week ago I would have given CreateSpace an unqualified recommendation to anyone looking for a print-on-demand publisher. Now I’m taking a second look at other options myself, and I would encourage you to do the same. Having not used Bing at all since it launched I haven’t really had an opinion about it until now. My opinion now is that Bing seems to be incapable of doing the one thing it was designed to do.
As of 2/24, searching for my grandmother’s title on Bing now returns the correct link. My short story collection is still MIA.
As of 3/12, after several more tech support emails to and from Bing, the Bing search engine can now also reliably find the page for my short story collection. I have no idea what the problem was or what I specifically did to solve the problem. My only advice to anyone having similar problems is to be both persistent and patient.
– Mark Barrett
If you’re a self-publishing author, one of the important chores you can do to avoid having to actually write anything is to see how the two most popular search engines report back on you and your work. The dominant US search engine is of course Google, with about 66% of the search market, while Microsoft’s Bing makes up most of the remainder. (Bing powers not only the Bing.com site, which is 16% of US search, but also Yahoo.com’s search engine, which accounts for roughly 12 percent.)
If you’re not already obsessed with your personal and professional rankings on search engines and social networks, the good news is that you don’t have to become your own favorite celebrity in order to make sure people can find you. All you need is a basic understanding of how search engines work, and how people may try to find you using various words and phrases — like, say, your name or the title of something you wrote.
While it may seem as if all search engines see the internet the same way, that’s not actually the case. In order to return hits for any search you conduct, the search engine you’re using must have already visited the page you’re looking for in order to point you to it. This process of scouring the web for content is done automatically by what are called web crawlers, which follow links from one page to the next. In general web crawlers do a good job of indexing most of what’s available on the web, but depending on how often a search engine crawls a particular site there can be some lag between when a page is published (or updated) and when that page is indexed.
To get around this lag it’s possible to go to most search engines and submit pages and sites directly so search engines know where to find new content. Since this is a bit of a chore you can also use various aggregating services to submit new pages or sites to most of the popular search engines at once, albeit often for a fee. In my own experience it’s almost never necessary to submit URL’s to search engines yourself, and in no case would I pay to have this done. In a relatively short amount of time almost any new content will show up after the web crawlers make their next sweep. Read more
Following up on several previous posts about mediums and how mediums affect storytelling, I recently ran across an article that illustrates my claim that stories exist apart from the mediums we use to communicate them. From PCMag:
Just like soap opera characters wake up from years-long comas or return from beyond the grave, two cancelled daytime dramas are getting revived.
Prospect Park today announced that All My Children and One Life To Live will in fact get a second chance as the anchor programs on The Online Network (TOLN).
In a sense this development probably doesn’t even seem evolutionary, let alone revolutionary. And from the point of view of the end user it’s probably neither. You fire up whatever glowing screen you want to look at, you input a few commands, and voila: content. But consider what this means for television itself. Read more