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I hesitate to write this. Like the kid who wishes another kid ill, and then it happens. The kid in his magical thinking figures it’s his fault. But it’s not looking good for print. It’s not looking good for advertising either. I’ve long known that advertising is the first thing companies cut when times get tough. Having worked in that field many years, I weathered mini-recessions time and again. Being a small time freelance designer meant that not only did I not become wildly successful and wealthy beyond my dreams, neither did downturns hurt me all that much. But I tired of the volatility of the industry just the same. Enter my first forays into publishing. I did some curriculum work for Junior Achievement. It was fun. The budgets weren’t big, but I didn’t have to go search for it either. Nor did I have do much “selling” (many a creative freelancer’s bane of existence). In short, I liked it. A lot.

So when finally an opportunity to work for an educational publisher came up I jumped at it. It was fun too, and for the first time in a long, long time I had employee benefits. Nice ones. Then years later, the company got acquired and things became not so fun anymore. Time to move on. Since then I have had lots more fun freelancing at doing trade books. But is the party over? Is it time to take the beer goggles off?  I hope not, I still love my dates. They still look good to me.

However, the writing is on the wall … if not in the books. (groan) This article: “The Financial Storm may Very Well Kill Print Media” is a sobering looking at the facts of life in the world of print media. We can hang on longer, maybe, doing what we do. But at the same time we better be thinking pretty hard about the changing world we work in and coming up with other strategies for surviving and thriving as publications designers, writers, and publishers. (And advertising workers better be thinking twice as fast.)

wwgdPerhaps there’s some good lessons in this book: What Would Google Do? by Jeff Jarvis I am going to get it, right now. I’m downloading the audio version. I know. I am a part of the problem…. I am hoping to learn how to be a part of the solution. I want to ride the crest of the next wave and land safely on the beach in the new paradigm, not be drowned in this one.

Speaking of paradigms, my next post will be about changing paradigms and how we’ve seen them before in our industry (graphic design). One of the advantages of working a long time in one field is eventually you have the benefit of hindsight, the long view. It’s propbably the only good thing about getting older. I’ll draw paralells and contrasts to then and now…

nytlogo153x23Today, the New York Times published an article by Motoko Rich entitled “Self-publishers Flourish as Writers Pay the Tab.” It’s a pretty realistic look at a new world in publishing. Below is my opinion on this situation.

It had to happen, critical mass has been reached. That, and the model practiced by major (mainly New York) publishing houses has at long last proved to be unsustainable. More and more books are published every year in this country, yet the cost is born by those very few “mega-blockbusters” promoted as such by their publishers. Yet by all accounts there are fewer and fewer readers of “books” each year. But readers, when polled don’t always count reading done online, or on other electronic devices, nor audio books as “books.”

Are we witnessing the death (or severe winnowing) of print publishing in the traditional sense of mass marketed ink on paper books, verses the many other delivery methods being explored? It’s hard to say. As a cover/book designer, I surely hope there will still be significant demand for that singular intimate experience that only the visually pleasing, tactile and physical book can provide. After all, that’s my livelihood, and my passion.

As for the new surge in self-published titles of varying quality and aesthetic appeal, I suppose that it’s a great thing for those who want  to share their stories with a few people. But I hope they don’t harbor unrealistic illusions about striking it rich and appearing on Oprah. For every talented newbie writer, and or compelling story that successfully uses this method to springboard to fame and a wider audience when picked up by a big name publisher, there are thousands that languish in obscurity. If fame and fortune were their aim, they may have been better off robbing a bank—infamy seems as marketable these days.

Evidence supports that this can be done though. First, they had to have a good product, but they also had to spend considerable effort, and dare we say a few bucks, in getting the word out about their book(s). I don’t think any self-published titles (with the possibility of rare exceptions) ever got picked up by a publisher without first establishing some significant and verifiable sales. No doubt there are some roses out there in the mass of stinkweeds. Or as Cathy Langer of the Tattered Cover in Denver said, “For every thousand titles that get self-published, maybe there’s two that should have been published.”

What of paying the tab? Mr. Rich doesn’t really get in to the gritty details except to offer $99 to $100,000 as the range of costs involved. Well, that’s mighty big range! If we’re talking print on demand (POD) I’d sure like to know what the author is getting for $100,000! Can you say writer’s beware? I have looked at the so-called “custom covers” many POD “publishers” offer and frankly your baby would be better off making its debut in a plain brown wrapper.

I’m paid to put the lipstick on … whether they are pigs or natural born beauties. And I do it most happily. So all you self-publishers out there, give your natural born beauty its best chance of thriving in this very crowded marketplace. Let me do the cover. (Even e-books need covers.) I can unequivically guarantee you it won’t cost nearly $100,000.

Norm’s book launch party at the Playboy Club made Publisher’s Weekly, with a picture! Cool.

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I’d be interested to know how many aspiring writers enter writing contests. We’ve been advised that it’s not a good idea to enter contests that charge an entry fee, particularly those that charge a fee that is relatively high as compared to the “prize” (if any). Preditors and Editors provides a list of contests they approve or not (they disapprove of any that charge). Though, this list seems sadly out of date.

abna_logo-200I’ve just heard of a contest offered by the “300 (million) pound gorilla in the room”: Amazon. Co-sponsored with Penguin Group (USA) not exactly a fly-by-night publisher. The contest is called: Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award click the link for more info. Basically you submit your novel during the week of February 2–8, up to 10,000 entries will be accepted. But you must sign up and submit during that period and they cut it off when the number has been reached. They will be narrowed down to 2,000 by “expert reviewers”. penguinlogo_smallThe field gets winnowed further and the last 3 will be voted on by Amazon.com customers. (Like American Idol for your book?) The winner gets published by Penguin with a $25,000 advance. There is no entry fee. Worth checking it out.

Also a poetry contest offered by Blue Mountain Arts, the greeting card and book publisher located in Boulder, CO. This is the 13th biannual competition. Also no entry fee. First prize is $300. Contest closes December 31. They also buy poems and verses for their card products.

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The new Palms tower. The Playboy Club is on floor 52, just above the Palms sign.

It must be mighty chilly in Hades, because I never thought the day would come when I’d be invited to a private shindig at Hugh Hefner’s club in Las Vegas, let alone go. Well, the trip has been exceedingly strange ever since I started working with Stephens Press roughly five years ago. The first launch event I attended was for Norm Clarke’s first book, Vegas Confidential: 1000 Naked Truths. That event was held in the Palms’ ghostbar (made famous by MTV’s show, The Real World). So, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised anymore by the things that happen in this business.

Norm’s new book, Vegas Confidential: Sinsational Celebrity Tales is all tasty dish, and all juicy gossip about what the celebs do in Vegas. The good citizens, and the bad boys, and naughty girls. The smart and the clueless, the generous, and the cheap bastards too. Vegas became Hollywood’s playground decades ago, but what happens in Vegas is all fair game these days.3dcvrvcsinsmall

Norm wrote a good book; it’s a fun read. I designed the cover and interior pages. It’s chock full of color photos and we’re all pretty pleased with the design. I am betting it’s going to do well. I’ll be posting some spreads on my website soon. You can get more info and buy it here: Vegas Confidential

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Sue, Norm and Jeep (Sue's hubby).

And here’s a link to Las Vegas’ NBC Channel 3 coverage of Norm’s party at the Playboy Club. Below are picts of the party.

At times it seemed the paparazzi outnumbered the guests! There were a lot of Vegas notables there most of whom I wouldn’t recognize. But we did meet Rita Rudner, among others.

Sue snuggles up to Hugh Hefner's evil twin.

Sue snuggles up to Hugh Hefner's evil twin.

Sue's daughter Emily gets a hug from Tina Turner's impressionist.

Sue's daughter Emiy and Tina Turner's twin.

Amanda Uber interviews Robin Leach.

Amanda Uber interviews Robin Leach.

The Strip from the PB Club bar.

The Strip from the PB Club bar.

Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote.”

Edited to add:

We did it! I am so proud of us. More of us voted than EVER BEFORE. EVER! And what a historical event. I hope that the unprecidentness of this event will in the future not even merit a mention. We elected a fine candidate. Someday, that’s all we’ll need to say.

It’s always neat when different things you love come together. I’ve long been a fan of Bob Edwards from Morning Edition on NPR. Except he’s not on NPR anymore, and I have missed him. But I discovered from Neil Gaiman’s blog that he’s featured on a recent Bob Edwards show on XM radio. Well I don’t get XM Radio, but how cool! You can get it for free via iTunes. Here’s link to the Bob Edwards Blog.

He interviews Neil about his new book, The Graveyard Book. Neil talks about writing for children also, and what his career has been like up to now. And another synchroncity to add is that this Wednesday I’ll be lying off to Las Vegas to attend the Vegas Valley Bookfest where I’ll get to see Mr. Gaiman speak and then attend a private bash with Neilhimself and 99 other of his closest friends. Yes, you can be jealous now—go ahead.

But that’s not all, I’ll be rubbing shoulders with some other celebs and wouldbe/wannabe/oncewas celebs at another exclusive event. But you’ll just have to wait for the details.

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