We are on the cusp of a new paradigm in the information industry. That’s what we are. We aren’t book designers, publishers, authors, newspaper or magazine (or even e-zine) journalists, TV anchors, advertising professionals, or artists, or entertainers. We are information producers and providers. What’s changing fast is the delivery system and the choices of our consumers.

crwodsourcingThis book: Crowdsourcing appeared last August, so I hope I’m not too late to the party. (Ironically, produced on paper first.) This video is a nice overview. I like how he uses photography as an example of a paradigm shift. It’s something we designers are very familiar with and can easily understand. The book cover itself was a case study for his thesis. A contest was held and designers submitted cover designs on which the “public” (people who pay attention to such things) voted. Like American Idol, but um, not. Many of us professional designers just hate design contests, because it reduces us to the level of say, the yodeling, tap dancing farmer hoping to win a spot on the aforementioned TV show and possibly see a profit from our speculative efforts. It’s not really a fair thing to ask of a “professional” is it? And yet, we seem to be willing to do it—the risk is worth the possible reward. But that’s a whole other rant story. I mention this book mainly to illustrate the following example.

Back to the paradigm. Think about the photography example. Technology, and delivery systems changed the way photos were made, sold, and delivered. Abundance of producers using these new technologies to create and make photos available changed the pricing of them. The result was photographers had to change the way they marketed and sold their wares and services or face extinction.
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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.

Does anybody use LibraryThing? Well, I know over 500,000 people are signed up, but does anybody here reading this use it? I signed up as a user back in July of 07, and then promptly forgot about it. The idea of entering all my books manually just seemed overwhelming. But now I see that they have a $15 barcode reader that allows you to scan your books and upload them all at once. You can get a widget for your blog that shows your random covers (if they are linked on Amazon, or if you uploaded them). Though I think it links TO Amazon to buy the book, still I am all in favor of helping writers sell books in whatever way they can.

I does have some interesting tools and lists of use to writers, publishers, and readers. For instance, you can see the top 25 books, based on users uploads; read reviews and post your own reviews; connect with authors and other users. You can find bookstores in your area that stock a book you want—independent ones too.

There are lots of book centric blogs there, many based on genre or category. I browsed through a YA blog and the comments and posts seemed to be from teachers and librarians (as well as the occasional actual YA). Seeing what this demographic thinks is pretty enlightening.

So, now I’m thinking about getting that scanner, and uploading my books. This could take a while as I have hundreds, perhaps thousands. What do you all think? Is this yet another way to waste time and procrastinate? Check out Library Thing before you answer…

So no post in a while. Busy, busy. I am writing a YA novel in my spare time and it got me to thinking about epilogues and prologues. I have written a prologue to my story and I wonder what readers think about such things? For my story I think it sets the scene and tells something about the main characters. However, it’s not vital to the story. I haven’t thought as far out as an epilogue yet!

Sometimes epilogues add something vital, or wrap up a nagging loose end that wasn’t completely tied up in the ending scenes. This seems fairly common especially in thrillers, and sometimes in historical fiction. I for one thought the epilogue added at the end of the last Harry Potter book was utterly unnecessary and frankly, dumb. But I gather JK Rowling felt compelled to set all those “shippers” straight about who ends up with who, etc.

In Tolkein’s LOTR trilogy the final, final, final scenes in the Shire were cut from the movies, and the Return of the King could have ended with the crowning of Aragorn and the hommage to the four little guys and I would’ve have been very happy and balling my eyes out. But no, it went on, and on, and on … and on. Purists, forgive me, but really they poured the treacle on a bit heavy.

So I’m curious. Do you like epilogues or prologues? Or would you rather the writer just did a bang up job of ending the story on the right satifying note … you don’t want to know what happened next, or maybe you want it in the sequel? Prologues? Do they slow down the story? Should the author just plunk you down in the world he/she is creating and get on with it? (This is an excuse to try the polling widget. So please try it!)

As promised here’s the scoop: Vegas Valley Book Festival 2008 got kicked off with a keynote address by one of my fave authors, Neil Gaiman.

Gaiman’s address began with a short reading from his latest The Graveyard Book his spooky homage to Kipling’s The Jungle Book. Gaiman spoke about the impact of books, stories, and reading on his life as a youngster in England and the impact that stories of all kinds and from all mediums continue to have on children and adults everywhere and in every time. In his rambling address he talked about writing, publishing, genres, and “where do writers get their ideas anyway?” (answer: everywhere).

We should not stop kids from reading crap, because clearly some great stuff can be grown in crap.”

—Neil Gaiman
(on what kids read, imagination of the reader making any book better)

He so clearly enjoys speaking, and covered so much about the writing life, though it was dark and I didn’t take notes. The auditorium was packed and my guess is about 400 people attended. After the intermission Gaiman took audience questions and continued to  wax poetic a half hour after he was supposed to be at the private gathering over at the Mandalay Bay. And speaking of that…

neilsue

Yours truly gets a pictures with the gregarious and gracious Mr. Gaiman.

His next work for adults will be (I believe) his first non-fiction book about China, and Chinese mythology. Part travelogue, and part mythology? This will be in the works for most of next year. Due out sooner are two picture books Blueberry Girl, charmingly illustrated by Charles Vess and first written as a poem for friend Tori Amos, and Crazy Hair a poetic romp with equally crazy illustration by Dave McKean. He read this one for us and said we we’re first audience to get to hear it. It’s very funny and cute, and we paged through it at the party and the design is fab. He’s currently working on a two part Batman comic story, and hinted that this is the R.I.P. issue for the caped crusader. (Well, sure but y’know he’s a super hero, with like, super powers.)

People asked whether there will be sequels to several of his works. He said he’d really like to do one for The Graveyard Book, and hinted that there may someday be one for American Gods (I’m so there!) and maybe Neverwhere. Had a great time. Late night, and Neil totally deserves some time off, but as we now know he doesn’t do holidays well; sneaks off to write in a deck chair. That’s OK Neil, use some sunscreen and take extra ink, we’ll wait.

PS: The Mix at Mandalay was the site of the after party. On the 64th floor dark, all painted black with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the strip. Fabulous, but LOUD, and disorienting. The restrooms feature a wall of glass in every stall, black “throne” facing out to space, darkened interior, you pee facing the world. Weird. And yes.

Here’s where I’ll be tonight: http: Vegas Valley Book Festival Keynote address. Have I pimped this enough yet? Later on a party… photographic evidence coming later.

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.