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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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…

Another salvo in the changing battlefield of publishing shows that innovative and tech-saavy authors can win an audience and eventually a publisher. This article titled “Podcasting Your Novel: Publishing’s Next Wave?” reports on a fast growing trend that I have known about for a while.

I am addicted to audiobooks. If not for them I would never walk the dogs or go to the gym. I discovered Podiobooks when they first came on the scene. In the beginning there wasn’t a lot of selection, mostly scifi and some of that pretty awful. As they grew in public awareness they drew new authors too and began to post more books in many genres, and some of them really good. All of them were by novice authors, or authors completely unknown to me. Most probably never published traditionally.

Two authors really stood out though, J.C. Hutchins with 7th Son and Scott Sigler with Infected and Earthcore. J.C. Hutchins in particular produced an audio drama that rivaled anything Hollywood might produce, and a darned good thriller. All for free. Why give it away? Well, read the article. These two have a loyal “listenership” and now are on the bestseller list for real money. Kudos and congrats to them both.

Incidentally on the article the writer asserts that the audience is/was mostly young male scifi geeks. I’m not sure that was true, after all I’m an older woman. I’ve listened to books on tape on car trips and when walking or exercising for years and years. By the way you can also listen to many many old books that are now in the public domain also for free on Librivox. These books are recorded by volunteers so the perfomance quality varies, but it’s painless way to catch up on those classics of literature you’ve always meant to read.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think the audiobook will completely supplant the ink and paper book anytime soon… at least I hope not. But, I am in favor of authors getting their work out there and finding an audience. It’s a moment of change, and change can be scary. It will all shake out in time and anything that helps authors and readers connect can’t be bad.

So my readers, all three of you 😉 will notice I’ve deleted some pages that have just been placeholders since starting this blog in October of 2008. I will be moving the site to WordPress.org in a few months or sooner perhaps. I’ve never filled those pages as I soon realized the limitations of properly displaying my work made it not worth the effort here. So the new site will have a little bit different structure and will consolidate my portfolio on what I hope will be a much easier to manage and update platform. I’m looking forward to that. In the meantime you can find some cover samples on my old website: Sue Campbell Graphic Designs. In fact that site will become the domain for this here blog.

I’ve “rethunk” the purposes and direction of this site many times since starting it. And I’m curious to know what kinds of information you’d like to see on the blog or on other static pages? Downloadable articles and design tips? Photoshop “recipes”? Marketing ideas? A work in progress section—where you can vote on your preferences for cover designs? Links to writing and design contests? Please comment if you have ideas! And thanks.

A new book cover design archive…

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I’ve come across a wonderful new site displaying “the best in book cover design” (as selected by these folks). It does look to be very eclectic and inclusive of good works. I’ll let this other blogpost tell the story sinice they did it so well. The FontFeed blog also looks to be a good source for articles on design and typography. Here’s the direct link to The Book Cover Archive.

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!)