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.

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!)

My girls and I had a lovely evening at the Neil Gaiman event last night in Boulder. I’ve been a Neil Gaiman fan since reading (well really listening) to American Gods, and then seeing Mirrormask, so perhaps I came about my fan-girliness sort of backwards. By the time I became a fan, Neilhimself was already a seasoned and mature author. And while I had seen and marveled at (no pun intended) his graphic novels in the Sandman series, I’d never purchased or really read one. But apparently I’ve been misled.

When we arrived at the event a half-hour early, there was already a line of folks 2-3 abreast snaking all way round a rather large church building. As we passed by on our quest to find the end of the queue, I noticed that the first half consisted mainly of younger (under 40ish) people dressed all in black, gothic style. I expect that I was among those in the minority looking quite midwestern and matronly by contrast. I didn’t even know we had that many goths in Boulder. Perhaps they normally only come out at night.

Our position in the line was as it turned out was only about three-quarters back and later-comers (looking even more parochial than me) uncoiled out further into the back parking lot. But it was fortuitess in that Mr. Neil arrived and walked right through the line by us to enter the back door, slowing briefly to exclaim that we’d be let in directly after the sound check. And yes, he’s just as handsome in his way as his pictures.

Anyway at some point during the intro the Sandman books were mentioned at which point the goths cheered loudly, so that explained that. There were in this large church auditorium I’d guess around 600 people, perhaps more.

Neil began the reading by giving a brief “story so far” recap of The Graveyard Book because he is reading in a nine city tour all eight chapters of the book in order. I’ve never heard of this being done before. It’s quite ingenious—and he is video recording each chapter and posting them to Mousecircus where you can watch and listen to the entire novel for free! (For a limited time of course.) You can also purchase the audio or print version of the book there. If you’re going to buy it online, do it there rather than at Amazon, the author and publisher will get more of the profits that way. But back to the reading…

Neil explained that because chapter seven was so long that folks in L.A. got the first half and we’d be getting the second half. He explained that he’d ended in L.A. on a bit of a cliff-hanger and to appreciate this you really need to listen to the recording. Let’s just say that at the end the hero of the story was about to be very, very dead. Neil claimed that this was not planned, but the exact middle of the chapter ended with these words: He straightened up. The hand that had been in the hole in the floor was holding a large, sharp knife. “Now,” said the man Jack. “Now, boy. Time to finish this.” The response of the crowd was a resounding, Nooooo! And then Neil read to us for the better part of an hour more. The reading was very enjoyable, Gaiman reads with wonderful characterization and one can imagine him sitting his little writing gazebo staging his characters in spoken dialogue as much for his own enjoyment as for facilitating the writing.

After the reading, we were treated to excerpts from the new movie Coraline based on Gaiman’s book. The movie is being done by the people who did Nightmare Before Christmas and all in claymation. It looks like it will be very good—and fun to look at. Following that he answered a stack of audience questions. Mine was, “How do you find time to work on new work when you are out on tour?” To that he answered that he often finds snippets of time and it’s best for him to write on airplanes, because they do not as yet, have Internet service. Apparently the web is quite the distraction for Mr. Neil. I can relate. Another question that elicited lots of audience titters was “Do your fans creep you out?” He related a charming story about one particularly creepy, but so not scary fan at Comic Con…but over all says that no, you lot are quite nice, actually.

And after that, we were among the first to hear him read a new children’s book, Blueberry Girl, a poem he wrote for friend Tori Amos’ baby girl a few years back. The book was in page proofs not even bound yet! It is illustrated  by reknowned artist Charles Vess of Stardust and Sandman fame. The book is due out in February 2009.

So ended an evening’s entertainment that went on for three hours! Much more than I ever expected. Neil reads the last chapter and wraps up his tour in Minneapolis, his home city tonight.

I was lucky enough to read an advance copy of The Graveyard Book I picked up at BEA. My review will be posted later in my reviews section of this blog.

A study done by the Connecticut State University shows the list of the most literate cities (over 250K pop.) Topping the list:
1. Minneapolis, MN
2. Seattle, WA
3. St. Paul, MN
4. Denver, CO
5. Washington, DC

A variety of criteria was used. Educational attainment, numbers of booksellers, library circulation, etc.
Lower rankings:
7. San Francisco, CA
10. Boston, MA
28. New York, NY
30. Colorado Springs, CO
40. Chicago, IL
43. Las Vegas, NV
53. Los Angeles, CA

Perhaps those long cold winters in Minnesota make for good reading weather. Though nearby Milwaukee, WI, ranks only 34.5. (Too much beer and football?) I would have thought that these other lower ranked cities would have done better, Boston, home of Harvard? New York, heart of the publishing industry itself?

For the rest of the list and the methodology visit: CCSU-America’s Most Literate Cities