Mercy Pilkington

Mercy Pilkington



is a Senior Editor for Good e-Reader. She is also the CEO and founder of Author Options, a hybrid publishing and consultancy company. Have a question? Send an email to info@authoroptions.com


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haunted-empire-yukari-kane
Verdict: 3 Stars

I expected a lot from Haunted Empire, and I did get a lot of information. It just wasn’t the stuff I thought I would read about. Where was the controversy? Where was the speculation about Apple’s downfall? Basically, where was the information that CEO Tim Cook took issue with?

There was a lot of background information, and I will say that the beginning of the book contained an even closer look at Steve Jobs. It’s funny to read a book that contains information on how Jobs fought with the guy writing his book! There was a lot of really in-depth and thrilling–both heartwarming and negative–information on who Jobs was, told only through the most hidden conversations that made me ask several times, “How did the author find this out?” That’s not to question Kane’s veracity, but to really highlight that she included conversations no one else would have known about.

But while the content within the book gave detailed information about Apple’s woes since the untimely passing of Jobs–I’m not above admitting that I cried several times during Kane’s depiction of the CEO’s last few months and final death–there was nothing of note about where the company is headed with Cook at the helm, at least not in terms of the uproar that followed the book’s publication. Yes, there is certainly mention that Apple hasn’t released anything profound since losing its original dreamer, but it’s also understandable. Kane even paints a picture of a company that is still reinventing itself as a new company, having gone through downturns in the past with various underwhelming CEOs.

At the same time, Kane herself gives so much insight into not only the legal woes that have plagued Apple lately (and kept the company fairly busy with its leadership and its finances tied up in courtroom drama), but also unintentionally details the cyclical nature of Apple’s innovations. It’s hardly newsworthy that the company that brought us the iPhone, iPod, iPad, and resulting app and music stores in the space of such a short time frame would rest on its laurels for a moment before attempting to launch anything quite as world changing again.

Haunted Empire was insightful and interesting, but hardly earned its reputation as the tell-all, “bearer of bad tidings” book that the hype told us to expect.

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Now that the world of self-publishing has become more commonplace and tools are in place to help authors from a variety of skill levels complete their works for publication, one of the chief hurdles that authors still seek help for is marketing. Book promotion continues to be a huge obstacle to success for authors, regardless of publishing mode. A panel at the recent PubSmartCon, chaired by Shari Stauch, CEO of Where Writers Win, discussed the merits of professional book reviews and book clubs as avenues for book discovery.

NetGalley’s Tarah Theoret spoke about the service that links books with reviewers. “We have over 200,000 publishers as clients, and we work with traditional publishers, small publishers, and self-published authors. For the most part they are pre-pub, but there’s no set rule for when a book can go up on NetGalley. They are for review, and not purchase and consumption directly on the site.”

In the case of NetGalley, the fee to the rights holder is not paid in any way to the reviewer, it is instead paid to keep the site in operation. But other representatives from companies like Chanticleer Book Reviews & Media and Kirkus Reviews spoke about the importance of quality reviews from vetted sources, even if those reviews come at a cost. While paid book reviews continue to be a hotly contested issue among authors and readers alike, panelists Kiffer Brown (Chanticleer) and Eric Liebetrau (Kirkus) explained the difference between an honest review from a long-standing publishing industry entity, and the option to pay an individual in exchange for a “good” review.

One of the topics covered at the event were the inherent ineffectiveness of blog tours, especially in the climate where anyone with a blog can charge money for arranging blog tours among their friends, regardless of how appropriate various blogs are for a particular title, the high or low Alexa ranking for those blogs, and more. Stauch spoke at length about what other options authors have when planning a virtual tour, as well as key tips to look for in online promotion where users’ sites are concerned.

Peer reviews were highlighted as a valuable tool for authors, especially through sites like Goodreads, despite some of the recent difficulties users have found in trusting the reviews found on the site due to its terms of service. BooksILove, a free app for book reviewing and discovery, is another option for reviewing titles, but with a lot less intensive involvement.

The second half of the panel focused on the feasibility and benefits of finding book clubs to read an author’s work, not just in terms of sales to the participants, but also for the buzz and word-of-mouth aspects of being a book club selection. Lynn Bettancourt of Savannah Bound to Please runs a book club with both live and virtual participants numbering over 300 members, and spoke about the ability of authors to reach out to groups with their titles.

Recordings of the panels from the PubSmartCon will be made available soon.

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One of the more crowded panels at the recent PubSmartCon was the Bowker-sponsored panel, Discoverability in the Digital Age, a session which addressed the increasingly difficult task authors face–both traditionally published and self-published–in finding an audience for their works. With independent bookstores closing at an alarming rate and even libraries facing door-shuttering budget cuts, authors have lost a lot of the champions who once sold books by hand, who knew the titles on their store shelves and recommended them to their customers. Coupled with the influx of content as new books are published daily, quality material can still languish without a reader to find it.

One of the recommendations for authors in attendance was to begin the marketing three to six months before the anticipated release date, something that still takes place in the traditional industry. Whether it’s through the author’s own social media and website or through joint promotion and virtual word of mouth, the time to generate that all-important buzz is well before it makes its way to market.

Panelist Tarah Theoret of NetGalley spoke on the ability for self-published authors to generate advanced reader copies and galleys of their books through CreateSpace by simply building a copyedited version of the book and ordering a set number of proofs. This can not only provide reviews to be posted upon the release, but can also give the author feedback from willing and concerned participants. Digital galleys are also secure ways to inexpensively share copies prior to release.

“Not all discovery is equal. Study after study has shown that eighty percent of books are discovered through word of mouth from trusted friends,” explained Elizabeth Dimarco from BooksILove. “That other twenty percent is not to be disregarded though.” BooksILove designed a discovery tool app that people can use while actively having conversations about books by accessing the app on their smartphones or devices. “What we discovered is that recommendations aren’t meant to be done in isolation.”

Dimarco stated that avid book readers not only recommend books to their friends, but they also want feedback at a later time on what those friends ultimately decided about those books, or whether they read them at all.

In a lunchtime keynote address, Hugh Howey explained that the loss of physical bookstores has done more harm for discovery than any glut of self-published titles could ever do. He recounted his days working in a bookstore and recalled the many times he physically pointed to a particular book by way of recommendation to a consumer. With the continued loss of these recommendation engines, authors are having to do more work to stay relevant and be noticed among other authors.

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With its focus on helping authors meet the financial needs of publishing books, Pubslush does more than just create a platform for book preorders. Yesterday, vice president and co-founder Amanda Barbara spoke to Good e-Reader about a contest the site is hosting through their company, the Little Reader Snapshot Contest.

In conjunction with the Children’s Book Council and timed to coincide with the annual Children’s Book Week (May 12-18, 2014), Pubslush’s contest encourages parents to upload snapshots of their children reading their favorite books. The contest, aimed at readers ages twelve and under, includes a prize package worth $500 in books, with varies titles made available for different ages.

Now in its 95th year, Children’s Book Week is the longest running literacy initiative in the US. The work of promoting the event every year falls under the non-profit organization Every Child A Reader. Organizations like schools, libraries, and citizen groups will host various events at the local level in conjunction with Book Week.

For Pubslush’s contest, participants upload a photo of their children to one of four different age categories; a category for classroom readers is also open. The photos will be voted on through Pubslush’s Facebook page, and the winner in each category with the most votes will be awarded a book bundle to continue the reading fun. Entrants may promote their readers’ photos on Twitter under the hashtags #littlereader and #CBW14. The contest is open now through May 18th, and a winner will be announced on May 20th.

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Despite the successes Hugh Howey has enjoyed as an author, he began his keynote at today’s PubSmartCon event by stating that his is not a road map to success that anyone should follow, largely because he doesn’t know where he’s going. The tongue-in-cheek opening to his presentation is only partly humorous; part of Howey’s charm and allure as a writer and a publishing industry watcher is that he is the first to admit that it is all largely surprising.

“Someone said we were going to outline roadmaps for how we got to where we are. I’m going to do two things: tell you not to follow me because I don’t know where I’m going, and to share with you all the really bad ideas I’ve had over the years. I narrowed it down to my top 5,000 bad ideas, and then the top 500, and I think it got it down to my worst fifteen or twenty.”

Howey recounted a humorous story about his first disastrous efforts at navigating a large sailboat, likening it to the current state of publishing. “Where we are as experts is we’re looking at yesterday and trying to tell you what tomorrow’s going to be like. It’s what weather forecasters and hurricane forecasters do. It’s not a very good road map. What’s exciting is that someone out there should be up here telling us what they think.”

In his typical humility, Howey disparaged the idea that interview subjects should be some of the bigger names in publishing. “The ones who should be up here giving talks are the midlist authors, traditional or self, who their lives are being changed by these new tehcnologies. No one interviews those people, they wait until they’re outliers. There are people out there who are making a living with their work and no one’s ever heard of them, that’s the real story of self-publishing.”

Howey went on to expand on a number of ideas that are currently held in the industry in an air of dispelling the myths. One of the more profound ideas is that the rise of retail giant Amazon has actually been a good thing for independent book stores, as he outlined by demonstrating that shoppers who go to Amazon are looking for books whose titles they know in order to have a discount, but that the loss of browsing opportunities like Borders forced more consumers to look for book recommendations in smaller stores where individuals knew their customers.

In that vein, Howey supported the idea that self-published authors, long suffering from difficulty in getting their books placed in physical bookstores, shouldn’t concern themselves with the placement of their work in physical bookstores as the majority of sales are coming from online retail outlets.

More important is Howey’s concept of the weather forecaster, understanding that looking at what has worked in the past is not the safest bet when it comes to understanding how publishing is changing.

“Looking at trend lines is a bad idea for where this industry is going. The reason this industry is changing is the cost of producing and distributing books has plummeted to almost zero. When there’s a market force like this, it upsets an entire industry.”

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At today’s PubSmartCon panels, industry professionals presented a panel on the business side of being a career writer under a newly coined term, authorpreneur. By viewing being a published author, regardless of the mode of publication, as a small business owner with serious investment concerns and prioritization to be met.

A panel presented by Amanda Barbara of book crowdfunding site Pubslush, C. Hope Clark of FundsforWriters, Miral Sattar of BiblioCrunch, and Orna Ross of the Alliance of Independent Authors offered a wealth of information about how to proceed with a publishing project, knowing that writing a great book is only the first and most important step towards a professional career.

“We help authors, both self-published authors and traditionally published authors, to really have the tools to build their platforms before they publish,” explained Barbara to the panel attendees. “It’s important for authors to have a place to build buzz around their books through social media. Readers really want to be able to connect with their favorite authors. We recently launched a program to allow publishers and different partners in the industry like self-publishers and editors to actually launch white-labeled pages on Pubslush.”

Pubslush, who sees its mission as more of a preorder tool that lets authorize monetize on their preorder sales in order to secure the services they need for publishing, states that the term crowdfunding can be misunderstood by supporters. Still, that hasn’t prevented the site from helping numerous authors meet their goals for their books through these preorders.

Clark, herself a mystery writer, launched a site that has been a Writer’s Digest Best Site for Writers for thirteen years. “I started FundsForWriters when I could not sell my mysteries, and I was so hellbent on being a writer I decided to do something, no matter what it was. FundForWriters gave me a platform to turn back around and develop the mystery series. My mantra is to not think that you’re going to go from point A to point B. You’re writing career is going to take off on all kinds of tangets.”

These tangents, according to Clark, naturally evolves into the author’s route to publication and ultimately career satisfaction, which is ultimately a better measure of success than any other factor.

BiblioCrunch’s CEO Miral Sattar explained the purpose of the platform as an Angie’s List of professional publishing resources, offering assistance to both authors and publishers alike; she and Ross spoke to the need for understanding where to find quality professional resources.

Some of the focus that the panelists offered was that there is no single method that will succeed for every book or every author. Also, crowdfunding as a solution is often misunderstood, both by people who’ve launched campaigns and by those who’ve supported them; in the case of these book preorders, it’s not a matter of asking ones own friends and family members to donate as it is selling content to interested parties. Clark pointed out that one of the major obstacles for authors in this regard is that there seems to be a disconnect between authors and discussions of money, as though the creative aspect is somehow going to make up for the business side of publishing and selling. Sattar rounded out the discussion by offering insight for authors in attendance on review and promotional opportunities, a notoriously difficult hurdle for many writers, as well as the need for vetting some of the professionals who claim to have knowledge of the industry.

Ross went on to remind authors that creating a fantastic product is not a solo effort, even for authors. “People think [independent] means just self-publishing only, but it means that you define yourself as the creative director of your book from conception to completion. Self-publishing is a misnomer because we don’t do this by ourself. You are in the partnership business, you are a collaborator.”

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At this morning’s keynote event from the 2014 PubSmartCon in Charleston, South Carolina, publishing industry professional Jane Friedman spoke on the roundabout definition of what it means to publish in the current climate. Examining it from its early roots, all the way through publishing via blogging, the session explored what authorship and readership have come to mean.

“It was the rise of literacy that allowed authors to make a living because it increased the market demand for books. But what’s interesting to me in the current dynamic is how everyone is becoming an author through social media and other instant publishing tools, whether that’s WordPress or KDP or Smashwords that allow you to control when, where, and how you distribute your words.”

Friedman went on to explanation how the growth of universal literacy has led to the concept of universal authorship, in which anyone has the ability to amplify their reach through publishing.

“This greatly changes the environment that we’re in, whether it’s in trying to increase visibility, make money, or either one. The universal authorship trend has driven up the number of titles that get published…but this is not even beginning to capture the entire universe of content that’s out there.”

Friedman was, of course, referring to the number of titles–both traditionally and self-published–that are known to be published under an ISBN number, something that not all books have. These numbers are known to be much higher than her data was able to indicate.

“Publishing is a button that you can press and distribute your ideas instantly to a worldwide audience. It used to be more of a rarefied process, controlled by the so-called gatekeepers or by people who were professionals who had very specialized knowledge. That’s not necessarily the case anymore, that calls into question, ‘What does it mean to publish when anyone can do it?’”

Friedman’s question has been asked by both supporters and critics of the current trends in publishing, but she portrays and industry where readers transform the social fabric surrounding the culture of books. But her more profound statement involved an understanding that Amazon is not an enemy of publishing, but the failure of publishers to sell to consumers and understand their readers in a more personal way is that enemy.

One suggestion Friedman carried for an industry that is struggling through the scarcity of attention for the abundance of content out there is to better understand the reader-book relationship and return attention to the readers. A number of trends she highlighted that are especially working for authors where they are is the mobilization of reading on smart devices, the return of serials through a wide variety of platforms, and the verticals of companies that are already making headway in the industry.

Fictitious Harry Potter Sport Quidditch Comes To Real Life
The world of Harry Potter is very real to some people, so real in fact that there are live Quidditch matches and yes, college teams. Even better, these college and fan teams actually have a Quidditch World Cup competition, taking place in Florida. the fact that none of the players has a flying broom is not a deterrent.

This year, for the seventh World Cup, author and inventor of flying Quidditch JK Rowling reported on the match, commentating as Ginny Weasley, long time fan of the sport. Her reports can be found posted on the Pottermore website. Of course, these would be news reports, under the sports section, so fans must go to the Daily Prophet office on Diagon Alley in order to find the updates.

According to a press release from the team at Pottermore, “To deliver the reports, Pottermore has opened a brand new location on Pottermore.com – the offices in Diagon Alley of the fictional wizarding newspaper the Daily Prophet, which fans can visit for the first time and discover this exclusive new writing from J.K. Rowling.

“The posts begin with a report on the opening ceremony of the 2014 Quidditch World Cup. With characteristic humour, Rowling describes how the international teams’ mascots, magical creatures from the world of Harry Potter, took part in the ceremony and caused havoc for their handlers.
We find out why more than 300 crowd members are suffering from shock, broken bones and bites following the ceremony, and why failure to bring their usual mascots, a troupe of performing trolls, caused a great deal of trouble for the Norwegian delegation. A ‘live’ match report details the thrilling action between Norway and Ivory Coast in the first match of the tournament.”

This is not the first time Rowling has written more information about the wizard game, as two pieces of writing on the game were posted earlier this year. The live version may be more exciting to fans than the wizard rendition, as it has been featured in popular films like The Internship and the Disney Channel show “Jessie.”

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One of the often overlooked formats in the focus on digital versus print books is the audiobook, a separate entity that–despite a long standing history–still gets relegated to only certain titles. Through the launch of companies like Audible and the later ACX platform, audiobooks are currently enjoying a resurgence among old and new fans alike.

Findaway World, a company that has partnered with publishers around the globe to produce audio renditions of titles, has a catalog of more than 50,000 audiobooks, but offers them in unique and innovative ways through its digital platform and through its Playaway devices.

Playaways, a concept whose technology seems backwards at first glance, is actually a brilliant tool for putting audiobooks in front of as many listeners as possible, specifically in school, library, and even deployed military outposts. The devices are essentially MP3 players that contain only one book, making it possible for a large number of patrons to borrow the preloaded devices. While Playaways come with an inexpensive pair of ear buds tucked nicely in the hardshell case, many schools and libraries encourage users to keep their own headphones handy in order to borrow multiple titles.

Now the creators of the Playaway have launched AudioEngine, a platform that allows seamless access to Findaway World’s catalog of titles. Authors, publishers, and rights holders can incorporate their audiobook editions into AudioEngine through submission and agreements with Findaway World.

“We have one of the world’s largest collections of digital audiobooks and had been focused on preloaded devices,” said Ralph Lazaro, VP, Digital Products Group, in an interview with Good e-Reader. “We started to build apps for partners who wanted audiobooks, and we would build custom apps for them. Along the way, we started to see the growth potential of the audiobook market–it was a $1.2 billion dollar market in 2012 and $1.6 billion in 2013–and most of that growth has come from downloadable streaming which is picking up a lot of the market share.”

Publishers are responding to that growth by releasing more audio titles than ever before, with audiobook new releases reaching 200% growth over the year before. Of course, ACX has enabled self-published authors and small press publishers to tap into this growing audiobook market as well. Digital downloads have also enabled a new breed of reader to enjoy the titles; in the past, audiobooks came on CD and offered eight to ten hours typically of content. With mobile devices, listeners can enjoy their books whenever they find themselves with time, and then return to the title later.

According to Findaway World, several leading companies are currently using AudioEngine to power audiobooks in their platforms, including 3M (Cloud Library), Mackin (MackinVia), Baker & Taylor (Acoustik) and Follet (Catalist Digital), with many other large retailers, content providers, and distributors launching worldwide throughout 2014.

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A revolution in writing and publishing conferences will kick off tomorrow in Charleston, South Carolina, one that is working to bridge all aspects of the publishing industries to better enable professionals of every kind. Alongside self-publishing mainstays like Hugh Howey, Nook Press, and Bibliocrunch will be speakers like Stephanie Bowen of Sourcebooks and Tracey Adams of Adams Literary. Algonquin Books Executive Editor Chuck Adams will speak, as well as Penguin Random House’s Executive Editor Tracey Bernstein. Also on hand to present will be Amanda Barbara, founder of Pubslush, a crowdfunding platform for self-published authors.

The fairly evenly split representatives from both aspects of the industry demonstrates one of the factors that makes this conference unique. Unless there will be a stripe painted down the middle of the conference, relegating the traditional industry to one side and the self-publishing industry to the other, the intention of the event is to empower anyone who has any involvement at all in the world of books to better understand the nature of the industry in its current climate.

Tonight, Bibliocrunch‘s weekly Twitter chat, #IndieChat, will feature PubSmartCon speaker and industry expert Porter Anderson, as well as PubSmartcon’s Kathy Meis. The event begins at 9pm ET under the indie chat hashtag.

Good e-Reader will be covering the event, with an eye especially on understanding how events like this are bridging the gap. The traditional industry, while maybe not yet embracing indie publishing, has certainly come a long way from the days in which a vanity press-produced title was the kiss of death for an author’s future publishing career; it’s now becoming more and more common for publishers to seek out authors whose titles that have a proven following thanks to self-publishing. At the same time, the attitudes the once permeated the self-publishing industry, namely complete and unwavering artistic control and a feeling of isolation, are falling away as authors look to the traditional industry professionals for information and guidance.

A complete list of conference speakers and events can be found HERE.

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First there was Paper.li, an app that allows users to create a digital “newspaper” based on the story links their social media connections share. Then came Facebook’s Paper app, which serves as a curated offering of a user’s shares from contacts. But now, The Guardian is rolling out an actual print newspaper that will contain stories curated from share algorithms.

The printed paper, which will only  be available in the UK once a month and mostly to corporate offices, is called #Open001 and will be based on computer searches for most shared content, kind of like heading to Yahoo News or Twitter and clicking on what’s trending.

While it might seem like a good idea to offer a paper that only contains the news that the public finds relevant, there are inherent flaws with a system like this for more widespread distribution. First, are social media contacts really the most trusted source for important information, or are readers really going to be wowed by a print paper that contains an unfathomable amount of news about Miley Cyrus’ latest antics? Does important news like the Arab Spring or the US Congress’ latest attacks on minorities and the poor, for example, really have the power to compete with Justin Bieber’s mug shot?

More important is the very real concern that this is a smoke and mirrors approach to keeping print newspapers alive and well. As more and more long-standing newspaper publishers shutter their doors due to lagging advertising and subscriptions, will sending out a print version of what users can see on Twitter be enough to revive an interest in the medium?

As with all areas of the publishing industry that are struggling to stay afloat, the key to survival rests in offering something different that can’t be had–often for free–from another source. A day-old piece of paper with yesterday’s trending headlines isn’t the way to keep readers’ interests.

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Amazon customers in Sweden will have to wait it out to begin buying their discounted goods and books from Amazon.se. The current owner of the domain, a fifty-seven-year-old small businesswoman, won’t sell it, despite reports of repeated attempts from the retail giant to purchase it.

The domain, purchased in 1997 by a Stockholm-based advertising agency called Amazon AB, doesn’t actually lead to a website, but rather to a landing page that simply states it is under construction. This has caused many critics to accuse the woman of holding the domain hostage, as so-called domain squatters have done in the past; these people–whether thugs who drive up the price or smart business people who capitalize on their foresight by purchasing domains before anyone needs them–typically sell to the business or person who wants that domain for a nice profit.

What many vocal opponents who are crying “selfish” have forgotten is that it’s not uncommon for businesses to buy the various domains associated with their company names in order to protect their brands and prevent confusion for their customers. It’s highly likely that the ad agency’s clients would accidentally find themselves on the local Amazon retail portal instead of the agency should the sale of the domain go through.

Amazon has already been at work making headway into the region. The retailer recently inked a deal with a Scandinavian book distributor, Bokrondellen, to begin selling Swedish books through its other country-based domains. At this time, Swedish book customers can register through one of the other domains for book purchasing, despite Amazon’s attempts to initiate a Swedish domain.

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It is shockingly easy to enter a book into the Pulitzer Prizes in Letters competition. The author (in most categories) must be an American citizen, the book must be available for sale in print, it must have first been published that year, and the person submitting the book has to send four copies of the book and a fifty dollar entry fee. That’s it.

It’s easier and cheaper to submit a book to the Pulitzer jury than it is to get a driver’s license. So why aren’t more indie authors doing it?

It may possibly be the mindset that the Pulitzer, whose journalism award is equally prestigious and possibly more well-known due to its significance in reporting, is for the elite authors only. But by the entry rules’ own guidelines, there is no requirement–unlike some other well-known and allegedly prestigious awards–that the book be traditionally published, nor that the publisher submit the book for entry. The author herself can enter her work.

Incidentally, the Pulitzers have been awarded for 2013, with Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch taking the prize for fiction. Other category winners include Margaret Fuller: A New American Life by Megan Marshall (biography), Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation by Dan Fagin (non-fiction), and 3 Sections by Vijay Seshadri (poetry).

In wholly related news, the Amazon/CreateSpace Breakthrough Novel Awards released the quarter final list yesterday, narrowing the field even further from its original 10,000 entries in each category. In this stage, editors from Publisher’s Weekly will read and review the remaining titles, providing that valuable feedback to the authors before further eliminations take place. The final round will be determined by reader votes later this spring.

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