This year’s shortlist for the Aurealis Awards, Australia’s top awards for science fiction and fantasy, has a surprise in the science fiction novel category: a self-published book, And All the Stars by Andrea K Höst. I believe this is a first for major SF/F awards (unless you count the Andre Norton Award as part of the Nebulas, in which case precedent was set by Catherynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making). It’s certainly a sharp retort to people who sneer at self-published books as being universally terrible. I expect to see more self-published books showing up on various award shortlists in the next few years as self-publishing authors get more sophisticated and increase their reach.
The Chronicle of Higher Education has released its first ebook, appropriately enough an expanded version of its Rebooting the Academy series, which examines changes in the practice of research, teaching, and institutional management in the midst of technological change. Nearly simultaneously, on the occasion of John Siracusa’s exhaustive review of the new Apple operating system Mountain Lion, Condé Nast’s Ars Technica will soon make available a Kindle ebook for those wishing to absorb all 26,000 words in a digestible format. And, in September, the New York Review of Books will release their first title in their new ebook only imprint, NYRB-Lit.
That digitally facile publishers such as the Chronicle and Condé Nast are able to quickly produce and sell ebooks is simultaneously exceptional, and increasingly mundane. Ten years ago, publishing an ebook from a lengthy periodical series would have taken months of preparation; today, as the tools for publishing on the internet enter the mainstream book trade, anyone who can run a blog can produce an ebook. That’s not necessarily terrific news if you are an established publisher; with each news release about self- and independently-published ebooks, the value proposition of large, integrated publishing firms seems less obvious. When Los Angeles media entrepreneurs like Barry Diller and Scott Rudin see the virtue of starting up their own high-brow literary publishing endeavors, midtown real estate in Manhattan starts looking particularly expensive.
The presence of active tumult in a prominent economic sector makes it especially troubling when government agencies listen uncritically to entrenched publishing multinationals for advisement and consultation in areas of high-impact policy formulation. For example, there has been significant worldwide interest in negotiating a WIPO treaty that would make require countries to allow published, in-copyright print works to be converted into an accessible format for the blind and others with reading disabilities, and permit accessible works to be shared around the world without permission from the copyright holder. However, the United States has wavered in its support for a binding treaty, and is instead seeking softer, non-binding recommendations or guidelines.
This U.S. reluctance to finalize treaty language echos the concerns of the American Association of Publishers, as evidenced in a videotaped interview with the AAP’s vice president of policy, Alan Adler. Adler voices concerns that a binding international treaty will introduce a precedent that will make negotiations over copyright exceptions and limitations more likely for educational, library, and archival uses. Adler, and by extension the AAP, seem to forget that copyright is itself a set of specially codified grants that are carved out from public access for a limited duration, and that exceptions and limitations simply return to the public the access to creative works that is society’s baseline.
However, the rapid influx of Internet-based publishing tools, and the blossoming of a rich diversity of new self- and independent publisher services, along with new mixed media entrants taking advantage of mobile content platforms from companies like Google and Apple force us to raise a more fundamental issue: who can speak for publishing-related policy issues? Surely today we must listen not only to the large publishing combines, but also to new companies like Smashwords, Aerbook, Vook, Byliner, and The Atavist in order to understand the perspective of publishers. And equally, as publishing becomes an integral part of the firmament of the internet, the government must consult and evaluate the competing aims of Google, Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft.
The time in which the AAP can speak authoritatively for publishing is over. Formulating policy over intellectual property issues that heretofore was considered the domain of a few specific industry and interest groups is instead the domain of all internet users, including readers and authors, as well as a wide range of new publisher entrants. Ours is a economy undergoing network industrialization, and if the federal government wants industry consultation, it will need to listen to the wider array of people and firms who are engineering and empowering the future of expression, instead of a handful of companies fighting the U.S. Justice Department after colluding to maximise their interests at the expense of consumers.
I was at the Library of Congress yesterday to give a talk on the transformations in publishing; the presentation took 45 minutes, but the lively conversation afterwards with the library staff lasted for over an hour and a half. One of the topics that I had covered was the flattening of the publishing horizon: the ability for authors to self-publish, or independently publish through retail outlets. Among other issues this underscored is one that the Library has already started grappling with: what does this mean for LoC, as the national library of deposit?
The surge of alternative publications is far more than an academic problem. Even a short time ago, almost all mainstream monographs were published through traditional means, and the Library of Congress could acquire titles effectively by working with jobbers and distributors. Relatively few works were self-published, and a significant portion of those were channeled through vanity presses, often single-author focused, which the Library acquired only when the author proactively provided copies for recording.
Today, a growing number of authors publish books directly on their own website, via distributor/retailers such as Smashwords, or through direct retailer-sponsored programs such as the Amazon KDP program. Barnes & Noble has a strong self-publishing program called PubIt!, Kobo Books has just launched Kobo Writing Life, and new entrants like Zola Books are announcing their own direct selling platforms.
Whatever the consequences of Amazon’s entry into e-book lending, the acceleration of erosion of support for existing library lending programs has mobilized leading public library organizations. While many of us are willing to consider very seriously the proposition that libraries might not provide access to contemporary digital books in the future as a necessity, we nonetheless have no desire to go gentle into that good night.
Whether at the level of DPLA or at more modest community focused libraries, there’s broad recognition that scale empowers rich services, and that greater content aggregation compels use. Widely distributed plots of wild flowers do not have the same appeal as a glorious jungle of possibilities. The consequences for a viable future library e-book lending service are becoming more clear, and the outlines more apparent. Continue reading
Eileen Gardner has just become Publishers Weekly’s 200,000th follower on Twitter. Turns out she’s an aspiring novelist and blogger; to mark our Twitter milestone, we asked her to contribute a guest post to PWxyz.
I think sometimes in life it is better not to know how difficult something is going to be before you attempt it. I can now file “publish my novel” under this heading. The odds of seeing my work in print are frighteningly small, but I didn’t know that when I started my quest for publication. If I’d known the odds going in, I probably wouldn’t have gone in.
Ok, that’s not true. Writing for me is not a choice. It’s a passion, it’s a calling. I couldn’t stop writing if I tried, and believe me, I’ve tried. But like a siren’s song, writing keeps calling me back. I am a writer.
About two years ago, I had that thrilling spark of a great idea. I sat down in my chair and put my hands on the keyboard. Every day. I fell in love with my characters. I thought I developed an interesting plot. And I did something I’d never done before: I finished.
I think we should give out awards to anyone who actually finishes a novel. It is a major accomplishment.
Yesterday’s news that “publisher” PublishAmerica responded to J.K. Rowling’s cease-and-desist letter with a cease-and-desist letter of their own is just the latest in the company’s not-so-illustrious history. You can view the letter here, which is most notable because their legal representation utilizes triple exclamation points.
A brief summary: PublishAmerica promised authors that for $49, it would show their books to J.K. Rowling. If the Rowling price tag is too high for you, for $29, PublishAmerica will give your book to President Obama.
We thought we’d shed some light on PublishAmerica, if only because some of what’s happened with them is so unbelievable that it’s a wonder they still exist.
According to its website (which has an aesthetic that’s very appropriate for the company), PublishAmerica’s founders had a dream back in 1999: in a difficult publishing marketplace, they could serve as many authors as possible that otherwise would have little chance at getting their books published the traditional way. And if you’re wondering how many “as many authors as possible” entails, those numbers are 11,000 authors under contract and about 4,800 titles released per year.
The best story of PublishAmerica’s history involves the hoax title Atlanta Nights that was submitted by a team of writers under the pen name Travis Tea. They were upset with the company’s comments, found on the company’s Web site, about the sci-fi genre including, among other things:
As a rule of thumb, the quality bar for sci-fi and fantasy is a lot lower than for all other fiction. Therefore, beware of published authors who are self-crowned writing experts. When they tell you what to do and not to do in getting your book published, always first ask them what genre they write. If it’s sci-fi or fantasy, run. They have no clue about what it is to write real-life stories, and how to find them a home. Unless you are a sci-fi or fantasy author yourself.
The writers, who were suspicious of PublishAmerica’s claims that they reject 80% of the manuscripts they receive, decided to submit a masterpiece of literary garbage–a book that had a missing chapter, two chapters that were identical, copy rife with spelling and grammar mistakes, and a nonsensical story that reads like this:
“Bruce walked around any more. Some people might ought to her practiced eye, at her. I am so silky and braid shoulders. At sixty-six, men with a few feet away from their languid gazes.”
The book was accepted for publication. This is the acceptance letter (from Meg Phillips, Acquisitions Editor):
As this is an important piece of email regarding your book, please read it completely from start to finish. I am happy to inform you that PublishAmerica has decided to give “Atlanta Nights” the chance it deserves….Welcome to PublishAmerica, and congratulations on what promises to be an exciting time ahead.
A month later, the authors revealed the hoax and PublishAmerica pulled their offer. The new letter:
We must withdraw our offer to publish “Atlanta Nights”. Upon further review it appears that your work is not ready to be published. There are portions of nonsensical text in the manuscript that were caught by our editing staff as they previewed the text for editing time assessment pending your acceptance of our offer.
On the positive side, maybe you want to consider contracting the book with a vanity publisher such as iUniverse or Author House. They will certainly publish your book at a fee.
It should be noted that some authors have apparently spoken up in defense of PublishAmerica. Unfortunately, those endorsements are buried under articles that put words like “scam” and “beware” alongside the company’s name.
So, the message bears repeating: if you’re looking to publish your book, exercise caution when considering which press or publisher to use.
Today’s links! And please check out our new Facebook Page!
Don’t Mess with Texas tax revenue. Texas Bookstore owner calls for governor to sign online sales tax bill.
Let’s make a deal. Barnes and Noble caught in a whirlwind of acquisition speculation.
Curtain Call. DC’s Arena Stage Theater adapts John Grisham’s novel A Time to Kill for the stage.
The Big Seven. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos ventures into the wild and risky world of book publishing.
Listen Up! The 2011 Audie Award Winners.
The tablets are coming: Electronics manufacturers are planning to show off at least 70 tablet devices (likely to be potential reading devices) during the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
DIY book publishing: The WSJ looks at self-employed professionals who use POD to self-publish books and generate prestige, new clients and “invisible” income.
Amazon on the NookColor?: Intomobile.com shows how to hack the NookColor, install the Android Market app and read Amazon’s Kindle e-books on B&N’s color digital reader. Tricky but cool!
The giving spirit: The estate of the late and renowned cartoonist Will Eisner, author of the acclaimed graphic novel, A Contract With God, and creator of The Spirit, has donated $250,000 to the Cartoon Library and Museum at the Ohio State University.
Developing books to best exploit each medium: Let e-books be e-books and print books be print.
Pop culture meets class struggle: A Canadian academic publishing collective has released the first of a four-part comics adaptation of Karl Marx and Fredrich Engels’ The Communist Manifesto.
Here’s a short diary of my weekend of literary festivals—SPX and the Brooklyn Book Fair. For those not familiar with it, the Small Press Expo (aka SPX) is one of the premier indie comics and small press shows in the country. The show is held in Bethesda, Md. just outside Washington DC and it’s a great place to find great indie press comics. SPX also hosts the Ignatz Awards, which honor the best indie and self-published comics from the previous year. This year I decided I’d make a one day trip to SPX and head back to New York Saturday night so I could head out to the Brooklyn Book Festival on Sunday.
Held in the Bethesda Marriott Hotel, the show is conveniently self-contained and once you arrive there’s nowhere else to go and nothing else to do but check out great comics. I arrived at SPX on Saturday afternoon. The show itself is held in one of the hotel’s ballrooms and the floor was packed. There are no superhero comics and while you may encounter the occasional artist working in a manga style, the show is completely focused on small press and self published comics. But in a show full of striking comics, probably the most dazzling book I encountered was Adam Hines’ Duncan The Wonder Dog published by AdHouse Books, a somewhat amazing 400-page graphic novel set in a world of talking, sentient animals in conflict and in communication with humans. The book is a bit of a wonder, juggling historical settings, philosophical arguments and page after page of inventive layouts and panel constructions, quirky but accomplished illustration and pithy, emotionally affecting dialogue. While I was not familiar with the author before, I expect we’ll all be hearing a lot more about Adam Hines in the future. (And we’ll have more to say about SPX in our PW Comics Week show report on Tuesday.)
Of the panels I was able attend, Remembering Harvey Pekar, was certainly the most affecting. The panel featured an array of artists who had collaborated with Pekar (who died earlier this summer) on his comics and also included Jeff Newelt, comics editor at Heeb and Smithmag.com, the impresario behind the Pekar Project, a series of online comics written by Harvey and illustrated by a new group of young cartoonists. Moderated by my PW Comics Week co-editor Heidi “The Beat” MacDonald, the panel featured artists Ed Piskor, Dean Haspiel, Vanessa Davis, Sean Pryor and Rick Parker. Probably the most notable thing about the panel was that every one of these artists talked about how Harvey had completely transformed their ideas about comics in general and the kind of comics they wanted to create in particular. Harvey Pekar will be sorely missed.
After a day spent sampling small press comics I returned to New York and braved a steady rainfall to make it out to Brooklyn in time for, well, more comics. This time it was the Comics As Form panel at the Brooklyn Book Festival. Although the weather didn’t help, attendance at the festival looked good despite the rain. I missed one comics panel, The International Graphic Novel: Drawing From Life, featuring cartoonists Jessica Abel (La Perdida), Matt Madden (99 Ways to Tell a Story), Josh Neufeld (AD: New Orleans After the Deluge) and Nick Abadizis (Laika), but thanks to Teachers College Press editor Meg Lemke—editor of Bill Ayers and Ryan Alexander-Tanner’s To Teach: The Journey, in Comics—I’m told the panel discussed the process of researching visual backgrounds around the world in preparation for creating illustrated works.
Later that day, Comics as Form, a panel that discussed how comics are spinning off into other media—from films to animation to modern dance—was forced inside Borough Hall due to the rain and was held in the rotunda. The panel featured Ben Katchor (Julius Knipl), Jillian Tamaki (Skim), Rob Berry (Ulysses Seen) and was moderated by Columbia University librarian Karen Greene. And to top off a hectic weekend of festivals and comics, the panel, along with your reporter in attendance, managed to relocate to an excellent Brooklyn bar and continued the discussion about comics and much else long after the festival and the rain had ceased.
With the news that Apple has added ePub support to its Pages word processor–meaning you can instantly convert your documents to ePub format–we thought we’d point you to another resource to help you publish your book in Apple’s iBookstore. So here’s a handy guide to publishing on iBooks by blogger Greg Mills (via TUAW). It’s a bit of a tedious process, and you need to register for an ISBN beforehand, but if you’ve got an updated copy of iWork, you can skip the step involving using Calibre to convert your file (though if you’re an e-book person, you should probably download Calibre–it comes in handy, but more on that at another time).