Book publishing. And everything else.

Archive for the category “The Work”

Two Days in a Dream Bookstore

Chris Kubica, founder of NeverEnd Media, editor of “Letters to J. D. Salinger”, and associate producer of the documentary “Salinger”, convened a group of book industry mavens (recruited primarily via a listserv called “Reading 2.0,” which is hosted by Peter Brantley) in New York City on July 29-30, to discuss what he called “building a dream bookstore” – and I was fortunate enough to attend. There were about 20 of us, from a wide variety of positions within the industry: literary agencies, IP lawyers, publishers, librarians, book designers, technologists, and Bob Stein. I was wearing my “I used to be a bookseller” hat, mostly.

This arose, of course, from a commonly-held desire amongst the attendees (and some attended virtually as well) to really probe The Amazon Problem. Amazon is many things. To customers, it’s an ideal store that basically sells everything you could possibly want, and delivers it almost before you know you want it (yesterday on Twitter I was calling this #acciostuff). To developers, it’s a technology company that basically invented what we know as “the cloud”. To publishers, it’s a disintermediator, a disruptor, a strong-armed bully upending business models and shrinking margins. To authors, it’s a benefactor and a cruel mistress.

The problem with The Amazon Problem, however, is that to the customer, there are no problems. The problems are with Amazon’s interactions with the book industry – much of which the customer never sees and doesn’t care about. As we poked and prodded, dreamed and built, we kept coming back to this: Amazon works for customers. It doesn’t just work – it works brilliantly. To build a dream bookstore for a publisher necessarily means friction with the customer (publishers would want higher margins and more restrictions in their favor). To build a dream bookstore for an author necessarily means friction with the customer (authors would like to get paid a living wage for their work, ideally, and have more control over sales). Amazon’s ruthless focus on its customers means (a) they are incredibly loyal because Amazon makes it easy for them to be (b) see (a). That model means that by design Amazon has adversarial relationships with its suppliers.

My dream bookstore would sell browser-based, open, standardized, interoperable, web-enabled ebooks. But right now, customers don’t know they want that. It may be that Amazon is building towards some of these features (without the ISO and W3C standards, of course, because they don’t want a platform that makes it easier for customers to buy their books at other stores). Amazon is a world unto itself. And customers seem to like it that way.

This was an incredibly valuable experience. It taught me several things. One is, Amazon did not get to be so powerful by accident. They are very, very, very smart, and their customer service is unparalleled. All of our industry hand-wringing over the Hachette negotiations is just that – the customer experience (and I say this as an Amazon Prime member) is just not that horribly affected by Amazon’s refusal to sell most of Hachette’s titles. That’s a tough realization, because Hachette is big.

Another thing is that we were 20-odd bookish people in the room (with more watching via webcam). And we couldn’t figure it out. We are insiders – collectively, there must have been hundreds of years of experience in the book business sitting around that table. As with most cases of disruption, it isn’t going to happen from inside.

But the third thing I realized is that Jeff Bezos was “not a book person”. He may love books, but until he founded Amazon, he didn’t work in the industry. Now he actually is in the industry, and has been for 20 years. He’s one of us. If a major disruption is not going to happen from inside, then “inside” includes Amazon – and any major disruption by definition will disrupt Amazon too.

We just don’t know what that is yet.

Sexism in the book industry

In the course of my career in the book industry, I have:

  1. Been asked if the reason I was having trouble negotiating a deal was because “you’re a woman and she’s a woman.”
  2. Had a vicious rumor spread, after a conference in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, that I had taken off my top in exchange for some beads – I literally had to approach every person this man had talked to and ask for help in stopping the spread. One of the people to whom he lied, a founder of a startup that ProQuest acquired, is now the boss of my boss. To this day I don’t know if he knows the truth.
  3. Been told I need to “work harder to break in” to cliques of men who are tightly bonded and want nothing to do with me.
  4. Been told I am “arrogant”. Tried to square #3 with #4. Failed.
  5. Been paid less than male co-workers of equal rank.
  6. Taken only 3 weeks of maternity leave when my youngest was born because I didn’t want to compromise my job (and I was on email the whole time). Still got laid off.
  7. Had a director of sales feel me up publicly in front of the rest of the company (and no one said anything).
  8. Had that same director tell me he wanted to get me into a tent (?!).
  9. Had HR ignore all my documentation about these things.
  10. Been called “defensive” by a male colleague too impatient to listen to the structural reasons why his big idea won’t work.
  11. Been called “emotional” by a male colleague when I presented evidence about why a toxic business deal was going to actually shut out the very market we wanted to recruit.
  12. Been asked to pose in a swimsuit.

This is only what I can remember. Oh, and there was that time I was asked to hold onto some gun parts, but that had nothing to do with gender. I was just conveniently located in a bookstore.

Today’s the Day!

The Place Where I Come From is FREE on Amazon Kindle today! If you like small-town fiction, go snap it up!

This means that the book is temporarily unavailable at BN and Kobo, but if you require an EPUB version, let me know and I’ll make sure you get one.


I’m experimenting with different marketing approaches. First, of course, is Amazon KDP Select. I’m going to do a free day on Monday, August 26. This means the book is “on vacation” from BN Nook and Kobo. It’ll be back on sale there in November. In the meantime, if anybody needs an EPUB or PDF version, let me know in the comments.

We’ll see how effective this is.

In which…

I post on SelfPublishedAuthor.com about my own self-publishing experience.

Up at Barnes & Noble

So, for all EPUB fans, we’re now live at Barnes & Noble here.

I celebrate by folding laundry.

Another Thought About ISBNs (and Amazon)

Even back in the 1970s, when the ISBN was invented, bookselling happened person-to-person. People had to walk into stores and find books, and chances are a bookseller helped them.

The ISBN was invented to handle issues that arose from the installation of mainframe computers – in warehouses, bookstores, and publishing offices. These communications were pretty simplistic. “Is this book available?” “Yes.” “I would like to order 20.”

By 1998, when development on ONIX started, communications had gotten more complex because computers were interacting over networks, and the book information was ultimately being viewed (and used) by the consumer. ISBNs were critical then, even though Amazon did not require them, because of the rapid changes in the market – an ISO standard gave publishers a number on which to hang ONIX data, and they could be reasonably assured that because it was attached to a standard, that data would be accepted anywhere.

15 years later, communications amongst computers and networks have not gotten any simpler. They are more reliant on identifiers and metadata than ever before. In 1998, we had 900,000 books to communicate about. In 2013, we have 28 or 32 million (depending on how you count them, and I’m only supposed to use the 28 million number publicly) that we know of, and many more that we don’t know of. And when was the last time you walked into a bookstore and a bookseller helped you? (When was the last time you walked into a bookstore?)

Dozens of millions of books, over many many networks, are ultimately viewed by more consumers than ever before. And yet there is a vocal group arguing that standardization of information (and the ISBN in particular) is antiquated. “Print-related.”

The ISBN was invented because of digitization. To argue its demise due to ebooks is short-sighted. The media environment – books, newspapers, movies, television, radio and the music industry – is volatile right now. Companies are merging, and strange, inexplicable acquisitions are being made.

A movement away from standards – particularly standards that were created to deal with digitization – may be bucking the system. But the system isn’t always going to look like it does now. Standards at least give some continuity in a shifting market.

We’re Up At Amazon!

The Place Where I Come From is available from the Kindle Store at Amazon – and each of the stories in the cycle is available separately as well! So plenty of Delaware to immerse oneself in. Probably more than any sane person would want.

I’ve also set up an author page on Amazon.

This has been a tedious process – Guy Kawasaki is right when he states that using Word is the way to go. It proofs and spellchecks, to a degree – I’d missed a lot of typos due to scanning. I pasted the cleaned-up stories into Pressbooks, and then exported mobi and epub files.

Now on to Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Apple. It’s hard work, and boring, but ultimately rewarding. I think. Meanwhile, here’s a taste from the first story in the cycle:


We drove through New Jersey, through Philadelphia and Wilmington. The land got flatter and flatter, more and more sandy. As we headed south on Route 13, the houses and shopping malls gave way to fields of soybeans and corn. We were almost out of Delaware when the fan belt broke.

“You had to make this trip,”  Stephen said, as we pulled into a gas station near a sign that said, “Milton: If you lived here, you’d be home now.”

“It’s an old car,” I said. “We’re lucky it didn’t break down completely.”

“Then at least we could’ve gone home.”

“You can still go,” I told him. I went over to the gas station attendant.

“Is there a hotel here?” I said.

He pointed to a sandy lot across the highway, behind which was a very unimpressive weatherbeaten one-story building with a dingy sign next to it: “Milton’s Sunrise Hotel.”

I picked up my bag and started over. A few steps behind me, Stephen was snarling to himself. When we checked in, I took a shower and put on a dress. “I’m going to get something to eat,” I said. “You coming?”

He shook his head. I shrugged, slammed the door as I went out.

I walked downtown, past three churches and a factory, to a place called the Red Rail Lounge. The parking lot was filled with pickup trucks, and inside the restaurant were men in tee-shirts and dirty jeans, most of whom leered at me when I came in. I frowned back at them and got myself a burger and a Bud. A couple of guys tried to get me to dance, but they were greasy and sweaty, soaking through their tee-shirts, and most of them hadn’t shaved in about three weeks. I left before anything terrible could happen, and it was only ten o’clock whenI got back to the motel. I took another shower and got in my bed.

I’m Publishing A Book And I’m Terrified

After decades of giving advice to both publishers and authors, I’m eating the dog food. My book, “The Place Where I Come From,” will be released shortly. Here’s its description:

‘We drove through New Jersey, through Philadelphia and Wilmington. The land got flatter and flatter, more and more sandy. As we headed south on Route 13, the houses and shopping malls gave way to fields of soybeans and corn. We were almost out of Delaware when the fan belt broke.’

Milton, Delaware – a town at the Southern tip of the Delmarva Peninsula – is very flat, very sandy, and very small. “The Place Where I Come From” portrays the lives of small-town inhabitants just before the Internet became prevalent, in the 1970s and 1980s.

Influenced by Sherwood Anderson’s “Winesburg Ohio“, “The Place Where I Come From” is a precise depiction of a particular place in a particular time – when isolation and stillness haunted the lives of a small, rural town.

I wrote it many years ago, originally, as my college honors thesis. I added stories to it in the years after I graduated. And it’s just been sitting around – part of it in the Mount Holyoke College archives, the rest in various literary magazines.

To answer the obvious questions:

1. Yes, it has an ISBN for the epub version.

2. I am not publishing it in paper form quite yet – just digitally.

3. I used Pressbooks.

4. I received my thesis back as an image PDF from the college archives; I enrolled in a trial for Adobe Acrobat and OCR’d the file, and then edited it. I scanned the additional stories myself, OCR’d the files, and edited those. No part of this book has ever seen a Word document – that was not on purpose, but only because Word was never necessary.

5. Cover design by Vook, except for the Amazon version, where I used their cover generator.

6. I’m doing KDP, Nook Press, iBookstore, iTunes, and Kobo. I enrolled today and am working out the kinks on the vendor side.

7. None of this was hard, but that’s only because I understand the book industry from the inside out and knew exactly how to make a book.

8. If you are from Delmarva, or associated with it in any way, you might like this book. If you like Shirley Jackson, Alice Munro, Edwin Arlington Robinson, Sherwood Anderson, Stephen King, or William Carlos Williams, you might like this book (only because those are the book’s influences, not because this compares to ANYTHING they’ve ever done). If you are a teenager or college student, you might like this book.

9. Yes, I am experimenting with metadata. WE SHALL SEE.


UPDATE – the Kindle version has gone live here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00E3EO8I4

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