Goodbye August, September, October (almost)

26 10 2011

I suck. You wouldn’t believe how often I think about posting here but can’t find the time to do it. The rhythm of my job is very interesting. More interesting than I thought it would be. It’s very much a series of stops and starts, mostly high pressure with more to do than is really possible, yet occasionally the clouds lift and I find myself catching my breath. When those times do arrive, I mostly do just that and sit there, breathing and appreciating the short lapse, never knowing when the meat grinder is going to snap back into action. Such went September and such is it now, albeit slightly more predictable.

Long term intentions remain to continue with this writing. I’m not comfortable giving up my personal writing entirely, so I will return soon. I’m just currently a teensy bit surprised all the time when things do feel manageable, so I’m being cautious.

Well over a month without a post

26 08 2011

I am so sorry. Time’s just been so hard to come by lately and I’m still getting in the groove. Things are, however, going great and I expect I’ll be back at it soon enough. The interest to continue blogging is definitely there even if the resources aren’t. In fact, I was just considering a post the other day and even recorded a few thoughts on my phone as I drove to work. Perhaps I should take to podcasting my commute? I can only imagine that’d be the most boring thing ever.

Anyhow, I feel a bit out of the loop lately, but I’m hoping to get totally back into the groove in the next couple weeks.

The Pains of Self-Promotion

19 07 2011

Nathan Bransford is  a former literary agent turned children’s book author and everyone interested in writing and publishing should be following him. His blog is filled with insights about writing, his archives full of advice about querying agents, and his audience very knowledgeable and delightfully opinionated. He’s also had quite the busy week since he posted something to promote his book, Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow. His readers pounded on him pretty hard for this piece of self-promotion and he took his post down. Though I’ve never personally been in a situation where I’ve had the entire internet jump down my throat over something, I can imagine how he felt and I can imagine it wasn’t very good. As others on Twitter reminded him, the people who have a stake in the matter and the people who are actually in the know about these things, i.e., the experts, the fact is that it’s his blog and he should feel free to post what he wants in the manner he wants. Further, if he doesn’t promote his book, who will? Now the post is back up along with another on the nature of self-promotion and it’s to this one that I’d like to contribute my feelings on the subject, primarily from the point of view of a consumer, but also from someone who has also had to promote himself at times, someone who understands that necessary evil from a lot of different perspectives and as someone who tries to see things from the author’s perspective and how difficult it can be to not only get a book written, but to get it sold.

Right now, the nature of book publishing is changing dramatically. More and more books are being published and publishing houses are doing less and less of the promotion. Their budgets are stretched so thin they can only really promote the books that are already guaranteed bestsellers, so that if you’re one of the ones lucky enough to have a book coming out with an agent and publisher and the entire traditional path, you’re most likely going to see next to nothing done to sell your book beyond its distribution and the most basic of marketing. Self-publishing, which is now and will increasingly challenge the traditional modes of publication, is entirely reliant on the authors to promote their own works.

The problem, of course, lies in the fact that nobody likes to be overtly marketed to and authors in general tend to be somewhat clumsy about actually doing their own promotion; it’s consistently referred to as the thing they’re least comfortable doing. The stupidity of it all is that we as consumers are marketed to all the time. You’re hit with advertisements everywhere you go, all day long, from faceless companies selling products that you probably couldn’t care less about. And the funny thing about it is that we don’t really complain about that at all. But the second a small voice squeaks out and says, “Hey, I wrote a book, would you be interested in buying a copy?” out come the pitchforks and torches. Why is it that we’re totally okay with companies we don’t really like bombarding us with marketing, but we refuse the same to authors whose works (or at least the idea behind those works) we love? Because we’re all jerks, that’s why. We love to kick the underdog. We need to quit that.

The other half is that authors really do stink at marketing and promotion. They’re the worst at it, which is extraordinary because they already possess all of the tools they need to be fantastic at it but somewhere along the lines it all misfires. I mean, think about it: they can write well, they’re generally capable of empathy and seeing things from multiple perspectives, but a teensy bit of self-consciousness about the prospect of promotion causes them to fumble. Ask one to promote someone else’s work and they’ll do so with gusto and flair. Force to promote their work and you get: “Eeep…. my book you buy please? I no eat have in 16 days.”

That’s why I think authors should really take the time to read up on the subject and become comfortable doing it. It’s going to become more and more of a reality for them, so might as well. There are scores of books on the subject and many of them quite good at demonstrating what I think already most authors know but could stand to be reminded of. Because there is something good about marketing, too. It’s not monolithic evil, even if it’s the dark side with which we’re most familiar. Good marketing and promotion puts good products and good writing in the hands of the people who’d get the most out of it but would be unlikely to find it any other way. If you feel good about a work you’ve written, you’re doing a disservice not getting it out there. There is more to it than just “look at me” and actually, by having a popular blog and a trusted following, Nathan has already done it. If I could recommend a couple books, I’d read anything by Guy Kawasaki (Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions would be a good choice) or Bob Gilbreath’s The Next Evolution of Marketing: Connect with Your Customers by Marketing with Meaning or read Seth Godin’s blog. None of those addresses the specifics of marketing a book, but I consider that a feature. These are the guys who understand marketing at its most simple and I think most authors are capable of extrapolating from that a strategy to market themselves. Maybe at the least they’ll see that marketing isn’t the dark side.

For what it’s worth, I think everyone should read a couple books on marketing, not just authors. We’re all engaged in self-promotion all the time to a greater or lesser extent and if you’re not comfortable with saying anything good about yourself and what you can do, well, you’re probably going to have a hard time at your next job interview. So, maybe don’t read those two books which are a little less helpful in that regard but read something else and read Seth’s blog for sure. It’s all about realizing the value that you have in yourself and in the work you do and that you’re doing a favor to others by giving them the opportunity to be aware of it. Don’t just make it about money. We’re all more noble than that.

Finally, there’s the contingent that refuses to think that any promotion at all is unnecessary and is, in fact, harmful. To them, I kindly say “stuff it.” They don’t understand and they’re the exact reason you can’t just count on word of mouth or the quality of good writing to rise to the top simply be virtue of its awesomeness. The universe does not, in fact, take care of anyone that way and it’s exceptionally naive to think it does. One of the comments on his post actually said that. It also said that he should either charge for his blog or shut up, also known as a “false dilemma” in informal logic. I can’t stand people like that.

This, by the way, again reinforces in my mind the reason we should put more faith in the experts, those with authority, even at risk of being labelled “elitist.” The trained critic, not the Amazon reader comment, I think has the best chance of being our expert promoter of fine writing in the future, but I think that’s a discussion for another day. Suffice it to say that there are too many works and too many voices out there and it’s a sea of noise. Careful promotion that peeks out above the water has the best chance of getting the word out about the great works out there.


7 06 2011

Welcome to summer, everyone! 🙂

I’ve been in summer mode now for about a month, which means that I’ve basically screwed up my day-to-day routine (or had it screwed up or something like that) and I’m still wandering around the house mostly aimless. It’s good and bad. There are days, not many, but more than a few, where I’m on the computer for about an hour in the morning and that’s it for the whole rest of the day. Some days, I veg in front of the thing all day long. Others I’m running around with the kids all day. I’m busy, having fun, confused and bored all the same time. Aimless. Like I said, it’s good and bad. Anyway the wind blows, doesn’t really matter to me. That is summer. (No, I haven’t killed…. yet.)

I’ve also been trying, sometimes more successfully than others, to unplug from the internet and clear my head from reading the news all the time and being a complete slave to my RSS reader. When there’s nothing keeping you busy, it’s pretty easy to get outraged by every little thing. Like, this one time, I was reading a blog, and there was this guy there and he was totally wrong about something. On the internet. The nerve of it. Yeah, so it was time for me to shut ‘er down for a bit and find something more constructive to do with my time.

Meanwhile, real life continues apace and we’ve bought a house and haven’t yet closed on it, which is a source of much excitement and stress and worry. They make it look like so much more fun on TV. I hope to live in the house now for another 60 years or so (that’d make me 97, which I think would be a respectable showing in the longevity game), just so we don’t have to go through moving again. Although, I will say that I’m looking forward to having an office with a door on it, my own personal man-cave of higher learning, and to unpacking all my books again and putting them on bookshelves and being home again. My first post on this blog had to do with packing my books up, so I’m stoked at undoing that. Unfortunately, it won’t be happening until late in July.

One more really bad thing that I have to confess: I haven’t been reading anything. Nothing at all. I’ve been on a complete reading break. I finished reading Freedom about a month ago and I was completely blown away. It’s as good as everyone says, no question. It seriously is. The consequence is that I’ve let it work itself out in the back of my head for a few weeks and haven’t really felt like following it up with anything. Meanwhile, some books are stacking up because I don’t stop collecting things to read ever, even if my output goes to crap. I imagine a lot of that will change soon, though and I’ll get back in the swing. I’d like to write up my review of Freedom at some point, and I sketched out some notes, but I don’t know if I’ll get to it and, realistically speaking, does the world really need another review of it? Feel free to pick from the other billion or, better yet, just go get your hands on a copy and read it. Time well spent.

I have, however, started another new project: a new blog devoted to all things German. I mostly intend for the blog to be a place for me to consolidate materials and ideas that I’d like to discuss with anyone who is interested in German culture or language in a way that’s simple enough for a learner. Mainly, it’s a way for me to consolidate in my mind anything that I find of interest or any thoughts I might have that are related to German studies, German language, theater, art, music, food, culture, news, teaching, teaching materials and the like. I am a German teacher, I need to devote a good chunk of mental energy that direction and keep myself honest, and that’s going to be my place to share ideas and advocate for the study of German in all of its beautiful, sexy and apparently completely unfunny glory. I’ve decided to call this blog: Deutsch Schmeutsch. Still working on links and on an about page, but that’s all coming soon.

Otherwise, this weekend and for the next week we’re off on vacation! It’s very exciting and I’m looking forward to a little bit over a week of sunshine, beach, screaming children, good food, drinking beer in the afternoon and just not stressing about anything for a time. So, completely unshockingly, I’m just going to come right out and say that there probably won’t be a blog update between this Friday and about June 22 or so. Try not to cry.

Two more quick notes on books

21 04 2011

First, an awesome, simply awesome thing to hear about the ‘Guys Read’ book club for 15 boys aged 8-11 in West Mercer, Washington. More of this, please. I wish there had been something like this for me growing up and I hope there’s something like that for my son. Maybe we’ll even start it, who knows?

Second, Jennifer Egan dissed “chick-lit” and now Jennifer Weiner among others are dissing Egan and there’s just too much damn lit/genre snark going on on twitter. To get started, go go here. Weiner even started an #eganfail hashtag. And you know what really fails? All of it. Give me a break.

Kindle kommt nach Deutschland

21 04 2011

More interesting/exciting Kindle news comes today with its arrival in Germany and the opening of the German Kindle eBooks store. Which is really great if you’re living in Germany and want quick access to those bestsellers. For us in the States (or in the UK apparently, or anywhere else that isn’t Germany), it really doesn’t make much of a difference, because this is what you’ll see:

The Kindle Shop at Amazon.De is only accessible for customers from Germany, Austria or Switzerland.

Visit the Amazon.Com Kindle Shop to look for titles that are accessible in your country.

Temporarily living abroad? You can change your country setting on the My Kindle page.

Thus, I could set my Kindle to German, change my address to German, maybe even set up a new account and get my Kindle on it, or I could even try setting my PC to use the free Kindle software with a different account than my regular American account, but you see the point. The point is a restriction of access.

Boo. Getting your hands on international movies, music and books has always been such a pain and I’ll confess, I don’t understand what all the trouble is with international copyrights that it results in setting up artificial barriers to trade in the digital era. Music’s a prime example of this. Early on, when iTunes first came out, you were able to purchase German titles right off the iTunes Germany page. Now, you can no longer even access that part of iTunes, even though technologically that capacity obviously exists. In fact, what we should be looking at now is an increased sharing of ideas around the world, where you can get everything instantly in this supreme global market, where technology allows us to make all of these borders disappear… but no. No, instead everything is gated and the technology goes to waste.

I can make the same complaint about regional encoding of DVDs as well. It’s not like that’s going to change anytime soon, either. In fact, you can’t even watch streaming video from Germany on a lot of websites unless you spoof a German IP address. It’s frustrating and I struggle to see how any of that does much good for normal people.

There is an upside, though. It means that International Book Import Service, this wonderful business based in Lynchburg, Tennessee, from whom I’ve been buying my German books for going on 15 years now, doesn’t have to bother with that sort of competition. Plus, over time, their website has gotten better about listing titles and allowing you to order online (used to be you’d have to call in by phone, which also wasn’t bad because Barbara seemed to remember everybody by name – an era of personal relationships that is, sadly, dying if not dead now). And, I’m definitely in favor of small businesses such as theirs not being swallowed up by larger corporations, though I’ll admit that the ease of access and convenience that goes into buying a Kindle book is something I’d welcome.

Kindle and Overdrive = Hooray for Libraries

20 04 2011

I’ve said a number of times on this blog what a huge fan and how supportive I am of libraries and today, I’m just really feeling impressed with Amazon coming around and offering up their format to Overdrive. I know there are some, like the article I link to, who’ll say that it’s just Amazon bowing to the inevitable. To that point, I’ll say only two things, really.

First, are you sure that it was all that inevitable? In the vast scheme of things, Amazon is a big player now. Libraries still are, too, but there’s the impression that they’re waning, especially when cities and states balance their budgets during the recession. You just never know, but Amazon on the whole might have more clout and staying power than they’re given credit for. On the other hand, it helps to sell Kindles, which is their money making baby.

Second, Guy Gonzales said it better than I could:

Funny how pundits always give Apple benefit of the doubt, rarely to Amazon, though the latter is arguably more innovative and experimental.

I’m all for shaking my fist at big capital when it comes to publishing, as has been well documented. I don’t like it when a single retailer controls so much of the market and even less when they begin to dominate the almost the entire chain of book production; writers gotta write still, but after that, I can imagine a dystopia in which Amazon becomes the one and only source for the written word. I think the reasons for that dislike are probably pretty clear.

But credit where it’s due. This is a *good* thing Amazon’s doing, even if self-interest is involved. It’s hard to see how this isn’t a win for everyone and, especially, for books and libraries.