You are currently browsing the monthly archive for September 2008.

Sorry I’ve been away from the blog for a few weeks. More travel and even, selfishly, some carefully hoarded time away for my own writing, joy! I’ve got some meatier blog posts brewing but here are some links to some fantastic articles to keep you going until then.

From Print to E, Some Items to Consider – Booksquare
Kassia Krozser has some fantastic suggestions for publishers who want to get e-books right. I particularly support her ideas regarding royalties and rights. Authors are wary of e-boook business models because the profitability for publishers (whether some or none) is so opaque. Open it up, show you’re about collaboration and sharing, and authors will follow.

Target, Serve and Adapt: A Simple Model for Audience Development – Tools of Change for Publishing
Living as we are in an attention economy, it’s useful for publishers to think about how they can target niches. This article from TOC looks at two examples of publishers – Politico and – who are getting big by thinking small.

Bookkake; Or, putting my money where my mouth is –
James Bridle of booktwo has launched an admirable new project called Bookkake, a print on demand publishing service of classic literature. The new website is fantastic – simple, elegant with excerpts, introductions and multiple e-book editions available for free download. You can order p-book editions on the site which will be printed and shipped directly to you. Fingers crossed for this one! This is exactly the kind of model that the Literature Board of the Australia Council could adopt to return classic Australian literature to readers, instead of whinging that publishers don’t support unsustainable traditional print runs of it.

Author Questions: Distribution – Joe Wikert’s Publishing 2020 Blog
Joe Wikert has a neato series going about questions authors should ask their publishers. Joe says,”Far too frequently it seems like the critical discussions between author and editor focus on things like writing schedules and compensation packages.  While those are certainly important subjects there are plenty of others that need to be covered as well”. The first topic he deals with is distribution.

This weekend Rob and I watched the movie The Fall.

It is simply glorious.

That’s all I have to say. We return you to your regular programming.

There are pretty tried and true methods of getting a publisher to look at your book manuscript. There are only so many pathways. You write a manuscript and either take your chances in the slush, find yourself an agent, or more rarely, leverage a contact or referral that gets your manuscript in front of someone who can do something with it. Regardless of which pathway you find yourself on, the method of presentation doesn’t change much. A pitch or synopsis and some sample chapters for a novel. A proposal or outline for non-fiction.

What about digital? If you’re a savvy author with a great pitch for a digital publishing project, how do you talk to a publisher about it? Who’s even listening? Can innovative digital projects only be conceived and driven by publishers or specialist companies like 4th Story Media which is doing The Amanda Project, or are publishers interested in hearing ideas from authors themselves?

Quite a few authors I talk to these days are already thinking ahead to digital channels as they develop their manuscripts. For some, this is marketing oriented and they make plans for promoting the book in various online platforms. But for others, their story is digital native and the online channels are integral to the telling of the narrative.

We need new protocols that assist authors to start the conversation with foreward-thinking publishers who are interested in input from all kinds of places.

I was sure that I wrote a blog post about Penguin UK’s Spinebreakers website when it was launched, but a quick search of the archives reveals I only dreamed I did. Nevertheless, I’ve been meaning to write another (first) post for a while. The site has been operating for more than a year now and it has really grown into the lively online space for young readers that it always promised to be.

Here’s what I love and admire about Spinebreakers:

  • it’s an online book community for teenagers… run by teenagers. The editorial team is aged between 13 and 18 years and clearly changes and refreshes regularly. I’ve seen at least one call out for new contributors and editors since I’ve been following the site.
  • Spinebreakers welcomes your content, instead of just talking at you about books. The site is chock full of opportunities to contribute content, whether it be writing book reviews, submitting video poems, making book trailers,  or writing an alternative chapter for your favourite book.
  • The editorial team are fantastic curators. This not a my Space-style social network. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but we have plenty of them already!) The Spinebreakers Crew of more than 30 teenagers keep up a constant stream of quality author interviews, writing tips, book info, short stories and, yes, commentary. I have the RSS feed in Google Reader and would probably get more than a dozen items a day from Spinebreakers. It’s fresh.
  • Spinebeakers is an experience not just a website. The best part of all (except for me living in Australia) is that Spinebreakers have branched out into live events such as author talks and writing workshops. The first Spinebreakers Live, on July 25th, was a muster of more than 50 teenagers who worked with mentors on film creation, music production and creative writing. (As I so often do these days, I found myself whingeing “they didn’t have anything that cool when I was a teenager!”)

I wrote a while back about deep niches and the potential for publisher-driven sites to realise the value of vertical channels. Spinebreakers, along with the new website, are examples of exciting initiatives in this direction. Of course, I can’t know if or how Spinebreakers has impacted on Penguin’s book sales of YA fiction but I do know they have attracted a loyal and active audience, including me!

Arts Research Monitor notes two recent reports relevant to authors and publishers. The research is from the Canadian industry but is of general interest.

Book publishing industry
Statistics Canada has released its most recent summary of the Canadian book publishing industry, noting that total revenues were $2.1 billion in 2006, down 1.2% from the previous year.

The Impact of Digitization on the Book Industry
The title of this report is self-explanatory. Commissioned by the Association of Canadian Publishers, the report recommends strategies for Canadian publishers to stay abreast of the changes wrought by digitization and adopting emergent best practice.

There are some strong recommendations, not all of which I agree with, but then I’m more author than publisher. There is some quite detailed discussion about rights, acquisition and ownership of digital files, as well as some interesting thoughts about the challenges of contract negotiations and balancing the needs of publishers and creators.

I think it’s odd that the ACP report doesn’t touch on DRM at all, nor Creative Commons. It is telling that the report is made available for free only in a web-based PDF viewer (one that you can’t search), yet can be purchased on the ACP’s website for $75. Definitely worth a read, especially by authors and agents looking for clues about what publishers are thinking about rights.

I’m truly bummed not to be able to go to National Young Writers Festival (NYWF) this year. Instead, I’ll be heading west with QWC’s Programming Director Julie Beveridge, with Neil Diamond on the iPod apparently, visiting the fine citizens of Roma, Cunnamulla, Goondiwindi and Toowoomba to present QWC events.

That road trip is going to be fab and I can’t wait to see what the writers of those towns are working on. But having just checked out the NYWF program on their site I’m really sorry to miss it. This is exciting stuff, and despite the name, is a festival that any one of any age would enjoy and be stimulated by. There’s a killer line-up of guests including Marcus Westbury, Mark Davis, Amy Barker, Lisa Dempster, Simon Worthington, and Michael Webster. NYWF also presents the kind of events that seem to be mostly absent from the mainstream writers festivals in capital cities, events such as Web2Pod how-to workshops, StreetSpoken, a spoken word tour of Newcastle’s hidden locations and Get Lost! (with me), an interactive art adventure combining photography and storytelling in public and private spaces around the festival.

In every nook and cranny of the festival program there’s something to do, say, create and participate in, a much more energetic and active focus than writers festivals where the emphasis is on listening and observing. That’s not a criticism of the major capital city festivals, but more an observation that the audiences are different, and I don’t mean that NYWF is targeted at young people. The audiences are different because NYWF is aimed at writers, makers, producers and curators, rather than readers and the general public. Or, looked at from a different angle, NYWF assumes its audience wants to write as well as read, create as well as consume.

So, while I’m dodging kangaroo carcasses on the Moonie Highway singing along to Sweet Caroline (thanks, Jules), I hope you will be at the National Young Writers Festival making your own zine and remixing some lit.

I laughed myself stupid over this tale of woe from John Warner of TOW Books. Nobody ever made failure sound so bloody funny.

How badly are we struggling? Well, we’ve released four books. Their Amazon rankings at the time of this typing are:


The most distressing part is that last number belongs to a book I wrote, So You Want to Be President? — a book that should have been especially relevant and timely given that it’s a guide to running for office when totally unqualified. I hope it’s in Governor Palin’s briefing materials.

But there’s a hopeful ending. John has actually hit upon a fantastic strategy for attracting new readers and spreading the word about TOW Books. It’s so appealing, in fact, that I’m heading over to the site now to get my free book. Who knows if it will help, but Warner doesn’t sound particularly worried:

When asked about how he intends to generate revenue under this new model, Warner scoffed. “Revenue! This is publishing we’re talking about. Everyone says we’re going down the tubes anyway. I’m just delaying the inevitable by having us lose less money more quickly … or something like that.”

Read the full story
[via Booksquare]

Bob Stein has published a brilliant piece over at if:book about the paradigm of the book in a networked world, and the role authors/ readers/ editors/ publishers can play in generating and curating ‘book’ content. I place those quotation marks deliberately because Stein interrogates the notion of the book as artefact, whether print or multimedia, and discusses how this concept has changed as we’ve evolved into a networked society. 


Image: GavinBell

“Reading and writing have always been social activities, but that fact tends to be obscured by the medium of print. We grew up with images of the solitary reader curled up in a chair or under a tree and the writer alone in his garret. The most important thing my colleagues and I have learned during our experiments with networked books over the past few years is that as discourse moves off the page onto the network, the social aspects are revealed in sometimes startling clarity. These exchanges move from background to foreground, a transition that has dramatic implications.”

This is essential reading but Bob is also encouraging comments and discussion.

Link to article: A unified field theory of publishing in the networked era by Bob Stein
Visit the Institute for the Future of the Book

Ebook readers: it’s a war story – Times Online
Mark Harris finds that DRM, price and limited range of titles all undermine the eReader hype in the UK, but mostly DRM.

Small Book Publishers Offered New Technology – The NY Times
Getting together with your friends to buy as a group can make some things cheaper,  like wine, books and, of course, digital publishing services! Perseus unveils Constellation. This is fantastic for indie publishers. [via Booksquare]

How to find love, literally – The Independent
Search for a good book… find a date! Penguin plays match maker. Oh boy!

Bloomsbury unveils academic imprint – The Bookseller
A goal kicked for Creative Commons. Bloomsbury is launching a new “on demand” academic imprint that will make titles available online for free under non-commercial CC licences. Looks like Richard Charkin is making his presence felt at his new home.

Buy to Own versus Rent to Read – Brave New World
Wot he said. (Although written from the perspective of someone in the UK with flexible data/broadband plans. If only it were so in Australia! *sigh*)

Cory Doctorow (Photo by Bart Nagle)

Cory Doctorow Photo: Bart Nagle

Cory Doctorow, author of Little Brother, has written an elegant analysis of micropayments and the intangible costs they could impose on writers hoping to skip all the intermediaries and sell direct to readers.

When you take money directly from someone, they become your customer, a relationship that’s fundamentally different from the “writer-reader” relationship that you get when the reader is the publisher’s customer.


Cory’s argument is made in the context of an earlier essay about digital distribution. Rather than trying to sell a gazillion digital works for a tiny amount each, focus instead on making it easy for people to give you a decent amont of money when you blow across their path. Except, he said it prettier, and with a dandelion metaphor. Go read it.

[via Boing Boing]

Contact Kate Eltham

kate.eltham {at}

Creative Commons Licensed