October 19th, 2009
Over the past few days, I’ve been trying to synthesize my thoughts about Book Camp Vancouver into some cohesive post that captures everything that happened over the couple of days. Beyond the networking and the bookish talking, I met some really great people who seem to be just as passionate about dealing with the issues within our industry and moving forward. As a friend tweeted, we just want people to read books and figure everything else out as we go along. In my case, I don’t care where or how people are reading books, just that they are reading. In short order here are the talking points (some from my own session on Content Would be King and some that arose from others) that have consumed me in the wee hours of the morning as my body stubbornly refuses to adjust to West Coast time:
1. As an industry on the whole we need to start separating our selling tools, our B2B assets from the messages we’re sending out D2C. We can’t keep using the same messaging for both and expecting the consumer to be thrilled. The audiences are different. These differences are crucial to creating content both around authors and books. We need to imagine strategy and technique to talk to both camps effectively and accurately.
2. Everyone is so panicked about losing traditional book sales and the impending ebook revolution that they’re focusing all their energy in the wrong direction. We shouldn’t be sitting up complaining that the physical book is disappearing. Let’s move beyond the fear and decide to push in the direction of having our content available cross-platform. This isn’t revolutionary; it’s just common sense. In my session, when a woman held up a notebook and proclaimed her deep love and affection for the format, I held up my blackberry. It’s not one or the other. I read books, ebooks, web content, web books, and once we can figure out a way to have all of these devices talk to each other, we’ll be golden. From commute to bedtime, you’ll be able to enjoy the same content — just because we want more options doesn’t mean we want the book to go away. This is a common misconception that just means we do more and more arguing and defending one position against the other. How about we meet in the middle and find a solution?
3. The internet/online/digital is not marketing’s slushpile. It’s not something you should be doing just because you think you have to but because you think it has value. It also can’t be an afterthought. It has to have clean, concise and effective strategy behind it. It’s another argument I can’t believe we’re all still having. It’s cache (cash) — not cache (cash-shay). Traditional marketing has the cache; big full-page ads in the Globe and Mail are incredible, but they don’t have the cache — the sticky power of the internet to hold on to every bit of information that gets posted. We need to push the power of the cache and keep driving as much content as possible. Eventually we’ll get to conversion, which is what everyone wants.
4. We have a problem with revenue, not audience. This was revolutionary with me; it’s almost as if it freed my mind to accept the fact that the seismic shift needs to encompass new business models.
5. More and more the truly brilliant people I come into contact with, whether they work at the chain or for an independent bookstore, whether they’re readers, bloggers or writers, whether they’re in the press or starting up an online business, are open to saying good-bye, and in shocking ways, to the way things have always been done. Some of the most interesting conversations I had weren’t just about what wasn’t working but about what we can do within the confines of the business itself.
There’s so much more that I’m sure I’ll be talking about as the days go by and my brain keeps mulling over and over how to truly move forward in a way that gets everyone paid. Holler back your thoughts and let me know if I’m truly crazy or if you think, like I do, that we can get there too.
June 10th, 2009
Thoughts of BookCampTO are still funneling around my head, and one in particular — Mitch Joel (@mitchjoel) (much quoted and oft-called upon) after stating a very obvious fact that authors should come to their online presence with a strategy and not feel they need to jump into every social media avenue available to them, said something akin to: “What does it mean if you’ve only got three followers on Twitter? You suck.”
By definition then, little old me with my barely 130-odd followers, sucks. My teeny little book blog has never exploded or made me rich. It’s never gotten me a book deal. I barely have 6 followers (I think). So overall, does my online persona suck balls in his eyes? Is audience the only thing that matters? Is my platform over even before it began? I was having a crisis of online consciousness after hearing that because deep down I’ve never put the words up here for anything other than the pure pleasure of typing one letter after the other.
Maybe that’s short-sighted of me. Another friend at BookCamp TO mentioned that she was going to spend the good part of the upcoming year just ‘getting her name out there.’ And I do recognize the importance of putting yourself forth as an expert, as someone with valuable opinions to share, as someone with thoughts that are worth expressing, and I did some of that this weekend.
However, I’ve been hiding behind a “pen name” for years, never wanting my online life to converge with my offline life. I enjoy the bliss of anonymity. But it’s been years since I published anything under “ragdoll” — it was a holdover from the years of recapping at Television Without Pity. And then came the Boss From Hell incident where I did a lot of complaining after I lost a job I wasn’t all that fond of anyway. The need not to get sued (as dooced was no longer an option) was foremost in my mind. Now my online life and offline life are so mixed up there’s no easy way to keep them separate.
I was afraid of speaking up at BookCampTO simply because I like being a little behind the scenes. I like thinking what I think and sharing those opinions with like-minded individuals who love me for who I am not what I do. Anyone who was there knows that I got over that rather quickly and couldn’t quite help myself but to open my mouth and let some thoughts spew forth. So maybe I need a bit of a retool, a bit of a rethink, maybe I need a 2.0 or a 3.0 version of myself that’s not afraid to step from one side of the internets to the other worried that people will find out that I type more often than I think.
But then, Sassymonkey’s intelligent and thoughtful post “Can’t we just stop with “right” and “wrong”” also got me thinking yesterday that maybe Mitch Joel, as smartypants as he is, perhaps spoke a bit too quickly — that there’s nothing wrong with having three followers if you’re happy and pleased with your online life. That if you enjoy using the technology and its ability to add value to your life, that’s all that matters. Not all of us are here to find a way to do much more than say what might be on our minds. Even if it is behind a cloak of a poorly conceived moniker that came out of hearing a truly awful Aerosmith song that was stuck in one’s head for far longer than it should have been.
So, I don’t think I’ll take the “ragdoll” off the site any time soon. I mean, truly, all I want to do here is talk about good books. And I think that’s probably okay, right?
June 8th, 2009
Giving up a hard-earned Saturday isn’t always easy, and I’m so glad that the experience of BookCamp TO made it worthwhile. Billed as an unconference, Book Camp TO brought together a wide variety of bookish folks, some from the big publishers like me, some from smaller publishers, some writers, some marketers, the list goes goes on, for a day of discussion around the future of book publishing. In a way, I think it would be worthwhile for us to move past the idea that the future is coming and just accept the fact that the future is here. It’s not something we need to bemoan or begrudge, but look at and decide what we want to do in terms of what’s right for any particular author or business.
The biggest takeaway for me from the day would be a point that @janinelaporte made early in the day: “content is content and it doesn’t matter how you get it, just that you get it.” I’m in a unique position, having come up through the ranks of online vs. general publishing, accepting the fact that content is malleable has never been an issue for me. The fact that people can read in so many different ways isn’t a threat, it’s an opportunity, and ensuring that we figure out the right way for everyone to get paid, the possibilities are limitless. We spend too much time as an industry (forgive me, but it’s true) whining about the death of traditional publishing.
Again, maybe it’s just my sunny personality (not, yawn) but I’m really tired of all the complaining. Book sales are up in Canada. Anyone who takes the TTC knows that there are at least 7-10 people in each car with an open book on their laps (I am usually the only one with a Sony Reader). Mobile devices and downloadable reading applications are the fastest growing segment in that industry. Sure, we don’t have a Kindle yet, but even the hint of a story that Indigo intends to create their own device has me all atwitter. Never before in the history of the bricks and mortar business has such innovation made such evolution possible. We just need to get over the mindset that we’re in the book industry and not in the business of creating content.
That doesn’t mean that all of our authors are commodities, nor does it mean that books as they have existed will cease to exist, but simply that we need to explore the opportunities of doing things differently. Why can’t we celebrate this fact? Why are we always focusing on what we’re doing wrong and what we’ve lost (who actually misses that Globe stand-alone Books section please raise your hand?) instead of imagining all of the great stuff that’s going to happen once we make that simple shift in conception? Authors are important. Books are important. None of that is going to change by the nature of how one gets their content, whether it’s a mobile phone or a magazine. Whether they’re listening to it via an iPod or whether they’ve cracked the spine on a freshly bought tome from Book City. I want it all to survive. In fact, I’ve staked my family’s livelihood on that fact that it will — or else what am I even doing in the business in the first place?
I had so many interesting conversations on Saturday that trying to dispel them into one singular blog post might not be helpful, but for me, the best part of the day was hanging out with smart, interesting, intelligent people who all feel passionately about the survival of books in general. And if anything, I learned that my unique position: as an author, as a blogger, as a person who works at a publishing company, has knowledge that’s actually worth sharing. Funny thing, that.
December 29th, 2008
I’m back at it today, culling, organizing, tidying up, all kinds of busy activities to rid my life of clutter. It’s an ongoing battle. I feel kind of like Henry V at Agincourt but without the poetry of Shakespeare.
Have you voted for your “Obama’s playlist” song yet? I just sent in a note about my RRHB’s song “The City.” Are we taking bets to see how many terribly lame and utterly overused Canadian music will actually end up on the list? To be truthful, the music should be more than simply by a Canadian artist but truly reflect who we are as a country. Not an easy task, I’m sure.
I finally got around to reading the weekend paper this morning only to discover (where have I been?) that Harold Pinter passed away. J. Kelly Nestruck’s tribute was lovely but I was inspired by Pinter’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech:
It’s a strange moment, the moment of creating characters who up to that moment have had no existence. What follows is fitful, uncertain, even hallucinatory, although sometimes it can be an unstoppable avalanche. The author’s position is an odd one. In a sense he is not welcomed by the characters. The characters resist him, they are not easy to live with, they are impossible to define. You certainly can’t dictate to them. To a certain extent you play a never-ending game with them, cat and mouse, blind man’s buff, hide and seek. But finally you find that you have people of flesh and blood on your hands, people with will and an individual sensibility of their own, made out of component parts you are unable to change, manipulate or distort.
So language in art remains a highly ambiguous transaction, a quicksand, a trampoline, a frozen pool which might give way under you, the author, at any time.
November 6th, 2008
I’m a little foggy-headed this morning so in between fiddling with HTML code for work, I surfed the rounds and discovered:
1. I am usually the last to see these things. That doesn’t make them any less disturbing (totally NSFW).
2. Like so many people in the world, I celebrated the results of the US election. But this picture / piece of art grabbed my attention because when you see so clearly the stunning truth of history in the making it’s really quite incredible.
Now I’m going back to my code.
July 8th, 2008
May 20th, 2008
May 13th, 2008
So, I’ve become mildly obsessed with Twitter. It’s so fun! But it’s also kind of addictive. I absolutely love the little updates. But perhaps because I’m wicked tired today (I haven’t slept since Sunday night) the whole online world is blurring into one giant fuzzy mess.
Baby steps, right? 4 AM came close to breaking my brain in half after many, many hours of reading, drinking tea, reading some more, closing the light, lying there panicked and awake, until I finally decided just to get up. And while I threw up this morning because I was so tired my whole body was upset, I did manage to get the bits of the manuscript revised enough that I’m only mildly embarrassed to give it to my friend in editorial. She’s going to do substantive edits, and then I’m going to rewrite the whole book for the second time. I figure that’ll take me until the end of the summer (if all goes according to plan) and then by the fall I’ll start preparing myself for the rejection that’ll come along with trying to find an agent.
The book is still kind of a mess. There are big problems with it but for now I need someone else’s eyes and mind to look at it as a whole and tell me where to go next. Even now, I’m amazed I’m still typing.
May 6th, 2008
Yes, it’s that time again. My royalty cheque landed in my mailbox today. There were smiles.