Category Archives: publishing

A Writer Friend Finds Me On Facebook And Reviews My Novel


Ah, my love/hate relationship with social networking websites.  But I have to admit, when it comes to my novel The Metal Girl, Facebook and Twitter have become magical, almost mystical forces. 

A writer friend popped up the other week, whom I haven’t seen in over 15 years.  (We knew each other in New York City, and I left 10 years ago).  She found me on the Facebook page of someone I don’t even know, but who wanted to “friend” me and seemed interesting, another writer.   Jeanne is a wonderful writer, and I was delighted to hear from her.  She promptly downloaded the Kindle version of my book and read it.  Here is her lovely and very kind review:

“I met Judy Sandra in the early 1990s at the East Village apartment of writer/translator Ursule Molinaro. There, we sat around a table and read our stories – mostly tales of transgression and youthful exploration – aloud. Our workshop was more intimate than those held at The New School, NYU or the 92nd Street Y. We drank wine, smoked Gauloises, and got personal. The group eventually broke up, as writers groups do, and all we went our separate ways.

Now, almost 20 years later, a name pops up on a distant “friend’s” Facebook page. A name and a title. Memories return. I can barely wait to download Judy Sandra’s The Metal Girl on my Kindle. As I read it, I vaguely remember the night we critiqued one scene or another, or the night Judy hit on the book’s resonant title. Rather, I’m immersed in this story I remember as good, really good. Yet, it’s changed somehow – with time, it’s gotten even better.

The Metal Girl is an intriguing story, simply told, about a young woman’s wandering in a foreign country at an age (and in an era) when every meeting or confrontation was a clue to piecing together the essential self. The book is strikingly different from much of the other memoir/fiction I’ve read in that there’s not a single false note, not a moment of empty showmanship, self-mythologizing, or gratuitous sexuality. I notice after, not during, the writer’s command of language, how skilled she is at drawing me through Copenhagen, seeing it through the narrator’s eyes as I ache for her dilemmas. I think its pleasure lies in this character’s exploration of truths about human nature that are not just personal, but universal. Her internal life blossoms within me as I read it.

For a moving story-within-a-story, go to the writer’s website (https://jsmedia.wordpress.com/2010/01/28/the-reverend-the-house-church-the-novel-the-resurrection/) and read about The Metal Girl’s resurrection in a church basement. I highly recommend this book whose time, I feel, has finally come.”

To read Jeanne Dickey’s wonderful short stories, go to:  http://www.fictionaut.com/users/jeanne-dickey

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Profiles in Publishing #3: Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, Chief Executive Optimist of Marketing


Profiles in Publishing is a continuing investigation into the brave new world of publishing at JS Media Blog by Judy Sandra.  PIP will be a series of articles and interviews about methods and movers, reporting on who is exploring, who is inhabiting and who is succeeding in the new publishing landscape.

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez (pronounced “gui” as in “guillotine”) is the Director of Programming & Business Development at Digital Book World, a company that helps and educates publishers and publishing professionals about digital publishing through their events, the annual Digital Book World Conference, webscasts and other resources. With a background as a poet, blogger and marketing strategist, Guy is probably the most sanguine publishing pundit on the scene today, who believes in “the power of publishing as a community service”.  Calling himself a “Chief Executive Optimist”, Guy insists that “The Future of Publishing Is Bright”. 

I called the optimistic Loudpoet.com blogger and encountered a rather soft-spoken marketer:

JS: What do we need to know that’s different about marketing books today?
GG: A the end of the day, I don’t believe the fundamental rules of marketing have changed much. One still needs to know how to position a book and how to engage its audience. Today there are just more tools and outlets available to do that, but if you don’t bring those marketing basics to the table, the new tools won’t help. Some channels will be more effective than others and the Internet has made possible more cost-effective marketing, more opportunities to experiment. In the past, books used to have to be in bookstores, and that was what publishers did best.

JS: You claim that the Internet is a more effective marketing tool. How so?
GG:
The Internet transformed the book business model from marketing to bookstores – wholesale – to marketing to consumers – retail. It created opportunities to reach more readers directly, and for them to reach each other directly, without solely depending on traditional intermediaries.

JS: What are some of the advantages of the Internet for books?
GG:  The Internet allows you to connect with communities. Some advantages are the ability to target niche markets and engage directly with readers. Publishers and authors can sell directly to readers. The cost to market through digital channels, such as Google Adwords, blogs, and video, is significantly less costly than running a full-page ad in The New York Times, or a TV commercial, like those for James Patterson’s books.

For example, Digital Book World’s parent company, F+W Media, Inc., has various niche platforms that integrate their magazines, books and events under one brand and offer enthusiasts a place to engage with their products and services, but more importantly, with each other. In the past, magazines created de facto communities by cultivating a base of subscribers with common interests, but usually for the benefit of advertisers. With the Internet, many magazines have been able to evolve into serving the needs of the community first, in some cases lessening their dependence on advertising and, interestingly, making them even more valuable as advertising channels because they’re so targeted.

JS: You’ve said that you feel that publishing  is “a community service”.  What do you mean by that?
GG:
My personal approach to publishing is that a publisher should stand for something, whether it’s political, literary, educational, or even purely commercial. Their brand should communicate something specific to readers, booksellers and authors, or else it’s just a supplier of commodities.

JS: When publishing houses were small private businesses, publishers were known for their brand, for example Alfred Knopf for fine literature. Then they got bought and merged into larger companies, until we are now left with a handful of major publishing conglomerates. What effect did that have on the industry?
GG:
: I’m not a fan of conglomeration in general, and it’s had a negative effect on publishing across the board, putting the emphasis more on the bottom line and not as much on curating ideas. Publishers should be doing something more than looking for the next blockbuster. I agree with Pablo Defendini of Open Road, who has said that “publishers should be idea advocates”.  Publishers should publish books for a specific audience, because the need for that book exists. In my opinion, when a book bombs it’s either because it simply wasn’t good or the publisher didn’t find its audience. If the former, it shouldn’t have been published; if the latter, shame on the publisher.

JS: Would you agree that it’s not just a marketing problem, that the profit motives of conglomerates have changed how books are produced and marketed?
GG: Yes, the result has been a commodification of books, feeding the supply chain whether the demand is there or not, and now the vast majority of books get published with little to no marketing support. A book will get thrown on a shelf for a month or so, if it’s lucky, but no one other than the author knows that it’s there. I think some business models will have to change, like huge advances, but it all comes down to marketing. The Internet is not a magic bullet, just another marketplace, one where readers have a lot more power and control. Marketing is the killer app, and understanding how that marketplace works will be critical to publishers’ long-term success.

JS: Do you think the decline in book sales is a question of marketing or numbers?
GG:  It’s both. Look at the number of independent bookstores today. About 10 years ago in the U.S., there were over 4,000 independent booksellers, but as of last year, there are less than 1,500 left. The big chains are struggling, with Borders on the ropes and Barnes & Noble potentially up for sale. Amazon.com made the situation even worse, but the chains’ superstore model combined with the conglomerate publishing structure effectively turned books into widgets. While the bookstores have suffered, Amazon has been steadily innovating, focused on their long-term goals and putting customer service and maximum selection first, sometimes even ahead of short-term profits.

JS: Isn’t that a good thing? Customers rule and every book is available?
GG: Yes, to a degree. With the Amazon model, every book is potentially a front list book, but that means every new book that’s shoved into the supply chain is competing with the back list in ways they didn’t have to in the past. There’s no need to take any book off of a virtual shelf and replace it with something new. That’s great for readers, and for Amazon’s long tail model, but it’s a dramatic shift for publishers.

JS: What can publishers and authors do to get ahead of this dilemma?
GG:  In the past, buying a book was the final step. But that’s evolved in the digital era. Ariana Huffington, of The Huffington Post, recently made a great point that publishers should “use books as a conversation starter and to use the power of online connections.” Nowadays, after a book is read, many people are going online to disscuss it, review it, share it with others via their social networks. There are a lot of new technologies like the websites Goodreads and Get Glue, built around connecting people via the books that they read and enjoy. Publishers should be looking to encourage and foster these conversations, engaging with their readers as opposed to just relying on bookstores to sell books for them. The Internet has leveled the playing field for distribution but made it even more difficult to be heard.

JS: That is a marketing paradox. Right?
GG: Yes, but the power structure really isn’t going to change that much. Big publishers still have the leverage and the reach to connect with the most readers, if they adjust their approach to marketing to take advantage of it.

JS: The big question is:  where does this leave authors?
GG: For the most part, the majority of readers today are fans of authors–not publishers. Authors will have far more opportunities than they ever had to reach more readers, but with far more challenges in figuring out where to allocate their time. Many bemoan the increased expectations of them for marketing themselves, and publishers need to help them be as effective as possible, and then be able to amplify those efforts to a degree that clearly adds value. I believe we ain’t seen nothing yet. It’s the wild, wild west out there.

JS: How does Digital Book World fit into the current publishing spectrum?
GG: At DBW we focus on sorting through all of the distruption and attempt to identify the strategies publishers can use to navigate through the disruption. For example, the current controversy around e-books are a symptom of a much larger transition. E-commerce changed everything, and most publishers didn’t see the endgame until it was too late. Amazon.com is fascinating because they’ve been around for 15 years but didn’t record their first net profit until 2002. And they’re not only a retailer but a technology company that offers web services like cloud storage, which is a huge business for them.

DBW is built around professional development, events and networking. We hold a series of free and paid webcasts, as well as our annual conference in January. Our audience is primarily publishers, publishing professionals, marketing and editorial professionals, digital strategists, and authors who are independent-minded or want to self-publish effectively.

JS: How would you characterize the current publishing business?
GG: We are now in a period of constant change. The publishing business is undergoing a dramatic shift, from predominantly wholesale to a hybrid of wholesale and retail. In addition to the traditional book publishers, there are more options for publishing, from independents, who are trying experimental models, to various forms of self-publishing.

JS: What is the biggest marketing challenge for publishers at the moment?
GG:
To change their marketing strategy that focuses on booksellers first to one that puts readers first. The tools are available, but the skill set isn’t necessarily there. Yet.

JS: Is there any marketing advice you would like to give to publishers for now and the future?
GG:
  The readers are out there, and the tools to reach them are out there; publishers and authors have to figure out how to make the connection to readers. It’s about the strategy, not the tools, though, and the current strategy isn’t reader-centric. Ultimately, publishers will have to be willing to experiment with different models until they find the one that suits their strategy, not the one that’s being promoted as the new shiny.

(The next Digital Book World Conference will be held in New York City on January 25-26, 2011. Click on link for details.)

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Profiles in Publishing #1: Why On Earth Would I Want a Book Contract?


Profiles in Publishing is a continuing investigation into the brave new world of publishing at JS Media Blog by Judy Sandra.  PIP will be a series of articles and interviews about methods and movers, reporting on who is exploring, who is inhabiting and who is succeeding in the new publishing landscape.
————–
We live in a whole new publishing world. I released my independently published book The Metal Girl (JSM Books) last month. Naturally, I sent an announcement to a personal mailing list. The first sale that I know about is a new acquaintance who excitedly emailed me, “I just bought your book on Kindle!”

Sale #1 = Kindle. I was more stunned that the first sale was on a Kindle, than I was that there was a sale. What to think.

This post began as an email to a writer/publishing industry colleague about an article we both read concerning the current state of the publishing industry and included several observations about self-publishing. From the writer’s point of view, the argument rested on, what seemed to me, the not so accurate conclusion that the ultimate “prize” of self-publishing is to land a book contract by a traditional publishing house. Really?

To be fair, this may be the goal for some. But it’s not mine. Why on earth would I want to sign such a bad contract, based on every outdated business model there is and extremely exploitive and non-remunerative to the owner/holder of the intellectual property? The author.

One wonders how many of those who say they want a book contract have actually read one. I have. I spent 23 years living in New York City, working in and around the publishing/media/arts business and have a number of writer and traditionally published author friends.

Let’s leave celebrities and huge commercial blockbusters out of the mix. Publishers didn’t market or promote the average author much in the past and now they do less than ever. Secondly, I’m a literary author, and major publishers abandoned us go a long time ago.

I published my book myself. I am now going to use my own language, because I find the phrase “self-published” cumbersome at best and mis-directed. I am going to call it “independent publishing”, or, if you like, “indie publishing”. As I’m also an indie musician and have been working with independent filmmakers, this feels about right. I’m an indie.

I created JSM Books as an imprint, so I am the “publisher” and am using  Outskirts Press as my printer/distributor. They are a hybrid company and act like a real sales/distribution company. I have an ISBN number and  barcode, I’m listed in Books in Print, books are available to the trade through Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and I’m POD on Amazon.com worldwide and Barnes & Noble.com. Through Outskirts I have the option to be represented in Frankfurt and other book fairs, if I want.

My great advantage, of course, is that I’m also a professional
brand strategist/marketer/promoter and had a client last year, who was the author of a non-fiction book about filmmaking. So I am probably one of the best people to promote my book that I know. I have the savvy of both old school and new media promotion.

About that experience, let me count the ways that my client’s major traditional publisher did not spend any money on marketing. The author had a huge platform to stand on, an enormous mailing list, was well known within her field, yet they would not give us any money to launch the book. Nada. And we asked. Not a penny, not a cupcake. They sent one large poster stuck to poster board. I set up the book signing/launch, begged the indie book store manager to order 50 books instead of the 25 she wanted to order, and we had an almost sellout event–sold 40 books in three hours.

I won’t say anything untoward about the in-house publicist who was assigned to the book, because I think she did a very good job, was great with the client and helpful and generous to me, but she had ten other books to promote and, again, no marketing budget. I got most of the high profile press for the client, and wrote all of her promotional materials. She paid for this out of her own pocket. Because of her established reputation, the good press (it’s an excellent book) and her speaking opportunities, which she created for herself, the book is now a bestseller in the film category on Amazon.com.

Fresh out of this experience, I had a miraculous encounter with my second  novel. You can read the whole account here, but the short version is that the original manuscript was discovered by a wonderful reader, who loved the book and found me on Facebook, which encouraged me to publish it myself. At this point, there are so many reasons why I don’t want a contract that it’s hard to categorize them but let me start with eight big reasons, that have to do with bookstores, readers and buying habits.

1. Bookstores don’t matter.
I hear the chorus of people defending indie bookstores now, and I love them too, but this is not where the bulk of book buying happens. It’s just a fact. People are going to bookstores less and less and buying online more and more. I don’t know why this news item got little play in the U.S. but fact is, Borders went out of business in the UK. Read The Guardian story here:

2. Critics don’t matter. Bloggers and readers do.
Step away from the Manhattan island. Outside of that little crowd of
incestuous literary criticism (come on, you know what I’m talking about), these days people care less and less about critics. In fact, many newspapers and publications have let go of their book review sections and book reviewers. Indeed, there was a comment on a Galleycat post the other day by a Goodreads reader that said, “I don’t read reviews. I only buy and read what my friends post on Goodreads”. Huh. So, I joined Goodreads and wrote to another reader/reviewer. This woman, a librarian in Illinois, is now reading and reviewing my book.

I have connected with a professional, more mainstream and new media kind of person who has also agreed to review my book. I was surfing the blogs and discovered her. I now follow her on Twitter. Bloggers do matter, a lot these days. Like the Goodreads member, readers seem more interested in not just professional bloggers but average book reading bloggers, their peers and such.

The Internet has democratized culture, for better or worse, and sometimes I think for much better. Certainly there are more voices with a global reach. Most people gather their information online, and to them–a website, is a website is a website.

3.  U.S. book publishers are local, and I’m connected to the world.
Ever hear of social networking, say, Facebook? My Facebook page, just from my professional acquaintances, is rather international, from South Africa to Ramallah to Brazil. My novel’s Facebook Fan Page, for some odd reason, has been attracting young people from the Middle East and Eastern Europe. We live in a global culture now, not just an “American” culture. It was very fun to tell my UK Facebookers that the book is available on Amazon.co.uk.

4. Stop cutting down the trees.
POD, electronic formats and selective wholesaling of books is more ecological. The paper industry is a huge polluter. Does anyone NEED a hardback book?

5. Yes, they are reading on their mobiles and e-readers.
In spite of all the controversy, I’ve noticed that people who actually have a Kindle tend to like them. Nook is finally here, and the iPad will be bought. I have to tell you, my next door neighbor (a 40-year-old TV producer) is addicted to his iPhone and loves his Stanza, which lets him download books for free. He was annoyed when I said he would have to buy the e-version of my book. The Stanza has a very handy function of allowing you to enlarge the font size for easier reading. He gave me a demonstration, he went on for ten minutes.

6. The new companies, services and inventions are coming.
Do media people have amnesia? Do they think this or that device is the last one. There will be new companies, new inventions, new ways to do things. That’s life. Twitter didn’t exist 2 years ago, now it does, now I find it useful. The company I used for my book, Outskirts Press, is one of the fastest growing companies in the U.S. They are a huge success, and that means more companies like them will pop up and/or others will evolve from them. There is an army of editorial freelancers–editors, copywriters, graphic designers. Popping up everywhere are new media book promoters, marketers, tools and so on. One of the reasons I’m writing this series is to discover what’s next. Life is change. This is a good thing.

7. The terms “vanity publishing” and “self-publishing” are so last century.
See above, even the term “self-publishing” is awkward and meaningless. Give it up already. Call it indie publishing and leave it at that. No one cares who published the book these days. When I tell people recently that “my book is out”. Their eyes light up; they’re so excited for me. “Great!” They say. “Well, I published it myself,” I say honestly enough. “Great, that’s even better!” No questions asked. They don’t care. “What’s it about?” is the only question. Is it good? Do I want to read it?  

8. Indie publishing is now a choice, not to be dismissed with snarky condescension.
I’m an indie musician, and no one snarks about that. I am connected to
Mediabistro in Los Angeles, and lately have been talking to writers about
their book projects. A lot of them are just going for the indie publishing
route. They’re professionals, they have a platform, and they don’t have to
wait for anyone to get their book out. Why should they?
Repeat, #7.

OK, that’s a start. There is more to this, but it begins to cross over
into the whole communications climate at this point. My main argument is that we communicate differently, we consume differently, and we have a different and more active relationship to culture. We live in a global culture and multi-platform artistic/cultural universe. The idea of a “book industry” is, in itself, rather dated.

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