New Tricks for 21st-Century Readers & Writers, part 2


gauguin-fullWhoby CJ Verburg

Who are we?
Where do we come from?
Where are we going?
The questions Paul Gauguin asked in this painting have been buzzing around the book industry for the past decade. Fifteen years into our new century, some answers have emerged. The dominant theme remains CHANGE; the dominant factor remains the shift in control of the publishing industry from literary experts to technology companies.

KnopfAs I noted last week, in Part One of this Nov. 19 presentation at San Francisco’s Mechanics’ Institute Library, traditional publishers and print books aren’t dead. They’re not even moribund–they earn more than $14 billion a year.  While most of the classic 20th-century publishing houses have been merged into the Big Five mega-houses, new and (usually) specialized small publishers continue to sprout and thrive. YouveGotMailThe big-box booksellers that steamrolled so many indie bookshops in the last century are gone or languishing, replaced by book sections in mall and airport stores as well as by resurging neighborhood bookshops. Some of these now sell e-books as well, whose sales are booming.

Basically, what’s happened is that more people are reading more books. Book publishing is not a zero-sum game, thank goodness. The challenge is, with half a million new books coming out every year, how do you as a reader find the ones you’ll like? And how do you as a writer find your readers?

This loops us back to the irony I mentioned last week: For an author, writing the book is just the beginning. Most of the job these days is marketing.GauguinWhoRWe-cropt One of the first questions an agent or editor typically asks a prospective author is Do you have a platform?–that is, do you have a strong social media presence? a website, a blog, thousands of followers on Twitter, Facebook, and elsewhere on the Internet. You know and I know that you can buy ten thousand followers with a click and a credit card, and they’re not potential buyers of your book or anyone else’s; they’re sweatshop workers. But publishers are gatekeepers, and they need some way to decide who’s in and who’s out. When a psychologist friend of mine tried to parlay his nonfiction success into a novel contract, he was told he’d have a better chance if he were a serial killer.

FarrarStrausGThe up side is that publishers have finally recognized that if they want to stay in the game, they have to add value. Book-buyers look for Jane Austen or Stephen King on the cover; they don’t look for Macmillan or Simon & Schuster on the spine. Traditional publishers do offer the advantage of an expert staff, including sales reps and marketing departments. LB-logoBut as Betty Kelly Sargent reported last week in Publishers Weekly,“Self-publishers have become sophisticated marketers–finding and connecting with their readers through social media, Amazon, and by selling directly from their websites in ways never possible before.” They have to–between 2008 and 2013, the number of self-published books climbed 437 percent.

So on the one hand, publishing houses have circled the wagons: self-published books are still shut out of many literary awards, organizations, and bookstores. On the other hand, the Big 5 look at self-publishing as a sort of farm team, between agent submissions and the slush pile. As of now, most of the top-selling self-published authors started out as traditionally published authors; and the most successful author category is the hybrid, who publishes both ways.

Harper Collins took the farm-team idea another step by creating the website Authonomy, where writers can post a book and readers can vote for which ones should go all the way to the editor’s desk. A couple weeks ago, Amazon trumped that concept. Quoting from the website: “Kindle Scout is reader-powered publishing for new, never-before-published books . . . where readers help decide if a book gets published. Selected books will be published by Kindle Press and receive 5-year renewable terms, a $1,500 advance, 50% eBook royalty rate . . . and featured Amazon marketing.”KindleScout That could be a game-changer. What Amazon’s doing is cutting out both publishers and agents. The burden is on the author to write, design, and produce an outstanding e-book; but for the chosen few, the 800-pound gorilla will help with the marketing.

What makes Kindle Scout so brilliant and scary is that it plays into the current publishing trend known as Social. Social is the kind of readers and writers exchange you find on Web hubs like Goodreads, LinkedIn groups, or Kindleboards. Simon Dunlop, who’s launched a subscription service in Russia called Bookmate, says Social is his big draw. His customers are less interested in the unlimited books than the Goodreads-type features, such as groups, recommendations, and author pages.

scribdpxAmazon bought Goodreads, so they obviously think Social is hot. How hot subscription services are, is hard to say; they’re still pretty new and kind of groping for a niche. Amazon launched its version, Kindle Unlimited, in July. In case you missed it, the idea is Netflix for books: for $10 a month you get all the e-books you can read, up to 10 at a time. Their competitor Oyster just added Social in the form of Booklists. Their press release describes these as playlists, like on Spotify; I’d call them bookshelves, like on Goodreads. It’s sort of back to the future, like the Samsung Galaxy Note. OMG, a cellphone you can write on, just like a pen and paper! oysterlogo

I don’t think Oyster and Scribd and Bookmate are like Netflix as much as they’re like your local library. Right in this building, you can get all the books you want. Paper books, and e-books too. Also audiobooks, music, and movies. And talk about social! Look around.

IndiePcakeSSo, have fun tonight. You’re on the cutting edge.

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New Tricks for 21st-Century Readers & Writers, part 1


If you missed Boom-Books author CJ Verburg’s panel presentation last night at San Francisco’s Mechanics Institute Library, here’s Part 1. Part 2 next week.

MILNov19-revSI want to focus on the digital end, since that’s where the action is. And since this is a short presentation, I’ll be making some large generalizations.

The first and most important one comes from info-techno wizard Peter Brantley. Book publishing in the 21st century is run by geeks, not by publishers. This is important. How we read, and to a great extent what we read, is no longer shaped by literary experts in New York and London, but by techies at Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft. To that I would add: It’s also shaped by marketing experts more than writers.

The publishing revolution started with print-on-demand. Up until the 2000s, publishers had to gamble on how many copies of a book to print, based on expected sales. Digital printing ended that. Now you don’t have to print any books until somebody orders one. And that meant a writer didn’t HAVE to have a publisher to become a published author.

Ángela Ruiz Robles invented her Mechanical Encyclopedia in 1949. (Daily Mail;

The next major turning point was e-books. Over my years in publishing, I watched electronic reading gadgets come and go. Like cell phones: the early ones were too big, too clunky, too expensive, and people didn’t see the need. Not any more. You can’t go a month without some new digital device popping up to let you read, buy, and (more and more) borrow books.

From 2010 to 2011, ebook sales doubled.

Author and blogger Hugh Howey reported some amazing figures a couple weeks ago. According to New Republic, between 2008 and 2012, U.S. net income from print books (hardcover and paperback) fell from $10,420,000,000 to $10,003,000,000. That’s a $417 million loss. In the same period, ebook revenue went from $64,000,000 to $3,062,000,000. That’s a GAIN of almost 3 billion dollars. Just this morning, Digital Book World reported that some analysts predict ebooks will overtake print books by 2018.

Back in January 2011, when our Indie Publishers group started, most writers’ goal was to hold a book in their hand with their name on the cover. Next thing we knew, it’s the Wild West: ebooks, audiobooks, interactive books. Now that the dust is settling, what’s left?

EGOS_wpInteractive books never really caught on, outside of specialized nonfiction. When I published my multimedia memoir Edward Gorey On Stage in June 2012, with links to rare film clips and music, what people liked best was the text and pictures. The potential customers for so-called enhanced ebooks mostly stayed with video games, or some combination of ebook, TV series, and film. That’s a hot trend, in fact — about half of recent top-selling e-books have a TV or film tie-in.

Moving up fast are audiobooks, thanks to multitasking: people like to listen to a book while they commute, or do chores, or work out. According to Jared Friedman, co-founder of the ebook subscription service Scribd, “Being able to switch between an audiobook and an ebook version of the same title has been one of subscribers’ top feature requests” ever since they launched. Scribd has just added 30,000 audiobooks to its list, moving ahead of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited. Barnes & Noble’s Nook, which left the audiobook business, just announced they’re getting back in.

Meanwhile, printed books are alive and well. Publishers still sign up authors; they don’t edit manuscripts like they used to, but they still design them and print them and sell them. The big-box bookstores took a hit, but the smaller bookshops they replaced are coming back. Libraries have added computer terminals, but you can see, the stacks are still full.

Basically, what’s happened is that more people are reading more books. Book publishing is not a zero-sum game; thank goodness. The challenge is, with half a million new books coming out every year, how do you as a reader find the ones you’ll like? And how do you as a writer find your readers?


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San Francisco Book Events, November – Free & Open to the Public




Wednesday, November 19 is the Indie Publishers’ Working Group’s gala year-end publishing party and panel discussion at SF’s Mechanics’ Institute Library. Four authors will talk about New Tricks for 21st-Century Readers and Writers, followed by a Q&A, a book raffle, and an opportunity to look at and buy memoirs, novels, poetry, and more by MIL’s diverse and gifted members. Come celebrate the group’s fourth and final anniversary with books and ideas, wine and snacks, from 6 to 7:30 PM in the 4th-floor cafe and meeting room, 57 Post St. (near Montgomery station).




Sunday, November 23 is the Telegraph Hill Dwellers’ celebration of neighborhood authors at Naked Lunch (504 Broadway, formerly Enrico’s, legendary hangout of 20th-century North Beach writers). Listen to local poets, novelists, historians, and more read from and talk about their work; soak up the literary vibe; eat, drink, schmooze, and be merry; and maybe you’ll wrap up your holiday shopping in one mellow afternoon!

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Bay Area Book Events for October and November


dragonclrHear Ye! The October book boom continues, even as November events poise to leap into the Bay Area literary arena.

If you were hoping to catch Irish writer Colm Toibin’s appearance at the Mechanics’ Institute, too late–it came, it went, it sold out. Here’s the good news: tonight, October 29, A.C.T. opens the latest stage version of Toibin’s novel The Testament of Mary, now titled Testament, starring Seana McKenna as the mother of Jesus.

Also tonight is Martin Amis at the Mechanics’ Institute in conversation with Elizabeth Rosner about his new book The Zone of Interest.

This coming Saturday, November 1, Sisters In Crime (NorCal) partners with Books Inc. at Opera Plaza for its Fall Authors Showcase. Ten SinC members will read from mysteries, thrillers, romantic suspense, et al. they’ve published since June. Stop by Books Inc. at 600 Van Ness from noon to 2 PM on Nov. 1 to enjoy food for thought, food for munching, good company, and intriguing plots.

wine & wordsWednesday, November 19 is the Indie Publishers’ Working Group’s gala year-end publishing party and panel discussion at SF’s Mechanics’ Institute Library. Four authors will talk about New Tricks for 21st-Century Readers and Writers, followed by a Q&A and an opportunity to look at and buy books by various MIL members. Come celebrate the group’s fourth and final anniversary with books and ideas, wine and snacks, from 6 to 7:30 PM in the 4th-floor cafe and meeting room, 57 Post St. (near Montgomery station).

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Good-By Kindle Unlimited, Welcome Back iTunes, Smashwords, et al.


Emerald CityWhen Amazon launched its Kindle Unlimited $9.99-a-month book subscription program in July, we decided to give it a whirl. For three months (the required minimum sign-up), most of our e-books were sold exclusively on KU. Results? An uptick in profits, but not enough to re-up for. As of this weekend, Boom-Books can be purchased on Smashwords, iTunes, ARe/OmniLit, and Kindle Limited, as well as the nonexclusive $8.99-a-month book subscription service Scribd, with Kobo, Nook, and others soon to follow.

Several factors besides money influenced the move. First: the ethical dilemma. More than one author has admitted: I hate Amazon, but I use it. So does economist Paul Krugman in today’s New York Times. Krugman, though, doesn’t just hate Amazon. He fears it, and believes it should be reined in: “, the giant online retailer, has too much power, and it uses that power in ways that hurt America.”

Random House first edition (1967) of the Marshall McLuhan classic.Second: the practical dilemma. Amazon already has taken a controlling position in the book industry (as Krugman notes). The question is less Will the company achieve a monopoly? than What can be done about it? and, of course, How much does it matter? We already know that

  • the tech revolution has whacked publishing like a tsunami;
  • the medium is shaping the message, in too many ways to list here;
  • as Peter Brantley pointed out years ago, the nature of 21st-century publishing is being determined by tech people, not book people.

If Amazon were reined in, would that bring back a Golden Age when a book is published for its content and prose quality rather than the author’s celebrity, and readers get suggestions from well-read bookstore clerks instead of from algorithms? Unlikely. What it probably would bring is the fast rise of Apple, Google, or some other online rival.

apple pythonSThat said, we would rather continue publishing as an ant in an arena of clashing titans than in an empty street loomed over by a single Godzilla.

One Amazon innovation we find particularly disturbing is the honey pot. Perhaps inevitably, electronic publishing has shifted the definition of terms like royalty and even book sales from literal to metaphoric. Amazon exploits this shift by paying its exclusive authors not a fixed percentage of their books’ earnings, but a share in a pool of money established by Amazon. If you as an author enroll a book you’ve written in Kindle Unlimited or KDP Select (Amazon Prime), you get a payment whenever a subscriber borrows your book (KDPS) or reads past the first 10% (KU). Those exchanges between producer and consumer are not, strictly speaking, book sales. Your customers only “own” your book for as long as they stay in the program, i.e., continue to pay Amazon’s monthly subscription fee.

Meanwhile, Amazon’s payments to you come from a discretionary fund which is not related to your book’s earnings. So far, the amount has been carefully kept above $1.50 per “borrow.” You might call these payments earnings, or bonuses, or (if you’re a cynic) bribes. Bottom line: Amazon has been investing $2-3 million a month to induce authors and small publishers to supply its subscribers with books. Most of the big publishers refuse to participate, so Amazon has to stock the pond somehow.

tunaBut what will happen once it’s full? The lure can be snatched away at any moment. Given that Amazon’s enormous revenues so far haven’t made it profitable, the company may well follow the same strategy as it did with audiobooks: once enough books are in the pipeline, change the payment structure. Amazon started by acquiring the entire vertical chain of audiobook creation and distribution, including buying Audible from Apple. Then its ACX production arm declared: From now on, instead of a 50-50 split, we’re taking 60% and giving you 40%. ACX users fiercely protested. Amazon predictably ignored them.

Serendipitously, as this blog “goes to press,” today’s Digital Book World has published Kobo President Michael Tamblyn’s “32 Notes on Amazon-Hachette-IndyAuthors,”kobo-nyc a series of Tweets warning of exactly the scenario we’ve just described. As we noted here last November, Kobo has acted on its convictions: in partnership with the American Booksellers Association (ABA) and others, the IndieBound program lets readers buy e-books from Kobo online through their favorite independent bookstore, with a share of the proceeds going to the store. Next time you’re thinking of buying an e-book, check it out!



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A Magical Crack in Time


Moonalice-vignetteby CJ Verburg

I first met San Francisco almost 50 years ago, and it was love at first sight. I was young; California seemed as far away as Venus. My parents were determined to keep us apart. As soon as I got out of college and earned enough money for a plane ticket and a room at the Salvation Army’s Evangeline Residence, I took off for the Promised Land.

Nowadays “music, love, and flowers” is a cliche, but in the early 1970s it was a multifaceted miracle. Flowers welcomed me from a bitter East Coast February to mellow SFO. I found a studio apartment in a pre-quake building a block from Ocean Beach, complete with Murphy bed, oriental rugs, and a silk-upholstered armchair. When I walked down the street (often barefoot), I exchanged smiles with everyone I passed. On Saturday nights I sat in vast smoke-hazed halls drinking in one psychedelic band after another, watching Da-Glo frisbees sail from hand to hand while neon-bright oil drops pulsed on a giant screen.

MagicBusIn many ways San Francisco has become its own museum, or Disneyland. Discoveries that were revolutionary when I arrived–bell bottoms, peace signs, tie-dyed T-shirts–are symbols marketed now to tourists. Over the years, bands split up; musicians died; political radicals became professors. Pedestrians stopped smiling at each other. Drivers started honking at other drivers. Rents shot up.

Yet in its wizened heart, this is still the City of Love. Every once in a while a crack appears in its 21st-century Silicon veneer, and the old San Francisco seeps or bursts through like Pele’s lava. This past weekend was one such breakthrough: the annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, the late Warren Hellman’s gift to musicians and music-lovers. For three days, the leafy midsection of Golden Gate Park overflowed with bands and fans–a lavish buffet, and all free. Taking Hellman’s generosity one step further, local band Moonalice live-streamed much of the festival, so that you could hear and see it even if you couldn’t be there.

Moonalice-sign-croptTonight Moonalice popped up again with a free set in Union Square. The irony of listening to gritty old rock-&-rollers playing in the lavish shadow of Saks Fifth Avenue, Tiffany’s, and Williams-Sonoma (I kid you not) was outweighed by the magic of the music–and the ghosts it called up: tie-dyed shirts, peace signs, gray-bearded men toking on aromatic Js, time-ripened girls wafting in long wavy hair and skirts. And the children! A two-year old bobbed in his mother’s arms; a three-year-old jumped ecstatically up and down. Four- to six-year-olds made up their own moves. As always, every child felt the music throbbing inside like a communal heartbeat, and had to dance.

When Moonalice rippled out a rambling hommage to Bob Dylan, many of us sang together on the chorus, but in my mind the challenge twisted:
Waiting to find out what price
We have to pay to be able
To go through all these things twice.

Thank you, Moonalice. Thank you, Warren Hellman. Thank you, San Francisco.



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October Olio: Law, Literature, & Love


by CJ Verburg

hall-of-justice-san-francisco“In San Francisco, the DA’s office, criminal courts and city jail are located in a Stalinesque seven-story structure at Seventh and Bryant that is modestly known as the Hall of Justice.” — Sheldon Siegel, Special Circumstances


I had the good fortune to meet Sheldon Siegel at my first Sisters in Crime meeting a few weeks ago. Good fortune because (1) I enjoyed talking with him, and therefore (2) I picked up his courtroom drama Special Circumstances–a gripping read, especially since (3) I was obliged to spend yesterday afternoon in that very Hall of Justice.

Siegel’s character is on trial for his life after being falsely accused of murder. I was on trial for $238 after being falsely accused of running a Stop sign. Hardly comparable, but oddly parallel. What strikes you upon stepping into those marble corridors is that the leitmotif is not Justice For The Accused so much as Convenience For The Employed. The lawyers buzzing around Traffic Court gave the same reassurance to the police officers they were cutting deals with as Siegel’s protagonist gives his client: We’ll get you out of here as quick as we can.

Not having a lawyer, I was the next-to-last defendant in the courtroom to get out. Experienced perpetrators know that hiring a lawyer jumps you way up the priority list, and strongly inclines the officer who accused you to request a dismissal. Are the scales thereby tipped heavily in favor of the guilty? I can’t answer that, but I know I got lucky in being assigned to a judge who truly was committed to justice. Of course, once all the pleas and dismissals were negotiated by the hundred or so lawyers, officers, and defendants in his courtroom, only five of us were left for him to try. We were out of there by 3:30.

1booktoberfest2014Much more elevating was last Friday’s fourth annual Booktoberfest at the Mechanics’ Institute Library. For one night, the third-floor reference library became a feast, where a capacity crowd browsed samples of locally produced beer, wine, munchies, and (of course) books. With UC Berkeley Extension as the event’s main sponsor, local literary organizations from Litquake to Zyzzyva (see below) staffed tables with information and giveaways. 2booktoberfest2014Meanwhile, in a nearby classroom, almost two dozen member authors gave three-to-five-minute presentations of their work. The impressive roster included novels, memoirs, chronicles of adventures, even an app. Kudos to librarian Taryn Edwards who masterminded this delightful “Buy Local” celebration–which originated with the motto, “Put the PUB back into publishing.”


luxy-bannerLast and certainly least is the news from Mark Morford at SFGate of a new dating service called Luxy which touts itself as [sic] “TINDER MINUS THE POOR PEOPLE.” Is this for real? The San Francisco Bay Guardian’s Rebecca Rowe wondered that, too. Rowe quotes ‘the (poorly copy-edited) website: “Our members include CEOs, entrepreneurs, investors, millionaires, beauty queens, fitness models, Hollywood celebrities, pro athletes, doctors, lawyes [sic] and successful people, juast [sic] name a few. . . . The average income of male users on LUXY is over $200k and those who are unable to keep up financially are immediately removed from the service.”’

Prank or not, Rowe notes that ‘actual people are signing up for it.’ Morford adds that Luxy may be most useful as a filter, to help users ‘weed out exactly the type of human you want nowhere near your world: entitled, vacuous, vain enough to think an app like this is exactly what they need but cheap enough to believe it should be free (Sign that Luxy is bulls–t No. 27: Any real dating app for rich people would cost $500 a month and ask for your dental records and two years’ of tax returns).’

For a different angle on the love-and-commitment question, see yesterday’s SFGate post by Tony Bravo. According to a recent survey by the Daily Mail and Jezebel, ‘half of all married women have a backup husband in mind.’ And, no–nobody asked what married men have in mind. Some lids are better left unlifted.


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The Future of Reading: E-Books, Audiobooks, Multimedia, and Beyond


Buffalo_bill_wild_west_show_c1899by CJ Verburg

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the literary world is in flux. Book publishing is the 21st-century Wild West. It’s the Gold Rush. Meaning, fortunes are being made and lost, and since nobody’s sure where the next big thing will come from, many ambitious Argonauts are looking for their payoff in the crystal-ball market.

Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped:

Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped:

The first question I would ask before making any predictions is, Why do we have books? What do we want from them? Is a story printed on paper pages more powerful in some way than one that appears and disappears on a screen between phone calls? Is a book simply a content delivery system, or is the medium part of the message?

These are bigger questions than I can analyze here and now, but some intriguing clues have emerged. Data show the classic book form is thriving. Reliable figures are sparse, but we know the self-publishing boom has exploded the number of books produced per year, adding around 400,000 to the million or so total in 2013. Traditional publishers’ output continues to rise, although the heavy competition has kept earnings flat. Print book sales remain vigorous; and while e-book sales are no longer skyrocketing, they’re strong and rising.

EGOS_wpIn June 2012, when I published my multimedia e-book Edward Gorey On Stage, it was pioneering to include hyperlinks in the text and photo captions to take readers to film clips, related websites, music, and more. So many startups were creating interactive book technology that I half expected a paradigm shift to a hybrid between an e-book and a video game. We’re seeing some of that, in children’s books and textbooks and some other niches, but on the whole it hasn’t happened. To my surprise, several reviewers of Edward Gorey On Stage wished it were available in old-fashioned print on paper. So I asked myself how I could do that, and now there is a full-color multimedia print version as well as an e-book. Still, it’s not the links people respond to as much as the content. Readers want information, and they want a story.

LBBschoonerAReSo what I think we can look forward to, for now, is most adult fiction and nonfiction published in three formats: print, e-book, and audiobook. Our multitasking zeitgeist means that a lot of people read while they’re doing something else, such as commuting, exercise, or housework. The structure of the story won’t change much, because we humans exist in time, so every experience has a de facto beginning, middle, and end. LBBaudio2And as Joseph Campbell has pointed out, the same basic story lines show up in all different cultures, because every community struggling with this vast and chaotic world wants to know what the heck is going on. Birth and death. Love and work. War and heroism.

Where do the bells and whistles come in? Peter Thiel, a techno mogul who cofounded PayPal, has a new book out called Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future. In his opinion, tech and the tech industry have a better shot than money at bringing about change in the world. That impact includes books.

Right now we’re seeing a tech crossover less in book format than in book marketing. In a short piece that just came out September 24 in Digital Book World, Rich Bellis notes that media tie-ins power half of this week’s best-selling e-books. OutlanderThis isn’t a new trend, but it’s the highest proportion so far of digital best-sellers linked with movies or TV shows. With the film version of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl hitting cinemas on October 3, the e-book version is back at #1. “Eight other titles within the top-25 (The Maze Runner, three titles in the Outlander series, If I StayThe Fault in Our Stars, This Is Where I Leave You and Dark Places) have current or upcoming film or TV series tie-ins.”

What does this mean for books? If you’re in movies or TV, books have become an increasingly valuable slush pile. The Outlander series running on Starz is based on a book series by Diana Gabaldon that dates back to 1991. Most of the popular British mystery series on American public television began as books, by authors from 21st-century Ann Cleeves back to Agatha Christie almost a century ago. All this exposure boosts book sales, and we can hope demand, at least for genre books, along with the prospects for authors. On the other hand, Bellis observes, “It can sometimes feel as though the ebooks are ‘tie-ins’ to the TV shows and movies, and not the other way around.” The book may be the seed, but its cover and PR are more likely to feature the star than the writer.

Meanwhile, the consumer gets to have his or her cake and eat it, too. Because our minds process information differently in different formats, there’s a separation between words we read on a page, words we listen to, and moving images. We can enjoy all three, or even two at once; Kindle’s Whispersync touts itself as a way to read the e-book while you’re listening to the audiobook. Still, the external picture supplied by actors on a screen isn’t the same as the internal picture that erupts like a genie from a magic lamp when we read. Whether you’re hooked on the heft of a paper book in your hands, or addicted to the convenience of ebooks or audiobooks, a tale told by a storyteller remains a unique and irreplaceable pleasure.

crystal ball(Note: I’ll be presenting a shorter version of these comments at Booktoberfest 2014; see previous blog for time and place.)

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September Book Events in the San Francisco Bay Area


2013: Adele Fasick, Carol Costello, Mary O’Toole, Jon Foyt, Jackie Davis-Martin

by CJ Verburg

September is the busiest month! Coming up next Friday is the fourth annual Booktoberfest at San Franciso’s legendary Mechanics Institute Library. If you’re a Bay Area publisher, author, editor, literary agent, book designer, or reader, September 26 is your night! Stop by 57 Post St. from 5 to 7:30 PM to quaff a locally brewed beer, taste a locally created snack, read a locally written book, hear about new developments in your field, and compare notes with others who share your interests.


The Espresso prints books on the spot @ McNally Jackson, New York

Booktoberfest was first conceived as a grand finale for the Self-Publishers’ (now Indie Publishers’) Working Group, launched in January 2011 to help MIL members explore the 21st-century Gold Rush of print-on-demand and e-books. O brave new world! Kindles were new; the Espresso Book Machine was a sci-fi-class rumor; iPads didn’t exist yet. Booktoberfest began with two working mottos: Buy Local and Put the Pub Back into Publishing. From that sprout, librarian Taryn Edwards has grown Book’toberfest 2014. And as we near the end of our fourth year, members of the Indie Publishers’ Working Group have published enough books to fill a library shelf.

This year, in addition to display tables for Bay Area publishers, a side room will house 5-minute presentations by two dozen Mechanics Institute authors and other book artisans.

SinC-9-14This past Saturday in Berkeley, the September meeting of Sisters In Crime celebrated three particularly illustrious members: Rhys Bowen, Priscilla Royal, and Camille Minichino, gracefully interviewed by chapter president Susan Shea (backed up here by Diana Chambers) and hosted by Terry Shames. Rhys’s latest mystery is Queen of Hearts Priscilla’s is Covenant with Hell; Camille’s (as Margaret Grace) is Madness in Miniature. Although the day’s honorees were induced to sign books afterwards, the focus was on sisterhood, in the metaphorical sense (men too are welcome as Sisters In Crime): mutual support, inspiration, and celebration.

Lurking around the corner in October: Litquake!


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DANGER! Behind Romance & Mystery – Book Stealing


image from (uncredited)

by Charisse Howard

Cybercrime. That’s a problem for high-profile corporations, right? Not for an author of historical romantic suspense novels.

So I thought until this morning, when I Googled to check if the audio version of Lady Barbara & the Buccaneer is out yet, and discovered someone’s stealing my books.

It appears my second Regency Rakes & Rebels romance is quite the hot ticket. Currently exclusive to KindleUnlimited, Lady Barbara & the Buccaneer‘s sales for September on Amazon (list price $2.99) are zero. That’s surprised me, since the comments I’ve heard from friends, as well as the online ratings at Goodreads and elsewhere, have been very positive. Could the reason I’m not earning any royalties be those illegal pdf copies? which were downloaded for free by 106 readers today, and 776 readers so far this week?

Here’s a peek at the pirates’ website, which I hope will have taken offline by the time you read this:PrintScreen from cybertheft site
For me, the most galling datum on this page is that 214 readers rate the book 9.1 out of 10; yet Lady Barbara & the Buccaneer hasn’t got a single review out of all that enthusiasm.


image from (uncredited)

One can argue that freebies are a popular, even essential, part of book promotion. To that I’d counter: How likely are thieves to turn into buyers? Aren’t the people who deliberately stole a book they could have bought for le$$ than a slice of pizza liable to be the same freeloaders who e-mail me to say they loved my last book, and will I please tell them when I do a giveaway of my next one?

What I’d like to tell them is this. Writing a book, especially a good book, takes time–a lot more time than reading one. Your favorite author has bills to pay, same as you do. If you want her/him to keep entertaining you, then shell out a few bucks to help keep him/her at the keyboard. If you can’t afford to buy the print book, buy the e-book. If you can’t afford the e-book, check out a copy from your local library, or pick it up for free with an Amazon Prime, KindleUnlimited, Scribd, or Oyster subscription.

And what I’d like to tell my fellow writers is: Keep an eye on your books. We can’t track them everywhere; that way lies madness. But with Amazon encouraging readers (and authors) to believe Free Is Cool, who but us cares if we get paid for our work?

StealThisBookWe have other (and better) choices besides KDP Select giveaways. One is the contests and lotteries on Goodreads and other sites where you can donate a limited number of free copies to be won by people who truly want to read your book, and are likely to review it. Another is Kindle Countdown. Another is Smashwords’s “choose your price” setting, where the author can recommend a price but allow readers to pay whatever they can afford. This tactic recently shot to the top of my faves list when it brought Lady Caroline, the Corsair’s Captive a glowing 5-star review.

If I ever figure out how to earn a living from writing books that nobody pays for, I’ll happily join up with the 21st century’s Abbie Hoffmans. Until then, literature has enough problems without being plundered by latter-day Jean Laffites.







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