Edward Gorey House Opens Book Cover Show “From Aesop to Updike”


Edward Gorey is well known for over 100 written and illustrated works (though not all titles are books) including The Gashlycrumb Tinies and The Doubtful Guest. The author-artist’s set and costume designs for his award-winning Broadway Dracula, and his animated sequences to PBS Mystery! boosted his creative achievements.

However, this output overshadows his achievements as a much-in-demand illustrator for other authors. While Gorey was busy creating his world of stiff Victorians, sinister Edwardians, doomed infants, strange creatures, stifling interiors and mysterious landscapes, he was also busy creating a significant body of commercial book design for a variety of authors and publishers. Our 2015 exhibit, From Aesop to Updike: Edward Gorey’s Book Cover Art & Design, is a varied sampling of almost five decades of commercial work–an integral component (and not just an intriguing sideline) of Edward Gorey’s artistry.

Additional Material about the Exhibit: Early Gorey Covers
Between 1953 and 1959 Gorey created fifty covers for Doubleday Anchor, and his work defined not only the Anchor line but his own developing style as well: a unique application of hand-lettering instead of standard set fonts, a sparse, dramatic use of spot colors (occasional inks other than black) and an ability to distill a book into a quickly graspable cover design, aided by the fact that he had often read the assigned book, perhaps more than once.

“I hate (Henry James) more than anybody else in the world except for Picasso.” – Edward Gorey

From Doubleday Anchor, Gorey moved to Looking Glass Library, an imprint focused on children’s and young adult titles. Despite the frequent woes that befell children in his own books, Gorey had become increasingly in demand as a children’s book illustrator, permitting him to become a freelance artist as well as an author, an occupation he successfully pursued for the rest of his life.

Becoming Edward Gorey
By the late 50s Gorey had a solidly defined style: a penchant for black and white line art (and selective color use as budgets permitted). Some of Gorey’s favorite artists can be surmised by images in his work: Rene Magritte, Max Ernst, Edward Lear and Sir John Tenniel’s illustrations in Lewis Carroll’s Alice books (although Gorey gave special praise to the Brothers Dalziel for their masterful wood block engravings of Tenniel’s pencil drawings). Commercial projects that spun from Gorey’s art began to provide needed income, but always with the understanding that the end products would be identifiably Gorey.

As with any commercial illustrator, with gradually increasing demands for his unique “touch,” Gorey soon began to be burdened with freelance contract deadlines, and all the while his ever-present muse urged him to create. When asked by Vanity Fair in their Proust Questionnaire, If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? he replied “To be able to say no.” His work ethic, which was renowned, prevailed. He began to balance his freelance work with his own creative projects. He organized and worked longer hours. Somehow Gorey managed both his commercial working world and his creative endeavors, leaving a body of work that remains delightful, diverse and enduring.

From Aesop to Updike: Edward Gorey’s Book Cover Art

This exhibit runs from April 16th to December 27th, 2015.

For their assistance in this exhibit, special thanks go to Andreas Brown of the Edward Gorey Charitable Trust, Steven Heller, Sam Speigel, Pomegranate Press, San Diego State University, John Carollo and Dr. Joseph Stanton at the University of Hawaii.
Planning Your VisitSpring hours are…
Thursday through Saturday: 11am to 4pm
Sunday: noon to 4pm

Admission is $8 for adults, $5 for students and seniors, and $2 for children 6 to 12. Children under 6 free.
Click for full details to plan your visit

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Thank you for your continued support of the Edward Gorey House!
We hope to see you soon!

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Pelican Dreams – compelling new film from Judy Irving


PelicanDreamsposterby CJ Verburg

If you’ve ever watched a pelican fly, or dive for fish, or simply sit on a post contemplating the world, don’t miss this fascinating new 80-minute documentary from the filmmaker who gave us The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill.

Here’s the latest news from Judy Irving:

“Pelican Dreams” is winding up its 100-city national theatrical run this month. The long-awaited DVD will be released April 7th, and as of today you can order it here:


Along with the 80-minute feature movie, the DVD contains an 
additional 80 minutes of Extras and Bonus Features, including an update on Morro the Pelican, a sequence that explains how pelicans can fly so close to the water without falling in (!), and a behind-the-scenes visit to composer Bruce Kaphan’s recording studio.

Judy adds: “If you’d like me to sign/inscribe the DVD, please specify wording when you place your order. Happy Earth Day!”

I’ve seen three versions of Pelican Dreams and marveled each time at the beauty and insight of this close-up portrait of a species, with particular focus on two birds that Judy got to know personally (as you might say). At its San Francisco premiere at the Balboa Theatre, I wasn’t the only viewer who floated out happily seeing the nearby ocean–and the pelicans whose life centers there–with fresh eyes.

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Kindle Scout to Launch First 10 Kindle Press Books March 3



by CJ Verburg

At last! In my e-mailbox this morning came an announcement I’ve been waiting for since November. (Three announcements, in fact.) Not, as I’d expected: “Kindle Scout’s First Books Published by Kindle Press.” Instead it was “Your free copy of X is now available.”

X = a title in the mystery/suspense/thriller category which I nominated for publication last fall. As I’ve described in past posts, the premise of the Kindle Scout program is that readers become literary agents, in effect, by reading excerpts from a hundred or so candidates on the website (in three categories: romance, mystery, and sci-fi) and voting on their favorites. I’ve voted for maybe a dozen books, and more than half have won the brass ring: a $1500 advance, with publication by Kindle Press and publicity by Amazon.

Offering me a free copy of each of my nominees rather than heralding its launch suggests two things:

  • Kindle hasn’t actually published these books yet (March 3 is the pub date for the first 10 titles, out of 21 selected); and
  • the PR department hopes that recipients will treat their “freebies” as ARCs (advance review copies) and do some heralding on their behalf.

There’s a bit of smoke-and-mirrors throughout the Kindle Scout process–inevitable with a brand-new book-publishing model. I’ve heard through the grapevine that although every aspiring candidate must submit a complete, polished e-book, fully copyedited and designed, those candidates that make the final cut are being heavily tweaked before publication. (That hypothesis is supported by the distinct drop in quality I’ve noticed in recent Scout website contenders.) When I clicked onto Amazon to claim my copy of L.A. Sniper (see L, above), a note popped up:

Just so you know…This view is of the Kindle edition (2014) from Steve Gannon. The Kindle Edition edition (2015) from Kindle Press that you originally viewed is the one you’ll receive if you click “Pre-Order” on the left.

My “free book” email began with Congratulations! and ended with Three cheers for reader-powered publishing! This too is less than transparent. As consumerist.com summarizes:

The process isn’t that different from the way Amazon selects which original shows to produce for its Prime streaming service. In that instance, viewers are given access to pilot episodes for a slate of contenders and then asked to vote on the ones they would like to see continue as full-fledged shows….
Although [Kindle Scout] gives readers the feeling that they are making the choice in who gets published and who doesn’t, Amazon ultimately holds all the decision-making power.
At the end of the 30-day reader voting period, the Kindle Scout team reviews the books with the most votes and determines which three [sic] will be published.

Of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, as the old and often truncated saying goes. As TechCrunch notes:

March 3 should provide a better sense of how well the program is working in terms of actually highlighting quality content – the value of a crowdsourced publishing program only exists insofar as it can pick winners better than traditional systems, or generate better reception that straight-up self publishing.

Meanwhile, CONGRATULATIONS AND BEST WISHES to the first round of winners of publishing contracts from Kindle Press!

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Edward Gorey, Agatha Christie, The New Yorker, and Saving Butterflies and Bats


Tlley-Monarchby CJ Verburg

If the artist and writer Edward Gorey were still alive in the conventional sense, he’d be turning ninety on February 22. He was born one day after The New Yorker magazine (and its iconic dandy, Eustace Tilley). Agatha Christie would turn 35 in September; Hercule Poirot had been detecting for five years, and Miss Marple debuted two years later. Let us observe a moment of awed silence in honor of 1925.

A lifelong animal lover, Edward Gorey left the bulk of his estate to help creatures in distress. Exactly which creatures, his Charitable Trust was directed to decide. Among the few organizations specifically mentioned in his will was the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

xerxesThe Xerces Society? Invertebrate conservation? Most of Edward’s friends knew “X is for Xerxes devoured by mice” from The Gashlycrumb Tinies. But . . . what was he proposing? Stop stamping out garden slugs? Rescue the escargots?

I’d forgotten about Edward’s unusual bequest until Barbara Kingsolver’s novel Flight Behavior spurred me to investigate the plight of monarch butterflies. An announcement this week from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service summarizes the problem: “While monarchs are found across the United States—as recently as 1996 numbering some 1 billion—their numbers have declined by approximately 90 percent in recent years, a result of numerous threats, particularly loss of habitat due to agricultural practices, development, and cropland conversion. Degradation of wintering habitat in Mexico and California has also had a negative impact on the species.”



Monarch butterflies are astonishing. Every year they fly from their summer habitat all over the United States to a particular part of Mexico. Their lifespan is shorter than the journey, so no one butterfly ever makes the whole trip. They reproduce along the way, running a multigenerational relay race across two hemispheres.

“On August 26, 2014, The Center for Biological Diversity and Center for Food Safety as co-lead petitioners joined by the Xerces Society (a nonprofit organization that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitat), and renowned monarch scientist Dr. Lincoln Brower, filed a legal petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeking Endangered Species Act protection for monarch butterflies.” —Jean Bartlett, San Jose Mercury News


Victor Quintanilla

One step that we the people can take to help save the beleaguered butterflies is to replant milkweed—”the monarch’s exclusive larval host plant and a critical food source . . . which has been eradicated or severely degraded in many areas across the United States in recent years.” Since milkweed is a roadside weed, it’s on the front line when highway verges are sprayed and mowed to keep down bugs and brush. Planting the wrong species, or seeds from plants exposed to pesticides, can be lethal to the butterflies, so we’re requested to use only reliable seeds.

Where do we get reliable milkweed seeds? Use the Xerces Society Milkweed Seed Finder!

EGbatshirtGorey fans will be pleased to know that Edward’s will also directs his Charitable Trust to help bats. If you want to help stamp out White-Nose Syndrome, protect the Paraguana Moustached Bat, or build your very own bat cave, you can join groups such as Bat Conservation International in utilizing the fruits of Edward’s affection for these winged creatures.

And if you want to fly around in your own glow-in-the-dark bat T-shirt, it’s waiting for you at The Gorey Store.

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2015 New Year’s Predictions – Book Authors & Publishers

Winter Woodland Book, ID 36123304 © Christopher Elwell, Dreamstime.com

Winter Woodland Book, ID 36123304 © Christopher Elwell, Dreamstime.com

Baby, it’s cold outside.

That’s the consensus of most observers offering insights about the state of book publishing, not to mention writing, as 2014 turns to 2015. Several common themes emerge: We’re still edgy about the Amazon-Hachette battle, and keeping an eye on the 800-pound amoeba as it morphs and divides. We’re concerned about book sales in multi formats leveling off and in some cases falling.  We’re seeing more dependence on data, a sharper focus on discoverability, and greater ingenuity and persistence in seeking new tactics, platforms, and tools.

Here for your reading pleasure is Boom-Books’s small but juicy holiday sampler of new-year predictions.

Mark Coker of Smashwords celebrates the self-publishing boom his company has enabled. This is an exciting time of democratization, of opening the long-gated book community for writers and readers alike. On the down side, “Recent years of exponential ebook growth have given way to a new normal of slower growth, greater competition and disruptive business models and power struggles.” smashwords growth 2008-2014Coker offers 12 predictions, ending with:
“Success is all about best practices. . . . 1. You must write a super-awesome “wow” book that takes the reader to an emotional, satisfying extreme (this applies to fiction and non-fiction).  2.  Your books should be professionally edited and proofed  3.  A great cover image makes your book more discoverable and more desirable to your target reader. . .  4. Give your book a fair price.  5.  Release your book as a preorder . . . one of the most powerful merchandising tools today. . . .  6.  Avoid exclusivity and distribute your book widely.  7.  Write another book, rinse and repeat.”

In The Digital Reader, Nate Hoffelder suggests that wide reports of falling book sales undermine Coker’s relatively cheery advice. Should we blame the glut of self-published books? Kindle Unlimited? Regardless of cause, he sees three effects:Carti2-bookglut
One, the days of releasing the first title in a series as permafree have passed. All that accomplishes now is to flood the market and make it harder to sell ebooks.
Two, the idea of writing and publishing your next book as the best marketing strategy is also going to have to be reconsidered.
Three, getting in to or out of Kindle Unlimited isn’t nearly as important as some thought it was a few weeks ago. . . This problem is affecting authors both in and out of KU.”

Another factor likely to limit Amazon’s stranglehold on the book business, according to Digital Book World and others, is Apple’s bundling iBooks into its new iOS 8 operating system.

Non-U.S. commentators often are less intimidated by Amazon than Americans are, a perspective Marcello Vena shares with DBW:
“In U.S. and UK, Amazon’s leadership can’t be challenged in the short term. However, its market share is so great that growing more quickly than the market is a hard thing for Amazon, too. . . . Tolino-Vision-eReader-435909Elsewhere, though, Amazon is . . . present in only a relatively small number of countries compared with those where Apple, Google and Kobo are already established. . . . [Also] Amazon sometimes faces strong local competition . . . [e.g., as in] Germany, where the local ebook-only player, Tolino, has recently taken the lead with an astonishing 45% market share of ebook sales in the third quarter of 2014.”

On the other hand, Vena notes, the reason Amazon has become such a feared competitor is its deep-pocket innovativeness:
“Amazon itself is full of internal start-ups and experiments. As CEO Jeff Bezos says, the company invests billions of dollars in failures (and not just in the book business, of course). I would not be surprised if the next big thing is Amazon disrupting parts of itself.”

What are your reactions to these predictions? What surprises do you predict 2015 will bring to publishers and authors?

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Kindle Scout Awards First Book Contracts…and the Winners Are?


by CJ Verburg


Love this! Raul Lemesoff converted a 1979 Ford Falcon into a tank bookmobile which he drives around Buenos Aires, offering books to anyone.

Amazon’s tanks rolled across a new literary border two months ago in the form of Kindle Scout. Here’s part of the launch announcement from the KS 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.”

How it works: the author of a finished e-book in the romance, sci-fi/fantasy, or mystery/thriller/suspense genre posts it on the KS site. For one month, KS displays the cover, a 50-words-or-less headline, and an elevator pitch–all supplied by the author–along with a read more link which readers (“scouts”) can click for a 5,000-word excerpt. If a scout is impressed by this preview, s/he can click “Nominate Me.” Each scout can shelve three nominees at a time. When one of those ends its month, or if the scout finds another book s/he likes better, that nominee drops off the shelf. KS’s editors review the votes and the books and choose the best ones–which need not be the top vote-getters–for publication.

The first round of 13 winners appeared on the Kindle Scout website this week: Six in mystery/thriller, six in sci-fi/fantasy, and two in romance (one doubling in mystery).

KScout-firstwinnersAs a mystery writer and a former Big 5 editor and author, I’ve been watching Kindle Scout with interest. Of the four books I’ve nominated, all in the mystery/thriller/suspense category, three made the cut. (Yippee! Three free e-books!) The three winners I didn’t vote for are not to my taste: paranormal, horror, and a child-abuse thriller. TWELVE OF THE THIRTEEN winners–all but the non-mystery romance–have male authors.

As of today, Dec. 12, Kindle Scout contenders comprise 40 mystery/suspense/thrillers, 35 romances, and 29 sci-fi/fantasies. Male authors and violent themes predominate; even in the romance category, a quarter to a third of the authors appear to be male, and there’s a lot of overlap with mystery and paranormal. Do those numbers mean that more men than women so far are willing to try KS, or more men had a finished unpublished book ready to go, or . . .??? One thing it suggests to me is that Kindle Scout is a thus-far-overlooked option for female genre-fiction writers.

kindlepress-searchWho are the scouts? Anybody. Men, women, children, bots, Amazon (or Apple) staff; who knows? Who are the Kindle Press editors? No clue. What does “featured Amazon marketing” mean for the winning offers? Nary a hint. Try a Google search and you’ll find that Kindle Press itself currently falls in the sci-fi/fantasy category.

Other caveats? The big ones are cogently summarized by a comment on Digital Book World’s Oct. 14 e-announcement of Kindle Scout’s launch:

Let’s be clear that this 50% royalty is from net. so actually a less than 35% royalty from list price, or half what an author will get going it alone with KDP.

The $1,500 advance is pretty feeble to start with, and requires the author to supply the completed, edited, proofed and formatted file and cover, all at the author’s own cost.

The promise of \featured Amazon marketing\ means sweet FA on its own. Just a lure to unwary indies thinking they’ll get the same red carpet treatment the Amazon imprints get. Which begs the question why,if Amazon is seriously interested in these titles and will push them properly, they are being kept quite separate from the Amazon imprints.


. . . Amazon know as well as anyone that indies looking to game the system will get all their e-friends to vote up their books, so safe to say the crowdsourcing element is just for show. What Amazon will do is pick titles that look promising, or from indies with a track record – especially on other retailers – and pay out $1,500 to ensure these titles are exclusive with Amazon and not on other retailers for the next five years.

. . . Selling at $4.99 Amazon will need to sell just 462 copies to make back the advance it paid out. The author will have to sell 1,200 to pay back the advance before they see another cent.

Ebook Bargains . . . point out a point I’d failed to notice. Authors end up paying back that $1500 advance with their first income. Even if modestly successful, authors may find themselves waiting a year or more after publication before they earn a penny.

To that I would counter that for many indie authors, selling 1200 copies in a year is a big enough uptick to be worth halving the potential royalty per book. Strong sales of one book are (A) likely to boost sales of other titles, and (B) preferable to the freebie alternative. Also, since the author retains print rights, s/he can recoup some of that so-called loss by issuing the book in paperback. Amazon does offer a (fairly lame) bail-out clause for the disappointed: “If you do not earn at least $25,000 during any 5-year term, you’ll have six months after the end of that 5-year period in which you can choose to stop publishing with us and request your rights back.”

8ballOn the other hand, Amazon’s long and sometimes ambiguous contract includes some fine-print clauses an author may later regret, such as this one:
“You acknowledge that we have no obligation to publish, market, distribute or offer for sale your Work, or continue publishing, marketing, distributing or selling your Work after we have started doing so. We may stop publishing your Work and cease further exploitation of the rights granted in this Agreement at any time in our sole discretion without notice to you.”

Conclusions? I’m tentatively planning to submit my next genre-series book to Kindle Scout, in the hope it will (1) win, bringing great fanfare and skyrocketing sales, and (2) publicize my other books, which have great reviews but low visibility. I figure, they’re only asking for 50,000+ words, not exactly The Goldfinch or War and Peace, and if they don’t accept this one, no loss.  Before I try it, though, I’m waiting for Kindle Press to go tangible and show my winning nominees some of that “featured Amazon marketing.”

What do you think? Have you tried Kindle Scout, or do you intend to? Why or why not?

The Emerald City

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Romance, Suspense, & International Intrigue – Hot New Audiobook!


LCCCaudio240It’s here! — the long-awaited audiobook of Charisse Howard’s 5-star sizzling, suspenseful high-seas romance Lady Caroline, the Corsair’s Captive.

Traveling with her parents in North Africa, Lady Caroline Grantby is literally swept off her feet by the dashing Comte de Gilordeau. But on their way home to London and happily-ever-after, the newlyweds’ ship is attacked by Barbary corsairs. The twists and turns that follow will force Caroline to confront terrors beyond her imagination, and uncover a strength and a passion she never knew was inside her.

★★★★★  “A beautiful story! I loved loved it! The characters, the plot, even the ending was awesome!” — NRB, Smashwords

Will your holiday travels be this exciting?

Make sure they are! Click here to find the brand-new 3.5-hour audiobook or the e-book on Amazon, iTunes, & Audible (free for Amazon Prime, Kindle Unlimited, or Audible members).

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Crimes & Chimes: Party Weekend for Mystery & Music Lovers!


What fun would winter be without a fireplace, some Baroque brass and choral music, and a good mystery to curl up with on these long dark nights?




On Saturday, Dec. 6, lift a glass, a cookie, and a hot new crime fiction novel with a bookshop full of Northern California authors. It’s Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America’s joint holiday party, free and open to the public, 2-4 PM at Borderlands Books, 866 Valencia (near 20th St).


On Sunday, Dec. 7, find out more about Handel’s Messiah at a free listening lecture by Dr. Carl Blake, 1-2:30 PM at The Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples, 2041 Larkin St. (near Broadway). A reception will follow in this beautiful 1906 landmark Russian Hill building.


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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; http://ow.ly/EC0W1)

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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