Category Archives: e-books

Instrumentality of women 600 x 900

How Did I Get 14 Science Fiction Stories About Women in One Book?

I wrote them!

Instrumentality of women 600 x 900You can read stories about women in love, women’s problems, or women’s issues. Or you can read stories about the future of women…

Fourteen sci fi and fantasy stories all about women by FEMALE SCIENCE FICTION WRITER author Amy Sterling Casil. This collection contains the Nebula Award-nominated story “To Kiss the Star.”

In the Nebula Award-nominated “To Kiss the Star,” gravely disabled Mel Armstrong gets the chance to explore the stars, but doesn’t want to leave the man she loves behind.

In “The Renascence of Memory,” nanotechnology returns 80 year old Alzheimers patient Carol Meyers to her former youth and beauty — but everyone she knew and loved is dead, except her former young lover — he is now too old for her.

Famous female film director Helene Bacon will be the first woman to win an AFI Lifetime Achievement Award — but she’s dying of cancer and her daughter is the best donor. How will she choose?

The Lady, the only daughter of the last great ruler of Copan, wishes to be a man, so she can save her father and her city.

Dr. Vi Elliott believes she’s discovered Early Man in the Southern California Desert — maybe she has, and maybe she has not — but she does run across a couple of mint-addicted intergalactic eBay traders in this sequel to “Mad for the Mints.”

And lawyer Lori Johnston is happily married to insurance guy Jack — until he tells her he’s committed to gender reassignment to save his job. What Jack doesn’t know is that Lori appears and is female, but her biology is male: born with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome.

Available directly from Book View Café Publishing Cooperative (EPUB and Mobi), as well as Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Apple and GooglePlay.

“Amy writes like Ray Bradbury on real sci-fi …” Tom Easton, Analog Magazine

“‘To Kiss the Star’ was up for the Nebula Award, but didn’t win. I haven’t read the work that did win yet, but, again, it must have been absolutely unbelievably fabulous to beat out “To Kiss the Star.” This is a beautiful, poignant, moving story of a soaring mind trapped in a damaged body. Read it.” – Hugo, Campbell and Nebula award-winning author Robert J. Sawyer, author of Flashforward and other bestsellers

This is my own personal website so I may answer this question: What did win? It was about teenage boys. One critic said about “To Kiss the Star,” — “It’s like a Lifetime movie.” Why YES – YES IT IS.

The Instrumentality of Women
First eBook Edition Book View Café 2016
ISBN: 978-1-61138-584-7
$4.99
Trade Paperback Chameleon Publishing 2016
356 pages
ISBN: 978-1-46380-239-4
$15.99

Introduction 2015: The Instrumentality of Women

My perspective has broadened a bit since 2014.

Introduction

When I was 13, one of the most popular songs was “At Seventeen,” by Janis Ian. I had a record player. There was no such thing as an iPod. If you played a vinyl record enough times it got a grayish tinge and started to crackle and pop. After a few months, I could hardly play Janis’ album any longer and it was gray as hell. I not only idolized Janis — her “look,” her fashion, her voice, her poetry – I related to this song just like every other teen girl. It turned out, later, that the song really was about Janis at age 13, my exact age.

I learned the truth at seventeen

That love was meant for beauty queens

And high school girls with clear skinned smiles

Who married young and then retired …

I had no sense I was “beautiful,” and as far as future career path, I pictured being the secretary to a wealthy and powerful man. I wanted to marry a handsome, strong man. My ideal wedding dress was an “empire” dress — but I didn’t know what it was called back then. I wanted two children: a boy and a girl. Sure, I wrote storylike objects and I painted pictures and I made things. I “whittled” and woodcarved and banged stuff together with old nails. I foraged and hunted and hiked and explored with my dog. I shoveled the manure out of my pony’s stall —

It had been nigh upon three years since I’d gotten a copy of A Wrinkle in Time from my aunt Donna.

The summer I was 13, as I listened to “At Seventeen” over and over, I read Lord of the Rings front to back four or five times. I got the “pancake tan” (didn’t want to turn over so brown in front, white in back). I read Dune. I read Warm Worlds and Otherwise, stories by James Tiptree, Jr. I read through all of Ray Bradbury. I read England Swings edited by Judith Merril. I read Dangerous Visions, and Again, Dangerous Visions. Those were edited by Harlan Ellison. He looked like a handsome guy, judging by his picture. But I wouldn’t have said anything like that to anyone. Admitting I was reading this stuff was beyond weird and nerdy.

Nobody told me I couldn’t be a sci-fi writer. Somewhere in the back of my head this idea took root. I liked to imagine things. I couldn’t help it. I imagined things whether I wanted to or not. These things: they were stories. Not about me. About people I didn’t know, lots of the time. Places, sometimes very far away in space and time, from where I was.

Then my grandfather died and my grandmother didn’t talk to me for a year, and then I moved away to Hollywood and then I came back to Redlands.

I was a different person; I’d lost a year. The normality of my life before was gone. I no longer imagined I’d marry a wealthy, powerful man, although that seemed like a pretty good plan if it ever did happen. I just wanted to survive from day to day.

And so it goes.

This is my third collection of short fiction. Three stories are fantasy; eleven are science fiction. All are about women. Although the fantasy stories are told with male viewpoint characters, their linchpins are the women.

The degree of prior professional publication and recognition on these stories is directly graphable by age. The younger the protagonist, the easier the sale — in fact, “To Kiss the Star,” the first story, was a cover story of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and nominated for a Nebula Award. Its protagonist, Mel, is seventeen, just like Janis Ian’s song. And I realize now what song I heard when Mel looked in the mirror after the ISA “cowboy” doctor gave her sight. In stories I have written, the older the female protagonist, the less likely the story would be to appear in a top publication. At best, these appeared in small press or anthologies edited by friends.

Now, these stories about women age 30 and over are in a book that is published in e-book form by Book View Cafe, the first, largest and most-successful author publishing cooperative, and in trade paperback, by Chameleon Publishing, the publishing company I founded.

Instrumentality of women 600 x 900Here are the stories and who they are about:

To Kiss the Star

Mel Armstrong – 17 – wheelchair-bound, blind, spastic, chosen for spaceflight

The Renascence of Memory

Carol Meyers – 80 – Alzheimer’s patient, former wife, mother, college professor

This Monster

Grendel’s Dam – ageless

Jenny, With the Stars in Her Hair

Jenny Julian – 28 – addicted to extreme cosmetic surgery

The Color of Time

Gia – 21, Nana – 81, Faith – 31

Smiley the Robot

Miss Gia – 85

Everything I Have is Yours

Helene Bacon – 50 – famous film director, Sarah Bacon – 16 – her daughter

Heart of Jade

The Lady – 30-ish and thought barren – daughter of 20 Rabbit, the last great king of Copan

Shakespeare in Hell

Emilia Bassano – 35-ish (actually died at age 74) – reputed “Dark Lady” of Shakespeare’s sonnets

The Ruined Gods

Ginger – 28 – a cat woman; Rikki/Roxane/Roksana – 73

The Gods That Men Don’t See

Ginny Baumann – 33 – primatologist, unmarried

Digger Lady

Vi Elliott – 73 – paleontologist, never married

Incandescent

Paperwhite – a newborn Vogue girl

Her Name is Jacqueline

Lori Johnston – 36 – attorney, married, male genes, female nature

For many years, I did not know that nobody wanted to read a story about a woman over age 30, or a story with a female character over age 25 who wasn’t a “black widow,” a canny elderly detective or nosy old lady next door.

Of course I know that now.

Of course I know there should be romance stories for women, men and transgendered people. There should be stories about crises of conscience for men. How stupid is it, for example, for there to be a story about Helene Bacon, the first female film director to receive an AFI Lifetime Achievement Award? There’s some sci-fi for you. Imagine that this successful, powerful director never had time to get married, but she did have a daughter, Sarah — a daughter very much like her. And right when she has achieved the height of her recognition and power, Helene learns she’s dying of lung cancer. Only a total lung transplant will save her. And Sarah’s not just her daughter: she is her clone. Oh, what to do? God, what a ridiculous, idiotic story. Its mate (architect dying of cancer learns that only his cloned son can save him) was a Writers of the Future winning story. When people questioned that a man would consider using his son that way — what about a mother? — the story was born.

“Digger Lady” has not so much been rejected, but rather – lost, three times, by three different editors of two major sci-fi/fantasy magazines. It is inspired by a lady I got to know at age 17 — some coincidence? — Ruth “Dee” Simpson, the archaeologist at the San Bernardino County Museum. That was my first real job — the “intern” at the museum. The character inspired by “Dee,” Vi Elliott, is explicitly said to be 73 in the story. She is being forced into retirement. There are few women who can claim to have discovered Early Man in the Southern California desert along with world-renowned paleontologist Dr. Louis Leakey. Ruth “Dee” Simpson is one of them. Nobody wants to read about someone like that.

I think they’d rather read about a naive 3-day old genetically manipulated prostitute who is bound to save the world from an alien plague, all the while being beaten to a pulp by a vicious, burned-out case who learns at the end, the value of what he valued so-little. I did write that story and it is in this book; I will not continue to write dozens of them.

It makes me sad when I think of the stories I was given to read while in school (this includes college and graduate school). “The Yellow Wallpaper” – a classic by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The husband’s name is John; the young female narrator has no name. This story was written well over a hundred years ago.

My life, oddly enough, was not over when I turned 25, nor 30, nor even the dreaded 40 and unholy, impossible, “no man will ever want you!” 50. Such adventures I have had – and still have.

The best stories are those which tell themselves. It isn’t “who writes the stories” that is so important; it is the stories themselves.

These are the stories that came to me, as they came to me. For a long while, I didn’t realize that I was, as far as getting paid or getting anybody to read the work, literally wasting my time even attempting to write stories outside the conventional genres (romance, mystery) and genre conventions (like Ellie Sattler in the Jurassic Park movies – she retires, is married, has children and becomes a children’s book writer) about women. Now I do understand that.

I’m writing them anyway. I’m publishing them anyway.

At 13, at 17, at 53, it was and is my job to listen.

Amy Sterling Casil

Aliso Viejo, CA

December 2015

 

The Instrumentality of Women: January 19

 

 

Instrumentality of women 600 x 900 instrumentality-of-women-wrap-cover (1)

You can read stories about women in love, women’s problems, or women’s issues.
Or, you can read stories about the future of women.

In the Nebula Award-nominated “To Kiss the Star,” gravely disabled Mel Armstrong gets the chance to explore the stars, but doesn’t want to leave the man she loves behind. In “The Renascence of Memory,” nanotechnology returns 80 year old Alzheimer’s patient Carol Meyers to her former youth and beauty — but everyone she knew and loved is dead, except her former young lover — he is now too old for her. Famous female film director Helene Bacon will be the first woman to win an AFI Lifetime Achievement Award — but she’s dying of cancer and her daughter is the best donor. How will she choose? The Lady, the only daughter of the last great ruler of Copan wishes to be a man, so she can save her father and her city. Dr. Vi Elliott believes she’s discovered Early Man in the Southern California Desert — maybe she has, and maybe she has not — but she does run across a couple of mint-addicted intergalactic eBay traders in this sequel to “Mad for the Mints.” And lawyer Lori Johnston is happily married to insurance guy Jack — until he tells her he’s committed to gender reassignment to save his job. What Jack doesn’t know is that Lori appears and is female, but her biology is male: born with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome.

The Instrumentality of Women

First eBook Edition Book View Cafe
18 January 2016
ISBN: 978-1-61138-584-7
$4.99

First Trade Paperback Edition Chameleon Publishing
4 April 2016
ISBN: 978-1-46380-239-4
356 pages
$14.99

This is the original introduction: it will be changed now but probably will still include the information about Asimov’s.

Will Authors Hang Separately?

At the signing of the American Declaration of Independence, Ben Franklin famously said, “We must all hang together, or we most assuredly will all hang separately.”

benfranklinjohnadamsgifIt’s like that for writers these days.

In nearly every area, people have figured out how to make money off the creativity of others. I just reviewed the education app Nearpod this morning. It is primarily aimed at K-12 teachers and classrooms. While very interesting in terms of providing a tool for interactive classroom content (especially for tablet-enabled classrooms – it is mobile oriented), I was little surprised to learn that the “App” requests teachers who have made their own Common Core-friendly lessons to apply to be “authors” who will be able to sell their lessons to other teachers at prices ranging from $2.99 for a single lesson to $40 and $50 for “bundled lessons.”

The time and effort to make a decent Nearpad interactive lesson (the app’s beauty is it allows teachers to pace the lesson and break it up with assessments – quizzes, questions, etc.) is far in excess of being paid a few dollars here and there, most certainly what the Nearpad people would offer for the “lucky” teachers “selected” to be “Nearpad Authors.” There are a few such authors featured on the service. There are many more professional “educational content” companies listed. These in turn pay the people who make their lessons as little as possible, usually piece rates for “work for hire,” while making huge amounts of money from it.

We turn to “self-publishing” where authors are encouraged to make their own money and told it’s the “new frontier” enabling them to have creative and financial freedom.

The reality is, there is less freedom than ever. As to financial freedom, the small numbers who are making good money right now … or at least purported “experts” like Jane Friedman (who make money from aspiring writers and conferences and fees) … appear blissfully unaware of the writing on the wall.

writing on the wall

Search engines are going local. Mobile advertising and customer contact is going local and device-specific. Because retail stores aren’t going away. People will probably *never* buy everything online and after more than a decade of every algorithm known to man developed in the absence of direct human contact …

What any real salesperson will tell you is: you can guess about the customer but you won’t know until you talk to them in person.

Which authors other than James Patterson and J.K. Rowling are going to be able to afford targeted mobile ads? Everyone who was previously successful in self-publishing has gone for a traditional publishing contract if possible.

Why would that be so?

Because if we do not hang together, we will most assuredly, hang separately. They have some type of partnership with their publishers.

Yes, that is the future. It was the past – it was exploitive. It broke down. Now authors are being exploited individually.

Of course there’s a better way. But it sure as he** is not going to come from “subject matter experts,” “book formatting experts” or “author assistants.”

I have been a professional writer since 1996. I have worked in nearly every aspect of the publishing industry, from educational to trade fiction to magazines, and every conceivable type of online “content.” I’ve also worked as an executive in the nonprofit world, with government, foundation and private funders and a huge range of projects, and as a business development professional, with over 160 businesses. And, I’m a college teacher.

Writers, by far, have the least ability to work together to benefit each other of any group I have ever worked with. They are at present, hanging on every word of gurus that promise riches and hanging separately.

Mene, Mene, Tekel, Uparshin.

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How Will The World End? Is There a Clue From The Easter Island Heads? They Also Have Bodies!

Did you know? The Easter Island heads have giant bodies that are buried below the surface!

AH2B07The end of the world came sooner for the Rapa Nui (Easter Island) people than for the rest of us.

While people remain on the island today, all the trees of this once-tropical paradise are gone, and the secrets of making the giant statues are forgotten. This rare picture shows the size of the head compared to the buried body.

easter island head bodyThere are more mysteries on earth than we can possibly imagine!

I am often inspired by one of my favorite media personalities, Giorgio Tsoukalos. Giorgio’s open mind helps us to see many possibilities that we otherwise would not consider.

Aliens may very well have started the human race down the path of civilization. They may also have been a source of much ancient knowledge that has been forgotten today. From the ancient Mayans to the Easter Island Rapa Nui people to the ancient Greeks and Romans, many have predicted the end of the world or apocalypse.

Hundreds of predictions have not come to pass, but here are some of the threats coming up soon:

“There is an asteroid with our name on it,” British television astrophysicist Brian Cox told the Daily Mail. tv astrophysicist brian coxAn asteroid nearly impacted the earth in 2014. We almost died in a cataclysm similar to the one that destroyed the dinosaurs.

But, we didn’t.

Now, as many as six world-shattering asteroids could be headed our way, with reported impacts predicted for the days between coming between September 21 and 28 … less than a month from now!

The “Blood Moon Prophecy” originated with Rev. Efrain Rodriguez. Additional pastors, including the Revs. Mark Blitz and John Hagee, have told their followings of tens of thousands that the fourth “Blood Moon” this year will herald the arrival of a giant asteroid. This monster-sized rock the size of a city block, is supposed to hit the earth near Puerto Rico, causing a 300-foot tsunami, vaporization of Puerto Rico and surrounding areas, and a magnitude-12 earthquake.

jumbo jet sized asteroid

Asteroids “bigger than a jumbo jet” come close to earth on a monthly basis, according to NASA, which regularly updates the public on near-misses.

And guess what?

By anywhere from 1 to 2 billion years from now, the earth will for certain be burned to a cinder due to the inevitable expansion of our Sun. Some experts now predict that the end may come even sooner than that — as soon as 100 years from now. According to Reuters, children born today may live to see humanity’s end as a result of global warming above 2C.

Just in case …

You can read up on all of these doomsday scenarios and more!

For $15, you can get a bunch of classic disaster novels from StoryBundle, and donate to the Challenger Center for Science Education! Featuring FIRE by Alan Rodgers (there are some nuclear challenges in the book, but mostly a horrible virus that brings the dead back to life — including meat in freezers! — is on the rampage) and great books by Kevin J. Anderson, David Sakmyster, Laura Anne Gilman and more! If you have never heard of StoryBundle, check it out! You can get top-quality, best-selling books for a single low price, you can name your own price as well, and let them know how much of the proceeds you would like to go to the author, to StoryBundle, and to a designated charity!

 

 

Amazon is the Past, Not the Future

Amazon has made the self-publishing revolution possible; no question. They have also enabled a number of publishers, especially those in esoteric areas or those specializing in low-volume titles, to survive and potentially thrive.

They also provide a huge number and range of goods for sale and services, including data, cloud services, entertainment and shipping. It’s hard to visit their busy website and not think “Are they *everything* to everybody?”

The recent NY Times expose of working circumstances for the company’s white collar workers (tech, marketing, management) has raised a lot of questions. It’s certainly true that there are wretched companies to work for out there, many worse than Amazon. However, Amazon doesn’t appear anywhere on the top 50 companies for Executives from CEO Magazine in the past 5 years; numerous others do – and there’s high variability in rankings.  You will not find Amazon on any of Training Mag’s Top 125 awardees for 2015. You will find, from the tech and retail sector, Best Buy, CarMax, Cisco and Walgreens.

The people who so callously said that Amazon’s policies were fine used the excuse that the company earns a profit; indeed – according to Investopedia, “Amazon’s profits for its entire existence are still less than what ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) takes home every 2.5 weeks.” The company earned NO PROFIT AT ALL until 2009 (founded 1994).

According to BusinessInsider, which is partly owned by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, “Get it into your heads: Amazon is not going to become a big-margin company. Never has, never will — it’s not in the model.” Of course not. Most retail is not high profit margin; however, most retail cannot go for years with no profits.

The very day of the NY Times Amazon expose, a laudatory article about Amazon’s Jeff Bezos appeared in the UK Telegraph (a conservative or Tory publication). Last week, investment publications reported that Bezos sold over $550 million of his Amazon stock. Possibly, to buy the NY Times and prevent future negative articles.

Jet Amazon competitor

The company is not without competitors. Jet.com is just one of them.

WalMart also does more sales volume in books than Amazon does.

So, what’s the difference? Chances are if you’re reading this, you’re a writer or other professional. You’re an educated, sophisticated person and do not shop at stores like WalMart.

Therefore: no one does, right? Amazon may have advanced in revenue size but it’s still weak and tiny and resource-poor compared to WalMart. Amazon isn’t Apple. It’s not Microsoft. It’s not Cisco. It’s a retailer. An online retailer that ships and has realized it has resources that could compete with UPS or FedEx. It’s still using trucks and gasoline. It still has physical warehouses.

This extremely optimistic chart projects that Amazon will surpass WalMart in revenue by . . . 2024. Even with this hinky curve – there’s a better revenue curve there. It’s the blue one on top. If you’ll notice the raise there for the red one starts after 2015. It hasn’t happened yet.

Walmart vs AmazonSo to the people who work for Amazon, it’s a game with uncertain results.

To the rest of us, especially those of us who are creative professionals, in working with Amazon, we are working with … wait for it … and I *do* work with them and they are human beings just like everybody else. I am never discourteous to others in interactions, but let’s just say Apple customer service is celestial compared to Amazon’s.

If you read that NY Times article and didn’t come up with “crazier than a barrel of spider monkeys and a fifth of whisky,” then you should read it again. You should read Nick Ciubotariu’s “Data driven response” to the article. The only data in his long, full of hurt feelings response is “On average, the ratio of positive feedback to negative feedback was over 5:1.” That’s it. Thousands of words, ZERO data. Nick even says “I don’t know what the employee retention (or turnover/burn) rate is.”

Is it about good vs. evil?

It’s about poor management and decision making. I don’t care that Nick Ciubotariu’s “mentor” told him that Amazon was the “best company in the world.”

I can see from my own limited perspective that what impacts our publishing company and to a larger extent, our world that could benefit from better books (not more books – better books) that everything about Amazon’s e-book hardware, software, sales, delivery and marketing, is harmful to the product’s long-term growth and development of excellence. They are doing nothing but doubling and tripling down on that. For this customer growth.

Do you see the same growth curve in this chart of customer demographics as that optimistic “Amazon will surpass WalMart by 2028 chart”? Oh, those algorithms. There is a secret Amazon anti-aging project. It will deliver “instant youth” in one hour, guaranteed. Only to Amazon Prime members.

Amazon customer demographics

I don’t know how many times I can tell people, “The reason Amazon Kindle sales do not match ‘regular’ book sales is that the Kindle owner customer base doesn’t match everybody else/the general population.” Only about 10% of all books sold are via the Amazon e-book platform.

Now they’ve got Kindle Scout, which is basically another Kickstarter-type crowdsourcing for getting content for a whopping $1,500, some of which might end up being a great investment.

There’s not an original piece of work on the entire Kindle Scout page. People can upvote/downvote/game to their heart’s content. It’s crap made by people devoted to making crap they believe to be marvelous. Oldtimers know this as Sturgeon’s law (90% of everything is crap). Or – “imitation fast food.” Like this (Fast Food You Can Make at Home).

Kindle Scout Crap

Maybe a year from now if this keeps going, the titles will be better, the covers a little slicker. It will still be DIY Fast Food.

Am I saying independent authors only write crap?

No. I’m just saying schemes like Kindle Scout or various “author communities” have as much point as McDonalds opening its stores up to local cooks trying to duplicate dishes the restaurant has sold for years. It is the same whether Amazon does this or legacy publishers do it.

Ron Collins says that lots of big companies are using advanced math to determine the cost-benefit analysis of treating your employees as if they are worthless and interchangeable, and treating them as if they have some value to the business. Amazon’s math doesn’t add up all around. Low/no profits for years. High rate of employee turnover and burnout. Endless schemes, dozens of new business ventures, few of which pan out. Low growth in new business sectors.

All the algorithms and analysis in the world will not tell a business the truth about a customer who is remote (i.e. not “in the store”). And just because somebody buys something one day, does not mean they want or need the exact same thing the next.

Just because a reader stops reading a Kindle book on a certain page doesn’t mean they do not like, value or would not purchase a book by that author in the future.

And above all, these things cannot tell Amazon what people will want in the future. They cannot tell them why people didn’t adopt the Kindle Fire phone (I was told “it sucks” by the ATT representative – “Get the iPhone instead.”) An Apple and a GooglePlay store representative both said that the Amazon display in another office/tech store was “never attended.” One of them described how he bought his aunt a Kindle Fire this past Christmas. He said she returned it and used the money toward a new tablet. Her age and gender put her right in the middle of the Kindle demographic.

I had no negative feelings regarding Amazon until a few months ago. I just thought they were too fast-growing and somewhat impersonal. Then I noticed how nasty, unprofessional and a-creative many of the extreme self-publishing Amazon proponents were. They were not actual employees or executives. Yet their culture was horrifying. “This doesn’t go with creativity or good business,” I thought.

These vicious, rude, crude, unimaginative people are just unpaid versions of the brutes at Amazon HQ in Seattle. Maybe some people think this is winning.

ragnar lothbrok

I do not.

Let’s Do This Different

The Hitler Channel (AHC) has been showing documentaries about “The Evolution of Evil.” These cover such perennial favorites as Hitler and Stalin. Both gentlemen rose to power following the breakdown of monarchies in Europe/Russia and the first World War.

evolution of evil nazi brandBoth, interestingly, were young men from relatively impoverished backgrounds — “outsiders” who rose to power in the chaos following the fall of prior Imperial structures. Hitler was a German-speaking Austrian; Stalin a Russian-speaking Georgian. Both were educated in traditional religious schools prior to becoming involved in revolutionary movements.

Russia’s “Man of Steel,” Stalin, had a lot longer run than Germany’s Fuhrer, Hitler.

So in recent months I’ve had a bit of contact with younger people who desire change. Some reminds me of my great time working with Policymic. Others — maybe not so much.

I put my experience working with Policymic in the 100% positive column. I think many of the Policymic former and current writers are doing incredible things and that they want nothing but good for other people. They want, and are working, for positive change. I was really glad to see Laura Donovan writing for Attn:, for example.

I find a number of younger people who seem to be locked into a cycle of complaints, the same type of aggressive online attention-getting we see from many male media personalities, and the same lack of respect for older generations or diverse cultures and values that is typical of the Tsars, Kaisers or “American Titans” of the past.

Like Stalin became Tsar-Plus, worse than any Russian Tsar of prior generations, once his opportunity came. Like Hitler became Kaiser-Plus, worse than Kaiser Wilhelm ever thought of being.

Stalin has been commonly called a brute and a pig. What he was, was murderer to millions. He alone took the former Soviet Union back decades. People wanted freedom and opportunity after Imperial Russia and its abuses. They got the “Man of Steel.”

I now understand in all regards how and why my grandmother was one of the six founding members of the American Communist Party. It was at this time that women had barely achieved the right to vote in America. She was a first-time woman pharmacist in New York (Hell’s Kitchen) and California. She certainly would not have been welcomed by either U.S. established political party at that time; the Communists were the only ones who would have either welcomed, or listened to her.

My Grandma Mary was probably the most humane person I have ever met, and insightful enough about human nature to have easily repelled a serial rapist who broke into her small Fairfax District apartment when she was up in her 80s by saying, “Young man, if you touch me, you’ll get the worst disease you ever heard of!”

Like Stalin, some of these young militants today respect power — what they perceive of it. After watching the AHC documentary, which detailed some of Stalin’s consolidation of power — perhaps they are like Trotsky, who little understood the consequences of his snubbing Stalin. Average people “get” that you get back what you put into something, and the way you treat others is generally how you are yourself, treated in return (i.e. “The Golden Rule”).

These days, most people’s basic needs are met. They also get basic entertainment, comfort, and sexual needs met fairly easily.

Our intellectual and spiritual needs: not so much.

So, it is my hope that as we pass from one era to the next, we do not have the same circumstances as occurred with Hitler and Stalin, where higher-class hereditary monarchs and dictators were replaced by lower-class, non-hereditary, power-mongering ones who made their predecessors look like amateurs in oppression.

If you think you’re “left out” today and want to be the dominant voice of tomorrow, having no respect for those who came before you is hardly the way to make a change and make a difference.

This is a Book

Is She Available HardcoverSo, this is a book. Is SHE Available? by Igor Goldkind.

Not only could this book have not been made by an individual working in isolation, it wouldn’t be what it is without the musical and recording talents of Gilad Atzmon, the art talent of more than 26 internationally-acclaimed graphic novel, comic, and fine artists, including front and interior cover by Bill Sienkiewicz, and the world-class book and type design talent of Rian Hughes. Videos are by Madefire, which has invented a way to animate graphic novels and comics, and the e-book enhancements including movable type and animations were done in Southern California by Chameleon.

The book was more than a year in the making and it is indeed, our showpiece, along with the companion hardcover.

If it was just Igor’s poetry, it would be yet another book of poetry — a good one — but not what it is. This is why we are able to do Poetry, Jazz, Art, Comics — Really? at Comic-Con next week.

Darkness Poem back Love Is Poem back (1) Love is a Gun tshirt frontThese are 1) Rian Hughes type design for “The Darkness” poem; 2) Rian Hughes type design for “The Bullet From My Gun” poem; and 3) Art for “The Bullet From My Gun” by Shaky Kane. We will have t-shirts at Comic-Con with Shaky’s image on the front and the poem type design on the back.

The e-book uses every functionality of Adobe Creative Suite, including video, audio, animations, Illustrator, InDesign (obviously) and Photoshop. It uses every capability of the EPUB3 standards.

And although there is a GooglePlay version, the book is optimally experienced on iBooks and Apple devices.

There will probably never be a Kindle version of this book — at least not for the foreseeable future.

Did we go into it this way? No! We went into it with the idiotic assumption that it would be “easy” to convert and validate the EPUB for KF8. Aw no problemo … easy peasy! The Kindle plays movies and shows magazines and …

30 days later … every editing program out there used and re-used …

We also did not want an “app,” we wanted a book. It’s a book-plus. Apps are, and we have some agreement out there, at-best book-minus. That’s from the perspective of making the thing and using it — what can and cannot be included. That’s from the app format itself. That’s from down in the guts of what it is. The Kindle problem is down in the guts of the software itself, what it will and will not accept, what it will and will not do.

If you want an “enhanced” e-book like Stephen King’s 11/22/63, then there ya go. This goody includes a 13-minute video that is primarily Stephen King talking. It appears at the beginning of the book. Then the traditional book starts in flowable ePUB format. It’s no more enhancement than could be found on a web page; i.e. Stephen King’s or the publisher’s website. That’s because flowable ePUBS are web pages.

What flowable ePUBS and readers have caused is a diminution of the beauty of the book, making it extremely difficult to provide an optimal reader experience. There’s little type design to be done with an ePUB. When the user can make the font any one of the standard fonts they like, and make the letters bigger or smaller on the screen, and change the background and type color, that’s great for consuming text. It isn’t quite the same as reading a book like this:

jane eyre chapter 1 Fritz-Eichenberg-Jane-Eyre-Title-Page

 

The 1943 Random House edition of Jane Eyre with woodcut illustrations by Fritz Eichenberg is “book plus,” just as every illustrated children’s book is “book plus.” I always give this book as an example because it and its companion volume, Wuthering Heights, belonged to my mother — but they literally formed my life, along with the N.C. Wyeth illustrated editions of Robert Louis Stevenson’s books like Kidnapped and Treasure Island.

When I asked Kirbi Fagan if she would like to work with me on illustrations for Like Fire, she immediately understood and made the characters come alive. Working as a team, here is the result:

Keile Bern by Kirbi FaganHull Krystofferson the Ice Rooster by Kirbi Asta_Kirbi_Fagan Broos_Kirbi Fagan Meria by Kirbi FaganLike Fire is not published, and it may never be.

I crossed a line — fully-crossed this April — where I realized that what was needed, was to combine the old with the new: really, a mini-version of these pictures and this illustration and collaborative work process.

Are writers paid horribly? Yes. So are illustrators and book designers. One well-known artist friend of mine has stopped working for a famous publication because not only were their requirements so stringent he felt it downgraded his creativity, they paid too little to make his work worthwhile.

Kirbi is young: there is no telling what fantastic, beautiful, evocative art she will make down the road, what stories she will help to come alive, what young readers’ minds she will help to activate, what imaginations she will inspire.

I wrote what I wrote about the “Author Earnings Report” based on talking to aspiring writers (and some not-so aspiring – people with published books, and more than one) at the Los Angeles Writers Conference last weekend. I didn’t care for the out-there attacks on Ursula Le Guin, because they seemed a-creative to me: ugly, negative, disrespectful and almost enthusiastically uncultured. I realized when talking to aspiring writers that there is so much misinformation and disinformation out there about the industry. Financially, even the most-successful, most-famous writer, if they are agented and with an established trade publisher, will be giving up money they can probably better-earn by selling their work directly — at least in e-book form.

Trade publishers may or may not market a writer’s work effectively to the current reading audience. Only the writer will be able to go beyond that set audience if happy circumstances intervene.  As to the work between writers, editors, designers, artists and book formatters that is the subject of this post, writers with established trade publishers are siloed from that, for the most part. Over the years, the siloing has taken the form of ongoing jokes about the wrong gender of character being on a book cover, or aliens and ray guns appearing on a traditional fantasy book.

As to self-publishing, doing it well takes time, money and resources. The argument is made that “anybody” can publish their own book and that is certainly true. These posts aren’t for the person who is happy just seeing their work out in public. Our writer survey showed that a pretty big percentage of current writers don’t want to work as part of a creative team, and some don’t want audience feedback at all. The majority were willing to listen to feedback after they’d finished a book, not before starting it, or as they were working. So that isn’t adding to the discourse, as Alan Rodgers famously used to ask other writers — including multiply-published ones (risking fistfights in the process).

growth in retail spendWe think this statistic is worth thinking about and paying attention to.

And this one:

 

 

 

The Problem With BooksThe problem with rotating around a small, limited market and basing your work and priorities on what that group has read or liked in the past is that whomever reads the new work that’s published will be that group-minus, not that group-plus.

Author Lisa Genova, previously mentioned, was successful in her area because there hadn’t been well-written books before about individuals or families struggling to cope with Alzheimers disease, and that group is growing, not declining. Lisa, I think, grew readership in a certain sense, because she came up with something new. I can tell readers right now why she had to do her path to publication her way: Still Alice is about a 50-year old woman, and even as I type, that’s going to be a small minority of books even considered by top agents, much less editorial boards (we are going to skip acquiring editors since this past weekend a truth was told to conference attendees — acquiring editors can always say “no” but they can never on their own, say “yes”).

A few months ago, I received some cool manuscripts from a talented writer. The very first one opened with a chapter about an 80 year old woman. The story skipped back in time and she wasn’t always 80 throughout the entire book, but as it started: yeah — 80. “You will not get this read in New York, much less published,” I had to sadly tell the writer.

Everything that’s rotating around the Kindle stack right now is based on what has been previously published and successful in the past, and those things were selected based in uncertain, unknown criteria — primarily personal taste or “commonly-held wisdom.” PLUS the books suffer from the KF8 restricted format, PLUS the only ones that have a chance of doing well will have at least two of these criteria: professional editing and proofreading, paid advertising, established publicity channels, professional cover and formatting.

A person who has to work to support a family, and who doesn’t have a lot of resources to pay for those things, isn’t going to be able to get all that done. That miracle isn’t any likelier to happen through self-publishing than it is through the person making it through the agent-acquiring editor-editorial board pipeline at a trade publisher.

No established trade publisher would do Is SHE Available? and even if they did, it wouldn’t be good because he would have been siloed off and the art and design handed to someone who’d likely never speak to him; sales might have some input but since they are almost always at war with editorial, it probably wouldn’t be helpful. It’s not only Igor’s book, it’s Igor’s life and it’s a direct transmission from the Igorverse. Igor is a first-time poet and author. He just happened to be good friends with all the people whose work went into the book. And us, at Chameleon.

 

New Writers: This is What’s Going on With “Author Earnings Report”

We wrote about how Barnes & Noble is a lonely, frightening place for a young book: and it is. Any retail consultant would be appalled by what goes on in most B & N stores. Crowded aisles, merchandise on the floor, dusty shelves, merchandise used as decoration, uninspiring displays, and we did not even go into the stockroom, where we have heard some book shipments are simply stored until it’s time to return the unopened boxes. Those books (midlist, usually) aren’t ever even shelved since clerks don’t think any customers will want them. That’s some broken sales pipeline. Much like the troubled businesses on Bar Rescue, Restaurant: Impossible, The Profit and the late, lamented Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares: nothing about the business itself could possibly contribute to flat or declining sales and profit. Barnes & Noble is in trouble because “no one reads any longer” and “young people don’t read” and a million other excuses.

So, a lot of people who love reading and writing think Amazon is the solution. The Amazon Kindle is an amazing device, and I personally use it extensively: I am right in the middle of that device’s sweet spot demographic. I’m a college-educated woman who appreciates the ability to make the e-book type any size and shape I like. I know how to quickly find books I’m interested in.

When we first started our four-part series on the Business of Books, responding to our first market validation survey (among writers), we caught some blowback because we supported Ursula Le Guin’s contention that Amazon’s system is causing a problem for books and readership by focusing on quick-selling, short-term books.

The blowback was from Hugh Howey adherents and enthusiasts. We were informed we should look at Author Earnings Report to find out what was really going on with books and readers. Some commenters suggested we were not aware of such options as Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) or quality print on demand options like Amazon’s CreateSpace. Those were the nice folks. The other ones were getting a kick out of slagging on a National Book Award winner (Ursula Le Guin) and calling me names. author earnings report

So, here’s the deal, new writers. To you, this report means exactly nothing. This is heat, light, smoke, almost totally wasted time and effort. It covers Amazon Kindle book sales and nothing else. It covers pricing information and what it presents is pretty dubious. The report has simply proven that non-traditionally published e-books sell in the Kindle format on the Kindle device. It refers to a “shadow industry” of books without ISBNs – i.e. books with ASINs only, the Kindle identifier. Similarly, books can be sold via Smashwords without an ISBN.

About two years ago we started our business with a cookie analogy, because the value of a book isn’t its sales price, nor is it even its total volume sales. We talked about how there were various qualities associated with cookies that food manufacturers used to develop, test and market them. This concept inspired Chameleon’s “bookfeel” elements to be used in book marketing, development (YES WRITING AND EDITING AND PRODUCTION) and sales/promotion.

With recent developments in Amazon’s pricing and payment structure (Kindle Unlimited, payment per amount of book read) and today’s announcement that the book subscription service Scribd is eliminating 80 to 90 percent of its romance titles because romance readers were downloading and reading “too much” to make it economically feasible, new writers might be inspired to think they need to work even harder, and market their books even more, to be a success. “Oh, my gosh,” some writers may think. “What if Amazon decides to give only 5% royalties? What if they decide to pay only if the person finishes the book and gives a good review?”

When people talk about the large share of the book market that Amazon has, they are referring to their print sales plus their e-book sales. No one really knows what Amazon’s aggregate total really represents in terms of market share, except the overall trade publishing industry is a $27 billion industry in the U.S. and we recently determined that Amazon’s maximum revenue for books was about $7 billion last year and we’re being very generous about it: 26% of the market. That is a whole lot. But if e-books just overtook the paper book sales via Amazon less than a year ago (they did), that’s 13% of the book buying market — and that is stretching it.

If I deal with the numbers that “Author Earnings Report” is trying to use to represent the market opportunity for indy-published writers, I’ll just extrapolate the “1 day earnings” for indy-published writers it estimates for May 1 sales: $1.1 million USD x 365 days = $401.5 million. That is 1.4% of the total market. Amazon’s practices mean little good news for Amazon-only authors, that’s for certain. And Amazon does not seem to be growing readership.

It’s about who can and does buy books on the Kindle. I am too cheap to download this report. But it indicates that the same market research firm (Simba) that correctly projected slowing growth in e-book sales in general in 2012 also showed that Kindle users are older (55+), female (55%) and that there are very few – 2.3% – younger Kindle owners and users. kindle users by age

In contrast, tablet ownership is broadening, with over 34 percent of Americans owning or using a tablet computer. The Kindle Fire is counted among tablets, but its demographics do not match overall tablet ownership and usage.

All you have to do is walk into any tech/electronics store like Best Buy or mobile provider store like ATT or Verizon and talk to customer service reps about who is buying what. The Kindle Fire, despite all of Amazon’s efforts, isn’t being adopted at the high rate of Apple, Samsung or other products. Marcus Lemonis, the Profit, could easily tell you why; and Amazon’s policies regarding its book content and acquisition aren’t going to help the situation much. Right now, the Kindle is a tablet, but it didn’t start out that way and Amazon’s business was built on getting books — paper books — into the hands of 1995’s readers. Now it’s 2015.

People don’t read books much on tablets so far (overall), but they are starting to do it more and more. Students definitely want textbooks and resources on their mobile devices. They do, consistently, when questioned, say they prefer paper books.

E-readers basically make it easier for older folks such as me to read. When I got my Kindle, I found myself reading more: for practical reasons! But for reasons of information and quality, I do turn to paper books. Or, I download books that I also have in paper form.

That’s because a book isn’t just text dumped onto a screen. People who think it’s cool to make fun of and insult a National Book Award winner, and who think there’s much, if any, benefit in the extensive, ongoing, repetitive “Author Earnings Report” probably aren’t going to understand that.

The Kindle serves people who already liked to read before they got one and who were a particular type of book buyer and reader. It’s a secondary, downstream device and market. It will never be an upstream, introductory device and market unless it changes a vast number of things about how it acquires content.

Let’s try another analogy. Many people hate WalMart for a variety of reasons, but it remains the world’s largest retailer. WalMart is notorious for squeezing its vendors in a way that makes its employee policies look like the best in the world. As one example, Hormel was forced to sell some of its cured meats to WalMart at less than cost so it would not have all Hormel products taken off their shelves. This doesn’t make for a better ham. Customers are not better served by having NO ham or substandard ham — and in the long run, neither is WalMart. About 3.5% of WalMart’s sales were from books in 2014.

We’d Like Author Earnings Readers to Pay Particular Attention to:

Given WalMart’s reported $288 billion in US sales in 2014, 3.5% of that is $10.8 billion. Smart people reading here might be surprised this cash total is more than half the revenue done by their games and electronics departments: considering the price differences, this means they are selling a lot of books. This statistic alone provides somewhat of an indication of the problem in wrapping one’s head around the total book market. Barnes & Noble reported year-end sales of $6.7 billion in January 2015, which is probably similar to Amazon’s total (again, Amazon’s figures are so siloed, firewalled and distorted it’s very difficult to get a strong picture). These are some of WalMart’s current books and they absolutely do the same type of discounting and murderous vendor activities common with their food, furnishings and electronics suppliers ($5.31 for Chris Kyle’s American Sniper trade paperback). Walmart Books  

And a final word to Author Earnings Readers . . .

Boy is there a misunderstanding about “profits” and “earnings.” Trade publishers do well to run a 2% profit. Author Earnings readers might think “gee this is terrible.” They’re reading nonsense following statements like “protecting the paper book trade will not help publishers.” Nonsense like this:

  • Reduced publisher profits (only 20 cents of profit on each dollar versus 52.5 cents on ebooks). <– which publishers would that be? None of those we comped; I wonder why Hachette, Simon & Schuster, Penguin Random House and Macmillan didn’t report that type of profit to their shareholders! I’m thinking only medical and specialty publishers might be able to report such figures.
  •  Reduced author earnings (only 8-15 cents of each dollar goes to the author versus 17.5 cents on ebooks). <– nah, well, it’s really more like 3-7 cents overall, Author Earnings Report, which you’d know if you could read financial statements.

Now, let’s just say you’re a (formerly) self-published author like Lisa Genova, author of Still Alice and other bestselling books. Lisa herself reported that she paid $40,000 to publicize Still Alice prior to signing with Simon & Schuster to conventionally publish the book. There are now more than 2 million copies in print; it has been translated into 31 languages. Lisa, a Harvard Neuroscience Ph.D. is an expert in Alzheimers disease and other cognitive disorders. In addition to the time spent writing and the money she paid for editing and book production,  she initially sold the book directly to people in the Alzheimer community. When accumulated interest and in-person direct sales combined with Lisa’s expertise and the high-quality nature of the book itself, she initiated her relationship with Simon & Schuster, enabling her to publish additional bestselling books. I doubt that Lisa realized any profit per book when her time, efforts, direct funds paid for editing and that $40,000 PR payment were accounted for. Say what you like about publishers like Simon & Schuster: they made it possible for the 2.1 million copies to be in print, and for the book to be translated into 31 languages.

When we started out, we audited and analyzed a number of self-published bestsellers and successes. Most of these authors and books went on to achieve traditionally-published success, and Still Alice was one of them. Each of the books and authors fit into the “bookfeel” criteria that we were simultaneously developing. Another hallmark of these books and authors was the connection with readers. 50 Shades of Gray, for example, wasn’t just a “self-published” (paperback – small press) book. It started out as an online serial told to a huge Twilight fan community. Publicity being what it is, there are some reports that 50 Shades‘ series has outsold Twilight, but that’s probably unlikely. Even though Christian Grey’s story is now the #1 bestseller, Twilight overall is likely the more successful series. Both series satisfy their readers in the basics: plot, characters, pacing, “intellectual content.” And in particular, 50 Shades stands out because it had numerous readers suggesting improvements and giving feedback at every step of the way. So right now as it stands, even though it feels as though the entire situation consists of established trade publishers exploiting authors who had already done all the hard work of building an audience and interacting with readers, that’s not precisely the case.

What needs to happen is there to be a stronger way to include successful practices in the larger publishing industry: especially a connection with audience and reader. E.L. James was really into the Twilight fan community and had that connection right off. Lisa Genova is a Harvard neuroscientist who knew people affected by Alzheimers and who was committed to the community of families and individuals impacted by the devastating disease: she wrote Still Alice for them. Lifelong “space nerd” Andy Weir was devoted to all things space before he wrote The Martian.

I’m sorry to say, Author Earnings Readers: nobody ever did anything good based in insulting a National Book Award winner. It really is about what goes between the covers of a book or on a screen and those things are not best-made by individuals working alone, in isolation. There’s nothing easy or miraculous about it. It’s hard. If you can interact with readers as you write, if you have the funds to pay for professional editing and book design, and you can bankroll a print run and distribution, and you can pay for sales teams and work with all the vendors, then there ya go: instant book success. If you have the sense not to denigrate a great, fine author for no reason, then this has to help as well, as writing is about communication and respect for the reader.

* * * * XTRA * * * *

may-2015-stackedbarI used this chart to work with the “indy-published author earnings” one-day figure, to give it some context in terms of all books sold. Then I thought, “You know what . . . that just doesn’t . . .”

A lot of people have written VOLUMES about this report and people go over it like crazy. But I’m going to go with what it says and accept these figures here as they stand. If this is “55% of all Amazon e-book sales” on this one day, May 1, and I multiply the total on the chart by 365, then I get: $19.345 billion.

Go to this page: Amazon.com Investor Relations. Download the 2014 Year End Report. Go to page 27. Read the number directly under “2014” at the top of the chart representing North American media sales. It says “11,567.”  That means $11,567 million ($11.57 billion) for all media sales (e-books, movies, music, downloads, everything). It is quite unlikely that “55% of all e-book sales” would be almost twice as much as the company reports selling to its shareholders. So either May 1 was a monster, banner day for sales or.

Well, you know. You’re going to get rich tomorrow, selling your books on Kindle and insulting Ursula LeGuin.

The Creative Revolution: Part 4 of The Business of Books

Everyone is familiar with the “Industrial Revolution.” In the past 500 years there have been five official “revolutions” that have changed the way people live.

(1600–1740) Financial-agricultural revolution
(1780–1840) Industrial revolution
(1880–1920) Technical revolution (or Second Industrial Revolution)
(1940–1970) Scientific-technical revolution
(1985–2000) Information and telecommunications revolution

We’re going to propose #6 and we are in the middle of it:

(2015-????) Creative revolution

Each of these revolutions was made possible by its predecessor.

This is what our current system defines as the “Value of Books.”

“Free papers!”

So, the result is clearly seen in the revenue earned by writers for their work.

Chart_Q17_150628The Chameleon Writer Market Survey is still open. But as of last week, among the 122 respondents, the pattern of earnings distribution is clear. The survey in fact, is weighted heavily toward working writers who’ve published a number of books.

Chart_Q2_150629Within this group, the earnings do correlate. The writers who had published more books all fell in the top four earning categories of $24,999 and above. The respondent who made more than $200,000 was individually recruited to complete the survey, as were a number of indy-published or self-published writers.

These results are a bit “better” than the data collected by the UK Authors Licensing and Collecting Society in 2014, or information on the collapse of writer earnings identified by the Authors Guild and currently being used in support of advocacy for fair writer contracts. The Authors Guild is actively advocating for major trade publishers to offer 50% e-book royalties, instead of the industry-standard 25%. As a number of independent publishers including Zumaya Publications‘ Elizabeth Burton, have pointed out over the course of these articles, independent publishers have been offering similar terms to writers for years (Zumaya was founded in 2001 and has a number of successful imprints and authors). The Book View Cafe “split” as an author cooperative is 95/5 – 95% to the author, 5% to the cooperative, retained as reserve and operations funds.

This article is going to be a bit different than the first three in the series (Value to the Reader, Writer Attitudes About Book Quality,  and Why Don’t More People Read?).

“Why Don’t More People Read?” was about who really reads and buys books currently — as much as can be determined. We’ve previously made the point using observable data (again, as much as can be determined) that the present systems are not reliably serving the current market of approximately 20 percent of North American adults who regularly buy and read books (some 70 million people). As other advisers have pointed out, we initially looked at rapidly rising college graduation rates, particularly among women and diverse populations, and predicted that some 140 million Americans, Mexicans and Canadians were potential book-buyers and readers. But the truth is: nearly 100 percent of adults are literate in the U.S. and Canada. Mexico’s literacy rate was 93% in 2013. Among young Mexicans (15-24), the rate is 98.5%. So, the potential market for books in North America really is just about everybody who is literate, i.e. the entire adult population, in North America. In addition, the book as a creative format is, as we’ve previously pointed out, foundational to other forms of communication. The delivery format does matter, as is shown in Pew’s ongoing research: younger readers not only read more, and more often, than older age groups, they prefer paper books. Here is a new link, regarding younger Americans and library use. While e-books are an important new publication platform, it is unlikely that they will ever replace paper books in their present form.

Yes, we are talking among ourselves about a different way of combining tech and the paper book. But we are crazy.

So, the current system of publishing, which includes self-publishing which is dependent on retailers (Amazon) which have brilliantly devised a system to acquire limitless content at no upfront cost, solving one of the problems of bringing products to market at scale, but offering no ability to control quality or expand markets (as seen in the leveling-off of e-book sales) – and let me explain this in plain English:

Unless Amazon fixes its approach, it will be stuck with its current Kindle customer base and ongoing declines in paper book sales since those customers are falling away. The independent booksellers that survived the seismic changes in the industry in the past 20 years are strong and new bookstores are beginning to open. Amazon is not the only e-book seller and their competitors are offering books on devices that have legs, are continuously upgraded, and really are good for more than one thing. And the traditional bookstore is not the only way to sell books.

Bound to Happen

It really was bound to happen, I realized this past weekend at the Greater Los Angeles Writers Conference. We told attendees, “Chameleon is the only company of its kind right now, but five years from now, there will be a lot more.” We said, “If established publishers want to make it, they’ll adopt more of our methodology.” There isn’t much chance of business growth and success if a business is trying to make a product using flawed methodology and is siloed from its market customers all along the supply chain — a market it knows little about, and which is self-limited based in false assumptions (“Books compete with movies, TV and games,” and “Nobody reads any longer.”) Even when successes are noted, they are evaluated based in superficialities: i.e. the success of the Twilight books led to other books that were superficially similar, and even the later success of 50 Shades of Gray, based on the more “wholesome” Twilight books — like people don’t get what the underlying basic elements were (entertainment, absorbtion and a heroic fantasy for YOUNG FEMALE READERS – told actively and at a fast pace).

Metrics and Bookscan

The only metric used in the trade publishing industry outside of Amazon’s own internal metrics, used within its customer base, is Nielsen Bookscan. When we first started Chameleon and I explained to some of our initial founding group (including Silicon Valley pioneers) that established publishers were very slow in determining how many books they’d sold, and that they didn’t have very strong control over the pipeline; i.e. they pretty much had no idea who was buying any given title, how, why and where, they thought I was making stuff up. “Authors sure don’t know,” I said, “they receive their royalty statements very late and they’re hardly reliable.” At the same time, I explained, authors are also now being asked to take the lion’s share of marketing their books, when they don’t even know who’s buying them until months later and even then, they just see an aggregate number, not ‘who’s buying what, where or when’.”

“That’s not possible,” one person said.

I explained that publishers greatly relied upon a third-party service, Nielsen Bookscan, in making purchasing decisions. Right now, AC Nielsen is stating they cover 80 percent of paper book sales. Any US-based author with an Amazon Author Central account can track their Bookscan sales on a daily and sometimes hourly basis. There are probably 1,000 internet articles and posts, most denigrating Bookscan, and a few extolling its virtues — this is a post of ONE right now that’s going to contextualize it in the larger scale of industry and commerce.

AC Nielsen is a good company and produces incredible market research in general, and fantastic insight in retail market trends and potentials. Bookscan could not be characterized as a good, future or long-term sustainable BI product. Launched in 2001, it’s a POS system (business acronyms are funny, huh? In this context it means “Point of Sale”) that offers little insight beyond the basic purchase and sales volume among the current customer base.

In contrast, Nielsen offers rich data and insights for general retail, and to a lesser extent, manufacturing and services industries.

growth in retail spend

This is just one of their insights.

Most of the growth in retail spending over the next decade will be from multicultural consumers. Books are a retail product.

 

 

Why Using Bookscan is a Recipe for Failure

We’ve used cookies, organic/natural foods and Uber to try to communicate what needs to happen. Now: bicycles.

bicycleAfter an historical record high of 15.2 million bicycles sold in the U.S. in 1973, bicycles suffered a long decline in the 80s and 90s. Everybody was driving, and even kids started skateboarding more and riding bicycles less. Sales started to rebound during the early 2000s, but the industry slumped during the recession.

Now, bicycles are making a comeback, with almost 2 million more bicycles sold in 2014 than the previous year. The National Bicycle Dealers Association reported that 18 million bicycles were sold in the U.S. in 2014.  The growth rate is found in cool, new (“retro”) bicycles, bicycles for specific enthusiasts, and basic meat-and-potatoes bicycles used for fitness and transportation.

If bicycle manufacturers and dealers were only looking at partial records covering the numbers of bicycles sold during any given period, including “down” periods like the recession, and determining their future purchases by doing more similar models, then … they would not be at that 18 million bicycles sold figure.

“Nobody rides bicycles any longer.”

“Young people don’t ride bikes.”

HELLO. If you assume this, no — of course you’re not going to make money designing, manufacturing and selling new bicycles to new riders.

Detroit, Japan, Munich and Seoul have “noticed” that millennials are not buying new cars at the rate of prior generations. I’ve heard lots of reasons or rationales for this; let’s just say the major auto manufacturers are not deciding what types of new cars to make or how to handle their brand development and customer relations based on who bought how many of a certain model and make last year. A reasonable percentage of the new bicycle sales are to people, mostly young, under 30 and urban dwellers, who do not own a car.

That is a megatrend. We have near 100 percent literacy in North America and in Canada, more than 50 percent of young people attend and graduate from college, and the U.S. will achieve that rate within the next decade. More young women than men already attend and graduate with college degrees. These are megatrends.

58 percent of current regular book-buyers and readers are women — and the current system can’t even serve them very well, much less other, more diverse, younger groups of potential book buyers and readers.

What Would a World Look Like That Valued Creativity as Much as Tech?

As we tell people, we can only “fix books.” We can’t do anything about other related industries. We can’t fix the art world, the music world, or film or TV. GoldieBlox is already doing engineering from the ground-up based in toys (and books). It’s books we know about and we want to work with books and readers.

Back to the money. An analysis of the 2013 and 2014 annual reports of the major trade publishers shows they are investing as little as 2.7 percent of revenue to a maximum of 7 percent of revenue on the people who make the basic product that is sold: the writer. Combine this with other barriers to a successful, reliable way to deliver value to the market customer (readers) and it isn’t a growth industry (as is presently seen – flatline projected by every industry analyst out there).

It’s Blockbuster Video, Xerox, Blackberry, MySpace, Polaroid, IBM. It’s Sears.

Are people still watching videos? (Yes, online and via numerous other channels). Are people still using digital copying technology? (Yes – eventually they’ll even be using 3-D printers). Are people still using smartphones? (Uh, yes … with touchscreens). Are people still using social media? (Uh …). Are people still taking photos? (Yes). Are people still using a dizzying array of office and business technology? (Yes). Are people still buying tires, appliances and clothing? (Yes).

“Nobody reads any longer.”

“Young people don’t read.”

“Minorities don’t read.”

“Boys won’t read books about girls.”

“Books with green covers don’t sell.”

“Books with minorities on the cover don’t sell.”

  • When You Make Things Using a System That Disconnects the People Who Make the Product From the Customer Whenever and Wherever Possible …
  • When You Seldom if Ever Talk to Your Market Customer About Their Needs
  • When Your Product Development and Selection is Ceded to Outside Entities Whose Interests are Not Your Own (Agents)
  • When Your Core Means of Product Manufacture and Development (Writer) is Siloed and Isolated from Every Conceivable Part of the Pipeline
  • When You Are At War With Your Vendors
  • When You Can’t Even Price Known Products Reliably in Response to Current Customer Needs
  • When You Cannot Identify Basic Product Elements Desired by Customers
  • When You Think You Can Get Your Raw Materials For Free or Close To It
  • When You Do Not Value Your People, Without Whom Nothing May Be Made or Sold Successfully
  • When You Think It’s an Accident That a Book is Successful and Do Not Learn From Your Failures
  • When You Do Not Love, Respect and Value All Business Partners
  • When the Engine of Manufacture (Writers) are Asked to Work for Years on a Volunteer or Part-time Basis in the Hope of Someday, Making Some Money
  • When There is Little to No Connection Between Formal Education and Industry Work or Performance

“Nobody reads any longer.”

“Young people do not read books.”

Yes, they do. And they deserve products made for a world in which just about everybody can read and will have some need and desire to do so, not a world in which only a few could read, and fewer still had access, means, time and motive.

Chameleon isn’t offering the “deal” that the Authors Guild is advocating for — 50% e-book royalties. Chameleon will be splitting all earnings 50-50 with authors, all platforms, all editions. It is the company’s responsibility to make this work. It is not the author’s responsibility to undertake all corporate operations (i.e. “self-publishing”).

Famously, Hillary Clinton’s book took the title of an African proverb, “It Takes a Village to Raise a Child.”

Everyone who’s ever worked in a successful enterprise, who’s ever launched a new product, who has ever innovated, knows it takes a team to do this. We can watch old videos of how Nikola Tesla had the right idea about alternating current, but Thomas Edison didn’t see things that way, and the two warred until finally, alternating current successfully won out. As an individual, Tesla tore up his agreements with Westinghouse in order to see his idea become reality. Tesla sacrificed his own financial future and ended up dying penniless … but I’m typing on the internet today because of what he did, not because of what my theoretical 6th cousin (Edison) did.

It Was Bound to Happen

I have given up my so-called “writing career” to do this. It was bound to happen, that someone who declared “creative writing” as a major and “creative writing” as a minor upon going to college for the first time, and ended up with bachelors’ degrees in art and literature, would then work for a nonprofit organization and change everyone’s minds about what was best to do to improve the lives of homeless and very low-income families. It was bound to happen that I would then become a college teacher and writer and be on the front lines facing classes of students forced to take English in order to transfer or graduate for 18 years. It was bound to happen that those classes would be diverse, full of all types of students, ages, backgrounds and interests. It was bound to happen that I would “market test” books with these students and see what engaged them and what did not. It was bound to happen that I’d be part of a dialog with fellow writers, of course, far behind them in ability, skill and talent, but even so, able to listen and be part of the group — and hear the same refrains over and over again of their barriers in just being able to do their work.

  • Publisher XXX dropped the last book of my series but I’m still hearing from readers who want to read it.
  • Publisher ZZZ was going to publish Book Y, which is so cool because ____________ , and they said they didn’t want it because ______________ (spurious reason).

“Why are we sitting around taking this when there’s something we can do about it?” I said. Book View Cafe. No, I’m not responsible; I’m just the one who said that.

It was bound to happen that I’d be involved in Wildside Press and Alan Rodgers Books, that my first collection and novel would be among the very first print on demand books, and that I’d also be in on the ground floor with the first Kindle books, and other early e-book services like Fictionwise. It was bound to happen that I’d do 3 years in the barrel writing for McGraw-Hill.

It was bound to happen that I’d be working for Beyond Shelter and be the person who would have to a) raise all the funds; and b) make sure the actual projects worked and delivered the promised results. It was bound to happen that I’d be the “fixer” who helped women get businesses off the ground in South and Central Los Angeles. That I would work to get employment, business development, housing development and social services projects off the ground with hundreds of families.

It was bound to happen that I would decide “All the social services in the world won’t be beneficial if families don’t have decent jobs and economic opportunity” and leave the nonprofit world to try to make that a reality by using the same process I did to make all these projects in the inner city work by doing business consulting and development.

It was bound to happen that I’d get a strong picture of how successful, new businesses worked in a huge range of sectors, the kind of operations structures worked, the kind of business ethics that were successful, and the kind of revenue, cash flow, R & D and other structures were workable on a broad scale.

It was bound to happen that I would get the gumption to write the book of my life, to finally put it all together, and to finally realized, “I’ve done it. After all these years, I really wrote a good book – my way, the only and best way I can.”

I know people will like it, I thought.

It was bound to happen that the agent to whom I had been faithful for over a decade, but who’d never done too much (in fairness – she didn’t exactly have the hardworking, fully-producing writer seeking to meet the needs of her customers … acquiring editors) would blow me off and I’d then seek to activate my carefully nurtured and stewarded list of top agents, each of whom had indicated, “Anything you write, Amy, just send it — we will always look at your work!”

Uh, no.

It was bound to happen that this would start the engine. That I would then do the type of competitor analysis I’d developed at Beyond Shelter, which enabled the organization to go from under $500,000 raised in corporate and foundation support to over $2 million, and much more, counting government partners. I would then do the type of comps I’d done for over 100 different businesses, in numerous sectors. I would know what BI software was and how it was used, what CRM software was, and how it was used. I would know how any number of new, innovative and successful products were developed and launched. For example, I would know that in 2000, there were only 6 free-range beef operations in the US and Canada, and now – there are more than 2,000. I would know that five years ago, natural and organic products had only 2-3 percent of the shelf space in grocery stores, and now, they have more than 20 percent.

We’re not going to “share” what our comps have told us in depth, but we can share that what we’ve learned is the way that we have developed our business plan, and helped us to set our initial goals, because we are approaching the end of “Proof of Concept” and getting toward launch.

This business is based in the following benchmarks:

  • Average 10,000 copies per frontlist title sold – by whatever means – to the market customers for whom the book has value
  • Basic pricing, consistent throughout editions and formats
  • Long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with author-partners (this is why it’s like “job interview” not single-title purchase).
  • Creative and production teams:  editors, designers, authors, artists, marketing and sales professionals

Now – by all means continue reading the “Author Earnings Report” for your facts considering it may possibly cover 15% of the current book-buying and reading market and is always at least a quarter behind. It’s kind of like an in-depth study of who’s buying bikes at Sears.

We’ll be sticking with Pew, Library Journal and the Kaiser Family Foundation.

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