Articles by Gavin

Remembering Michael Hart, ebook pioneer and founder of Project Gutenberg.

Electronic book pioneer and founder of Project Gutenberg, Michael Hart, passed away on Tuesday at his home in Urbana Ill.  Long before eReaders became a prevalent part of our society, Hart, who is described as “an ardent technologist and futurist,” sought ways of making electronic versions of books available to the masses.

In an obituary posted on the Project Gutenberg website, Dr. Gregory B. Newby writes:

Hart was best known for his 1971 invention of electronic books, or eBooks. He founded Project Gutenberg, which is recognized as one of the earliest and longest-lasting online literary projects. He often told this story of how he had the idea for eBooks. He had been granted access to significant computing power at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. On July 4 1971, after being inspired by a free printed copy of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, he decided to type the text into a computer, and to transmit it to other users on the computer network. From this beginning, the digitization and distribution of literature was to be Hart’s life’s work, spanning over 40 years.

In 1998, Mark Frauenfelder wrote a profile of Hart for Wired in which Hart is quoted as saying, “there’s going to be some gizmo that kids carry around in their back pocket that has everything in it – including our books, if they want.”  Early pioneers like Vannevar Bush envisioned electronic devices as far back as 1945 that would store massive volumes of books electronically.  Hart, however, possessed that rare mix of both foresight and gumption to help make this vision a reality.

As expressed in his obituary, making literature “available to all people” was something Hart wished to help others strive towards.  Perhaps the truest expression of Hart’s wish is a commitment to the distribution of ideas across countless platforms, i.e., eBooks, print, blogs, spoken word, etc.  Personally, I feel that in order to make literature available to all people the distribution mechanisms should work in concert with one another and never be limited to one source.  Learning, I believe, should remain impartial to any one file format or distribution mechanism – eBook or otherwise.

With that said, I think that as we enter a new age marked by the proliferation of electronic books and a growing host of eBook reading “gizmo[s],” let’s not forget to take a few moments to honor pioneers like Michael Hart who have remained steadfast in their commitment to the distribution of literature and ideas.

Reading for Sport?

What is it with turning regular every day activities into contests?  The simple joy of eating a hot dog is now a sanctioned event governed by the International Federation of Competitive Eating (IFOCE). Ironing is now an extreme sport as is growing a beard.  Don’t get me wrong … as both a competitive person and a male (age 18 to 35) I can appreciate a ridiculous challenge, and while I am skeptical about challenging people to read, I feel that if you’re going to do so there needs to be rules.

This morning, I came across the following blog post on Flavorwire.com entitled “10 Novels That We Dare You to Finish.”  In the post, “foolhardy readers” are encouraged to go through the list and comment on which titles, if any, were finished with ease.  In a related blog post, GallyCat editor Jason Boog has included links to “free eBook copies of five massive novels.”  Boog who enjoys reading electronic versions of long novels feels this approach “seems like the perfect way to interact with these unwieldy titles.”

Boog does raise an interesting point in that downloading a free version of something like War and Peace may certainly be more convenient than borrowing it from the local library or finding a cheap copy of the title at a used book store.  But if one is being challenged (or in the case of Flavorwire  … “dared”) to read these titles, then I would argue that downloading the “e” version is cheating.

If you are going to challenge someone to read titles that “also function as doorstops,” then I feel you should only read the print-versions.  It wouldn’t be the same experience otherwise.  The most cumbersome book I own is Carl Jung’s The Red Book (Liber Novus).   The book is a whopping 15 by 12 inches and almost 10 pounds.  When I read it, my wife thinks I look like a Benedictine Monk studying some ancient text.  The content of Jung’s book is fascinating, and I can’t imagine one having the same experience with an eBook-version of it (I don’t even know if an electronic version exists to be honest).  Moreover, what little remains of the book’s original simulacrum would be further diminished, I feel, when converted and displayed in electronic form.

For most readers, the simple joy of reading is motivation enough to tackle titles like War and Peace or The Red Book.  But if you’re going to challenge people who would not normally read “long, long books,” then I would force these folks to stick to print-versions only.  I feel you should have to lug them around with you in all their unwieldy glory.  In doing so, it will make for a richer experience.  At the very least, when the challenge is over, you’ll still have a physical version of the book.  Like a trophy on a bookshelf from some sporting challenge, it will stand as proof of your prior conquest.

What do you think? Agree? Disagree?

Google+ & Authors (do I really have to join this?)

I read an article on Mashable.com a few weeks back where writer Nova Spivack states “welcome to ‘Sharepocalypse,’ a new era of social network insanity.” According to Spivack, Sharepocalypse takes place when “hundreds (if not thousands) of online friends share content with us across various social networks, culminating in massive information overload.” It can seem extremely daunting trying to keep up to speed with all these social sharing sites. But as self-published authors looking to market our books, we rely on them. The problem is … as writers, we are busy people. We don’t always have the time to just start a new online profile, or a second, or a third, etc …

Chances are, you’ve heard of The Google+ project – Google’s cloud-based tool to help “make sharing on the web more like sharing in real life.” If you’re like me, you may have received an invite from a friend but your indifference has yet to give way to the societal pressures to join. In reality, you probably just want someone to tell you if it’s worth it or not. The good news is … I am here to be that somebody. Let me give you some cliff notes on Google+.

NO NEED TO RUSH
First and foremost, there is not a huge rush to join.  Unlike Domain names and Twitter handles where you have the potential for “
name squatting,” Google+ profiles consist of unique 21 character numbers that then need to be put into a URL shortner – http://www.gplus.to/.  So unless you crave being an early adopter of these types of things or have a certain affinity to a 21 digit number, there is no need to rush in to secure your spot on Google+.

KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
If you have time, I recommend reading the following article “
How Authors, Bloggers and Journalists can use Google Plus?”  In it, the author rightfully points out that “most of the early adopters of the site have been techies, social media marketers, and bloggers.”  If you are a tech writer, then chances are you are already on Google+.  For the rest of us, it may still be a while before many of our readers set-up a profile (if ever).

GOT GMAIL?
Currently, I think Google+ is only worth it to Authors that already have
GMail accounts and lots of readers in their contacts.  Because your Google+ profile is tied to your GMail account, the minute you log-in, you have access to your contacts in ways once only restricted to email.   The only caveat is that many of your contacts will not have Google+ accounts, so you’ll need to send them invites to join.

WRITING WORKSHOPS AND BOOK GROUPS
Google+ has two features that could be very helpful to Authors: “Circles” and “Hangouts.”  When you join Google+, you can create customized circles of your contacts.   You could easily create one for your readers and provide them with updates, savings coupons, and preview chapters of your book.  The second feature that is pretty cool is Hangouts.  Hangouts is a video conference tool similar to
WebEx or GoToMeeting® — that’s free!  You are limited to 10 participants and can’t use it with mobile devices.  With that said, you could easily use the tool for web-based writing workshops, book readings, or just a good old book group. DukeReads has been doing something similar to this for 5 years now which you may want to check out.  In short, Google+ Hangouts allows you to do cheap, but small, virtual book clubs.

CONCLUSION
I intentionally kept the above list very short.  We live in an era of information overload and you probably just skimmed over this post anyways, which is fine.  When bombarded with information, our time and attention are our most important assets.  If you need more information on Google+, check out
Chris Brogan’s list of 50 points you should know about the tool.

My summary of Google+ is as follows.  As self-published authors, we should be promoting our work using as many different free services as possible.  Google+ has some tools that can be beneficial to authors with strong followings, but you may want to wait until more people join.  For now, there is no immediate need to rush in.  Don’t feel you need to subcome to the pressures of social sharing.  Join Google+ if and when you think you need to …

 

(Not) Getting Your Book on a Retail Shelf

I believe that one of the biggest mistakes in any marketing endeavor is not defining a clear goal. It’s easy to get caught up in a clever idea while losing sight of what you wish to accomplish. As authors, we are all trying to market our books. The way in which you promote your work will depend greatly on what you’re trying to achieve. I have read a number of blog posts by self-published authors describing ways to get one’s book on retail shelves. Most of these articles, however, don’t answer that fundamental question … why? Why bother trying to get your title on a retail shelf?

There’s no doubt that walking into a bookstore and seeing your work on the shelves is a wonderful feeling and a worthwhile goal for any author. But that is a personal goal, not a marketing goal. If your marketing goal it is to have as many people as possible read your work, you may be better off first focusing your efforts elsewhere – not just on your local bookstore.

Self-published author and book designer Joel Friedlander echoes my sentiment about trying to get one’s book on retail shelves when he writes:

“My own opinion, after watching many self-publishers try to break through into this market, is that it’s rarely worth the effort unless the book has a really wide appeal and is produced from the beginning with retail sales as the ultimate goal.

Most self-publishers of nonfiction will be far better off building an online community, learning keyword research and how to market their book online, using print on demand for fulfillment.”

Marketing Your Book with Promotional Materials

Looking for a way to keep excitement of your book going after a speaking event? Bringing along printed marketing collateral is a great (and inexpensive) way to reinforce your message, and promote your book.

Here are a few ideas to include for your printed collateral:

  • Your book cover should be prevalent
  • Mention your book title several times throughout the page
  • Point out where your book can be purchased
  • Highlight a short review or quote made about the book
  • Consider a special offer
    • Example: Link to a free chapter eBook preview
  • Encourage readers to visit your site, sign up for your newsletters and your Facebook and Twitter pages

If you’ve collected contact information from your audience, be sure to write them a note of thanks. A little follow up can go a long way in keeping the momentum of your great event going!

Need extra help? Lulu now offers a paid service where you can purchase promotional materials including: posters, bookmarks, postcards, and business cards.

Lulu Promotional Material

How does the process work? Once this service is purchased, you will provide us with the front cover image of the book as a high resolution JPEG or PDF. We’ll also need additional information about your book, such as a back cover description or a quote from the book which can be placed on the print piece. This should be enticing and give your reader a glimpse into the book. Be sure to provide enough information to catch their attention and leave them wanting more.

Click here to read more about Lulu’s new promotional materials service.

Marketing your Book with “Buy Now” Buttons.

Keep your potential readers focused. Simplify book purchases by adding these free “Buy Now” buttons on your website or blog.

Reel in more readers with just four quick steps:

STEP 1: Log onto “My Lulu”

STEP 2: Click the star icon next to your published book

Buy Now Buttons

STEP 3: Choose the buy now button you like

Buy Now Buttons

STEP 4: Copy and paste the code to your website or blog

Buy Now Buttons

When your buyers click on these buttons, they will be taken to a Lulu shopping cart, which will include your book. It really is just that simple – so try it out today!

Take me to My Lulu.

Author Tips: Avoiding Digital Distractions

As an author trying to complete a third book, I have to admit that one of the hardest things this time around has been avoiding digital distractions like: Facebook, Twitter, IM, Email, Angry Birds, DVR’d Shows, Skype, etc, etc, etc.

Chances are you may have seen the following cartoon image of a man sitting in front of a typewriter trying to finish a research paper. A short distance away from him is THE INTERNET with its bright lights, a girl in a bikini, dinosaur, two fighter jets and a birthday cake.  The image highlights an experience many of us have felt at one time or the other when trying to write – namely, the Internet’s ability to be highly distracting and totally awesome!

There is currently a great deal of debate on the impact the Internet has on our ability to focus, with authors like Nicholas Carr and Cathy N. Davidson offering different perspectives on the issue.  Whether the Internet is truly making it harder for us to concentrate on a single task is arguable.  I can say, however, that I’ve wasted plenty of hours on the Internet while trying to “write.”

So what is an author to do when the multitude of distractions constantly “lurks behind your screen, one alt-tab away from your word-processor?”  Blogger, journalist, and Lulu author Cory Doctorow addresses this question in a column for LOCUS online entitled “Writing in the Age of Distraction.”  As a prolific writer whose job dictates almost constant access to the web, Doctorow outlines techniques he’s used for years to help manage one’s need to access the Internet while having to write.  I highly recommend Doctorow’s column to anyone who has felt distracted while trying to write.

Doctorow’s full column can be viewed here.