Articles by Max Rivlin-Nadler

Print Books Bounce Back

The reports of the death of the printed book have been greatly exaggerated.

Sales figures from the end of last year show that while they don’t dominate the marketplace as they once did, print books are showing a good amount of resiliency during the precipitous rise of eBooks and the shifting of content from the printed word to a digital sphere. According to the Wall Street Journal, the role of eBooks might have been greatly overestimated. “It may be that e-books, rather than replacing printed books, will ultimately serve a role more like that of audiobooks — a complement to traditional reading, not a substitute.”

It’s fair to say that a seamless transition from printed books to digital ones just isn’t happening, and the marketplace that we live in now — where both printed books and eBooks are having brisk sales — might be here for some time. According to a 2012 survey by Bowker Market Research, 59% of Americans say they have “no interest” in buying an eBooks. While I believe that this number will go down as more and more Americans familiarize themselves with reading on digital devices like tablets, it goes to show just how much of the population is still wedded to our old friend, the printed book. This transitional market bodes well for authors looking to explore multi-platform publishing, as they will be able to test the waters of both a digital and print readership, and see which one works best for their content.

While it doesn’t appear the the rise of eBooks has stopped in its tracks, it has definitely slowed. When it comes to eBooks, a lot of consumers and providers are still working out the kinks. Publishers are still trying to figure out how much they should cost, while libraries are desperately trying to make them widely available to the public. In the goodwill of making eBooks and an author’s content as widely available and as equitable for both the reader and author as possible, Lulu recently said goodbye to DRM. So while the market has definitely shifted over the past few years, we won’t be living tomorrow in a world without the printed book, and probably won’t for years to come.

High Demand for eBooks in Libraries

The American thirst for eBooks keeps growing, and yet, one of the cornerstones of the American reading scene is still not a big enough player: libraries have yet to offer enough eBooks to accommodate the recent surge in digital reading. According to a new study, 53% of American readers feel that there should be more eBooks in libraries. If the demand is there, why aren’t more eBooks available?

The answer is a little confusing. Large publishers are wary of offering digital titles to libraries for fear of losing some of their market. However, study after study has proven that readers who go to libraries and read eBooks, end up buying even more books than those with only the option of buying eBooks online. Until the publishers come to a consensus about how best to lend eBooks, the amount of eBooks in libraries will still remain below the apparent demand, and this is bad news for readers.

“The availability of eBooks isn’t happening fast enough,” says Christopher Platt, the Director of Collections and Circulation Operations at The New York Public Library. “The availability hasn’t kept up with the demand. The demand is there. Our eBook usage over the last few years has risen six-fold.

Libraries play a huge role in promoting technology adoption. From the Internet to tablet computing, libraries are where many Americans go to familiarize themselves with new technology. Typically, when publishers do allow eBooks to be lent by libraries, they charge them an exorbitant amount of money, virtually fleecing a public institution.

“It’s an education thing, also. We need to make sure library users are aware that we offer eBooks to begin with.We offer more workshops than we ever have,” Platt says. “The publishers have to wrestle with a new business model, but they need to allow us to do this. This train has already left the station and it’s a question of whether you’re driving the train or holding onto the caboose for dear life. This is just going to become even more exciting for libraries and how we interact with patrons.”

But this stand-off between libraries and large publishers might not last much longer: a new bill in Connecticut proposes forcing publishers to charge libraries the same amount they would charge the general public. If the bill gains support, expect similar legislation to take off nationwide.

Still, the publishers’ loss is independent authors’ gain. A smaller browsing section allows more independent titles to gain visibility and find both circulation and reputation.

Related Post: Are eBook borrowers eBook buyers?

Advice from a Wise Guy

Photo credit: @abennett96 on Flickr

Guy Kawasaki, one of the most prominent venture capitalists in Silicon Valley, as well as one of the original marketers of Apple, has struck out on his own and self-published a book (which fittingly enough, is about self-publishing). APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur explores the pitfalls and successes of self-publishing from the vantage of a Guy (sorry) who knows a thing or two about success in the digital age.

He’s recently compiled a list of “do’s and dont’s” for independent publishers, which can be quite helpful to consider when you’re embarking on your next big independent publishing project. All of them are particularly smart things to keep in mind, and are questions that one should definitely revisit each time you publish a book.

His bottom line, however, is that when it comes to publishing independently, nothing is set in stone. So with that in mind, here are a couple of additional pieces of advice to consider, especially for keeping yourself in a good state of mind when entering the wonderful world of independent publishing.

1) Let it work for you. You will need to make a decision on how much effort and time you devote to the project. If you would like to make a living off of independent publishing (which is still very hard to achieve), then you will need to give it your all. If you are only able to give half of your attention, then recognize that the results might not be as great as you expected. Keep your expectations in line with your effort.

2) There is no magic formula. Some books take off, others languish. Some of your success will depend on conditions out of your hands. So, even giving it your all might not be enough. Recognizing that we have yet to crack the magic formula of independent publishing is huge.

3) Write because you love it. Kawasaki touches on this a little bit, but I really want to stress that this is the most important part of writing. Love the act, even if it hurts sometimes. Remember that this is your passion, as well as a possible way to make some money. Here, I offer a great quote from poet Rainer Maria Rilke on how you now if you’re called to be a writer:

Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.

This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must,” then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.

-Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

4) Be your worst critic/best champion. Be hard on yourself — push yourself to get your book into shape, polished, and something that you really want the world to see. But once you do it, then make sure you are your best champion. You need to believe in your book before anyone else will.

As independent publishing continues to expand, the litany of advice will continue as well. What are your best inspirational tips? What has helped you avoid mistakes? What was the best advice about independent publishing that you ever received? Let us know.

What to Read?

Finding recommendations for independently published books can be difficult. Over at The Guardian, Dan Holloway explains:

“As a reader, I believe life is too short: if I want a great thriller, there’s enough Mark Billingham and Tami Hoag to work through. If I choose to read self-published books it’s because I want something different.”

Holloway also outlines resources for finding well-reviewed self-published books. There’s the Indie eBook Review, which reviews recent self-published books, as well as IndieReader, which does an incredible job writing thoughtful reviews of some really interesting self-published books. All in all, Holloway paints a portrait of a burgeoning literary culture surrounding independently published books, one that’s sure to grow as self-publishing becomes the dominant force in the literary marketplace. As a writer, it’s incredibly important to keep track of who is writing reviews and what kinds of books garner attention, especially if you want your title to find a large audience.

Another great resource is Booklamp.org, the “home of the Book Genome Project. Similar to how Pandora.com matches music lovers to new music, BookLamp helps you find books through a computer-based analysis of written DNA.”

A great way to make sure your own book gets reviewed is to look into some of Lulu’s reviewing services, including options to have your book reviewed by Kirkus or Clarion reviews.

So, where do you find help selecting books to read? What websites or book reviews are helpful? Do you think self-published books are getting the right amount of respect from reviewers? Have you ever reviewed someone else’s book online? Let us know!

Additional Reading:

Are eBook borrowers eBook buyers?

The struggle to get eBooks into libraries continues. Large publishers seem to be at an impasse, unsure whether giving libraries the rights to their books will drive down sales. Independent publishers, on the other hand, have been making their own eBooks available to libraries for some time, be it independently or through a platform.

For authors, libraries are a great way to broaden readership, but does it also help the bottom line? What we really want to know is: Are eBook borrowers eBook buyers?

According to a survey (New Survey Supports That Ebook Borrowers Buy, Too) conducted by the library-lending platform Overdrive and the American Library Association (ALA), readers who borrow eBooks from a library also end up buying more than three eBooks per month. Not only do readers who use digital libraries end up buying books, they’re actually more enthusiastic to buy after a visit to the eBook library.

“Library lending encourages people to experiment with new authors, topics and genres — which is good for the entire reading and publishing ecosystem,” Carrie Russell, director of the ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy, said.

With the major publishers slowly, and hesitantly, entering the library market, now is a great time to get an eBook into the library, especially when selection is so limited and the appetite so huge. According to the survey, over half of respondents would consider buying an eBook they encountered on a library site, and almost 60% considered the library their main interaction with new titles. (For us, who follow books tirelessly on the Internet, that seems nuts! But this proves that libraries still play a huge part in book culture and book promotion).

It will be interesting to watch over the next few months how the transition of eBooks into libraries goes. It might be the perfect opportunity for independent publishers and independent writers to gain a foothold in a voracious marketplace, one that’s not as conventional as a bookstore, but is deeply entrenched in the book-reading ecosystem nonetheless.

Would you offer your eBook to a library? Have you? Do you believe the results of the survey or does your own experience tell you otherwise? Let us know in the comments.

eLumes brings innovation to eBooks

Another day, another innovation in the field of digital publishing. New York based tech startup Orson & Co. has announced a plan to totally overhaul the concept of the “enhanced eBook” — just don’t call it that to their face. According to a recent piece on DigitalBookWorld.com, Orson & Co believes that a  truly immersive eBook experience, one that takes full advantage of the medium’s potential, isn’t being delivered to readers and they’re out to change this.

Orson & Co.’s new product, eLumes (a pun on “illuminate,” if I’m not totally off the mark) is essentially publishing iOS apps that mimic eBooks. According to the same report from DigitalBookWorld, the first such project by the company, (an eLume version of Orson & Co. co-founder Richard Mason’s The History of a Pleasure Seeker) “has several enhancements, including original images, original audio files, author videos, original essays diving into the historical context of the novel, and archival images… [as well as] A read-along feature narrated by Dan Stevens, star of the hit BBC drama Downton Abbey.” Mason maintains that the format “makes a new kind of storytelling possible.”

I’m not totally sold on the bells and whistles eLumes seem to promise, but the folks at Orson & Co. acknowledge that previous attempts at an immersive, multimedia eBook have fallen a little flat — they seem gimmicky, or too unlike, well, a good old fashioned book. What Mason seems to be arguing is that these apps can take real advantage of this new technology and deliver an interesting new experience. And that, I will admit, intrigues me.

These days I tend to read with a smartphone or laptop close at hand, Googling unfamiliar words, Wikipediaing historical events or concepts as they appear. These technologies help expand what I read. They help me experience an exploded version of a book, in a sense, one where I can examine all the parts. While this may be a far cry from a book with embedded video or a novella with a soundtrack, it’s not totally removed. I’m curious what a multimedia eBook could offer, especially if it’s pursued with the integrity Mason seems keen on delivering. What do you think: Flashy distraction or added depth?

How do you write?

Photo credit to @jjpacres on Flickr.

During an author interview, have you ever been asked about how you write? Do you type on a computer, use longhand, record your own voice…? This question is asked so frequently that it’s become cliché, but it does raise an interesting point: does varying your writing process add variety to your writing itself?

Writing on a mobile phone or tablet offers the portability of a pen and notebook, while also allowing writers to use the resources of the Internet or even incorporate pictures. How can a description of a city scene be enhanced by a picture of that exact scene? Should it? Tablet writers must deal with the endless possibilities technology offers — possibilities which could distract from the work itself. As the celebrated young author Wells Tower said in an interview with the Huffington Post, “My main gripe with the Web is that it’s toxic to the kind of concentration fiction writing requires. It’s difficult to write good sentences and simultaneously buy shoes.” Perhaps writers who are less focused on the Internet, and more focused on the crafting of fine sentences write better, and maybe the way they write makes all the difference.

Personally, I need to shut off the Internet if I’d like to get any writing done. There are far too many distractions on the Internet to waste the precious time I find to write. But I also appreciate the new possibilities that technology has availed us to, including the ability to write interactively, using the Internet to enhance your perception of a scene, or even allow you to incorporate technology into your writing. While writing on a cellphone or tablet is a far cry from a notebook, it does not seem like writing has changed fundamentally because of their invention. If anything, the introduction of technology into my writing practice allows my writing to be more experimental, more informed, and more current.

How has how you write affected what you write?