What kind of author do you want to be? (Part 1)

Posted by Jonathan Nori on March 07, 2010
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Last week I had a great sit-down with my friend @courtneyengle.

Among other things, we talked about what it takes to be an author–a published author–in today’s climate of digital printing and immediate release.

Anybody can be “published” today. You just have to look at the proliferation of self-publishing companies like Lulu and Create Space to see this is true. And there is nothing wring with self-publishing your work. In fact, for many writers, self-publishing is an excellent choice. Despite the negative connotation that “self-publishing” (or “vanity publishing”) tends to carry, what can show an author’s commitment to what they’ve written more than being willing to put their own money behind their work?

With this, many writers wonder why they need a publisher to begin with. Some writer’s don’t. But some do. How do you know if you do?

The short answer? It depends. (I know, not very helpful!)

First, what category are you writing in? Fiction? Nonfiction? Religion? Biography? History? Or some other category? (Here is a pretty extensive list of the categories that bookstores use to classify books.) Once you know what category your book falls into, you’re off to a decent start.

Second, think about promotion. Yes, we all think of this as “the publisher’s job,” but more often publishers aren’t simply asking authors to be involved in promotion, they are requiring it. Why? Because today readers want to be connected to the writers of the books they crave. And who better than to engage the reader where they are at than the author?

This isn’t just for authors of the latest tell-all about the politician-of-the-moment or the latest self-help craze, either. It’s something that every author has to consider.

As a writer, if you’re not willing to go pound the pavement, create a Facebook page, or promote your own book, why should a publisher (who is likely risking significant dollars on putting your book in stores) be willing to do what you are not?

If you’re writing fiction, attend readings. Post chapters on the internet on any of the myriad writing forums. Hone your craft. Take criticism seriously. Seek out professional editors. And if you’re looking for a publisher? Try to match your manuscript to a publisher that works with the kind of book you have written. Don’t pursue Harlequin to publish your science fiction action adventure. TOR will likely be less than ecstatic about your historical romance novel.

In the case of nonfiction, most publishers will be looking for someone who already has some kind of authority in their field, or the ability/willingness/possibility of becoming that.

Approaching a “big” publishing house can be scary. Many publishers won’t even talk directly to authors, hence the concept of the “literary agent”. Think of a literary agent as a real estate agent, but for your book. In the same way that most people don’t want to deal with the vagaries of selling a house, many publishers would rather deal with an agent who knows the ins and outs of publishing than with an author whom they have to teach about publishing.

Now, there are some publishers who will take what’s called an “unsolicited manuscript,” which is just a polite term for “something we didn’t ask for.” How do you know if the publisher you have your heart set on will talk to you or requires you to have an agent? Look them up and find out. Go the publisher’s web site, send them an e-mail, or even call them. In general, EVERYONE in a publishing company knows what their company’s policy is on manuscript submissions. Everyone.

Okay, so I really didn’t get into “What kind of author are you?” in this post. I guess that means there will be a Part 2.

O’Reilly TOC (part 2)

Posted by Jonathan Nori on February 24, 2010
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Well, I’m home from O’Reilly’s Tools of Change for Publishing conference in NYC.

There was a lot to absorb. Heard a lot of things I already knew, learned a few new things, but most importantly? I met a lot of great people.

There’s a lot of hoopla surrounding  ebooks, and the publishing industry is rightfully concerned. But digital books only make up 3% of the total book market. And there are plenty of other ways to market and sell books than just social media. Did we really an entire conference where most people only talked about these two things?

On the other hand, many of the traditional forms of book marketing are losing their effectiveness, and the ebook explosion is coming, and it’s a matter of maybe 10 years before ebooks will comprise 40% or more of all books sales.

Lots of excellent people had hugely relevant things to say, though. Among them were Chris Brogan (of course), Dominique Raccah, and Nilofer Merchant.

Overall it was a great trip, and the conference was well worth it. I hope next year there is more than “digital” and “social media”, though. 🙂

O’Reilly TOC (part 1)

Posted by Jonathan Nori on February 23, 2010
industry / No Comments

Hangin’ at the O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishers conference.

Very interesting so far. And kinda surprising.

There still seem to be a lot of publishers struggling with the basic concept that the publishing landscape is changing. At least, that’s the feeling I’m left with after the last 5 speakers.

Lots of meetings and sessions to come yet. Sponging up thoughts and concepts; lots of good ideas so far, and NO I’M NOT SHARING THEM. LOL.

Follow TOC on twitter #toccon and you’ll see me occasionally, usually making snide comments. @JNori

The lulu Model

Posted by Jonathan Nori on December 12, 2009
industry / 1 Comment

I bought my first book from lulu.com a couple weeks ago.

Perhaps book isn’t quite accurate. It was more of a booklet. Okay, it was really a booklet. A 30-page, staple-bound booklet.

I bought it on a whim. I was surfing around one night, and found a link to a parody fanfic. The next thing I knew I had a lulu.com account and they were in possession of $12 of my hard-earned cash.

There has been much talk of the lulu.com “business model” over the past few years in the publishing industry. While I think lulu.com has a great business model (publish anyone, anytime, anywhere), I don’t really think traditional book publishers have a great deal to fear from lulu.com.

Why would I say such a thing? Is it because I am actively engaged in the traditional publishing industry? Am I just jealous/afraid/outdated? Respectively, no, no, and maybe.

The reason I’m not afraid of the lulu.com model is that while lulu.com allows anyone to publish whatever they write, there are still the matters of marketing and sales, editorial consistency, critical reviews,  and the all-important word-of-mouth. You might have unlocked the secrets of the universe, but unless you can get the word out, and your writing is of a quality that encourages people to read what you’ve written, then what was the use of writing anything down?

I’m not bashing self-publishing. I think that anyone who believes enough in their own work to be willing to invest in it and try and be a part of its success is to be commended.

But I think that in the age of information and free-flowing information there is even more of a need for “traditional” publishers than ever before. Who better to cut through the clutter and noise of the deluge of information we are bombarded with every day than those industry experts who already know how to do it?

There are plenty of people out there who disagree with me on this point. Two big proponents of the death of traditional publishing are Cory Doctorow and Chris Brogan, and I believe they are right–at least as far as “traditional publishing is over.” With the advent of the digital printing industry (of which lulu.com is a big part), anybody can be published for a few bucks and a few minutes of their time. I think that’s actually pretty amazing. I occasionally use lulu.com as a tool for fast idea prototyping (which it’s not designed for, but it works pretty well for it). I like the idea of publishers as the gatekeepers to quality. What this means, though, is that publishers have to stop doing things like Ghosts of Onyx (if you don’t know what I’m referring to, be thankful).

Rather than being afraid of lulu.com (and the myriad of digital self-publishing services), publishers should be meeting the challenge head-on. Publishing is undergoing the most fundamental change since Gutenberg, and it’s exciting.

And the book I bought off lulu.com? It’s horribly written, is impossible to follow, and is bad even by fanfic standards.

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Movie Review: New Moon

Posted by Jonathan Nori on November 20, 2009
Personal Life / 1 Comment

Before I say anything else, let me qualify this movie review. I do not have a uterus, therefore my ability to appreciate this movie may be somewhat lessened. (Or, said another way: “You’re not a girl so you just don’t get it.”)

There won’t be any spoilers here, either, because they just aren’t necessary to talk about this film.

I actually liked the first movie. Yes, the movie was angsty and emo, but it was entertaining. and it had a pretty great soundtrack.

New Moon? In a word: Meh.

The characters are still angsty and emo, but I thought the acting improved somewhat over Twilight. The director didn’t try to dress up Bella Swan, so she still fits the picture of the average, ordinary, non-modelesque girl we are beaten over the head with in the books. Jacob is very likable, even if he does spend most of the movie without his shirt on. I was expecting the wolf pack to have a little more bulk rather than just being ripped, but that’s my own built-in vision of the books at work. And this movie had the largest number of  male nipples in a single scene since 300.

I thought some of the scene transitions were confusing–while others were brilliant. A particular moment of nicety? The several-month time gap between Edward leaving Bella and the story picking up again (the music here was also fantastic). I think though that in some ways the movie fell into the trap of not really quite explaining things because, after all, “everyone’s read the book.” More time could have been spent making the Volturi a little more menacing, and making the danger that Victoria posed seem a little more tangible.

There was one big disappointment with New Moon: (Hate is a strong word, but) I really, really, really, didn’t like Alexandre Desplat’s compositions. I felt yanked out of the movie every time an orchestration kicked in. To me, it made the movie feel like a romantic drama (think The Prince of Tides or A Walk to Remember). I only remember hearing very small bits and pieces of the music on the official soundtrack, which I really like. I really liked the music in Twilight. My problem with the music in New Moon is that the orchestral compositions never seemed to fit the tone that the movie was trying to portray.

Overall, it’s not a bad movie. It’s not a great movie, either. If you liked Twilight, you’ll like this one. If you didn’t like Twilight, this movie is unlikely to turn you into a fanpire–although I have been told by a number of women that it is very much worth watching just for the wolf pack.

New Moon will probably make a kazillion dollars and negate any grounding of my opinion in reality, so take this review with a grain of salt.

Gadget review: Verizon (Motorola) Droid

Posted by Jonathan Nori on November 11, 2009
Personal Life / No Comments

I have a new mobile phone.

Last Friday, the official launch day, I picked up Verizon’s Motorola Droid phone, in spite of the ridiculous and confusing television ads.

Like the iPhone, it’s an amazing piece of hardware. It’s sleek, fast, and easy to use.

Unlike the iPhone, it has a slide-out keyboard and is super-customizable, among other things.

I almost got an iPhone. I’ve used them. I do tech support for iPhone users. I’ve even dabbled in iPhone app development. But there was one thing on the iPhone that I just couldn’t get past: (Hate is a strong word, but) I really, really, really don’t like the on-screen keyboard.

I’ve lost track of the number of phones I demo’d looking for a new one, but none of them were the slick, simple, advanced device I was looking for. Eventually I settled on an iPhone 3Gs, but when I came across a couple pre-production reviews of Motorola’s Droid, I decided to wait until the Droid was launched before making a decision on what phone to get.

It’s been almost a week since I got the Droid. I like it, but it’s not a phone for everyone.

The phone itself, physically, is solid. It feels solid in your hand. It’s got a bit of weight to it. Like it’s a solid piece of metal. It doesn’t feel “plasticy” or “flexy”. The phone has a nice rubberized coating that keeps it from sliding around in your hand, and on a note that only applies to me, it looks and feels like the same non-slip coating used on Lenovo Thinkpads. The color and styling also matches my Thinkpad, which is a nice touch.

The touch screen is very responsive (a requirement to even think about competing with the iPhone–Microsoft, your Windows Mobile team needs to take note of this!). It doesn’t support multitouch, which I guess for the first generation of the device is okay, but as someone who is very familiar with iPhones, it’s somewhat disappointing. The screen resolution, however, is better than the iPhone 3Gs (at least, it looks better).

And now the feature that sold me: The slide-out keyboard. Droid does have an on-screen keyboard, which is better than the iPhone’s, but I still don’t like on-screen keyboards. The slide-out on the Droid feels very solid under your thumbs, and has a nice, smooth slide. The keys light up, which is useful in low-light situations. Unfortunately, the keys are fairly small and smashed together. I think the real estate used for the d-pad on the right could have been better spent making the keys a bit bigger. But the keyboard is still quite usable.

The Droid has 4 electrostatic (meaning they aren’t actually buttons, but spots sensitive to touch, like the touch screen) “soft keys” (meaning the keys themselves can be reprogrammed for different functions) below the main screen. They’re pretty useful, but can take some getting used to for someone with iPhone experience. Blackberry users will be able to make the transition a little easier, I would guess. One of the keys is a “menu” button that opens up whatever menu options are available for whatever program you happen to be running.

For future revisions, I have a suggestion for the soft keys: Make the bar above the keyboard electrostatically sensitive too, to make it easier to scroll vertically when you have the keyboard open. I find myself trying to use the “Motorola” logo as a scroll bar when reading my e-mail in landscape mode.

Like the iPhone, the Droid also has an application store, called “Market.” Unlike the iPhone, there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of quality control or compatibility testing for the Android SDK market. I’ve downloaded a handful of applications, and several of them have frozen my phone so badly that a hard reboot was required. On the other side, there are some incredible applications for the Droid. I’ve already gone wardriving with my phone, and I’ve picked more than 100 wifi points in Shippensburg, many of them unsecured and configured with default router passwords.

The iPhone’s App Store is significantly more mature than the Market at this point (but Apple has had a several-year head start), but it shouldn’t take much or this to even out. I mean, if people can program something like Fieldrunners (my absolute all-time favorite game on the iPhone) in Objective-C then I would be real surprised if I doesn’t show up for the Droid rather soon (hint, hint).

The Droid is extremely customizable in ways that Apple would never even consider for the iPhone. You can load your own programs on the device, change your icons, replace the default e-mail and text messaging apps, and even download different on-screen keyboards. One of my favorite customizations is the wallpaper. The wallpaper you choose is shown behind the phone menu at all times, even when unlocking the phone. (You can see my current phone wallpaper here.)

Today I decided to run a battery stress-test on the Droid, and I can only describe the battery life with one word: Epic. My phone spent more than 12 hours unplugged today, and six-and-a-half of those hours were spent streaming Pandora radio without wifi, using the internal speakers to play the music. I also sent and received a number of phone calls, text messages, and e-mails, and checked Facebook and The Weather Channel. My phone was still at 10% battery when I got home. I’ll say it again: EPIC battery life. (At least, more epic than an iPhone.)

(If you’re curious as to what I listen to on Pandora, here are the stations I was listening to today: [Angels & Airwaves], [Delirious?], [Vindicated], and [Howard Shore]. I have more than 20 stations.)

Overall, I’m very happy with the Droid. Motorola’s finally got a smart phone winner on their hands. 🙂

A Voluntary History Lesson?

Posted by Jonathan Nori on October 21, 2009
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You know, I’ve been around Christians much my entire life. I know so many Bible verses, and so many interpretations of those verses, that I can take just about any side in a theological argument, whether I subscribe to a particular belief or not.

Until recently, though, I haven’t really cared much about why these different interpretations arose, how they spread, or the social shifts behind why one dogma became more “accepted” than another. For the first time I’m actually getting interested in the history of the early church.

And the source of my interest? Anne Rice. Yep, THAT Anne Rice. I recently finished reading Pandora, and through the latter portion of the book there is a fascinating running commentary on the growth of Christianity in the Roman empire. Rice’s histories are usually meticulously researched, so it really piques my interest when she talks about Paul, or Jesus, or the disciples, even in a fictional sense.

Anybody have any good, readable histories to recommend?

Tales of a Corporate Stalker

Posted by Jonathan Nori on October 13, 2009
Company News / 1 Comment

I really probably shouldn’t blog this, but it’s too funny not to share.

There is a woman–let’s call her Mabel–who has been calling Destiny Image over the past couple of months.

She started out calling the sales line, but has graduated to the general office number and punches in random extensions.

“Mabel” seems like a nice woman. She has a strong Boston accent. And she is very inquisitive.

In fact, she asks so many questions that today one of the employees dubbed her “Our Very Own Corporate Stalker.”

Every time Mabel calls she seems to need different information. Today, she was asking for the official job title for one of our Acquisitions Agents (it’s “Acquisitions Agent”) for “correspondence.” Previously, she has asked to speak with the heads of certain departments, she has asked who the managers of certain sales representatives are, and has asked probing questions about our authors and attempted to get personal contact information for them (which, really, is not that unusual).

I can only imagine that she is trying to build some kind of organizational chart of the company.

When asked her name, or queried for contact information, she politely declines to answer or ignores the question completely and continues to ask her questions. A staff member once began to pray for her over the phone, and Mabel began screaming “moron” into the phone.

One of these times, I’m hoping that she gets through to me. I have a whole list of fake names and positions (such as Dr. Green in Trauma Counseling, Westley in Wardrobe, and Asuka in Angelic Warfare) that I would like to add to her list of Destiny Image employees. I’ve also got some choice jokes involving caller ID and reverse name lookups that I’d like to share with her.

It’s rather entertaining, really. I think though that Mabel may need a hobby. Or a pet. Maybe I’ll send her a kitten after the next time she calls. Everyone likes teh kittehs.

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