Ask The Editor

February 23, 2009

The future of book publishing

From a speech given by Jason Epstein at the 2009 O’Reilly Tools Of Change for Publishing Conference, an interesting assessment of where we’re going. Walk into your local bookstore, choose any book you want from a catalog, and minutes later, one is newly printed for you and delivered into your hands. Forgive me if this sounds like hype but it really could revolutionize the industry:

The ATM for books that I envisioned ten years ago is today’s Espresso Book Machine whose latest iteration is here on display. Together with a high speed duplex printer this compact version 2.0 which, when its design is completed, will accommodate books of as many as 800 pages and can produce a 320 page, library quality paperback of any size between 4 x 4 and 8.5 x 11 identical to the factory made original in seven minutes for about a penny a page for consumables. The eventual cost of the machine will be no more than an office copier. The Espresso machine eliminates completely the Gutenberg supply chain by delivering a finished book from a selected digital file to the end user with no intervening steps: no inventory, no warehouse, no delivery cost, no spoilage and no returns. Ten test versions of Espresso 1.5, a predecessor version, are now operating in bookstores and libraries in the United States and Canada, Australia, Egypt and Great Britain.

February 20, 2009

James Patterson gets 28 new co-authors

According to

Best-selling crime author James Patterson will release a new kind of novel next month – one that’s been collaboratively written with the crowd. Called AirBorne, the upcoming novel will feature 30 chapters, each written by a different author except the first and last – those will be written by Patterson himself.

The co-authors each won the right to pen one of the chapters in a contest co-sponsored by Borders Australia and Random House. The book will be released, one chapter at a time, on the web, of course.

February 16, 2009

Coming in January 2010: the Kindle killer

I’m delighted to learn that a new e-reader  is being developed: a super-thin, lightweight device with a large enough screen that you will be able to read a full magazine page without scrolling.

It’s not that I plan to rush out and buy one. I like my paper books just fine. But, if ebooks are the future, I don’t want a proprietary system from Amazon to become the de facto monopoly distribution system.

We’ve seen what happens when Amazon is in position to strong-arm
publishers on traditionally printed
and POD books.

This device will be open source — meaning that you won’t be limited to reading text in a system owned by the e-reader’s makers, which is now the case with the Kindle. It will handle Word, pdf, and other documents, and it will cost about what Kindle costs.

February 12, 2009

File under: it could be worse

Filed under: News,The Publishing Biz — editorialconsultant @ 12:29 pm
Tags: ,

We all know that retailers of all types have taken a beating lately. And while bookstores weren’t immune to the downturn, Publishers Weekly reports that December sales were down only 4.7 percent versus general retail sales, which dropped more than 8 percent.

So, people are still reading, still buying books as gifts. Not as many as before but hey, we take our good news wherever we can find it.

February 5, 2009

Off topic: Joe the plumber’s 15 minutes, still not up

Filed under: Commentary — editorialconsultant @ 3:52 pm
Tags: ,

Joe the plumber, political spokesperson, author, war correspondent, is back again, in yet another new role, advising Republican congress people on the economic stimulus package.

Which makes me think that Joe is our very own U.S. version of Britain’s Catherine Tate. He’s just as funny but perhaps not intentionally so.

For those unfamiliar with Catherine “I can do that” Tate, you’re in for a treat. Watch one of her best “I can do that” routines and you’ll see what I mean.

Stephen King on other bestselling authors

People are sometimes surprised when they ask what I read and I answer, everything. They assume professional writers and editors have such refined tastes that we limit our reading to authors such as Tolstoy, Shakespeare, and the occasional Philip Roth.

While I can’t speak for all of us in the publishing world, most of us probably try to read whatever we can get our hands on, especially those books, well-written or not, that have become bestsellers. We want to know why. How did the author capture such a large audience? What is it that resonated with readers?

In a USA Today interview, Stephen King, the master of horror fiction shares his thoughts about the writing gifts of some other bestselling authors. His verdict on two prolific blockbuster authors:

“You’ve got Dean Koontz, who can write like hell. And then sometimes he’s just awful. It varies. James Patterson is a terrible writer but he’s very very successful.”

But here’s where I really relate to King. After pointing out that Stephenie Meyer, author of the popular Twilight vampire books, isn’t much of a writer, he shares insights on why she’s a success:

“People are attracted by the stories, by the pace and in the case of Stephenie Meyer, it’s very clear that she’s writing to a whole generation of girls and opening up kind of a safe joining of love and sex in those books. It’s exciting and it’s thrilling and it’s not particularly threatening because they’re not overtly sexual. A lot of the physical side of it is conveyed in things like the vampire will touch her forearm or run a hand over skin, and she just flushes all hot and cold. And for girls, that’s a shorthand for all the feelings that they’re not ready to deal with yet.”

All writers of fiction should do the same kind of analysis, especially when reviewing books that are similar in some way to their own. What is it that sets the book apart and draws readers in? Rarely is it the quality of the writing. More likely, it’s something about the story or the characters or both.

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