February 17, 2011 16:53
My commitment is to story-telling, however it happens.
I'm sitting here leafing through bound galleys of one of our forthcoming books.
Even in these electronic times we hold fast to bound galleys, or uncorrected page proofs.
We circulate them (often in spiral binding) to people who've agreed to read the manuscript months before it's published, and perhaps review or endorse it.
That's how we garner comments on the back covers or first pages of a book.
I'm set to hand-deliver our galleys to a well-known personage who kindly agreed to read this zesty memoir that you'll hear more about soon.
But first, I call a literary agent with whom I'm working on another project — selling a timely medical self-help manuscript about statin drugs.
My agent mentions the Borders bankruptcy debacle, quoting that Borders now owes publishers 141 million — or something outrageous like that.
As if our fragile industry needs another hit!
Still, I trot to midtown on this blessedly warm day, deliver bound galleys into welcoming hands and then head over to a production studio.
We've just taped two Shakespeare plays for a special project that combines words and images, and will be announced soon.
I sit with the director and my co-producer, who's managing the splices with an expert in Avid.
Watching colorful actors on screen, I think of typed words in the bound galleys I just handed over.
I think of all the ways to convey stories and sequences.
This is my passion, why I've stuck with this crazy publishing industry, even as it founders and sputters.
There's almost nothing so thrilling as helping a story to unfold.
October 8, 2010 04:53
“If your idea spreads, most everything else is going to take care of itself.”
—Seth Godin, Unleashing the Super Ideavirus
1. When Is a Cigar Just a Cigar?
And when is it a brand, or an idea — in the Seth Godin sense of idea, per Unleashing the Super Ideavirus, the vook that derived from his 2001 bestseller Unleashing the Ideavirus? An idea, in this sense, can be a complex formulation argued in a book, or it might be a new technology, a song, or even a vegetable peeler. Godin declares, “When you first see the OXO Peeler, you instantly understand the idea behind it. You just know it will work better and cut you less often. If you’ve ever peeled a vegetable, you want an OXO.” Yet, improving upon existing products and technologies has been part of human life for centuries. Godin poses the key question of our times, using his infectious disease analogy: “Is the OXO going to get viral?” And herein lies his critical contribution — a new model of marketing, based on respect for consumers.
2. Your Mouth IS The Money
According to Godin, there’s little need to put our money where our mouth is these days … because our mouths are fast becoming “the money.”
Or our noses are —which is to say, if we’re a “promiscuous sneezer” or a “powerful sneezer.”
This vook clarifies such terms and others, like “vacuums,” “hives,” “velocity” and “smoothness,” with which Godin illuminates his new approach to advertising. He doesn’t leave us at sea with those concepts, but applies them directly to case histories of businesses from Gmail, Twitter, and Starbucks to Martha Stewart, Mary Kay, Audi, and 3M Post-Its — many others.
Such references are a valuable part of his ideavirus argument. They are brought to life in the vook with video interviews of innovative CEOs and company founders.
3. “It is a good divine that follows his own instructions…”
In one of the vook’s 18 videos, Godin states that he fully intends to take his own advice.
He advocates a willingness to not only sell an idea, but to live it with integrity. “If your boss says, ‘Just go market it,’ it may be time to get a new job,” he suggests.
And true to his spirit, Unleashing the Super Ideavirus is its own case in point. Over the last decade this idea has leapt from being a Word attachment, offered gratis over email, to being the most downloaded ebook in history, to being an Amazon bestseller in print — and now, to being a vook, which can be heard and watched as well as read — a full expression of the “wow, zing and magic” of our times.
If you want proof that the medium is the message … don’t miss Unleashing the Super Ideavirus.
September 3, 2010 05:49
“… nothing is more unbearable, once one has it, than freedom.”
And nothing is more imponderable, once we sense it, than eternity.
As a child learning about the universe, I gripped my mother’s arm and said, “Forever never stops!”
Our lives are finite, but life is infinite.
A popular way to resolve this tension is to create false “end times,” when the world as we know it will “come to an end” — and “forever” will stop. The latest of these fads is 2012, but other “ends of the world” have included 30 C.E., 1000, 1843, 1844, 1914, 1919 and 2000.
Since these promises of apocalypse have yet to be fulfilled (and I personally wouldn’t hold my breath) the next best way to “kill eternity” is through fad and fashion: “THIS style,” people declare, “Is over.”
Modernism is “over; “ even post-modernism is “over.”
Yet, people pay huge sums of money to acquire art of the modernist era, and students continue to read and love modernist literature.
When Apple introduced its first model in the mid 1980s, the artsy hoi polloi cried: “Painting is dead!”
Yet everyone I know either owns an original painting or a poster reproduction of one.
In the early 2000s the music industry arguably transformed. But still, my teenage nephews love the Beatles as I did.
The latest death cry has come from our own industry, publishing.
A pretentious ex of mine declared: “Soon every book will be an executable file!”
Two weeks later, I attended Book Expo and saw miles of paper books displayed.
Last week, best-selling author Seth Godin wrote in The Wall Street Journal about his plans to produce and market books directly for his readers. And yesterday, the New York Times weighed in on the presumed battle between ebooks and paper books.
To me, such avowals don’t foretell the end of paper books and traditional publishing so much as the introduction of choice and simultaneity.
Perhaps my prognosis is less dramatic than “Book Publishing Apocalypse Now.”
In the blog posts that follow I will explore the more subtle and perhaps likely implications of these changes in our industry.
August 16, 2010 02:33
“Perhaps every generation feels that it is standing at a watershed of history, but our current problems seem particularly challenging.”
— Karen Armstrong, A Compassionate Life in 12 Steps
Religious historian Karen Armstrong has identified a key task of our times: to build a global community based on compassion.
Armstrong has done more than identify this task. She has invited us all to help her implement it. In February 2008 she won the TED (Technology Entertainment and Design) Prize and asked TED to help her create a Charter for Compassion.
The Charter’s goal is to restore compassion and The Golden Rule to the heart of religion and morality. No small mission!
“Before you think of changing your world, you have to turn your attention to yourself.”— Karen Armstrong, A Compassionate Life in 12 Steps
“Knowledge studies others, wisdom is self-known…”— Lao Tzu
“Love is the very difficult understanding that something other than the self is real.” — Iris Murdoch.
Armstrong’s new vook, A Compassionate Life in 12 Steps, outlines the Charter for Compassion principles in twelve educational steps. Just as an addict is trained to overcome addiction in AA’s Twelve Steps programs, Armstrong propounds that each of us can learn practical steps through which to overcome the habit of egocentrism — as crippling an addiction as any.
Another metaphor that Armstrong employs in her vook is based on “The Hero’s Journey.” In seeking to practice compassion — a madly difficult art — each of us embarks upon what designer Jennifer Arrington describes in the Chapter 2 video as “not an easy journey.”
We can all use training in the skill of compassion. A Compassionate Life in 12 Steps, told both in writing and in video, per the Vook format, is Armstrong’s bold introduction to her method.
“Skeptics often say that the golden rule does not work. But this is not a doctrine that you have to believe. It is a method ~ and a method can only be judged if you put it into practice and see whether or not it is effective.” — Karen Armstrong, A Compassionate Life in 12 Steps
Armstrong is neither the first nor the only writer who’s endeavored to mentor fellow humans in living compassionately with others. But her “Twelve Step Program,” and the vook format that intersperses videos with written text and online links, is uniquely tailored to readers today.
I appreciated her practical demonstrations of the twelve steps, and her scholarly quotes from sages like Milton and Shakespeare, as well as from religious texts. I also found the range of people interviewed in the videos moving and inspirational.
This well-taken, subtle vook can be referenced endlessly, every day, and always provide something new.
July 6, 2010 02:33
A recent edition of The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin published by Vook under ordinary circumstances would not merit a review since publishers have kept the autobiography on the market for well over 200 years. In addition to being the grandfather of the self-help, do-it-yourself industry — so much a part of the American ethos — Franklin was an inventor and printer. How fitting then that Vook, innovators of book production, have made The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin available for purchase online in a new form of enriched ebook.
With this technology readers may access features such as video and animation that help to introduce the classical material. The vook format also allows readers to connect directly through social media with friends or fellow students, all without switching platforms.
Yet, trying to review a vook book makes me decidedly uncomfortable, all too aware of my limited computer skills. I think of myself as a third or fourth grader rather than as a postgraduate student. What I have to fall back on is my subjective response to this new form of reading. Clearly I’m no expert. It’s the first time I’ve read and witnessed a vook. With those caveats, here is my subjective summation.
The supplementary information presented in the videos was illuminating. I enjoyed the live commentary of experts. For example, I learned about Franklin’s relationship with his wife and his flirtations with French women after her death. The flesh-and-blood Benjamin Franklin that emerged complements his portrait on the $100 bill.
I would have appreciated more variety in the prints and paintings selected to enhance the text. The videographers need not have limited themselves to the few existing portraits of Franklin, and might have shown more scenes and artifacts of life in the Philadelphia of his time.
Excitingly, there is room for Vook to grow and innovate further, to creatively extend this new format. I plan to return to the site for additional purchases. My guess is that Franklin would approve of this invention — and be pleased to be part of its timely debut.
June 3, 2010 08:55
PUBLISH OR PERISH is a well-worn adage in academia. Teachers anxious to gain appointment at the college or university level and those seeking to secure a tenured appointment know the importance of having their work validated particularly by a peer-reviewed publication or a respected publishing firm.
For several years I was a member of the Promotion and Appointment Committee at the University at Albany, a SUNY institution. In reviewing a candidate’s thick dossier covering an academic career, we members also paid special attention to student ratings for a teacher, and the record of Community Service. For example, on what university committees had the candidate served? What kinds of service did the candidate perform for the profession, for the local city or state?
Of these three criteria—publication, teaching performance, and community service—committee members informally acknowledged the most important criterion was publication. To illustrate its importance, Barack Obama was never considered as a candidate for tenure at the School of Law, University of Chicago where he was a lecturer because his publication record was so poor.
Digital changes in book publishing and in professional journals make selecting the best candidates for appointment and promotion even more difficult than in past years. Publishing e-books and real books have become so easy today. I once knew the names of a few vanity presses. Now there are so many more of them. Also. self-publishing has gained a new legitimacy. Large booksellers such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble are anxious to make digital books available to their customers.
Today, available options are different for an author whose work cannot find a publisher. Karen McQuestion, according to a story in The Wall Street Journal, tried for ten years to interest a publisher in her novel. Having failed, she decided to produce an online version, and in eleven months her e-book, A Scattered Life, sold 36,000 copies. This cautionary tale raises two questions.
First, was it wise for the author not to accept the decision of the New York publishing world? The money McQuestion put up to publish the novel has been paid back and yielded her a profit. But there was no guarantee of that. Traditionally authors expect an advance rather than an expenditure after completing a manuscript. A candidate seeking promotion as a tenured professor has even more at stake in terms of future earnings and maintaining a reputation as a scholar. Would she be justified in seeking to support her dossier by paying for the publication of her professional work?
Second, were the New York publishers mistaken? The large sale of Karen McQuestion’s novel raises doubt about the decisions of the gatekeepers of publication. A paperback edition will soon be published, and a Hollywood producer has paid for a film option. Obviously, the decisions of publishers can be mistaken. The decisions of committee members on promotion and appointment committees at universities can also be mistaken.
Perhaps it’s time to overhaul "Publish or Perish." We readers know that much of what has been published on paper does not represent high quality work. Publishers must publish to stay in business. Professional journals must keep to their schedule of publication. Always suspect, the need for Publish or Perish seems outmoded in the new Age of "Digital Publication."