Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Promote Yourself!

This blog post has 20 good ideas for musicians (and music organizations) who want to promote themselves on the Internet.

Many of these also are useful if you want to promote yourself as an author, speaker, or other kind of artist, especially:
  • Youtube - promote your book or subject matter in short videos or with links to relevant videos
  • Tubemogul - a useful SEO adjunct to Youtube
  • Livestream - provide video feeds to your website (some programming necessary)
  • TweetForATrack and are both services to promote audio content, like readings or lectures
  • FanBridge - an email service for managing your email to fans
  • MailChimp - email marketing, especially useful to mail to targeted geographies so you can promote a local event like a reading
  • Flowtown - analyze all your email address to understand your fans' social networking preferences
Check out the blog post at IgniteSocialMedia for more tips.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Beginning Middle and End

Sesame Street Explains story structure!

That's all, folks!

Review: The Secret Miracle

Rabih made me buy The Secret Miracle: The Novelist's Handbook. I'm glad he did.

First off, what a smart book to "write". Ask some of the best novelists in the world some questions about books and writing, then edit all the replies. Voilà, book written.

Daniel Alarcón introduces the book with the story of how his first book almost killed him. That's how I feel working on the fourth draft of my first book. Alarcón also tells a story about how each writer is different than any other writer. When you read The Secret Miracle, you learn how true that it.

I learned lots more. From the writers' replies, I learned something different about each author's personality from what I might surmise reading that author's books. Saša Stanišić kept answering questions the same way I imagined answering, so now I want to read one of his books. In response to the question "How important is humor?", Michael Chabon replied, "Not one bit. Just kidding." Now I want to read one of Chabon's books, too.

I liked questions like "Is there a novel you back to again and again?" The answers to these kinds of questions provided great reading lists. Amy Tan liked Love in the Time of Cholera. So did Michael Chabon. Moby Dick came up several times.

What's not to like about this book? As a writer, I was amused at how other writers approach the craft and and the business of books. I marveled at their rich understanding of novels and writing. As a reader, I found new authors to read and familiar authors I want to revisit. Even better, I skimmed answers to questions that didn't interest me without a pang of guilt. It wasn't like I would miss an important plot point or something.

The first question in the book is "What do you look for in a novel?" I liked Rabih's answer the best:
After reading a great novel, I am not the same person I was before I read it. Now all that stuff we take for granted — great story, great structure, great language — that all makes for a really good novel. But a great novel is not the one that transforms the character but the one that transforms the reader.
I'm glad Rabih made me buy the book.

Monday, April 5, 2010

How to Publish Your First Book

The Economist published a nice piece on the growth of online book sales, and how publishers are reacting. The graphic from the article (on the left) shows PWC's estimates of online book sales through 2013 as a percent of overall book sales.

Until the Apple iPad came on the scene, publishers had little bargaining power with Amazon and its dominant Kindle e-reader. Now they have negotiated pricing to help them maintain price consistency between real and virtual books. Bottom line: publishers have switched online pricing models from wholesale to percent-of-sale in an effort to harmonize online and retail pricing.

Will it help authors and publishers? Who knows. For the time being, authors still need publishers for retail distribution (see my earlier post on that topic). How do they get their books published in today's jumbled book market? Self-publish? Put their books for sale online?

Jim C. Hines has published survey results that show how first-time authors found publishers. Hines surveyed authors who have published a book, meaning they had collected an advance of at least $2,000. Finding a literary agent is still the most common way to get to a publisher. In this survey, self-publishing was the least effective route to a publisher. By-passing agents and going directly to publishers, though, worked okay. Two things I keep hearing — that you have to publish in literary journals and that you have to know someone in the industry — are not born out by Hines' survey. Publishing in journals and having connections never hurts, but they are not requisites for first-time authors.

What are some alternatives for first-time authors? Smaller firms usually innovate to differentiate from larger firms, and sometimes show where an industry might head next. Two firms worth watching are Publication Studio and William Torphy Fine Arts. Publication Studio distributes physical and virtual books. It prints books on demand when it receives an order, as demonstrated in this video:

Publication Studio Makes A Book from Mike Merrill on Vimeo.
By printing all books in-house and controlling all its online distribution, Publication Studio has vertically integrated all the parts of the publishing business, from title selection through manufacturing and delivery.

William Torphy Fine Arts focuses on the fine arts market, making books that "[link] together artists, collectors and exhibitors of visual art." My friend David Stein is collaborating with Torphy to produce a book of Eda Kavin's Chinese paintings. Serving a niche market gives Torphy a way to avoid most of the book market jumble altogether.

For small volume books, these two models make lots of sense. They may be the new path for authors trying to break into this evolving book market.

It's also instructive to look at how the large publishers are thinking. Here's a fun video by the UK branch of Dorling Kindersley Books called The Future of Publishing:

Friday, March 19, 2010

Why Is Google Setting an April 10 Deadline in China?

As reported in CNET and elsewhere, Google will tell the Chinese government on Monday that it will close down Operating requires Google to follow China's laws regarding Internet use, so it will no longer have to follow those laws. In return, the Chinese are expected to block Chinese access to

Why would Google throw down the gauntlet and risk forgoing Chinese market? First, if the Chinese try to compete with Google, they are unlikely to compete worldwide. Google already has a better search product. As the Internet evolves, it will build its business in the rest of the world with all the economic advantages of scale that brings. If the Chinese build a competitive search technology, it will be inferior by design because it censors search results politically. Unless the Chinese can convince the rest of the world that it wants an inferior search product, a Chinese product won't be as cheap to provide as Google's product because it will never achieve the same scale.

There are two other technologies Google has that will make it hard for the Chinese to block Google in China. One is translation services. Google will continue to serve up search results for Chinese sites, and it can translate those results better than any other company for the rest of the world. The Chinese cannot provide manufacturing and technology to the rest of the world without providing the information its customers need in a language they understand. Google will do that better than the Chinese can. In reverse, Chinese who want to know what's going on competitively will be at a disadvantage without Google's translation services.

Then there is Google Docs (and other downstream applications). Again, if China's customers are deploying these technologies, the Chinese have to provide at least compatibility with them. If I want to collaborate on a spreadsheet in real time using Google Docs, and my Chinese manufacturer cannot access the spreadsheet, I might work with someone in Taiwan instead. Chinese exclusion of Google Docs also forces Chinese to pay the Microsoft tax for Office products, or steal Office products, or find 2nd and 3rd tier products with lower market share.

Microsoft has an opening with Bing, but a difficult opening. It can anticipate the same problems that Google has with Chinese espionage and censorship. Microsoft has its own set of problems already with the Chinese because of theft of its products. It's not clear that gaining search market share in China alone makes it worth the deal it would have to do with China.

In the short-term, Google may forgo advertising sales in China. In the long-run, it will be harder and harder for the Chinese to block Google and stay competitive in Internet-based commercial activity. At some point, the Chinese will allow Google back in China. At that point, Google can either compete with Chinese home-grown advertisers, or buy them. Google's move is a smart way to avoid building localized Chinese services that don't fit with its brand or long-term product strategy.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Make Your Own Music (Online)

I love new creative activities popping up on the Internet. I posted previosly about online creative collaboration. Here are some examples of websites that provide ways of creating or composing your own music performances.

On the website In B flat, Darren Solomon has arranged an array of videos with musicians and readers. Create your own performance by starting and stopping videos, and adjusting volumes.

Incredibox gives you your own animated band. Drag-and-drop instruments, rhythm sections, and other effects at the bottom of your screen on to the musicians and off they go. When you get tired of a virtual musician, click to make him disappear.

If you want to compose music, you can do that on the Interent, too. Noteflight gives you Internet-based composition services to write music, hear it, and print it out. Wouldn't it be great if you could push a button and distribute on iTunes?

Of course, sometimes it's nice just to sit back and listen to music that's hard to find anywhere else except the Internet. Here is Tonada de Luna Llena as performed by Leonardo Granados.

Tonada de Luna Llena from Dustin Copeland on Vimeo.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Should I Hedge in Linden Dollars?

A couple friends and I thought of hedging with Linden dollars at lunch the other day. The Second Life currency may be too thinly traded, but it represents a blend of several economies since its users are from all over the world.

Exchange rates for Linden dollars look like they have low volatility. On the other hand, one blogger claims that L$ look like either a Ponzi scheme, where early players are rewarded by economic inputs from later players, or like a High-Yield Investment Scheme, rather than a virtual economy.
More on this as I research it.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Talking with Kemble Scott about Publishing

Since I'll be looking for an agent and publisher later this year for my book Delux, I spoke with the writer Kemble Scott (aka Scott James) about the state of the publishing industry. Kemble has penned SoMa and The Sower. Here are some highlights of the publishing process for first time writers.
  • Only 1 in 20 published books are successful. Venture capitalists expect 1 in 10 investments to pay off. Publishing is twice as risky as start-ups.
  • You can't get published unless you submit to agents and publishers, and most will reject you. In fact, you can expect to get rejection letters written by people who have an opinion about your book even if they haven't read it. In one case, an author got a rejection letter from an agent who asked the author for a manuscript. That's how bad the submission process is.
  • If you don't get an agent or publisher, consider self-publishing, especially electronic versions of your book. At least for now, getting a publisher is still the best way to get sales. Publishers continue to keep the gates to retail book stores, New York Times best-seller list, etc. But the rules of gate-keeping and distribution are in flux, and you don't destroy your chances of a publishing deal anymore when you self-publish.
  • Publishers have sales forces whose job is to get retail bookstores to buy books. A publisher's sales force typically specializes in a genre, and publishers may make their "green light" decisions based on the opinion of their respective sales forces about marketability. Sometimes this means a publisher will categorize your book in a far-flung genre that its sales force understands how to sell.
The validation of a publishing deal still adds value to a title from an unknown author. However, with return rates hovering around 40% through the bookstore channel (those sales reps are good at getting bookstores to buy inventory they can't sell!), print-on-demand and electronic distribution, both of which have no returns, have a built-in profit advantage that will force the industry to new distribution models with new gate-keepers.

The biggest problem facing new authors, of course, is marketing. Kemble caught a lucky break when scribd included The Sower in its first online bookstore, one of those lucky breaks that happened because someone at scribd remembered talking to Kemble about SoMa at a cocktail party. The press frenzy covering scribd's innovative online store drove traffic to scribd which, in turn, drove sales of The Sower. Be the first to try a new marketing technique that the press can write a story about, and you may sell more copies of your book because of your marketing creativity than your writing creativity (this is not a negative comment about the literary merits of The Sower, by the way).

Getting a publishing deal creates a specific marketing problem for an author. If you self-publish, you will get nearly instantaneous reports on unit sales. If you work with a publisher, you probably will receive an annual sales report without much detail. With instantaneous reporting, you can determine which marketing effort paid off in sales. Did the review in The Daily Podunk drive sales of those last 20 units, or the talk at Podunk University a week later? Do you spend your marketing time getting more reviews, or interviews, or bookstore visits, or blog posts? If you can see timely sales reports, you can make better marketing decisions.

I'm reading up on literary agents and getting ready to submit. I know it's a long-shot. Maybe I'm crazy. It's just that I like writing and telling stories, and this business of finding a publisher seems like a small price to pay to get my work out there.

Friday, February 5, 2010


I'm sure the etiquette books will take years to catch up on all the new technology.

texting while driving
Here are some textiquette tips, etiquette guidance for you texters out there:
  • First off, you do have a choice to text. Consider the consequences of waiting ten minutes to read and respond to text messages. Does your business or personal relationship depend on instantaneous, on-the-spot decisions? Really? Your life may be better with different relationships.
  • Don't text and drive. Don't even use your phone. Don't believe me? Here's what Car and Driver had to say: "... the next time you’re tempted to text, tweet, e-mail, or otherwise type while driving, either ignore the urge or pull over. We don’t want you rear-ending us." If you need to text on the move, hire a driver.
  • If you're walking, the same advice applies, either ignore the urge or pull over. Today a woman stopped to text in the middle of a narrow sidewalk. That annoyed those of us who were left to find a way around her. That wasn't as bad as the guy I saw walk into a street pole while typing. I know I'll see a texter walk into traffic soon.
  • If you're shopping, shop. It's also annoying to navigate around shopping carts in the middle of aisles while a shopper writes an urgent love poem. It's even worse to wait on queue to check out while someone saves the world with a text message.
  • Don't text during a conversation. There is no simpler way to show that you don't respect the other person's attention or time. If you expect an urgent text, make an agreement before you start the conversation that you'll only interrupt your friend for a text from your best friend who's expecting quadruplets any second.

Your need for information that speeds up your life may end up slowing down everyone else. For instance, access to a phone in a car is great. A conversation with a friend (while someone else drives) makes the trip less tedious, and smart phones can help us navigate through bad traffic with alerts and navigation maps. Unfortunately, drivers who talk on cell phones also increase traffic congestion.

Mobile communications have freed us to find each other spontaneously, to update each other instantaneously, and to find answers to movie quizzes before any of our friends. Good etiquette means taking advantage of this information safely and courteously. The first decision you should make when you get a text message is whether you can wait until later to read it.

Took a Walk in Upstate New York Today

I was fact-checking a scene where my characters walk from the Lake Placid Airport (LKP) to the Olympic Ski Jump Complex. Luckily, I could let me fingers to the walking.

View Larger Map
Amazing how easy it was to get there.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Upcoming Northern California Writing Conferences

Here are some conferences you might want to consider in 2010 if you're an author living in Northern California.
San Francisco Writers Conference
February 12-14, 2010
The Historic Mark Hopkins Hotel, San Francisco
Fee: $645, or $695 with the "speed dating" session with agents
For a list of agents attending the conference, see:
For more information, visit:
Napa Valley Writer's Conference
July 25-30, 2010
Upper Valley Campus, 1088 College Ave, St Helena, CA 94574
Fee: $800
Applications due by May 1, 2010 and include a $15 reading fee and a $100 refundable deposit
For more information, visit:
Squaw Valley Writers Conference
Early August 2010 (dates to be announced)
Squaw Valley Olympic Plaza
Fee: 2010 fees not announced.
For more information: visit:

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Recent Boarding Passes

Doing some research in the Middle East for my second novel. The trip was fantastic, and thanks to Rabih and Randa Alameddine for their hospitality in Beirut. The flight home from Jordan was grueling.
  • ME 313 amman to beirut boards at 1600 GMT 12 JAN 2010
  • LH 3519 beirut to frankfurt boards at 0110 GMT 13 JAN 2010
  • US 705 frankfurt to charlotte boards at 1040 GMT 13 JAN 2010
  • US 406 charlotte to san francisco boards at 0001 GMT 14 JAN 2010
  • US 406 arrives san francisco at 0455 GMT 14 JAN 2010
Total flight time: 37 hours
Total travel time:
  • depart Dead Sea at 1200 GMT 12 Jan 2010
  • arrive home at 0600 GMT 14 Jan 2010
  • 42 hours