A New Perspective

In previous posts on this site, you will see the notes from my years as the Executive Editor at Tate Publishing. In the last few months, my role has changed. After a long-time colleague and friend decided to leave the publishing industry behind to spend less time at her desk and more time in her garden, I was promoted to Director of Production.

This move has been exciting and ripe with lessons and opportunities. Since January, I've been meeting regularly with my colleagues and new direct reports to learn the ins and outs of the areas of our business I didn't have a deep knowledge of.

I've decided to start blogging again to document where we are as a company and where we are going. My primary hope is it helps our various production teams—ghostwriters, editors, cover/layout/corrections designers, book trailer and website designers, audiobook producers, epub engineers—all on the same page about our past, present, and future.

I have two other goals for the blog:

1. To showcase the talent that teems throughout our company. I won't feign a nonpartisan stance here—I think our staff does incredible work on a daily basis for our clients, bringing life to each manuscripts and transforming it from an "ugly duckling" draft in MS Word into a well-crafted and beautifully designed book. The process is not always flawless, but our people tirelessly invest their God-given talent, skill, and energy into making our books the best they can be. And that's worth bragging about, so I'm going to do it.

2. To provide a glimpse behind the scenes of book publishing. I'm a huge fan of the TV shows created by Aaron Sorkin, in particular The West Wing and Studio 60. These terrific shows go behind the scenes to reveal the both the imperfections and greatness that happen when people work together to create something great. There is an inherent messiness behind the scenes in any creative process—whether writing a first draft or managing a company—and it's worth a second look.

I hope you'll join me as we lean in to meet the challenges of the new millennium in book publishing.

The Best Five Books I Read in 2011

The list someone, somewhere has been waiting for:

The End of Education by Neil Postman
According to Plan by Graeme Goldsworthy
Weapons of Mass Instruction by John Taylor Gatto
The Disappearance of Childhood by Neil Postman
Growing a Farmer by Kurt Timmermeister

I'm considering taking on the 52-Book Challenge again in 2012. What should be on my list? 

Dispatches from the Publishing Frontier

Last week I had the opportunity to speak to a capstone English class at the University of Central Oklahoma. My presentation, titled “Dispatches from the Publishing Frontier,” addressed the new landscape of the publishing industry and opportunities for recent graduates to get their foot in the door.

As I prepared it was eye opening to look back over the last fifteen years and put the students’ generation in a historical context. There is no way to overstate the impact the Internet has had on all business, and especially media. The last ten years have been nothing short of revolutionary for our culture. As we know, revolutions can have good and bad results, and often a mix. In the next three posts, I’d like to delve into three dramatic shifts in the publishing industry in the last decade. Today, we look at distribution.

Part One: The End of The Distribution Monopoly 

The monopoly on book distribution has been all but wiped out. Forty years ago, the one route to getting your book in front of an audience was this: AgentàNY PublisheràDistribution ManageràRetail Book BuyeràCustomer. Today, it is possible to hurdle some of these steps and still reach an audience. Let’s take a look at these one by one:

  1. Agents. The agency route is certainly still an option, but some publishers, like Tate Publishing, have Acquisition Editors who accept and review unsolicited manuscripts not tied to an agent, and this role has lost more than a modicum of its gate keeping authority.

  1. Publisher. Some have attempted to argue that the role of publisher is losing importance as well. I would argue that this is actually the most dynamic and vital cog in the chart above. Nothing can take the place of experienced Editorial eye, elegant Cover Design, subtle and eye-pleasing Layout Design, and Marketing and Publicity, all of which Tate Publishing provides. And now communication technology has freed us up to do business in areas of the nation outside of Manhattan.

  1. Distribution Managers warehouse books for retailers. With modern digital printing technology, we can print books in shorter runs and have them ready for retailers in weeks. Distribution is also dependent on traditional book retailers, which we will address next.

  1. Retail Book Buyer. I could sum this up in one word: Borders. National book chains are struggling. It’s a painful thing to realize, but admit it we must: customers are much more likely to buy from an online site that in a bookstore. We still value our relationships with book buyers and bookstores. Yet there is another avenue we can approach customers, one at which the Tate Publishing Marketing team is both particularly experienced and adept: Events outside the bookstore; also known as Niche Marketing. Tapping into your niche market is the new way of the industry, and Tate Publishing has been pioneering the path for years

Part Two will look at Chris Anderson’s important work defining The Long Tail.

Book Review: The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains

"Calm, focused, undistracted, the linear mind is being pushed aside by a new kind of mind that wants and needs to take in and dole out information in short, disjointed, often overlapping bursts—the faster, the better.”

You feel it. You sense it, tugging at you right now. “Am I being entertained? How much longer do I feel like reading this? This is boring. Is there a picture or video here somewhere? What’s going on on Facebook?” When you’re on the Net, there is a constant tug at your attention. In the back of your mind you’re sure there’s something that could bring you more pleasure. The possibilities are endless, and here you sit on a lowly blog about books. All you have to do is click two buttons and you could be watching a laughing baby or seeing what 600 of your friends are doing in real time. The average reader on this site stays 94 seconds.

The Internet grabs our attention the way no other entertainment technology has before, then scatters it in a wind of hyperlinks and search boxes. The gratification of the technology is immediate and seemingly limitless. The dopamine we get when we get a message, a like, a tweet, etc. is a powerful drug, and it’s a high we aren't keen to lose. 

In the western world over the last century we have adopted technology so wholly, accepted its necessity and inevitability so completely, and created its monopoly so rapidly that we’ve had little time to contemplate the blowback—the unintended consequences of maximum connectivity.

Technology and culture writer Nicholas Carr examines these consequences in The Shallows, an utterly compelling look at an ominous phenomenon that is well underway. Yes, most scientists agree that the Web is morphing your mind. Some argue this is for the better while others, contrarians like Carr, argue for worse. 

If you’ve recently noticed you look at your smartphone rather than look friends in the face, that your memory seems to be getting frazzled, that you have more trouble reading an entire book than you used to, this may be a consequence of using the Web. Carr explains with neuroscience that without repeated use our minds begin to lose the ability to concentrate on one subject for an extended period. It's the old axiom: Use it or lose it. Pertinent, fascinating studies are used to illustrate that our abilities to digest information and process complex arguments are dwindling. 

I could say a ton about The Shallows, but I'll end with this: I listed this as the most affecting book I read in 2010. It remains that, and I’ve just had the opportunity to chew on and discuss its content with with some of my coworkers, where it sparked much introspection and debate. This book will challenge (and possibly change) the way you live.

P.S. If you want a primer check out Carr's article in The Atlantic: "Is Google Making Us Stupid?"