The Automaton has no emotion, thus no responsibility?

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The Automaton has no emotion, thus no responsibility?

I was sickened this morning, while reading an NBC story via Pulse about the “traumatic amputations” and legs being blown off at the Boston Marathon, to see an awful ad placement that illustrates both the pros and cons of content-specific advertising.

Set right into those paragraphs describing the extent of the horrific lower leg injuries, we have an ad for colourful boots. Even the wording – and perhaps it’s my sense of humour here that is sick – left me aghast in the context of bombs going off (“POPS of color”) and parts of limbs being lost (“up to 90% off”).

Surely, surely, if we have tech geeks with the brilliance to come up with ad specific advertising (which I am generally very pro), there can be some kind of mechanism to ensure more appropriate placement of ads within content of a sensitive nature?

Perhaps it starts with the advertiser? Should this one be putting pressure on NBC, considering how poorly this reflects on them? (Because, illogically and unfairly, it does initially seem to cast them in the poor light, rather than NBC, or would you not agree?)

Or does it start with us? Should I be complaining to NBC now instead of whinging publicly?

Or perhaps – and I do think there is merit in this argument, much as I don’t like it –  I don’t have a right to feel offended by a mismatch that helped pay for the content that I obviously found of sufficiently good quality to keep me reading to and beyond the third para? Content that I received for gratis.

C’mon code dudes: surely there’s an easy solution that short circuits even the need for an ethical debate on this?

Some reflections on experiences of my publishing journey as a first-time author

By Derek Botha

[Note: Derek is a client of Moonshine Media. Hearing him enthuse about the journey of publishing his first book, I asked him to note his thoughts down. After all, he will never publish a first book again, but it’s a path many others might stumble or skip down. – Dominique]

No Labels coverSome years ago, after having retired for a short while, I immersed myself in research on an issue that had been a big part of my life’s experiences. The research activities eventually formed the bases of considerations of becoming some form of larger publication as the writings were becoming too long and complex to be presented in a journal article.

I was not sure how the writings would reach the public domain, but, as time went on, I decided that I would publish them as a book. This decision meant restructuring and reformatting the work into chapters, and rewriting a substantial portion of the work that had already been drafted. A coherent story-line was also necessary, although a work of non-fiction.  It was my main aim to get what I had written ‘out there’ – to be available to be read by those who may be interested.  It was not my intention to publish for financial gain – I felt that what I had to say had not been said at all, that I needed to say it, and that it was important information.  In other words, I wanted my story to be available to be read as it would be of value to my readership.

 I was proud of my efforts at research and writing on a topic in a field in which I had trained and worked – mental health. As the topic had been significantly ignored, dishonoured, dismissed and neglected, it was my belief that my writings would make an important contribution to this aspect in the mental health field. At that stage I had spent just over five years involved in intense researching, writing and publishing a few related academic articles. As the writing of a draft manuscript was drawing to a close, I mulled over these aspects. I was under the impression (as a first-time author), that all I needed to do was to ‘phone a publishing house or two, advise them of the focus and content of my writings, and they would be enthusiastic to publish my writings which I considered were of merit. I eventually decided to contact a large national publisher, as well as reputable international publishers who published works in the mental health field, and email to them my book proposal. This process was met with varied responses – from no replies, to indicating that the nature of my book did not form part of their publishing plans for that year. The large national publisher attempted to find overseas publishers because local publication alone was seen to be not financially viable.  All such efforts were not successful as the book was not the equivalent of Fifty Shades of Grey in the non-fiction field, that is, it would not add significant and immediate value to the financial wealth of a publication house. I was getting quite despondent, and was concerned about whether or not my committed efforts would ever be published.

The national publisher suggested that I consider following the self-publishing route by ‘putting’ the book on Amazon.com. I had no idea what self-publishing meant, nor entailed, so I looked it up on the internet and found numerous overseas (USA and UK) places (institutions, companies, persons, etc.) who were offering a multitude of publishing related menu-like services for prices that, for a South African, were extremely high. In addition, I did not feel comfortable making payments upfront, given the geographic distances, and the fact that browsing the internet had indicated that some of these overseas ‘publishers’ were being investigated by USA police authorities for various criminal activities, such as  money laundering. I felt that I could not allow my works, my writings, my creation to be exposed to such institutions. I had a sense that I would be offering my creation to untrustworthy and possible criminal elements who would have little or no appreciation of the intrinsic value of my efforts, commitment and writings. In addition, if I had to submit my creation to remote, far-away, unknown persons and processes, I would be not be an integral part of the activities of preparing my writings for presentation to potential readership.

Consequently I started browsing the internet to find a source of assistance in South Africa, and ‘phoning persons in South Africa whom I thought could help me. I had researched and written all the work to date and wanted assistance with the publishing, marketing, distribution and sales of my book. I did not want to merely hand over to another all that I had done, and then be removed from my writings so that another would be responsible for creating yet another book in a string of their publications. In other words, I had conceived the idea, had undertaken all the research and the writing, and now wanted to be an integral part of the processes that were needed to bring about the ‘birth’ of my creation.

After some weeks of ‘phoning around and browsing the internet, another first-time author suggested that I contact a small publishing organisation called Moonshine Media. I did so, and then consulted with the owner of this organisation, Dominique le Roux.  She undertook to manage the publication process, during which she would commission reputable local service providers for each specific activity in the process, and I would still be involved with such matters as various decisions, working on amendments to the script, and so on. I was satisfied that her organisation could offer me what I wanted and needed. And so I apprehensively began my journey into the unknown – but a journey that I looked forward to and undertook with excitement and enthusiasm as I was to be an integral part of the processes, and would be involved with all the activities that then followed.

Part of the requirements of my previous employment involved research, writing and publishing articles in scholarly journals.  As I had been exposed to editing processes that came with that activity, I thought that that rather limited process would be repeated, but over a longer period. In spite of my excitement and enthusiasm, I was not prepared for the level of commitment and amount of work that was needed from me in this new venture.  Fortunately I had retired and had much of the day as discretionary time to attend to my responses to the copy editor. However, the committed, thorough and professional copy editing undertaken by the copy editor resulted in all this discretionary time, and substantially more, been used to keep up with her suggestions and questions. This process continued every day for about a month, and involved the exchange of over seven hundred emails between the copy editor and me – it was exhausting. However, I felt totally included and that I was being held partially responsible for preparing the writings for publication.  I would not have been satisfied with any lesser commitment and involvement in the editing process.

I was then consulted in regard to the cover design and it’s colour. Again I felt included in this process and experienced the ways of thinking and working of these professionals.

The time-consuming and highly focused activity of type-setting was undertaken by Dominique and an assistant.  I was again consulted during this process, and was amazed at the care, thoroughness and preciseness that was needed to accomplish this task successfully.

I had some thoughts on how the indexing task might be undertaken, although I did not know exactly what was required. I was aware that it could be a time-consuming process, involving a lot of thorough work with minute accuracy. In a short time I was presented with a very comprehensive, appropriate and easily accessible index, as well as supportive comments from the well-renowned indexer who was commissioned by Moonshine Media.

At that stage I thought that all the preparation for the book had been completed, and it was in a state to be presented to a printer. However, I was informed that proofreading was still required. I was not sure what to expect, but was again a party to the proofreading activities. This allowed me to experience the final responses from a professional who had not been involved with any stages of the preparation of the book so far. The high level of professionalism to which I was exposed by the proof-reading process really brought home to me the amount of commitment and thoroughness that is required to prepare the final draft of a book.  Again, I was required to respond to a ‘barrage’ of questions and suggestions. I found it very rewarding to feel that an  ‘outsider’ could be so committed to working with my writings in such a professional way – and again bring me into the process of preparing my book for publication.

My book was eventually e-published in about six months from the time of the first consultation with Dominique when she indicated an interest in the book, and a willingness to undertake the management of its publication, both in South Africa (hard copy) and on the internet (Amazon.com).

My involvement in every activity of publication made me feel that I was part of the whole process, and that my work and writing was being honoured by all those who assisted and contributed to its publication.

– Derek Botha, author of No Labels – Men in Relationship with Anorexia

Indie publishing secrets of success

ImageI’ve not read any of Barbara Freethy’s fiction. Before today, I had no idea who she was – this despite her being a no 1. New York Times best selling author with more than 30 novels (where’ve I been?) to her name. But I like her already – a judgement based simply on some recent blog posts of hers in which she gives advice to other writers from a grounded and extremely modest perspective. That without downplaying her incredible success.

And it’s success by many measures:

* Numbers: 2.7 million ebooks sold since January 2011.

* Lifestyle: writing full-time about subject and characters that interest her

* Accolades: rave reviews, awards and editors’ picks

So, what’s her advice? 

1. Write lots: “My best advice, having watched how my books have performed the last two years, is to write a lot of books! I’ve discovered that every new book raises the tide on sales for the previous ones.”

2. Don’t get sucked into the marketing and forget you’re a writer: “I honestly think writing the next book is a more important and a better use of your time than investing too many hours or too many dollars into promotion. I do still believe in Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest and other social media experiments but only on a limitied basis. Don’t spent all your time tweeting! Author newsletters are also great so that you can alert your readers to a new book.”

3. Envisage a longer term strategy: “I hope writers will think of self publishing (or traditional publishing) as a career. You’re not going to write just one book, you’re going to write many! And anyone who reads your first book and loves it is going to want to read the second. Plus, from a practical standpoint it is easier to promote and sell books when you can offer a sale price on the first book in a series or even just to another book you’ve written.”

4. Be professional. “Hiring the right team of editors, artists, marketing, whatever you need to put out a professional product, is very important. The readers can be harsh in their reviews. So you want to put out the best book you can. There are a lot of great freelancers available for anything you need. Take advantage of them!”

And why indie publishing rather than traditional (she’s already had dozens of books published by traditional publishers)?

“While I’ve enjoyed my experiences with traditional publishing, I’m currently pursuing my own path. I enjoy the freedom to write what I want and publish as frequently as I can, so that my readers will no longer have to wait a year in between books for the next installment in a series.”

And finally, let’s be honest. What are the downsides of self- or independent publishing?

“It is a tremendous amount of work. A self publisher has to wear many hats, not just writer, but editor, proofreader, technical formatter, cover designer, marketer, pricing expert … it’s exhausting. But it’s also very rewarding. There is a bigger piece of the pie for self published authors in terms of royalties, but there is a trade off in the amount of work the self publisher has to do.”

Barbara Freethy has an FAQ section on her website in which she gives more advice, as well as background on where her ideas come from, and resources on offer to book clubs (now there’s a great marketing idea we can learn from!)

Plus she elaborates more on how she achieved her success in this Kirkus Review.

Pride – Confessions of a Publishing Aid in Africa

Warning: gushings ahead.

Sorry, I can’t help myself. After how many years in the business, I still just love, love, love that moment when you unwrap that single proof copy of a new book from the printer, and feel the weight of it in your hand, and you page carefully through it, possibly remembering to breathe…

Today another book was born. That book is called ‘Shame – Confessions of an Aid Worker in Africa’, written by Jillian Reilly. Authored and funded by Jillian, it was produced by a specialist team of experienced professionals all passionate about what they do, and obsessed with creating great products of high quality.

THAT is what independent publishing is.

Yes, we are using the tools of self-publishing to get this book to the international market – in this case, Lulu for print on demand, and KDP for producing the Kindle edition. But those are just print and distribution service providers. The actual work in producing the book – the editing, design, typesetting – was not done on the cheap, and no corners were cut. [Full disclosure, in case this hasn’t been abundantly clear already: my small company, Moonshine Media, helped Jillian with the strategy and production management.]

I am so proud of Shame.

‘There’s a gap in the market’

This is the number one motivation my clients tell me they’ll give a publisher when pitching for a new book contract. As if publishers, with all their experience, don’t know the market, and this never-before-been-published person really is the expert.

[Fact is, this might well be true. I don’t necessarily believe publishers are market experts. They only know what sold in the past. And they apply expert intuition (Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘Blink’) to predicting the future. But if the future is very different to the past, and if future markets will be different to those of the past, then what they need to apply is ‘strategic intuition‘, as described in the brilliant and methodically-researched and -told book of that name. But that’s a whole different blog!]

Fish paste.

There is a gap in the market for sardine-flavoured toothpaste. Think about it: everybody makes mint toothpaste. The market for that must be saturated. Fish, on the other hand, is an extremely popular flavour, and one indulged at breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Think salmon bagel or kippers and eggs for breakfast. Tuna mayo sandwiches for lunch. Hake and chips for dinner. All extremely popular Everyman meals.

And of course the fish is the symbol of freedom, swimming in the world’s oceans. It could be seen as symbol of purity, of all that is natural and good.

So surely there’s a gap in the market for fish-flavoured toothpaste, no?

No. I don’t see it happening. But every day wanna-be authors use similar logic to the publishers they’re trying to impress. My advice: when you’re pitching your idea to an agent or publisher, pitch it in terms of what works, rather than the unknown. Liken it to something that has sold well. Or quote stats from other media that prove that this is an existing market that simply has not yet been saturated with books.

So, for example, you might want to highlight the strong market move to organic, local, artisanal. These are proven. Pitch your hand-reared, home-made, organic mint toothpaste.

And if you do want the fish. Do it for the sheer joy of it, rather than as a money-making venture. Produce it yourself. Do it because you’re passionate about it. And just a little odd.

Help! I’ve got a book in me

About time too…

I’ve been planning to do this talk and series of workshops for a while now. Wanted to have it perfect before I started, but there’s been so much demand, I’ve finally just jumped in. Here’s the info we sent out in the weekly newsletter for the local indie bookstore, Kalk Bay Books:

Do you have a special story or gift of knowledge to share?

Perhaps you’ve been somewhere amazing or done something incredible…
Perhaps your life has brought you experiences from which others can learn…
Maybe your wild imagination has conjured a fantasy that would entertain and delight…

You might have written it all down already, or perhaps you’re still wondering whether it’s even worth it.

What to do next?
How do you send your manuscript or idea to a publisher? (And, if so, which one?)
What can you expect from them?
What are your self-publishing options?
What’s this business of independent publishing?

Actually, hang on… what’s the business of this whole thing altogether? Is there money? What’s in it for whom?

You have questions. Dominique le Roux and Ann Donald have answers and suggestions.

Join us for an evening of publishing talk in which we’ll map out your options for you as a South African author-to-be.

You’ll leave knowing:
• The pros and cons of traditional vs independent publishing
• How to pitch your book to a publisher
• How to create and sell an ebook (and where Apple, Amazon and Kindle fit into the whole story)
• What really sells
• How others like you have done it.

Dominique le Roux was previously a publishing manager at Struik, and now runs Moonshine Media(www.moonshinemedia.co.za), a consultancy that specialises in helping others tell their stories. (And sell them, of course.)

Ann Donald is a former journalist and magazine editor, and is now the proprietor of Kalk Bay Books, with knowledge to share on which books sell, how to sell them, and who to sell them to.

If this sounds like information you could use, then make sure you don’t miss the opportunity…

[Update: The response was overwhelming and we were almost immediately oversubscribed. Plenty more of these to come. And I had a lot of fun doing it.]

Tall Poppy Syndrome: Kony2012

(“Emotions recollected in tranquillity.” That was Wordsworth’s famous definition of poetry. Well, last night was a “spontaneous overflow of emotion”. Tonight is tranquillity. Cutting and pasting last night’s lines here does not make them poetry, that’s for sure. It just makes them unedited.)

Kony2012: Thoughts on Like

Form follows function.
Facebook gives us the option to ‘like’ or to ‘comment’.

What does this tell us about ourselves – after all, Facebook does not mould our behaviour; it’s just art imitating life, just reflecting what we are like already. And this is the way we think: Liking is simple. It’s easy. It’s one click. But those who are sophisticated, profound, literate. They comment. It’s no longer the chattering classes. It’s now the liking classes vs the commenting classes.

If you are sophisticated, erudite, or have delusions of being so. Or if you simply don’t want to be an Invisible Child, you comment. Scathingly. You like nothing. You think your simple act of criticism shows you’re somehow something more. You’re obviously a deeper thinker. You’re obviously more profound. You’re a wise old citizen of the world. You’re not just a naive, easy-to-impress liker.

And so we have the Kony 2012 campaign. A modern media phenomenon. And we all live our stereotypes:
* Those who view the YouTube early will passionately advocate it. The early adopters will champion the cause. They were there when the gold was discovered, and they will polish its worth.
* Those who discovered it later will come with more cynical hearts. If they, by nature, are of mass persuasion, they will take to it just because of its populist patter. The Bieber effect. If so many others think it’s good, it must be…
* And those who come to it last will be ever resentful. It shows them up. It is competition for their inherent value in a zero-sum world. If they can’t criticise the product, they will look for fault until they find it. And that is what they will trumpet. In Kony2012’s case, they can’t fault the facts, so they’ll say it’s a single story. Forgetting they’re telling a single story. Their insecurity will make it all about them: they’ll say it’s whites/Americans/foreigners/Westerners wanting to ride in as saviours. Without discussing whether there is an enemy to be saved from. They’ll say locals/Ugandans/Africans are not given credit for what they have achieved. Without themselves indicating whether anything much has actually been achieved, and by whom. (Never by whom.)
And then it will come back to money. Here on the poorest continent, it always does. They’ll complain that that organisation is not spending all its money here.
And that’s the real issue, isn’t it?
If all the money were spent here, without any question asked about what exactly we Africans are doing about the problem, we’d ‘like’ them a whole lot more.
But they’re not singing our praises, and they’re not simply handing us their money.
Bastards.
So we shoot them down.
They have no right to be here. They are the root of all evil. 

There’s a #1 enemy at the top of the list. And it’s not Joseph Kony.

PS: One notable exception stands out boldly: Greg Marinovich chooses to put his personal dislikes aside and to tell the real story in a column in the Daily Maverick. Kudos to him.

New school old school

One of the reasons that I am so excited about the arrival of digital in the publishing world, is that it gives all the old-fashioned values and hand-crafted treasures the breathing room they need.

If I’m buying a book for its content only, then I want that delivered immediately. Make it easy for me. To buy. To carry around. To refer to time and again. Digital has done that.

But there’s a different world of books too. One where it’s about the tactile experience. No, a full-five-sensory experience, actually. Where every little detail counts. And where the related pricing is not a race to the bottom that drives down quality and ups compromise.

Well done, Russell Maret, on truly taking your type to the nth degree.

Gremolata & Cancellaresca Milanese by Russell Maret — Kickstarter.

Hephaestus Books is a scam

Indie publishing. Still a concept that’s little-known here in South Africa, where I keep explaining to people that somewhere between self-publishing and mainstream publishing there might just be a rich, rewarding and authentic space for them. And quality is what I harp on about. Self-publishing, at its baser self, is that on-the-cheap product that Mom edits and the neighbour’s cousin proofreads and the margins are too small and the type all wrong… Mainstream publishing used to be so good. But now perhaps they can’t afford the best in the business. Those who stick around are too often harassed and stifled and forced to keep hand-winding the conveyer belt.

And somewhere in-between is Independent Publishing: where a business plan and production team are tailored to the product. Professional AND personal all the way.

Which is why Hephaestus Books totally pisses me off.

It’s clearly an automated production line ripping stuff straight off Wikipedia. No editing, nothing. Not even put into any kind of meaningful order. Hell, not even alphabetical order. This is the one I am holding in my hand. It cost US$13.85 on Amazon. No mention of what date it even came off Wikipedia, or who the team is, how the publisher can be contacted, or what criteria determined what was included in the book.

And on the title page, even the country ‘new Zealand’ isn’t spelled with a capital letter.

This kind of publishing is the way to make a very quick buck. This is NOT the future. This is NOT indie publishing. (Please don’t tar us with the same brush.)