Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Like "The Voice" But With Books

The gatekeepers have the publishing castle locked up tight, so authors find a different route to enter the kingdom. Chris Twyman of BoomWriter Media recognizes this fact in a recent article in which he extols the virtues of digital publishing for the masses. If you can't get in through the front door, create an opening yourself, but bring along a little help.

Mr. Twyman is all about the group thing. He equates the surge in digital self-publishing to the rise of the Airbnb rental that outflanks the hotel industry. People find a way to manage their needs by bonding with others seeking to fulfill the same need, and the next thing you know you're driving for Uber.

So why not do the same with publishing?

It costs nothing to publish electronically. As a writer, you don't get paid unless you first write something and sell it, so authors are in the same place financially.

But how can the self-publishing craze be incorporated into the old school model? After all, the marketing power of the Big Five is an asset highly coveted by those with a story to tell. You might be able to publish that story on your own, but you can't reach the audience that the major houses reach with their sales staff and promotions and such.

What the publishers want is a sure thing. What business wouldn't want to reduce risk on an unknown commodity like a debut author? So what if that author could prove that his or her opus was truly magnum?

That's where BoomWriter comes in. Except it's more like one of those reality contest programmes where a singer performs and the audience votes to choose the best singer who then goes on to obscurity because the people who vote aren't usually the ones buying up recordings. Sure they like the voice, but to pay money for the download? The voting was all for fun, but the purchasing involves real money, right?

Would we really end up with some great books if writers had focus groups to analyze and assess each chapter as it was born as a Word document?  

How about a group of writers collaborating on a single book? Would that result in the creation of a blockbuster or an over-edited bit of drivel that ultimately pleases no one?

This so-called 'sharing model' would eliminate writers whose words did not find favor with the community doing the reading, but all you have to do is scan the reviews of any book and you'll find a wide range of comments. Some books appeal to some people, some to others, and a reader doesn't know if they like something until they read it.

In the end, after the sharing model sliced and diced, a publisher would be left with something that a portion of the reading community likes. What the publisher wants is a community that buys. Thus far, it hasn't been the best predictor of the next major musical talent. It doesn't seem any more likely to shape the next big literary talent.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Why You Need A Business Plan First

Opening a bookstore is a dream for many. To spend your days surrounded by books, to make reading a part of your job, what could be better for those who love prose?

Dreams are fine while they exist in your head, partially formed, nebulous. When you act on that dream, you had better get that head firmly wedged into reality because literature may be art but a store of any kind is a business and there's no room for reveries when expenses exceed income.

Kimberley and Rebeccah George wanted to open a bookstore in Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood, a very trendy area that has gentrified itself into sky-high rents. People with money live there, educated people with money and an interest in books as entertainment. The sisters believed that there was room for another book seller in the area, and did not foresee a negative consequence to potential competition from the other four stores already doing business.

Their bookstore would set itself apart by providing comfy seating for book browsers, who could sip on coffee, nibble on pastries, or chug down a cold brew while selecting a few books.

Sounds like the sort of shop you'd like to patronize, doesn't it?

Except that the food end of the business required more infrastructure than the book selling end, and the would-be book vendors found themselves burning through their start-up funds. City inspectors brought the bad news about needing a second bathroom to meet food service requirements, and there the ladies were with their fancy signage all ready to go but not enough money to pay for the extra water line and plumbing.

They have started a funding campaign online, the sort of option that many residents of Wicker Park would understand. Those hipsters are aware of GoFundMe and Indigogo, aren't they? Surely they'll ride to the rescue and help a neighbor through a rough patch.

To date, there isn't much of a show of support for the bookstore.

Volumes Bookcafe needs $20,000 to meet requirements and get their shop opened. They've raised a little over $1800.00.

Where are the Wicker Park hipster book lovers?

Questioning the business acumen of the George sisters, possibly.

A sound business plan is the first step in launching a new venture. The budding entrepreneur has to estimate every single expense that is likely to crop up before the customers start patronizing the establishment. For the ladies George, that would include things like rent for the first few months, the cost to rehab the space, and a study of Chicago zoning ordinances that tell them what that rehab must entail.

If a business magnate doesn't perform due diligence in advance, can an investor trust that the business owner has enough of a clue about business to actually run the place and turn a profit? Investors want a return on their investment, even if they are contributing to a crowdsourced campaign. Maybe they'll get a free latte with every purchase, or a cookie to go with their tea. Maybe it's a discount on book purchases. But those discounts cost money and you'd want to have faith in the acumen of the person you're investing in.

Then again, book stores aren't exactly cranking out big profits. The hipsters are surely aware of online shopping and the discounts to be had by buying at Amazon after using the brick and mortar store as a free showcase.

Owning a bookstore is a dream. It takes some deep pockets to make that dream come true.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Book Selling And The Sales Force

Publishers employ a small army of sales people who spend their days making contact with book shop owners. They may call in to say hello, to tout the upcoming catalogue, or to commiserate about the poor economy and the competition from other types of entertainment. What they do is add the personal touch that builds relationships so that books that are not heavily marketed can get into a shop and get a chance to reach the eyeballs of the reading public.

It is an expensive venture, and not something that the average small press can afford. Sales people need back office support, to say nothing of their commissions and overhead costs. When a publisher sells but a few books, or has a rather small selection, the costs can be prohibitive.
From Plus To Minus

For a long time, Faber provided cover for the little guys who published important works of literary fiction or niche titles that were popular enough for the publisher but would not have drawn the interest of the Big Five. Through their Faber Factory Plus division, they acted as a clearinghouse for a number of small houses that could not afford their own sales team, but could manage the cost of sharing a team with their colleagues.

Little places like The Liffey Press or  Liberties Press, a couple of independent Irish publishers, partnered with Faber to get their titles into bookshops beyond their small reach. It meant that authors who were not about writing blockbusters could sign with a publisher who could market their works effectively. Authors might be about the art of literature, but they like to get a royalty check every now and again.

The concept worked for the likes of Daunt Books, who signed on and noticed that sales rose because they had someone pushing their product to the places where readers still go to find new books. They had a small reach with their own string of shops, but books published by Daunt have a greater audience than London, England. It required a sales force to get them there, and Faber's solution worked.

Just when things were looking up, Faber announced the end of the Factory.

At Faber's end, the outlook was not so grand. The publisher was losing money on the deal. Book sales are down overall, and having more different titles to sell did not result in more titles selling. Book vendors saw no point in stocking their shelves with items likely to sit, gathering dust, for extended periods of time because the money to buy books is not there anymore.

Faber could have increased prices, but there is a limit to what a small publisher can pay for sales representation. At some point, the cost of paying Faber Factory to push paper would be more than the profit from the sales, and what's the point of selling at a loss? You don't stay in business long unless you have a backer looking for a tax credit and a money-losing venture.

The publishers represented by the Faber sales force will lose that representation in the coming year, and their only option is to try to find a similar scheme elsewhere. Can they find a partner with a large enough reach into the book selling world? Can they afford it?

Without books in shops, it is much more difficult to be discovered by readers. No one browses an online listing like they do the stacks of a shop, examining spines or asking the employees for recommendations. Without Faber Factory Plus, the small publishers know that their days could be numbered if they cannot find someone else to get their titles into the brick and mortar shops.

There is nothing easy about selling art to a sceptical public, especially when the public doesn't have the spare change available to gamble on an unknown, un-hyped author. Small publishing is very much a labor of love, but you can't pay the rent with love. Authors may be losing yet another avenue to get their stories out there, and that is a sad day indeed.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Where Do You For A Good Spanking?

The urge strikes and you crave a spanking, or some bondage. You have a sweet leather outfit in the closet that you just have to wear but where can you go dressed like a dominatrix?

If you and your fetish are in Chicago, Galleria Domain 2 is the place you're looking for.

And if all goes as planned, there will soon be not one, but two, locations to serve your brand of sexual expression.
When you think of River North, you don't think BDSM---not yet, but maybe soon

All may not be going as planned, however. The neighbors are voicing their complaints. And the neighbors are the high-end sorts
who get really, really loud when sex clubs try to open up on their street.

Chicago's River North area swarms with suburbanites and tourists on the weekend, but the area is also home to the trendy and well-to-do who can afford the high rents and astronomical home prices. It isn't exactly a run-down, sleazy kind of neighborhood where you'd expect sex shops and street walkers waving at potential clients.

The people who invested big bucks to live in River North don't want to live near sex clubs. If they did, they would have moved elsewhere and made some other part of Chicago a fancy location. If you paid somewhere in the $2 million range for your pile, you'd squawk too if someone decided to plant a bondage parlor up the street from your home. A wine emporium is one thing, but kinky sex? Not In My Back Yard, thank you.

The owners of Galleria Domain 2 insist that their club is absolutely discreet in every way. It's going to be on the second floor so there's no window shopping that might alarm small children passing by. No alcohol is served so it's not like there's going to be drunken revelers spilling out of the doors half naked, dangling fur-lined handcuffs or waving leather whips overhead.

The club members have a safe word as well, so things never go too far and there's no need for the police to be showing up every weekend to rescue someone who's dominant partner got a bit over-exuberant.

But the people who live around the proposed location don't want to share their sidewalks with the sort of people who sit around and watch other people have sex. It's all too sordid and perverted for the average homeowner, and those average homeowners are howling to their alderman to put a stop to the club. Find something in the laws to prevent them from getting a permit, the voters are shouting, and if the alderman wants to be re-elected, he'll do all he can.

There's always naming and shaming if the alderman fails. The residents are free to set up bright lights and cameras on the street and record the faces of each and every person who enters and leaves the sex club. You want discretion, they could say. Here's your discretion right here. Posted online for anyone to see.

Before it comes to that, it's highly likely that someone in Chicago's zoning department could declare the club not compatible with surrounding land uses, and be done with it. No politician wants to upset voters who can afford to buy, and pay property taxes, on multi-million dollar homes. Money talks in Chicago. It's talking rather loudly on West Superior Street.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Free Books Make Excellent Holiday Gifts

Enter and you'll have a chance. Enter and you might get a message from Newcastlewest Books asking if you'd like a copy of the book even though you didn't win the contest.

Anything could happen. Nothing will happen if you don't take a chance.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Saints of the New Irish Kitchen by Sean Gleason

Saints of the New Irish Kitchen

by Sean Gleason

Giveaway ends December 01, 2015.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

No Literary Agent Is Better Than A Bad Literary Agent

Somewhere out there is Robert G., a writer who probably thought he hit the big time when he landed literary agent Faye Swetky to represent him. At last, he got his foot in the door of publishing. A champion was on his side, promoting his works to publishers who would read the agent's cover letter and be intrigued enough to read the synopsis and then, yes, and then, ask for the manuscript.

Somewhere out there are those who do their research on literary agents, to determine if the agent they are querying is really going to be able to get a manuscript inside a publishing house, large or small. These writers monitor forums at places where other writers like to loiter, sites like AbsoluteWrite.com where literary agents are vetted.

It's pretty apparent that Robert G., aspiring writer, did not perform this wearying task. If he had, he would not have accepted Ms. Swetky's offer of representation. And Ms. Swetky would not have shot off a query, with synopsis, to Newcastlewest Books to consider Mr. G.'s work of mainstream contemporary erotica.

No sex, please. We're a bunch of Irish Catholics here and the last thing we'd be interested in would be a piece of fiction that falls into the erotica category.

A perusal of our website would give anyone a very good idea of what sorts of books we do publish. You won't find a single bit of erotica there, not at all, at all.

Our new imprint, CITY THAT WORKS, does publish contemporary fiction, but again there's no smut. And, by the way, the fiction is still within our niche of Irish influenced writing. Sorry, Mr. G., but not one of the characters in your synopsis seem to be particularly Hibernian.

Robert G. sits in his writing place, eagerly anticipating news from his agent Faye Swetky. He will wait in vain, unless she finds some small publisher of erotica who doesn't require a literary agent to submit manuscripts. In that case, he will pay for something he could just as easily have done himself.

In the meantime, his erotic fiction goes nowhere when he could have spent his time finding an agent with a track record of sales. The manuscript will languish because he has opted to go with a bad agent when he would have been better off without one.

Not everyone who calls themself a literary agent is one.

I could respond to Ms. Swetky's missive and explain to her that we don't publish what she is selling, and by the way we don't look at manuscripts unless they come to us from a referral or a recommendation. But I have too many other things to do and not enough time to do them all, without adding another pointless task.

So, Robert G., know that your agent is submitting your manuscript. She isn't targeting specific publishers or calling around to contacts she has developed among the editors. A blanket e-mailing isn't agenting. Long ago in the dark ages before the Internet was filled with information, plenty of writers got snagged by those who thought it was easy to sell fiction. There's no excuse these days, when Google is your friend and Yahoo or Bing are there for your safety.

Use the force, Robert G.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

A Matter Of Life And Coffee

You know how much coffee you need to shake the cobwebs out of your head in the morning. You know the quantity of caffeine that is required to set your heart back to beating in mid-afternoon when sleep tugs at your eyes.

When you buy a particular amount of coffee, then, you expect to get that much coffee. You are meeting your body's need, and a lesser amount isn't going to work.
32 oz may not be 32 oz

It turns out that Peet's Coffee in Winnetka, Illinois, the one that's cozying up to The Bookstall at Chestnut Court, has been misleading their caffeine-dependent clientele. Proving that a lack of the stimulant can make a person cranky, a client who was shorted on his order is taking the company to court.

Robert Garrett could just feel that smaller jolt after he consumed the contents of a French press carafe. He thought he was getting 32 oz, but when he took the time to measure the volume, it not only varied but it came in below 32 oz. He sampled the smaller size carafe and found the same results. He was ordering one thing and getting less. 25% less, according to his lawsuit

The coffee shop in question is somewhat new to the area, replacing a Caribou Coffee site following the recent buy-out. People tend to be loyal to their coffee purveyors and would naturally be skeptical of the newcomer. As it turned out, Mr. Garrett had good reason to be skeptical. The menu board he ordered from said one thing but what he got was less, which sounds like a dishonest way to do business.

And there's the question of getting enough coffee as well. Mr. Garrett's needs were not being met, unless he bought two carafes, in which case he'd have too much coffee which isn't what he was going after either.

Peet's is on top of it, as Chief Marketing Officer Tyler Ricks learns how people in the Midwest view upstart companies out of the West Coast. Mr. Ricks has explained that the carafe size is what is meant on the menu, not the volume of coffee the consumer will get to consume. You need room for the plunger in the French press, and the grounds take up volume but you're not drinking those either.

Mr. Garrett will probably get some kind of cash settlement for being misled by Peet's marketing style. If it says 32 oz,. you should get that much in your cup. If it's the pot that's 32 oz., then state specifically that the customer is buying the contents of a 32 oz pot and it isn't going to be 32 oz. after the brewing and straining is done.

Peet's may try to play clever with the sizes, and that may fly in Berkeley, California, but in a tony North Shore suburb, you may fool some of the people some of the time, but sooner or later you'll run up against an attorney who looks for loopholes and isn't about to be taken in by marketing spiel.

Welcome to the Chicago area, Peet's. Don't try to get cute.