Friday, September 30, 2005

Today's Tidbit

If you're interested in seeing what podcasts are out there, try www.odeo.com, which lists a lot of the podcasts now available.

More Publishers Going Podcast

On 9/14, in my first blog at this website (Publishing vs. Technology), I mentioned that Holtzbrinck Publishers (owners of Tor and St. Martin's Press) had launched a podcast as a PR tool. Anyone with an Mp3 player or iPod (or computer with DAP--digital audio player capacity) can now subscribe to an audio download of interviews with Holtzbrinck's authors as well as excerpts from their books.

Now, Simon & Schuster is following suit with their new podcast. Starting on Wednesday of this week (9/28), the new SimonSays Podcast was introduced with an interview by best-selling chick lit author Jennifer Weiner on her new book, GOODNIGHT NOBODY.

And, not to be outdone, Time Warner's Little Brown has also started a podcast featuring their best-selling author Michael Connelly.

Hello: Are you spotting a pattern here? Three of the top seven publishing houses have initiated podcast programs in less than a month. I predict we'll be hearing soon from Bertelsmann AG (Random House, Doubleday, Bantam Dell), Penguin Group, HarperCollins and Harcourt.

Writers need to begin paying special attention to the clauses relating to audio rights in their contracts. Even if you've never considered the possibility that your book could be marketed in an audio version, think again. USA Today reports that, in less than a month, the new Holtzbrinck podcast has drawn 40,000 hits to its site. That's not chicken feed.

Twice this week, I've talked about the concern publishers have expressed regarding the growing used book market (remember: when you buy a used book, neither the author nor the publisher gets any royalties).

When the trend toward used books hit the textbook market, the textbook publishers responded by raising prices (I know, it makes no sense to me either). Perhaps the non-textbook publishers will think outside of the box in their search for new solutions.

Just musing . . .

Thursday, September 29, 2005

More on Used Books

Lots of interest in the BISG's Used Book Study.

Today, the Associated Press (AP) quoted the study, saying that about one out of every twelve books purchased last year was a used book. Within five years, that number is expected to be one out of every eleven. The AP says this is "a troubling trend when sales for new works are essentially flat; [and] authors and publishers receive no royalties from used buys."

Adam Rothberg of Simon & Schuster is quoted as saying, "Obviously, these are not statistics to warm the heart of publishers." Well, duh!!!

This is the first time that such a comprehensive effort has been made to study the used book market. The study already has credibility because all the major players in the used market were willing to contribute. These included Amazon, e-Bay, Barnes and Noble, Alibris, Powell's and ABE.

Jane Friedman, CEO of HarperCollins acknowledges the problems created by the increasingly powerful used market, but admits "she has no specific solution."

When the final study comes out next month, you can bet there will be a lot more discussion on this matter.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Future of Used Books

The BISG held their annual meeting today in New York. The Book Industry Study Group has been gathering and analyzing data on the book industry, sales and trends for thirty years.

According to Publishers Marketplace, the big event today was discussion of the upcoming Used Book Study, which will be released next month.

Not surprising to me or to the readers of my 9/17 blog ("Where Have All the Flowers Gone"), one of the results of the study cited by Publishers Marketplace was that "increasingly sophisticated consumers [are] starting to factor used book availability into their new book purchasing decisions." Readers no longer have to wait months for the paperback to be released when they can easily located a used hardback online shortly after the hardback release.

To my way of thinking, paperbacks are being squeezed from two directions. First, the used book market for hardbacks hurts the sale of new paperbacks of the same release. And, second, as interest in electronic books (both audio and written) grows, it may become more cost effective for publishers to move away from paperback books and toward e-books. Will we begin to see smaller print runs of paperbacks?

I'm looking forward to hearing the results of the entire Used Book Study next month.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Last Manga in Paris

Do you manga?

Millions of teens and tweens already do. Every day, they rush to bookstores or their computers to buy the latest manga releases. Manga--Japanese comic books--have become increasingly popular in this country. American teens were quickly drawn to the novelty of reading books back to front and right to left. The comics--or more accurately, the graphic novels--are now an estimated $125 million dollar market according to a recent article in the New York Times.

The manga craze began with boy comics, called shonen, and spread to girl comics, called shojo. According to the Times, girls and women now account for about 60% of the market with the strongest readership among girls aged twelve to seventeen.

The themes of the shojo manga are surprisingly adult and deal with issues such as love and relationships, sex and alienation. Sound familiar? Well, starting in December of this year, Harlequin romances is going to begin producing two lines of manga novels in the States: one for teens and the other for readers in their early 20's. Since 1998, Harlequin has been releasing their novels in manga format in Japan.

In addition, this month, Del Rey, a division of Random House, announced a new PR initiative for their own manga line. According to the AnimeNewsNetwork.com, thirty days prior to a new manga release, Del Rey will begin publishing a page a day of the upcoming book. Their hope obviously is that readers will return each day to view the new material and hype the book among friends and fellow manga enthusiasts.

If you want to see a sample of the new Del Rey preview project, try:
www.delreymanga.com/gachagacha, which is the novel Gacha Gacha.

If you haven't yet checked the Graphic Novels section of your local bookstore, you might want to cruise on over to that aisle and do some browsing.

Monday, September 26, 2005

More Precious Than Rubies

The Internet has made the writer's life less lonely. Now we can interact with fellow writers anywhere in the world at pretty much any time of the day. I have on-line critique partners in California, Arizona, South Carolina and Connecticut. In addition, I belong to an in-person writers' group here in Texas.

I cannot over-emphasize the value of having good critique partners. A good CP is a lot like a good sexual partner. You need trust, at least some history together and an attitude of wanting to make your partner's experience the best it can be. Like sex, when the relationship devolves into game-playing and power struggles, the quality of the experience goes down. Then, your best bet is to get out of Dodge as fast as you can and don't look back.

A good CP will learn your foibles and weaknesses and bring them to your attention lovingly and with humor. I had no idea how often I slipped into passive "to be" language until my CPs pointed it out to me. In turn, I've helped one CP to see how frequently she depends on an "A but, B" sentence structure. Another very creative CP sometimes goes over-the-top with her metaphors.

It's not easy having someone criticize your baby. No one wants to hear that their child has big ears, crooked teeth or split infinitives. Doing critiques is a good way to condition yourself for rejection from agents and editors. My in-person group meets in a Barnes and Noble store. If you want to develop a tough hide, try reading your stuff out loud while customers pause to listen.

I didn't find them immediately. I went through a bunch of CPs and CP groups to find the ones I have today. If your CPs aren't working for you, fire them. Keep looking. Don't give up. You'll find the right combination someday and, when you do, you'll know it.

When I offer a chapter to my CPs, I know it will come back to me stronger and more interesting than when it left. These people are my friends, my support network and my anchors. I wouldn't trade them for gold.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Making Time

I never seem to have as much time as I need for everything I have on my plate.

Work, the people I love, the things I have to do, the things I like to do--they all take a piece of my day. I find that I'm getting more stringent in evaluating the value of all the little things that chew up my time.

I've always been a big person for volunteering. As a result, I find that I'm the vice president of one organization, the secretary of another, the membership chair of yet another and the critique coordinator of a fourth. I spend a fair amount of time every day negotiating emails and answering questions--all of which take a chunk of my time. Then there are my critique partners. I have in-person CPs as well as on-line CPs. These take a considerable amount of time if I'm going to do them well.

For the past few months, I have also had a goal of writing sixty pages a week. For me, that's a big commitment. I started out with ten pages a week and gradually added more as I got more disciplined and comfortable with the writing life. Now I think I'm ready to up my goal again to seventy-five pages. In order to do that, I am going to have to be ruthless about the commitments in my life. Given the energy I expend, am I getting the results I need and want? If not, what can I cut and, more importantly, what am I willing to cut?

When I worked in the emergency room, I watched the nurses do triage. Triage is the process of prioritizing patients according to their need for, or likely benefit from, immediate treatment. In order to achieve my new writing goal, I need to triage the claims on my time. Which ones are necessary, beneficial and supportive of my life goals? Or to put it another way, which ones are unnecessary, toxic and not helping to further my life goals?

It's a tough exercise, but a valuable one.

Friday, September 23, 2005

It Was a Good Week

A few minutes ago, I got an email from the RWA on-line chapter FF&P (Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal) telling me I had finaled in their "On The Far Side" contest in the erotic romance category for my novella, "Dying To Do It." The manuscript will now go to Kate Duffy, editor extraordinary.

This means that, as the result of the five contests I entered this year, two of my manuscripts are now heading for New York to be judged/reviewed by three editors:

Christopher Keesler of Dorchester--"Witch Vampire?" (Where the Magic Is contest)
Tova Sacks of Berkley--novel "Witch Vampire?" (Romance Junkies contest)
Kate Duffy of Kensington--novella "Dying To Do It" (On the Far Side contest)

And yet another manuscript ("You've Been a Bad Girl") has been requested by Ellora's Cave following a second place win in the JERR contest.

Hopefully I will come out of this experience with a contract and/or an agent. Have contacted my number one choice for agent and hope that she will have an interest in representing me.

Earlier in the week when I posted about winning the Romance Junkies contest, I commented on the need to select contests carefully. I chose mine according to the names of the final judges. I tried to pick a variety of contests that would get me the widest possible exposure. There are over 200 RWA chapters and practically every one of them has a contest. All contests are simply not equal.

I guess what I'm saying is to be sure you have a goal and a specific plan for reaching that goal. What is your targeted market? Who are the top people in that market? How can you get your work seen by them? It's a lot easier if you think it through ahead of time.

Hurricane Rita is due to arrive in twelve hours. I'm going to the symphony tonight and figure I'll be stuck in the house the rest of the weekend with Rita. Guess I'll take some time off to read. I've got the new books by Joe Konrath and Lee Child sitting on my nightstand.

Keep an Eye on Google

Earlier this month, Google had its seventh birthday.

From its humble beginnings in a garage in Menlo Park, California, the corporation has become synonymous with "search engine." In fact, the word "google" is now a verb as people routinely say things like "Did you google him?"

Since it began in 1998, Google has continued to spin off new businesses and new technologies. AdWords, which Google describes as "a self-service ad program" was introduced in 2000. In 2001, Google Image Search and Google Catalog Search were launched. Google News and Froogle, "a product search service," followed in 2002.

In 2003, Google acquired Blogger, the very same provider on which you are now reading this weblog. That spawned AdSense, a program by which bloggers can add ads to their blogs and earn revenue based on the number of visitors to their sites.

By 2004, Google's site index had increased to 6 billion items, including 4.28 billion web pages and 880 million images. They launched Local Search so that users could find products in their own neighborhoods. And, in April of that year, they announced "a new web-based mail service called Gmail, which . . . included a gigabyte of free storage for each user."

In August of 2004, Google's Initial Public Offering (IPO) occurred, marking the beginning of Google's experience as a publicly traded company on the NASDAQ.

This summer, Google released Google Talk, "a free way to actually speak to people anytime, anywhere via your computer." And, this month, they released Google Blog Search to permit search of weblogs around the world and to compete with BlogSearchEngine.com.

In two weeks, Vinton Cerf, who has been called the Father of the Internet (he co-invented the protocol called TCP/IP which permits data transfer) will officially begin to work at Google. And this brings me to the reason for suggesting you keep an eye on Google.

For years, Google has been collecting and organizing data on the web browsing habits of its users. In an interview with TechWeb News, Cerf gave hints on the company's future plans. "I see Google creating information infrastructure, literally, as it goes about adding applications to the things it can do." He went on to say, "While it presents itself as a web interface to most people, Google could just as well present itself as a programmable interface." In another interview with CNET News, Cerf expanded on this idea, suggesting that a consumer could "order that bottle of champagne that James Bond is now opening" by running a mouse over the screen on which the customer is watching the Bond movie. Heady stuff.

For months, there have been rumors about what Google is now working on. The Search Engine Journal said yesterday that, "Google has become the world's largest media company and advertising vehicle." The Journal speculated that Google is working on "the creation of a global data transfer network that could effectively serve as a private Internet."

Keep an eye on Google.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Do You Wiki?

On Sunday afternoon, I spoke at the local chapter of a group to which I belong. During our discussion, I casually mentioned Wikipedia and was shocked to find that more than half the members didn't know what I was talking about.

These people are Internet-savvy. Many of them have their own websites and routinely use the Internet for research. I explained the concept and gave them the pros and cons as I see them. Thinking about this later, I wondered how many of the users of Wikipedia actually know how it works and the pitfalls to avoid.

Because I'm a self-admitted research slut, I encountered Wikipedia during its toddlerhood, if not its infancy. Frequently, when I would google arcane subjects, Wikipedia would be among the few citations listed. Because I am a research slut, I investigated Wikipedia to find out whether I could trust its data.

I'm quoting here directly from Wikipedia's own listing: "Wikipedia is a multilingual, Web-based, free-content encyclopedia written collaboratively by volunteers and operated by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation based in St. Petersburg, Florida." Pay attention here: its entries are written "collaboratively by volunteers." That means that anyone with knowledge on a subject (or even without knowledge) can write an entry and have it posted under the Wikipedia byline. Again quoting from Wikipedia's own description of itself: "Wikipedia is built on the belief that collaboration among users will improve articles over time, in much the same way that open-source software develops."

That's very well and good down the road as people edit an entry. However, it can be disastrous if you're a teenage student doing research for a term paper. If you happen to stumble onto an erroneous entry and take it for gospel, your goose is cooked.

So why, you ask, would anyone ever bother to use Wikipedia? I use it frequently and here's why. Wikipedia has the benefit of immediacy. When Pope John Paul II died, I checked the listing for the Catholic papacy almost every day because it was constantly being updated. I could read about the frontrunners for the vacancy and, as I compared the data to other sources such as the newspaper or television news, I found it to be very accurate.

Another time I use Wikipedia is when I'm starting a research project on something I know absolutely nothing about. If I don't even know enough to generate search terms, I read the Wikipedia entry, write down key words and then use those key words to do my google search. I NEVER take the information shown on Wikipedia as gospel. I check and recheck each piece of data.

Wikipedia is an excellent tool when you need information on something very new--recent trends like podcasting, for example--or when you don't know where to start to research something. However, a smart researcher will verify the information found.

Hitwise, which monitors such things, reports that traffic on Wikipedia has grown over 150% during the past year. It is now getting as many hits as the venerable New York Times. That scares me a little. While I applaud the concept of collaboration and openness, I wonder how many people bother to check the information they are downloading. You and I, dear reader, both know that just because we read it on the Internet doesn't make it true.

Just musing . . .

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Definition of a Good Day

I've just had an email telling me that the first 30 pages of my WIP (Witch Vampire?) won the "Romance Junkies" contest. Ten days ago, I received word that the same chapter finaled in the RWA "Where the Magic Begins" contest. The winner of that contest won't be announced for another month.

I'm still feeling my way on this contest thing. My thinking is that, since there are about a jillion contests out there, a win by itself means nothing. The only value I can see to the entire process is the possibility of getting your work in front of an agent or editor in whom you're interested. For this reason, I look to see who the finalist judges are. If one of them is someone I'd like to work with, I consider entering.

"Where the Magic Begins" was being judged by Chris Keeslar of Dorchester which was the reason I entered that one. "Romance Junkies" was being judged by Tova Sacks of Berkley, giving me a reason to enter it as well. Earlier this year, I entered the "Just Erotic Romance Reviews" contest because the winner got a contract with Ellora's Cave, the erotic e-publisher. I didn't win that one, but did come in second and got a request to send in the whole manuscript. Still waiting to hear.

As a writer, I know there's still a lot of prejudice against eroromance. I was careful when I entered my very first contest to be certain that they had a erotic romance category. Imagine my surprise to get a comment from a judge that she found my work "offensive." And this was from someone who had agreed to judge eroromance! That manuscript (You've Been a Bad Girl) was the one that went on to place second in the JERR contest which was judged by eroromance authors.

Of the four contests I've entered that have been judged, I've placed or won in three of them. Not too shabby.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

What the Hell is POD Anyway?

Began today as I usually do, reading my favorite blogs. Miss Snark had written a column on self-publishing which started a discussion in the "comments" section about POD (Print-on-Demand). As usually happens, I found myself getting frustrated by the public's insistence on confusing POD with self-publishing.

POD is primarily a technology. It is the technology by which digital printing is utilized to print as little as one copy of a book. Generally, that single copy is not created until an order is received. This permits places like Amazon to accept an order for a less popular book. Amazon then contacts a fulfillment house which prints the book and sends it to the customer. The per-book cost of printing a single copy is obviously more expensive than the per-book cost of printing a run of 5,000 books. However, because that single book is only printed when there is an order for it, the sell-through rate is 100%.

The sell-through rate is the percentage of books actually sold in a printing run. To use round numbers, if a publisher prints 1,000 books and 600 of them sell, the sell-through rate is 60%. Agents and editors are always interested in an author's sell-through rate because it is a good indicator of how marketable that author is.

To get back to the cost of a POD book versus a book printed by traditional means, the traditional publisher must maintain unsold inventory in a bricks-and-mortar warehouse. This adds to the ultimate per-book cost. So, even though the POD books seems more expensive at first, the long-term cost is actually less because of the 100% sell-through.

Now, comes the confusion. The term Print-on-Demand has become associated with self-publishing or vanity press. Please, dear readers, do not contact me with comments that self-publishing is not the same as vanity press. I. Don't. Care. In practical terms, the differences between the two are moot. Vanity press refers to those persons so anxious to get their books into print that they pay personally to have their opus printed. They do this because no reputable publisher/agent will take the book on. Hello? That should be the first clue that there's a problem with the manuscript.

Some people argue that self-publishing is different in that the author wishes to maintain creative control (read here: accept no editorial advice) or because the subject matter is not of general public interest (again: no publisher/agent wants to take the book on). I know that there are some cases of self-published authors who later sold to a legitimate publisher. M.J. Rose is among the most well-known recent examples of these wunderkind. However, these cases are extremely rare.

We need to get in the habit of using the term Print-on-Demand to refer to the technology and using the term self-publishing (okay, I'll admit it does sound better than vanity press) for the process by which an author pays to print his/her own work.

By using the correct terminology, we can be sure that we're all talking about the same thing in our discussions on publishing.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Not Your Grandmother's Library

Yesterday I was the speaker at my Sisters in Crime meeting, talking about technology trends.

As I drove home afterward, I passed the campus of a private university and remembered a conversation I'd had a few weeks ago with one of my oldest friends, who's in upper management at that school. In passing, she'd mentioned the challenges the university was encountering with respect to non-use of their library.

This afternoon, it suddenly struck me. What is the role in today's Internet-connected world for a bricks-and-mortar library? The students at my friend's school are, for the most part, affluent, technology-savvy young people. They arrive in the fall carrying laptops and iPods. Why make a trip to the library when they can access all the information they need on-line?

Obviously, the situation facing an affluent private school is different from that of a public university or even a public library. Both of the latter institutions must provide access for underprivileged users. But, maybe the dilemma my friend described is a precursor to a coming trend.

Libraries have historically been the repositories of information. If, in the future, information resides on-line, what services will libraries provide?

I did an on-line search and found many libraries--both public and private--are having this dialogue. One public university had gone so far as to publish a subcommittee report on the subject. Among the (self-evident) findings and recommendations:

* More information is available in electronic format
* Electronic products are being licensed rather than purchased
* The library should move aggressively to increase its electronic publications, sacrificing print publications if necessary
* Provide better computer classrooms, meeting space, study rooms and a dedicated teleconferencing area
* Provide a 24-hour study area
* Develop a collection for the non-professional community
* Provide a "not very quiet" area that would serve a social/academic function
* Make sure all library staff positions are needed in view of the Library's changing role

As the information storage function becomes less important, perhaps libraries' social and community roles will enlarge. Perhaps their teaching and instructional roles will become more important. Either that or they'll be added to a long list of the extinct, along with buggy whips and vinyl record albums.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

True Confession Time

Okay, it's time to admit it. I have a guilty obsession. I LOVE the television show, "House." The cranky, brilliant and acerbic Dr. Greg House just tickles the bejabbers out of me. I schedule my week to watch every episode--no videotaping. I've been thinking about it, trying to figure out what it is about this show that appeals so much to me.

Long ago, I spent four years working as a social worker in the Emergency Room of a large public teaching hospital. I was often frustrated by the self-involved, myopic doctors I encountered. No matter how often we were told that patients were people--not diseases--I frequently saw busy physicians blow off their patients while treating the disease.

An emergency room is a crazy place. You are surrounded by doctors, nurses, techs, paramedics, cops, social workers, wailing family and tired children. With a unending stream of new people in pain, I realize it was hard for the doctors to stop long enough to listen to the patient in front of them. They would often walk out-- always wearing a pleasant smile--while the patient was still talking.

Part of what appeals to me about House is his honesty. He's doing exactly the same thing, but he isn't hiding it behind an insincere smile. He's direct about being nasty.

A few years ago, I shattered my left leg in four places in an accident. It was a very ugly situation. The board-certified surgeon who was recommended to me was brusque, rude and obnoxious. I hated him. However, he did one hell of a job putting me back together again. I have metal plates and bolts and virtually no scars. Nor do I have any lingering, unpleasant after-effects. My leg is just fine.

When my thumb was crushed in an accident a few months back and required surgery (yes, I'm a disaster walking), I was told that I might lose the thumb and was referred to a hand surgeon. Against medical advice, I made the decision to request the same surgeon who had operated twice on my leg. My instincts told me he wouldn't give up until he had no other choice. If I had to be unconscious during surgery, I wanted someone at the helm who cared about my thumb as much as I did.

Nothing had changed. He was still brusque, rude and obnoxious. However, while the rest of the medical staff (including the anesthesiologist) were preparing me to lose the thumb, he saved it. The surgery went twice as long as it should, but I still have two opposable thumbs, thereby insuring my place at the top of the animal kingdom.

Guess I know why I like House so much after all.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

Thursday's Publishers Lunch had an item on the tough situation faced by independent booksellers in today's market. This was prompted by two events: the closing of Kepler's in Menlo Park, California; and the efforts to shore up the shaky financial status of Washington D.C.'s Chapters Bookstore.

Reporter David Morrill, in an article in "Inside Bay Area" says that, "in the last 10 years, membership in the American Booksellers Association has dropped from about 3,000 members to about 1,800, with the majority of those being independent bookstores."

Several recent articles have bemoaned the state of the independent bookseller, citing competition from both the big national chains such as Barnes & Noble and from Amazon.com. While these are huge contributing factors, they are by no means the entire story. The larger story would include the following:

1) Deep discounting by chains such as Walmart, Target and Costco which is putting as much pressure on B&N as it is on the independents. Sarah Weinman cited statistics in a recent blog indicating that, during a three-week period in which WaldenBooks sold 4,888 copies of a best-selling thriller, Borders and B&N each sold about 4,000 copies. During that same period, Wal-Mart sold 47,671 copies. That's right, I said 47,671 copies. Target and CostCo each sold about 16,000 of the same book during that time.

The discount chains are skimming the cream off the top by carrying a limited number of very popular books and pricing them at very deep discounts. All other bookstores--national chains and independents alike--are forced to match those discounts. This squeezes the booksellers' profit margins something fierce.

2) A large shift in the retailing dynamic--involving used books--has also occurred, so seamlessly that people rarely comment upon it.

For years, readers had three choices when it came to purchasing a new release: (1) They could buy the hardback book at full retail cost when it came out; (2) They could wait six months and buy the book more cheaply when it came out in paperback. (3) They could check used bookstores looking for a copy. This was made somewhat difficult by the fact that used booksellers generally did not keep track of what titles they had on their shelves. They organized by genre and left it up to the buyer. More than once over the years, I drove from used bookstore to used bookstore, trying to find a book that was now out of print.

Then the personal computer and the Internet arrived. Suddenly used booksellers had databases that they listed on the Internet. Amazon got into the used book business. With a few clicks of a mouse, consumers can locate used copies anywhere in the world. The old retailing dynamic had changed. Now readers can: (1) Buy that new hardback at a deeply discounted price; (2) Wait a few weeks and buy the used hardback online even more cheaply; (3) Wait six months and buy the new paperback or (4) Wait even longer to buy the used paperback.

You, as a writer, should not underestimate the importance of this shift in retailing. You get a royalty check the first time a book is sold, whether it is in hardback or paper. If cost-conscious readers choose to buy a USED book online instead of a discounted NEW hardback or a NEW paperback, you've just missed out on a sale. You AND the bookstore--whether it be an independent or a part of a national chain.

It's a beautiful Saturday morning. My garden is calling. At the risk of waxing poetic, I'll just remind you of John Donne's Meditation XVII: Never send to know for whom the bell tolls.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Big Brother is Wearing Wooden Shoes

Recently read an article in "Wired News" that really gave me pause.

Starting 1/1/07, the Dutch government is going to begin creating an electronic file for every child born in that country. Each newborn will be assigned a "Citizens Service Number" to make it easier to keep track of him in later life. Every detail of information on the child--family history, health, school and criminal records--will be added as the kid grows up. Also, agencies coming into contact with the child will be allowed to place red flags on his/her record to warn of potential problems.

Imagine: Little Johnny starts kindergarten where he wets his pants when he gets nervous. Into the file goes the information. Little Johnny gets into fights with other kids in the third grade. Into the file goes this data along with the information that Johnny has dyslexia. By the time Johnny is in junior high and skipping class, the school makes the decision to red flag his file. That red flag will follow Johnny for life.

As a psychiatric social worker, I was always concerned about labeling children with diagnoses that I knew would haunt them later. I tried to address behavioral problems without burdening the children with unnecessary labels. Man, was I playing in the junior leagues. I didn't have a clue what real labeling was.

My concern about the U.S. government's willingness to "overlook" citizen's rights as they track terrorists is Mickey Mouse compared to this initiative. Big Brother is lurking just around the corner.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

A Gift From Me to You

For all writers or writer wannabees, here's a gift: two blogs that you need to bookmark so that you can check them daily.

The first is Miss Snark, that anonymous New York agent who has been touted by Publishers Marketplace for her astute comments and acerbic take on the publishing world. Her blog can be found at www.misssnark.blogspot.com

The second is Sarah Weinman, the crime fiction columnist at the Baltimore Sun. Sarah titles her blog, "Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind." Be aware; that's truth in advertising. Her interests and commentaries are wide ranging, but always entertaining. Sarah's blog can be found at www.sarahweinman.com.

You can thank me later.

Can 70 Million Japanese Be Wrong?

Japan has embraced mobile phone technology. There are now 70 million cell phones in Japan--more than that country's number of land-based phones.

To the Japanese, a mobile phone is not just a convenience--it's a necessity. People use them to read the news, the weather and to text messages.

Most interesting of all to me is that the Japanese are reading novels on their mobile phones. That's right, I said reading novels. Cell phone novels are downloaded in installments and read a few lines at a time on the small screen.

According to "Wired News," a recent study indicated that more than half the readers are female and they're reading the cell phone books in their homes--not just on trains or while they're standing on line or waiting for appointments.

Earlier this year, Random House--the U.S. publisher--announced that they'd acquired a substantial stake in VOCEL, a company that provides branded content to mobile phones. According to Authorlink, VOCEL has a patent pending on technology to speed message delivery over cell phones.

My guess is that Americans will soon be offered the option of downloading both classics and popular fiction on our cells.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Publishing versus Technology

One of my favorite parts of being a writer is doing research.

I have friends who roll their eyes and moan when their novels demand that they know the type of underwear men wore in 1918 or how brown fat differs from white fat in the human body. I guess I'm just weird--I love looking up data and learning something new.

I'm writing an article for my RWA chapter on trends in publishing and I've come to "podcasting." You know, the downloading of audio content to a DAP (digital audio player) like an iPod. I'm not talking about downloading tunes; I'm talking about downloading radio programs like NPR's "Morning Edition" or "All Things Considered."

Last week's Publishers' Lunch included an item about Holtzbrinck--one of the seven large New York publishing houses--launching holtzbrinckpodcasts.com. The publisher--owner of such imprints as St. Martin's Press and Tor--will provide author readings, interviews and excerpts from their company's titles.

While they are starting out using the technology as a PR device, it's not a far reach to imagine audiobooks available by subscription on your iPod. Just imagine: audiobooks that are TRULY portable. You could listen to a mystery while jogging or standing on line in the grocery store.

AND, take it one step further, what if a group of authors got together and started their own podcasting company? With access to the appropriate audio equipment and the ability to market via the Internet, would they even need a publisher?

Just musing . . .