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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Survival Of The Book Is Our Survival

There once was an amazing place that had existed for centuries.  Inside of it one could get lost in countless worlds, where alternate universes existed in one’s hands.  The history of life, as we know it, could be found there. It was like a theater, museum, and dreamland all rolled into one.  It was a place that could be found in every neighborhood of the country. 

It was a special temple, for the aged and the young, for the rich and the poor, for people of all sexes, faiths, creeds, colors, and nationalities.  Whatever one’s political bent, social hierarchy, family status, or any other statistical divider was not relevant here.  All were welcome to this fantastic home for ideas, information, facts, theories, stories, photos, illustrations, and fantasized events.  It was the local bookstore, the backbone of our society. 

Sometime in the not-so-distant future we will call upon a reflection to the bookstore of today.  Society will lament its passing but will have moved on.  A new generation will come to be and it will place little significance or even an understanding of what the bookstore was or could have been. It’ll be a thing of the past.  I’m all for the natural evolution of things, of society, of my own life, but something seems wrong in a world without bookstores.

I’ve always liked books, really, ever since I have any memories of anything.  I recall my mom reading to me and with me – Dr. Seuss, Curious George, and a bunch of Golden Books.  I remember my dad’s book case, filled with books that seemed to be filled with more words than I’d ever get to speak in my life.  And I remember walking into stores that sold books, looking at the covers and imagining the stories behind them.

In school, I learned the difference between reading for pleasure and reading for homework.  For many years I read Monarch or Cliff Notes, rather than the assigned books. Although I think it’s a great idea to expose our youth to classics (however one defines that), too many books were really beyond what a 13 or 14-year-old can understand and appreciate.

Books can give us so much.  They can show us possibilities and exercise our values, our emotions, and our intellect by posing new worlds to us.  In the world of fiction exists limitless dimensions.  Our fiction can entertain us, but it can also engage us in a way that compensates for what our lives lack. For where the world falls short, for where reality needs to be contested and recreated, there is fiction.

I don’t believe books will disappear, but they will change.  When bookstores go missing I believe our reading habits will change and the way books are experienced will change.  Communities will change.  Bookstores offer a unifying presence, a physical home to people who enjoy and value reading.  What will replace the book store?

If the bookstore exists it means we’ll still have paper books, author presentations, and trained staff to make recommendations or assist in reading choices.  Literacy won’t be run by computers and algorithms and sales formulas – it’ll be led by people and the human touch.

The battle for the book store is the battle for society itself. Bookstores are the intellectual highways, delivering nutrients to towns across the world.  I don’t want my entire life to be ruled by and filtered though a hand-held device.  The advance of technology is not the advance of humanity.  The robots are winning and seizing control of our minds, our jobs, our pocketbooks.  I don’t want a tech-less world but I want order restored.  Humans first, nature second, technology third.  Technology should assist, not consume us.

We must do everything possible to support bookstores and the thriving community they create and serve.  Without them we are just a bunch of soul-less computers linked together but not really united.


Interview With Former Borders Senior Buyer Susan Aikens
This interview was conducted on her last day with Borders.  Below are her insightful answers to my questions.   

1.      Susan, You have two decades of experience in retail publishing. What will you do once your stint as a senior buyer for Borders concludes? I'm one of about 10,700 Borders employees who are losing their jobs in the next few weeks.  Each of us will be evaluating what comes after Borders.  This is a very personal question that each individual & family will have to answer based on their own situation & needs. 

2.      Where is the book market heading? Borders represented about 10% of the total kids market & that business has evaporated. The next few quarters will be impacted by Borders liquidating $700 million in inventory.  Shoppers will be glutted with books; I expect that Q3 & Q4 sales will suffer everywhere. Publishers are losing another 400 outlets for their products so fewer readers will see their books.   Amazon will probably pick up pre-order & e-book business for big name authors like Riordan & Jeff Kinney & in YA where teens have adapted to e-reading, but the backlist, new authors, & midlist will suffer.  Amazon & mass retailers aren't very good at "making" a new book, series or author.  They are better at capitalizing on existing trends.  When Abrams published the first Jeff Kinney book, Borders took a big stand on it. I bought 5000 copies out of the 15k initial print run.  Eventually, "Diary of A Wimpy Kid" won the Borders Original Voices award.  We owned about 60-70% of the market share for the first book.  We did almost as well with the 2nd book. It wasn't until the 3rd book came out that Amazon & mass retailers started to gain share. I bought about 270k copies of the 5th book.   I've seen kids & parents shopping Borders stores, using Borders booksellers to recommend titles,  & then writing down the ISBN so they can buy the books on Amazon. 

3.      What do you love about being part of book publishing?  I've always felt part of a noble enterprise by putting good books into the hands of as many kids as possible.  This is more than just a job to me & to the other Borders kids book buyers.  We all loved knowing what was being published & having an impact on the final product.  I am often consulted by publishers on the cover, price, format & content of new books.  Even after all these years, I still got excited on Monday morning when I checked the weekend sales.  Having a big title sell better than I expected was utterly thrilling.  I was the buyer for the last 2 Harry Potter books.  When Harry Potter 7 released, I attended the midnight release party at my local store in Arborland Mall. I was there until 2:30am.  I remember sitting on the curb outside that store waiting for my ride & watching about a dozen pre-teens, in full Gryffindor regalia, try to read their copies by the lights in the parking lot as they waited for their parents. That has to be the proudest moment of my entire career. 

4.      Your specialty was the genre of children's books. What did you look for when deciding which books to order for Borders? I bought fiction for ages 6-teen & non-fiction.  Kids books need good stories or content & compelling characters; they aren't just dumbed-down adult books.  I look for kid appeal. Kids are smart; they won't wait 200 pages for the story to take off & they judge EVERY book by its cover.   

There are several basic questions that I ask myself when assessing a book –

1. Who is the audience? What age is this title intended for & is its appeal more suited for boys, girls, or both? I hate it when publishers say the book is intended for "all ages".  No book is intended for everyone & publishers & authors have to make up their minds about who they're trying to reach.

 2. Does the author or series have a track record?  Is the genre growing or is it down-trending? Is it part of a series or a stand-alone novel?  Funny series about school like Wimpy KId & Big Nate are on the upswing, but kids historical fiction is down-trending. Buying a new Goosebumps title is very different from buying a new series or author; I had sale history on every Goosebumps title ever published. 

3.  Is the author's acclaim growing? One of the most difficult parts of being a buyer is assessing whether an author's new book will be a better seller than his/her last book.  If demand is growing, how high is high?  I bought 5k of the first Wimpy Kid book & I bought 270k of the 5th one.  Planning the sales & inventory of that volatile a series is a bit tricky.  Typically, the 3rd book in a series is the one that will make or break it.  
    
4. Is the format & the price appropriate for this title & for the audience?  Some books are not suited for the jacketed cloth format; they'll sell better in either a digest or paper over board format.  This is a constant struggle with publishers since they want to publish books in cloth so they garner review attention & library sales. 

5.  Is the content & reading level appropriate for the target audience? 

6.  Is interest being driven by a movie or other media?  Movies based on kids books have a HUGE impact on demand.  Even if the movie flops at the box office, the increased awareness will drive book sales.  Even though City of Ember & Guardians of Gahoole were poor box office performers, Borders sold many, many thousands of copies of the books for years after the movie released.
 
5.      Will Barnes and Noble survive or even expand? Whether or not BN survives is entirely up to them & how they can adapt to this new reality.  35% of the adult trade book market has moved to on-line or to e-readers.  It’s tough to fill a 20,000+ sq ft store when a huge chunk of the business is going away.  Without Borders, I don't know where I'll get my books; I haven't yet reconciled myself to shopping at BN, my major brick & mortar competitor for so many years.

What should stores do to partner more with publishers and authors?  Independent bookstores need to focus on the needs of their customer base & their communities. Book stores offer an experience that can't be duplicated on-line.  They need to be more than showrooms for Amazon. 

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tourist Attraction: The Indie Bookstore


I spent almost a week vacationing in Millerton, New York.  It’s about 90 minutes from my Westchester life but it seems much further than that when you consider how life is lived there.  Things are scaled down in this town. It’s smaller, slower, less crowded, and filled with farms and trees. It’s a reprieve from the city grind that I usually appreciate and abhor simultaneously.  It also has something I cherish:  an independent bookstore.

Oblong Books & Music has educated the locals and tourists for decades. It’s a sizeable store of three levels with creaky wooden floors and musty-smelling shelves.  The books are full price and there’s no cafĂ©.  But there are plenty of books.  Wall to wall, ceiling to floor, books everywhere.  It’s like being surrounded by beautiful naked women – I don’t know where to look first.

But as I admired everything about it I couldn’t help but see the store the way I saw other relics and tourist sites.  The indie bookstore is the same as the 50’s themed diner, the antique furniture store, or the quaint-looking glass store. It’s becoming a carnival act.  Yes, the indie bookstore is nothing more than a freak show. Or is it? Maybe there is hope.

The indie bookstore is fighting for its life. It has battled the corporate superstores and club stores, mail-order catalogs, and even the Internet. But e-books are something they can’t compete with, no more than the post-office can compete with e-mailed letters.  The thing is, e-books aren’t better than paper books but they are cheaper and more convenient and seen as enviro-friendly.  They are part of the whole tech revolution that also has turned people into tweeters and texts rather than phone callers.

Paper books belong with bookstores.  E-books live online, in the digital community.  It’s one or the other – you can’t really like both because by supporting one you negate the other.  And yet they must co-exist and somehow unite so that society really benefits.

But I must say I was deeply encouraged by what I experienced last week. I traveled to other small towns in the lower Hudson Valley and surprisingly found that every town, though they didn’t have much beyond the usual post office, library, fire house and diner, featured an independent bookstore.  These stores looked healthy, located in a respectable part of town and prominently showcased.  Maybe the bookstores will survive and the industry will find a way to thrive online and on land.  For the first time in years I felt a ping of optimism.

I supported Millerton’s local bookstore with several purchases.  My wife got her book club selection and I bought House of Holes, and odd book of sorts. I also bought some toys for my two children.

Maybe there is life beyond Border’s and beyond Kindles and iPads.  The indie bookstore is making a comeback!


Interview With Harper Collins Publishing Director Emily Brenner
What does a “publishing director” actually do? I supervise the editors in my group – the Early Childhood Group here at Harper.  I meet with packagers, licensors and agents to determine if we would be interested in their properties.  Other duties include planning for future lists, reviewing the competition, and keeping ahead of new technologies. 

You used to be a buyer at Barnes and Noble – is it more fun trying to sell to them now?   I’m not actually the one doing the selling at this point – we have a fantastic sales team at Harper.  My job is more to help others create the books to sell, which is actually more fun than buying.  But if it was a choice between selling and buying, I would say it is definitely more fun to buy than to sell.  And the buyers have the most knowledge of the actual marketplace and what customers want.

What do you love most about book publishing? The people!  I work with incredibly smart people who are all very interested in books, so it’s really the perfect environment.

Where do you see the industry heading? The world is changing, and I think the publishing industry is changing at a rapid pace.  We’re heading to a place where books will be sold in many different ways – fewer bricks and mortar stores and many more digital ones. We will also be able to find authors and illustrators in non-traditional ways, which is really exciting to me! 

How can publishers work more closely in support of their authors? I think the best thing we can do right now is to help our authors navigate all the changes in the marketplace.  Harper has a great support structure in place for authors, and we’re adding to that structure every day.

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Hurricane Irene Lessons for Publishing

This blog has posted entries about how book promoters and marketers can learn from how other industries or products promote, market and advertise themselves.  I’d like to explore how the publishing world can learn a few lessons from Hurricane Irene.

1.      Heed the warning signs – when experts forecast a disaster there is a chance they will be right.  You can’t afford to risk not following their advice.  It could be a life and death situation when it comes to a bad storm.  For publishing, the hurricane coming is e-books, online sales, other forms of entertainment, free sources of information on the Internet, and the recession.  The eye of the storm threatens an industry and a way of life – heed the warnings and adjust to the new landscape.

2.      Sometimes what you can’t see can do the real damage – wind is invisible but its effects are not.  When the winds gust, trees will fall and windows will break and power lines will go down.  In the publishing world there are forces unseen that pose a risk.  We can’ always see the enemy.

3.      Find a way to profit from another’s loss – Home Depot, hardware stores, generator makers, supermarkets, and others win when just the threat of a storm is announced. So too in publishing there are ways to make money when others see their business decline.  Seek to sell the things people need.

4.      Sometimes you need to start over – there are cases where damage is so great that you just have to start fresh and rebuild. So, too, shall the publishing industry look to start fresh in certain areas.

5.      Don’t always compete with everyone; cooperate in tough times – when disaster strikes, strangers become friends, enemies become allies, and old rivalries seem meaningless.  In book publishing maybe the way for the industry to survive is to find a way for everyone to work together and not look to take business from the other.

One final lesson to live by: confronting potential scenarios of the worst makes us appreciate what we have, what we didn’t lose, who we truly are.  I feel like the storm cleansed society, even if for a moment, where we all got put on equal footing, where we were all in the same boat. Our fates and fears were linked by bad weather.  Maybe it’s no coincidence that after the storm passed the sun shined bright today.  Maybe, just maybe, we are learning to play together.


Book Reviews
This is a new feature for Book Marketing Buzz Blog – book reviews. I have no parameters, at the moment, for what I will review other than at the time of the review the author would not be a client of mine.  I’m game to any topic, any genre, though I favor books relating to children, marketing, sales, pr, publishing, sports, photography and current events.

Henry! You’re Late Again! (Beaver’s Pond Press)
Written by Mary E. Bleckvehl
Illustrated by Brian Barber

How do you teach a first-grader not to be late for school? I won’t reveal the solution but suffice to say the story is well done and will leave readers with a positive feeling about life’s little problems and teach us all to look for the silver lining in every problem. The illustrations are terrific. The book received a Mom’s Choice Award.  I love that it deals with the subject of parental lateness.  My wife needs to read it!


Interview With Jaime Leifer, Publicity Director For PublicAffairs

What are the challenges today of promoting a book? The media has changed a lot in the past ten years that I’ve been working in the publishing industry. There’s been a major decline in the outlets that, traditionally, were most likely to include book coverage. Newspapers are stretched very thin and book review sections have been largely eliminated or have been greatly cut back. Oprah’s, of course, gone, and there are fewer of the knockout bookings that are guaranteed to sell a book nowadays.  At the same time, the internet has expanded exponentially the types of coverage books can get—news sites, personal blogs, tweets, Facebook posts,  etc.   So, in many ways, publicity has become more fractured, since you’re not just relying on a couple of big interviews and reviews to launch the book—you’ve got to have coverage on lots of different fronts, and you never know what’s going to make the difference and make a book really take off.  
How do you work with your authors on PR? At PublicAffairs, we really treat our authors as collaborators in the publicity process.  As I explain to new authors, there’s no one who’s a bigger expert on your field than you.  Who are the major players?  Which media cover the things you’re writing about?  By and large, our authors are very eager participants in the process—they empty their pockets, go through their rolodexes, and call in favors while we’re working all of our usual channels.  And with so many journalists, politicians, and other heavy-hitters on our list, they often come through with a crucial introduction that gets the book a big hit.

What advice do you have for authors who want to promote their books? Maintain a good relationship with your publicist.  He or she will work hardest for you if he or she knows you’re engaged, excited, and open to collaboration.  Keep an eye on the news, and try to see how your book fits in with what’s going on.  Write op-eds or blog posts if it’s appropriate and if you’ve got an opinion to voice—they can help to bolster your position as an expert.  On the social-media front, if you’re tech-savvy and interested in Twitter, it can be a great tool for promoting yourself and your book directly to the people who care most about it.  But you have to be sincere, and truly engaged—the Twitterverse will know instantly if you’re solely self-promotional.

What do you love about being a part of the book publishing industry? PublicAffairs’ tagline is “good books about things that matter,” and I really do believe that’s what we create here.  When I’m talking to reporters or producers about our books, I’m lucky in that our authors have something worthwhile to say that’s more often than not tied into the news of the day.   I love being a useful and informative part of the national and international conversation.  And I’m glad I’m encouraging people to take an in-depth look at important subjects.  Our world is so fast-paced that it’s sometimes tough to fully grasp complex topics like the debt crisis or America’s relationship with Pakistan.  I’ve read two of our books on those subjects in the past couple of weeks, and I feel infinitely better informed about what’s going on.  In general, I feel like people in publishing care about their world in more than just a superficial way.  It’s a great environment to live and work in.

Where is it heading? We’ve definitely seen a huge increase in e-book sales.  For us, that’s a great thing—with books that tie in so closely to current events, physical copies are usually not exactly where you need them when news breaks.  A large part of our e-book sales are incremental, not replacing print sales.  I think there will always be a market for long-form narrative journalism and argument, and hopefully e-books will continue to help us reach that market.

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Interview With SIBA Executive Director Wanda Jewell

Wanda Jewell has served the past 21 years as the executive director of the Southern
Independent Booksellers Alliance (SIBA). She has been in book publishing for 33
years, including a stint as a school librarian. Below she shares her insights with Book
Marketing Buzz Blog:

1.      How is SIBA helping to support authors and publishers? SIBA works diligently to keep brick & mortar indie bookstores alive & well in their communities.  It is our belief that these bookstores support authors and publishers in a way that no other entity can.  As a showcase for both books, and its own community, an indie bookstore delivers to the customer a way into the morass of all things reading.  

2.      With Borders collapsing, do you see greater opportunity for the bookstores left standing? It is never good to lose ground on the ground.  Though consumers love the convenience and ease of on-line ordering, they also love the browsing and discovery of in-store shopping.  It is my hope that the brick & mortar bookstores will see an increase in traffic as a result of the Borders closings, but it is certainly no reason to celebrate.

3.      What do you love most about being in book publishing? That's a hard question for me.  I love everything about the printed book.  I love book jackets, how sometimes they are shiny, and slick, sometimes textured, and thick.  I love when the jacket has a surprise on the inside flap, or even on its reverse side.  Or when the actual book cover differs from the jacket in an unexpected way.  I love end papers, and title pages, indexes, and paper edges.  Sometimes they are rough, and other times, not.  I love maps, and family trees, photos, and images.  I love how chapters can be arranged, and tables of contents can be framed.  I like the space around the text, and the space between the lines.  I like chapter headings, quotes, fonts, and footnotes.  I like the author info and photo, the jacket copy, and the blurbs.  It's crazy, isn't it?  And all this before I even get to the story.  And then there is the story.  Books have changed my life, changed my mind, and changed my attitudes.  What's not to love?

4.      Where do you see the industry heading? Another hard question.  Humans crave story, and I don't see that changing.  What will change is how the story is delivered. We have gone from the oral tradition to the written tradition, and now I guess we are on the cusp of the electronic tradition. Much like music, I imagine a time in the near future where what will cost the most money will be seeing, and or hearing an author live and in person and it will be in the independent venues across the country where this will happen.  I hope to see you there.

5.      How effective are trade shows these days? There is no doubt that trade shows are quite effective when weighed against the effort of meeting face-to-face with hundreds of accounts across a large geographic area.  There is no time like show time.  Somehow at a trade show, one gets lost in that time.  There is nothing else but the vortex of that industry swirling around those people in that space in that time.  I really do love it.  I don't think there is anything else like it and the benefits build & morph over time.  I hope to see you there as well.

6.      You were a school librarian for over a decade prior to helping grow SIBA the past two decades. What can the book industry do to support the libraries? It could be said that the book industry has done more to support libraries than any other single entity except for tax-payers.  Book people know that an educated citizenry is the key to success.  The more you read the more you read.  Many publishers, booksellers, trade shows, and authors participate in literacy and literary efforts across the board.

7.      SIBA covers the southern United States. How is your region’s book sales faring comparing to other parts of the country?  We are kicking ass!


Strategic Tweeting

There are several schools of thought when it comes to being successful in Tweetville but it all depends on what your goal is.  If your goal is to use Twitter to engage in conversation that is useful, it is hard because it’s not a medium set up for that.  What can you say with 140 characters that offers depth, insight, feeling, information, and impact?  Twitter is more like speed dating – good for filtering out losers but there is not enough time to have a real date.

If your goal is to build up lots of followers, you can do this a number of ways:

1.      Beg people – sometimes asking for help works.

2.      Bribe people – incentivize someone to follow you and to get others to encourage their followers to follow you.

3.      Pay people – companies sell followers to others.

4.      Exchange followership – you follow me, I follow you.

5.      Share something that others would be moved to share with others.

6.      Praise people – they may start to follow you.

7.      Come off like you’re an authority and say something so insightful that people are drawn to you.

8.      Reply to other tweets and people may follow you.

9.      Retweet something so others get the impression you find interesting stuff to share with others.

10.  Engage someone with a ton of followers in a tweet debate/dialogue.

11.  Follow those who follow people you feel similar to and seek to connect with their followers.

12.  Note people who tweet on topics of interest to you – look up their profiles and click on their sites or blogs to get contact information – then email them with a proposition to get them to follow you on twitter.

13.  Anyone you are connected with on FB, Linked In and other social media should be asked to follow you on Twitter.

14.  Give people a reason to follow you and tune in to what you have to say – offer them a Groupon- type deal or something splashy.

15.  Make it easy for people to follow your tweets - - tweet often and tweet during prime hours and off-hours to capture people when they are online.

Maybe you can convince people you are someone else so they will follow you. Hey, if celebrities can get people to ghost-tweet for them then you can pose as someone famous! Well, ok, maybe don’t steal anyone’s identity, but work hard to build up your own!

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Interview With Literary Agent Lisa Ekus

Lisa Ekus has been in book publishing for 33 years. —before faxes or email! She is now the founder of The Lisa Ekus Group, LLC. Here is what she shared with Book Marketing Buzz Blog:

1.      How is the publishing industry changing? How much time do you have? In house publishing staffs are seriously diminished, so old-time editing has pretty much vanished; PR has changed 180 degrees. Authors MUST be partners with publishers, not expect them to lead the way selling or marketing your book. The onus is fully on the author (like it or not). E-books, digitization, on-line everything has changed the industry. Advances and publisher risk have plummeted.  It is still wildly in flux. Here’s the thing: every blogger wants a book deal and a book in hard copy; give-aways at BEA were all real books, not codes for e-books, or free APPS. There is massive change in the HOW of the dissemination of information, but the NEED and DESIRE for information is greater than ever. Bloggers have leveled the playing field—anyone can be a writer. How you succeed is still based on talent.
  1. How are you, as a literary agent, responding to these new changes, challenges and opportunities?   Every industry changes—it keeps us healthy and challenges us to stretch and evolve. We are keeping abreast of the current industry standards for things like e-book rights; we are going to blogger and digital conferences; we are reading and learning and collaborating with other agents issues around photography rights; payout of advances, e-books and apps. We ask as many questions as we answer and are trying to shape some of the direction through our contracts, looking ahead. This is challenging because the industry has not settled into a norm yet, and I think it will be a number of years before things really shake out. That means covering our clients for as many possibilities as we are able.
  2. What are you looking for in an author – aside from a great book!? Passion. Commitment. Partnership.
  3. What do you love about being a part of the book publishing industry? Discovering, nurturing and building new creative voices in the industry. We always have at least a handful of first time authors on our list of clients. I love the words, the intent, the creativity of so many talented writers
  4. What advice can you offer to a struggling writer? You only need one “yes”,  so don’t lose hope or faith when looking for an agent and/or publisher. Follow your passion. Ask for help. Learn from your rejection letters. Don’t give up your day job!
Are Smartphones Dumb? 

USA Today shared poll results the other day to the question of whether having a smartphone makes it easier to relax or harder to relax.  Not surprisingly the response was 50% for each side.  That’s because, like every other service, gadget or invention, there are positives and negatives attached..

For instance, the smartphone means you can be in touch 24/7 from anywhere so you won’t miss anything important.  Great.  But it also means you’re always connected and are never removed from work, news, obligations and needy people.

Smartphones make a ton of information available to you for free.  Great.  But you also don’t know if the source is trustworthy or if the search was complete.

Smartphones have their pros and cons and millions have determined they want or need one.  Maybe over time we’ll see improvements not only in what the phone can offer but in how we find a balance interacting with our palm-sized computer gateway to the world.

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Interview With Readux CEO Leigh Haber

Leigh Haber’s official title is CEO of Readux, the literary management company she founded.
She is also an adviser and curator-at-large for Blurb, the POD platform based in SF, and editor-at-large for Chronicle Books.  Additionally, she is involved in two publishing-related start-ups which will be announced this Fall.

She considers the start of her 30-year publishing career to have been a job she got while in college, in Washington, DC, at The Washington Post.  She was a copy aide for Book World, the book reviewing section for the paper.  She says: “It was an amazing job, in that I saw brilliant book critics at work, and by opening the boxes streaming in to the book room from publishers, began to understand that books were the product of a book publishing industry.  I hadn't thought about that before.”

What is your secret to success? I was a book publicist and then a publicity director before I became an editor.  To be successful at these, I think you have to have a vision, believe in that vision, have confidence in it, but also learn from mistakes without allowing them to cripple you.  As an editor, you have to try and figure out what it is that you specifically bring to a book and its author, something that makes it feel necessary that you must publish that book, that author.  There are a lot of books I admire and read for pleasure, that I don't feel I had to have published myself.  Of course there are also a lot of books I wish I had published!  But what I look for now is that book or book idea or author with whom I feel:  we are the perfect team.

How are you navigating through publishing's changes?  When I left my last corporate job at Rodale, because of a change in administration that left me feeling pushed out, it was painful.  I'd thought I'd found my niche, and suddenly it was gone.  My first impulse was to jump right back in to another corporate job, but I couldn't really think of a company I really wanted to work for.  Also, through my work with Al Gore on An Inconvenient Truth, as well as through some introductions made for me through another author and friend, co-author of The Intellectual Devotional, David Kidder, I'd started to get to know people in the tech fields, thought leaders who were thinking about book publishing from entirely new points of view.  Among those were Eileen Gittins, CEO of Blurb, who suggested that I use the period to consult for her start-up, and to learn about the new technologies that would be shaping the future of book publishing.  

I also sought the advice of Peter Osnos, who urged something similar.  So rather than taking another book publishing staff job or becoming an agent, I decided to go out on my own for awhile, with Blurb as my first client.  It has been an exhilarating, enlightening, frightening, humbling, but ultimately a liberating ride so far, but I feel I have found the right path for me.  I have learned about print-on-demand and the joys of self-publishing; helped conceive of new book publishing business models and helped authors execute them; have learned about e and enhanced e technologies; have studied the internal processes of publishing from a more objective standpoint; and have gotten to know my own worth not via because I hold a corporate position but because I have earned the title "editor."

What do you love most about book publishing?  What I've come to realize is that what I like least is the "glamour" and clubbiness of it. What I love about it is the sense of discovery one feels in finding a great new project; that feeling you get when you feel it's all coming together; and the connection with the authors, which is what keeps me going.

What advice do you have for authors seeking to get published? I would say that it is not one size fits all, and it doesn't have to be anymore.  Some authors will get dream contracts from the house of their choosing.  But most will have to struggle to find an agent, to find a publisher, to sell copies, to get coverage.  Not every book deserves a publishing contract or an audience.  But if you have done your homework and truly believe that what you have is something special, do what you have to do to get your ideas out there, to build a platform and audience, and if it's meant to be, the publishing piece of it will come, whether via self-published e or print book, or a more traditional deal.  Anything is possible now.

If you could wave a magic wand what would you do? I would: empower and incentivize editors by giving them the power and authority to make their own acquisitions and be held accountable to their list's bottom line and have a piece of the back end; I would create a business that is more like a partnership with the authors, both in terms of profit share and the publishing process; I would wish for more independent, boutique publishing operations, companies that are not part of massive (and mostly non-American) corporations.


Embracing My OCD

I’m not quite sure when this habit started, but I am well aware that every time I get a cup of coffee I have to line up the lid with the little hole to rest exactly above the woman’s head in the Starbuck’s logo.  It may be a year or more that I’ve been doing this.  I realize I can’t stop.

Until the other day.

I went and got my tall skim mocha, light-on-the-whip, extra-hot, overpriced coffee at the Starbucks closest to my office (two other locations got beat by maybe a hundred yards each) and as I picked up my drink and readied myself to adjust the lid, as I had done hundreds of times before, I realized that the lid and logo were in perfect alignment. At first I was going to convince myself it was off by a sixteenth of an inch and tinker with it but then I realized that sometimes I don’t have to control everything.  I let it be.

Could this be a new approach to life, to let fate take its course and where I no longer feel obligated to mess with the cup I’m handed?  Isn’t it a relief to not have to check it, adjust it, and check it again?

That lasted all of one day.  This morning the lid wasn’t even close to being aligned.  I reflexively fixed it.  Yesterday’s rare reprieve was nice but I feel so much better with my coffee OCD.

I also wonder why, after maybe 400 cups of coffee, did I only get served one cup that was perfectly aligned while the other 399 came out off kilter.  Wouldn’t the odds be that the lid hole to logo would line up more often?  So much for random justice. Maybe I need my Starbucks bartenders to be a little more OCD and line my lid to the logo more often.

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.