Wednesday, September 7, 2011

I Just Want To Play With My Balls

My wife and I went to the U.S. Open last week. We’ve been going almost every year for the past decade.  Growing up I rarely watched tennis and played it only on occasion.  A Brooklyn kid, I played street games – paddle ball, handball, football, softball and Little League.  Tennis looked boring, only ahead of golf and car racing.  But as I got older I’ve come to appreciate the sport, especially when I see it in person. It’s a relaxing experience.

But one of my obsessions the last few years has been the oversized tennis ball. About the size of a basketball, the official U.S. Open souvenir retails for 40 bucks. The price tag always slaps reality across my face but it doesn’t stop me from gazing at the ball every time someone carries one right by me.  It’s fuzzy, but firm.  The greenish-yellowish skin glows and commands my attention.  It doesn’t even have to bounce to make its presence known.

Wanting this ball sounds like something an upcoming book will cover in November – Shiny Objects: Why We Spend Money We Don’t Have IN Search Of Happiness We Can’t Buy (HarperOne). The book studies why Americans “behave as if possessions will induce, increase and enhance happiness,” or so says a Publishers Weekly review. Indeed, American consumerism has become a national religion. We want to own things – everything -- and as a result, somehow control life. It doesn’t work that way.

I know I can never use the ball for anything and if my bulldog doesn’t get a hold of it, one of my midget kids will. It could be a short-lived investment.  But even if the ball manages longevity, what’s it really worth to me?  I’m not sure. I know it’s what I want, but I can’t justify it.  Then again, parking costs $19 and my ticket was $56 and our fast food dinner was $32, so in the scheme of things what’s $40?

But it’s for a ball, a ball I’ll never use. It’s the shiny new toy syndrome – have to have it, won’t play with it once I get it. I know this and yet the mindshare this ball retains over my thinking amazes me.

The book industry’s shiny new object is not a book but the delivery system of a book: the e-reader. But we need the book itself to be the object of desire. We need physical books to remain being seen as a gift item and to make them worth a premium.

Maybe it’s a lesson of the recession to do without or maybe I’m getting old enough to not buy on impulse. I didn’t get the ball.  It’s probably better I didn’t buy it, but I still want to just play with my balls.

Interview with Publishing Consultant Karen A. Livecchia
Karen A. Livecchia, a Harvard graduate and the former president of the NYC chapter of The Women’s National Book Association, is the founder of ESB CONSULTING. She provides her unique publishing insights below

1.      What do you love most about being part of publishing? Well, there are a number of reasons why I love being part of this industry.  Mainly, I love the fact that it keeps changing:  the new books that are published each season and the continual development of publishing and social media platforms in which to offer titles to readers.  I enjoy reading what independent booksellers and bloggers are saying about books and how they bring books to new audiences.  When I think of it, there’s not much I don’t love about book publishing!

2.      What do you believe is the industry’s fate? I believe that this industry’s fate will be tied to the technology sector in a way I don’t think we can yet fully comprehend.  After so much industry stagnation throughout the years, the publishing business—particularly book publishing—is changing faster with each season.  What works today may change completely or be rendered obsolete in a short amount of time—what works one season may not work the next. Take a moment to consider the meteoric rise of ebooks.  Just a few years ago, many publishing industry experts were predicting that it would take years of development for ebook readers to enter the consumer marketplace.  Now it seems that everyone and their granny is reading on a Kindle or a Nook (or on a mobile phone).  I think we’ve underestimated in this business what the consumer could absorb or would accept.  The rise of the single-use reading device is just the beginning of what we’ll see going forward.  Let’s hope the rise of ebook profits continues too.

3.      What exactly does a “publishing consultant” do? I’m sure lots of your readers are wondering the same thing!   I think of a publishing consultant as a jack-of-all-trades.  As for me, I work both sides of the fence:  with publishers and with authors.  I support authors preparing to enter the publishing marketplace by giving feedback on writing and editorial guidance.  I help with query letters for an author’s agent search and, if asked, I can help with marketing one’s project to readers, which means reaching out using social networking platforms. With my extensive project management and managing editorial experience, I can provide direction for both traditional and print-on-demand projects to publishers large and small.  This includes ebooks and “shorts” (works that are not long-form like novels).  I particularly like to work with independent publishers who are looking to maximize product exposure while keeping costs in line with expectations.

4.      What myths do authors tend to operate under? Unfortunately, too many!   Authors can short-circuit themselves by clinging to outdated notions about how they think the business works, rather than how it actually does work.  I see a lot of authors who don’t have any idea of what it means to produce a book and especially how to market a book—especially in these lean times.  I’d like to see more authors doing their homework before setting out to publish their work.  Author due-diligence is more important than ever given the increased workloads of editorial staff and diminished budgets for books published at a majority of publishing houses today.  A good rule of thumb is to help your editor or book marketer, don’t be a hindrance.

5.      How will e-books, self-publishing, and Amazon publishing change what gets published and how it gets sold? It’s clear that people’s perceptions and behaviors have been changed by technology in general.  Think of how many times a day you access information in a flash on Google or even think about “Googling” something or someone.  Google has now become a verb in our everyday lexicon!   Consequently, ebooks, self-publishing, and Amazon’s and Google’s publishing program have created tools to mirror the change in perception.  The barriers to publishing one’s work have been lowered to the extent that now nearly anyone can publish what they produce.  Of course, that can be good or bad, depending upon your view of things!

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 He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

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