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Genre is as genre does

Posted February 17, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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Recently, there has been a flurry of scandalous debate about a report and analysis into the changing world of publishing by Wool author Hugh Howey. Howey’s exceedingly detailed report suggests that – based on an analysis of Amazon sales – genre authors are much better served by going the independent and self-published route, as this will offer greater yield financially for their efforts.

Howey admits aspects of his analysis are speculative and inferential, as data on raw book sales is often undisclosed or incomplete. This, admittedly, offers the first point of interest. While box office on films, and sales and downloads on music and television are all widely available (allowing for elements of bias), figures on book sales remain obscure and coded behind veils of good intentions. There is the suggestion that book sales are undisclosed for our benefit, the implication being that perhaps we wouldn’t read what we read if we knew what everybody else was reading.

The report concludes with Howey wishing for greater transparency, greater understanding of how traditional publishing models lead to a benefit in sales. Others have criticised Howey’s lack of understanding in data analysis, and that he is offering a post hoc inference about data that wilfully ignores its limitations.

Regardless, the report comes at a time when many are looking and questioning the cost benefit of writing for a living. This recent surge of attention in demanding payment, and demanding transparency in the finances of writing suggests that writing as a profession has until now existed (and subsisted) on a level where we feel it lives beyond daily wages. How do we measure writing? Per word? Per hour? Per book sold? What constitutes a financially successful career as a writer?

And is that different from being a good writer?

Do we regard certain writing as ‘good’, even if it doesn’t make money? And does writing that makes money necessarily qualify for public recognition as ‘good writing’?

Howey directed his report at genre writers – mystery, thriller, science fiction, fantasy, romance – as categorised by Amazon.  The suggestion is that the rise of self-publishing, and the rise of digital publishing, is seen as an opportunity for genre writers to earn more from non-traditional publishing pathways.

What I find odd is that this categorisation places genre as a money-defining result. That the genre – the label prescribed upon the writing upon publication (on Amazon) – is all important, and is placed as a premium ahead of any other qualities the story might contain.

And here we have the tricky problem of genre – as it currently is the dominant way we categorise the stories we read and the stories we write. Bookshops, real and digital, organise their shelves according to genre. But this is an imperfect system. Stories often defy genre, or alternate and transcend; stories combine and manipulate genre and set it upon the reader via subterfuge. How would Kazuo Ishiguro feel if Never Let Me Go was shelved in science fiction, given the very late and shocking reveal of that element within the story? The genre here is one part of the book, not the whole, and certainly not the label.

To follow further examples in my favourite field, this genre categorisation becomes even trickier when looking at an author like Stephen King. Once upon a time, in the world where Borders still existed, Stephen King books could easily be found in the horror section. He practically was the horror section. And while many of his books, particularly the early ones, are horror, this is again an imperfect system for categorisation.

Of his recent books, 11/22/63 is listed under fantasy, where it places #3 in a subgenre of fantasy. However, it is also listed under horror, placing at #92. And yet the book is clearly not a horror book. In fact, it relies really on only one element of fantasy to even qualify as that type of story. His earlier collection of short stories, Different Seasons, is also listed under horror, and yet is the collection that spawned the films The Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me. Again, clearly not horror. So do we make excuses for writers who cross genres, but still define them (and their books) by the genre they started in, or dominate?

If we follow the idea of using genre to define stories, then we will end up with a never-ending spiral of subgenres upon sub-subgenres, to serve every whim of the reader, and every style of the writer. I would hazard that writers rarely view genre as a defining boundary on their imagination – so should genre be the label that prescribes expectation to the reader on what type of book it is? Should it explain exactly what it is?

Will we end up with a Science-Fiction>Alternate-Reality>Victorian-Gothic-Robotics>Anthropomorphised-Rabbit>Western>Young-Adult subgenre?

Obviously we do need some method of organising, and at the moment genre works – to a degree. But as a financial imperative? What about all the books that don’t fit genre? Why does Howey not include literary fiction as a genre itself?

There are many questions that come from the report, and many that suggest our way of viewing books, writing, and sales is imperfect at best, and fundamentally flawed at worst. The most positive take away for me is that everything’s changing very rapidly – how we write, how we publish, and how we read – and this can hopefully lead to a future where we can write and publish and read with greater ease, and freedom, and enjoyment.

 

For more on genre, Momentum authors Nathan M. Farrugia and Luke Preston, and Anne Treasure and myself are discussing Genre In The Digital Age for the Digital Writers’ Festival tonight at 6:00pm.

As it’s a digital festival, you can attend via the magic on the internet, and watch us all talk at digitalwritersfestival.com

 

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The Stage Dive Drift

Posted July 16, 2013 by Anne

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I currently have two pop culture obsessions. One of them is Kylie Scott‘s Lick, and watching it rocket up the Amazon charts. The other is the recently released Guillermo del Toro movie Pacific Rim. So naturally when I discovered that Warner has made available a make-your-own Jaegar Design app, there was only one conclusion.

Behold, the STAGE DIVE.

JaegerPosterSo what’s next for the Stage Dive jaegar? Fan fiction, obviously. Stay tuned (or feel free to take this idea and run with it) – imagine, a Stage Dive tribute band made up entirely of skyscraper-sized mechanical robots. Drifting with members of the band. A giant jaegar rock concert in Vegas. I mean, (spoiler alert) once the world has been saved from monsters, what else are the jaegars going to do?

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For more information on Lick: Stage Dive 1 head to the book page to read the first chapter, find retailer links to buy the book, or purchase directly from Momentum.

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The Dark (Child) side: every obsessive author’s nightmare

Posted May 30, 2013 by Adina West

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It’s finally happened. I’ve crossed over to the other side. The ‘published’ side. I’m starting to think of it as the Dark side. Because the last few months have been mad. Manic. And also, inevitably, filled with huge amounts of frivolous time wasting and not much actual writing.

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Most of this I blame on the sustained state of heightened nerves arising from the fact that I’ve had four books released in four months, with another two releases still to go next month. They’re all actually the same book: Dark Child. But as it’s been released as a digital serial, one new episode has come out each month, each attended by a flurry of tweets on Twitter, and updates on Facebook, and hours and hours (oh, let’s be honest, days and DAYS) wasted obsessively checking sales ranks and figures on Amazon and the iBookstore. Why did nobody tell me it’d be like this? Actually, they probably did, but back then I wasn’t listening. I just wanted to be published!

It’s true though. For me, anyway. With a digital book release the problem is that you CAN keep a constant eye on it. With a print book, once the publisher has sent it out to bookstores it’s months and months before you have any idea what has sold. You’re pretty much forced to put it out of your mind. But digital makes information so much more accessible, with ranks that actually change hourly at some retailers. It’s an obsessive author’s nightmare. I think I’ll have to work through this new addiction with checking every single new review and watching rankings like a hawk until I’m good and sick of it, and then I’ll be able to move on. Because it’s certainly not helping me get any other work done!

Enough of the rant – but that might go some way toward explaining what I’ve actually been doing in the last little while. (I’ve also had sick kids, which is never fun, but they’re on the mend now.)

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Anyway, in the past week I’ve had to put on my extremely-professional-published-author hat, because I was on a panel with my agent and publisher at the Sydney Writers’ Festival talking about Dark Child and the entire process of how it was turned into a digital serial. It has been an exciting ride, that’s for sure, from the first introduction of the idea by my publisher Joel Naoum of Momentum, up until now. I was terrified at the thought initially, mostly because I felt it placed a lot of pressure on every single part of my book to perform; each of five ‘episodes’ has to carry enough weight to be satisfying, and yet leave enough enticement for the reader to continue. Obviously I ended up going for the idea though, given that publishing a first novel is pretty much jumping in the deep end anyway…

There have been a few readers who hated the serialised approach, and just wanted the whole book. And of course, despite (I think) being the minority they were the ones who weren’t shy about leaving reviews. Isn’t that always the way? (though I don’t mean to imply I didn’t get some lovely positive reviews too – I did, and I appreciated every word!) For the ones who wanted the whole novel as one, yes, you’re getting it!

The Omnibus edition is coming out 1 June, and contains all five episodes of Dark Child – it’s the complete novel as I originally wrote it.

So yes, for readers who prefer their novels as novels it’s possible to skip the serialised experience entirely. But as a bonus of the serialisation, the publisher is able to make Dark Child: Episode 1 (the first 20,000 words or so of Dark Child) available free for most of the forseeable future, letting readers try the first part of the novel before they decide whether to invest in the Omnibus. So go and get your free copy of Episode 1! It’s a nice meaty length that’s much longer than most samples, so I’m really happy about that.

The final serialised episode of Dark Child Episode 5, will be coming out concurrently with the Omnibus in just a couple of weeks. Here’s a cover pic:

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And now I’m feeling reflective, and thinking ‘where to next?’ Because I always intended for Dark Child to be more than a stand-alone novel. I’m already working on a sequel. But what will that be called? Will I try serialisation again, and start the next round off with Episode 6? Do I call my next novel/serialisation ‘Season 2′, to mimic the style of television? Author John Scalzi is rumoured to be doing with his recent serialised collection The Human Division which was a novel released over 13 weekly episodes.

You used to just be able to release a book, and then its sequel. Not too many issues with how to label or promote a book in those familiar circumstances. But in this scenario…I admit I’m finding it all a bit confusing, and want to make sure readers won’t feel the same. Thoughts, advice, in the comments please? And also questions about anything else.

This piece was originally posted on Adina’s blog over at Stairways and Landings. You might like to go and visit her there. Otherwise head over here for more information on Dark Child and to preorder the Omnibus

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Podmentum 7: The Bingeing on First World Problems Episode

Posted February 15, 2013 by Anne

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On this week’s Podmentum we talk about the idea of reselling used ebooks, bingeing on books and television, and then the Macquarie Dictionary publisher joins us to talk about the Word of the Year.

Topic 1 Amazon second hand ebook patent

Amazon has received a patent for a system for selling “pre-owned” digital files, opening the way for a secondary market in ebooks

Publisher’s Weekly

“Amazon’s business model has long been dependent on resellers of used books and other merchandise. But a U.S. patent that Amazon Technologies in Reno, Nev., received last week indicates that the mega-retailer has its sights on digital resale, including used e-books and audio downloads. According to the abstract, Amazon will be able to create a secondary market for used digital objects purchased from an original vendor by a user and stored in a user’s personalized data store.

Boston-based ReDigi opened the first marketplace for pre-owned digital music, which it launched in late 2011, redigi.com. Once a lawsuit that Capitol Records filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan over the way it handles music downloads is behind it, ReDigi plans to expand into e-books and other digital items. In a press release issued yesterday, ReDigi commented that “the Amazon patent is further proof that the secondary market is the future of the digital space and that there is no turning back.”

Gizmodo article

Motherboard article that so angered Joel (tell us why)

Topic 2 Serialisation

With the Netflix series House of Cards being the talk of the entertainment world for the past couple of weeks, we thought we’d take the chance to talk about how the consumption of content is changing. While TV used to be serialized and consumed in episodic chunks, the trend is now to binge-watch whole series. On the other hand, where we used to read a whole novel in a sitting, publishers are now experimenting with serialized novels in the time-honoured tradition of Charles Dickens.

John Scalzi – The Human Division (episodic narrative) 13 episodes

Alison Rushby – The Heiresses (new adult serial with St Martin’s Press)

“‘An e-serial is a series of digital-only discrete dramatic novella-length “episodes” that advance an overall “season” narrative arc through 4-6 installments, published at regular intervals at a low price. We are conceptualizing e-serials as a loose bridge between a full length novel and a TV show. An e-serial episode is analogous to a one hour drama, one installment of a season of dramas.’

In other words, think Downton Abbey, but in serialized digital book form! Yay!”

Adina WestDark Child 

Mark Z. Danielewski – serial novel The Familiar (beginning in 2014) 27 volumes, first 10 to be published by Pantheon in 3-4 month increments

“’Volume’ speaks to it being a little different from a standard trade paperback book,” Danielewski said by phone Monday. “I can’t write something that takes months and months to read if we’re releasing one every three or four months. It’s possible that [our publishing] schedule could be accelerated. We’re constantly open to new ideas — where will we be in 2014? Maybe digital releases every week, every few months a trade paperback or hardcover. The novel is designed to accommodate, anticipate various platforms.”

Topic 3 Macquarie Dictionary Word of the Year

The Macquarie Dictionary Word of the Year for 2012 was announced last week, and the winner was “Phantom Vibration Syndrome”. We have the Macquarie editor Sue Butler in to have a chat with us about the dictionary and how they go about naming their word of the year.

Recommendations

Anne – Medium, and Connor O’Brien on twitter

Mark – The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Joel – Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

This episode of Podmentum is brought to you by Kylie Scott’s Skin

 

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The one where we autorip pirates a new CD hole

Posted January 23, 2013 by Anne

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We have three topics for today. The first will centre around book piracy, the second on Amazon’s new autorip service for music and what this could mean for book bundling, and finally we’ll be talking about novels written in record times.

Topic 1

Pirated ebooks, file sharing and data security

Mega and Kim Dotcom

Kim Dotcom, who is currently still involved in a legal battle over his initial uploiading service Megaupload, has just launched a storage service called Mega, which offers 50 megs of file storage with an encryption system that means no one, not even Mega, can see what you’re storing or what you’re doing with it. So they can claim, without blinking, that they have no idea if peer to peer file sharing (ie piracy) is going on via their service.

They save space on their servers by only keeping a single copy of each file uploaded, so that does pose the question, if they don’t know what you’re storing with them then how do they do that? It is a technique also practiced by Apple and Amazon with their data storage facilities but they’re not claiming any ignorance.

Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time ebook release delayed

Wheel of Time author Robert Jordan died in 2007 while writing the final book in the series, and Brandon Sanderson undertook to finish writing the book. Publisher Tor and Sanderson have faced a backlash for releasing the hardback but delaying the ebook release, purportedly at the request of Jordan’s wife Harriet.

Backlash includes the review bombing of the title on Amazon and other book seller websites

Various end users have threatened to download a pirated ebook unless the official e-book was available at launch

When I googled Tor Robert Jordan ebook the first result was a torrent link, and three of the top ten results were torrent sites.

Question: Why a delayed ebook release for A Memory of Light?

Answer: This is not my decision or Tor’s decision, but Harriet’s. She is uncomfortable with ebooks. Specifically, she worries about ebooks cutting into the hardcover sales. It isn’t about money for her, as the monetary difference between the two is negligible here. It is about a worry that her husband’s legacy will be undermined if sales are split between ebooks and hardcovers, preventing the last book of the Wheel of Time from hitting number one on either list. (Many of the bestseller lists are still handling ebooks in somewhat awkward ways.)

As the last books have all hit number one, she doesn’t want to risk one of these not hitting number one, and therefore ending the series on a down note. (Even though each Wheel of Time book has sold more than its predecessor, including the ones I have worked on.) I personally feel her worries are unfounded, and have explained that to her, but it is not my choice and I respect her reasoning for the decision. She is just trying to safeguard Robert Jordan’s legacy, and feels this is a very important way she needs to do so. After talking about the issue, we were able to move the ebook up from the originally planned one-year delay to instead come out this spring.

Topic 2

Bundling

Amazon’s autorip service for music goes live – books next?

While much of the current tech coverage is focused on the latest in streaming music, including both radio services like Pandora, as well as on-demand options like Spotify, Boom says people still like to buy physical music. “It’s almost 50 percent of the music market in the U.S.,” he says. “Only in 2011 did digital overtake physical in the United States, and in many countries, physical still represents 70 to 80 percent of music being sold.” At Amazon, both the physical and digital music businesses continue to grow, he adds, but declined to provide specific numbers.

Topic 3

The hastily written novel

The Quick and the Read

Australian writer Graham Simsion’s debut novel The Rosie Project has been the subject of discussion at the news that it was written in just 50 days, sparking The Age’s Jane Sullivan to examine other books that were written in record time, including A Clockwork Orange (3 weeks), A Christmas Carol (6 weeks) and As I Lay Dying (also 6 weeks)

National Novel Writing Month

Virtual Linsanity: Jeremy Lin e-books flood the market

Recommendations

Mark – Wool by Hugh Howey

Blue Remembered Earth

2312

Joel – Locke & Key

Anne – Parade’s End

Downcast app 

Ninja Sex Party – Dinosaur Laser Fight

This episode of Podmentum was brought to you by the Momentum Classics Series and Lexxie Couper’s Powerplay

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The Lazy Person’s Guide to Gift Giving

Posted December 17, 2012 by Anne

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Okay people, listen to me: Christmas is almost upon us. You have about a week, tops, to nail down this whole gift-giving thing.

Now if you’re like me, you’ll just inform your loved ones that Christmas this year is cancelled and shut yourself away for a week. If you choose to do this, well done, you’re a hero and your medal is in the mail.

Just kidding your medal isn’t in the mail because who in their right mind would visit a post office at this time of year?

If I were the Christmas joy and light gift-giving type, there is only one way I’d do it this year. And that is through the wonder of the internet.

A friend gave me a book for Christmas yesterday, and I have now decided that books are the best way to show your friends and family that you love and respect them. The right book says “I have put a significant amount of thought into what I think you would enjoy and I have chosen this one book out of millions because it is The Book For You.” It tells your loved one that you value their intelligence and want to share in their intellectual pursuits. There is no better gift than a book.

Let’s face it though, you’ve only got a limited amount of time now, and paper books PLUS wrapping paper and ribbons and a card is basically an environmental disaster. Really the only answer is to give ebooks. So I’ve put together this handy Ebook Gift-giving Guide. You are welcome.

There are two routes you can go down with giving ebooks. You can buy a gift card from an online retailer and let the recipient choose their own book. Don’t do that. Freedom of choice and gift-giving are not friends. Force your will on the ones you love in this small way.

First find out what type of device your intended recipient uses.  If they don’t have a Kindle, or you are unsure as to whether they have an ereader at all, you can still buy from either Kobo or Amazon. Part of Amazon’s evil genius is that any of their books can be read on most devices through the Kindle app. Unfortunately neither the iBookstore nor ReadCloud allow you to give a specific title as a gift, but stay tuned.

Kobo’s official gift-giving (or “gifting” as they call it) guide is here, but basically you just find the perfect book for the person you want to force your will upon shower with intellectual love and affection. then click the magical “Send As Gift” button.

Amazon’s official guide is here. They make it far too easy. Again, the hard part is finding the exact right ebook for the person you’re attempting to subjugate. Once on the book page in the Kindle store, to the right hand side of the browser you’ll see the below panel. Click the Give as a Gift button.

Then simply fill out your details, and purchase your ebook gift. You can either schedule the book to magically appear in your recipient’s inbox on Christmas Day, or send it to yourself for safekeeping pre-December 25. Just remember that Amazon runs on US time, so factor that into your scheduling.

So there you have it. Buy the love and respect of those around you with an ebook this Christmas. Look, just do it. No, do it. Go now. Buy ebooks.

Like these ones, for instance:

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From Flesh to Skin

Posted November 26, 2012 by Kylie Scott

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The day Flesh hit #14 on the Amazon Erotica Best Seller List was an exciting one. Down in Sydney the guys at Momentum popped some champers. Up in Brisvegas a bottle of vodka met its end. It was a very cool and thrilling day. But the next morning, once the panadol had kicked in, there was an important question waiting to be asked. What would Daryl do next?

A wise woman once said to me you’re only as good as your next book. But what if people didn’t like my next book? What if they mocked it and made me cry? What then? The sequel to Flesh sat half finished on my hard drive and fingers hesitated, twitching, above the keyboard. Could I do it? Should I do it? What would Daryl do?

I think deep down we all know the answer. But what with having no zombies available to shoot arrows into and cut the ears off of, I stopped pussy footing around and got on with it. So Skin has been handed in to be spanked into shape by the team at Momentum.

And here are the first few lines:

In the end they took a vote on whether or not to trade Roslyn to the stranger at the gate. They even gave her a say, demonstrating democracy was not dead even if civilisation had gone belly up six months back when the virus first struck.

All nine survivors gathered on the school steps. The weak winter sun above them did little to combat the bitter wind. Her marrow was ice and her teeth chattered. She wanted to wrap her arms around herself, huddle down into the green school jacket she’d purloined out of a student locker. But she didn’t. Spine straight, shoulders back. Her father would have been proud.

She cleared her throat. No one would meet her eyes. They couldn’t do this and she would explain why in a sensible and rational manner using as many small words as deemed necessary. “I know we’re running low on food, but there’s no reason why we can’t make a trip into town to look for supplies. If we just make a plan-”

“Let’s get on with this,” said Neil, former head of the Maths Department. Still pissed she had refused to put out. Never had she met such a pretentious, unattractive git. “A raise of hands for ‘yea’.”

Her gaze skittered around the group.

Some hedged, but the hands were definitely there, six of them.

Skin will be out in February 2013, but in the meantime you can catch up with the world of Flesh with Room with a View.

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Podmentum 3: the one with ice cream and puppies

Posted November 22, 2012 by Anne

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You can listen here on the blog, over here at PodOmatic, or via iTunes.

Topic 1 – Why Publishers Hate Authors

HuffPo ran a piece by entrepreneur Michael Levin about his views on how publishers treat authors, including lines like

“It’s completely unfair, but destroying the options of a writer actually has some benefits for publishers. Which leads me to think that maybe publishers are actually happy when authors fail.”

Felice Howden wrote a reply on Book Machine called Publishers We Need to Talk about how publishing employees need to communicate better with authors and readers.

She makes the point that a publishers job is to sell their authors, not themselves. I think we take a slightly different tack here at Momentum, in that we want to start a conversation around our authors that includes us, and is not simply facilitated by us.

 

Topic 2 – Tim Ferriss and Amazon Want to Reinvent Publishing

Tim Ferriss and Amazon Try to Reinvent Publishing 

Barnes and Noble refuse to sell 4 hour chef because it is published by Amazon’s new publishing arm

“Our decision is based on Amazon’s continued push for exclusivity with publishers, agents and the authors they represent,” Barnes & Noble announced earlier this year. “Their actions have undermined the industry as a whole and have prevented millions of customers from having access to content.”

 

Topic 3Who Wants to Read This Stuff?  

Joel on book apps and storytelling in the digital age

 

Recommendations

Joel – Faber apps The Wasteland and Sonnets

Mark - In the Tall Grass by Stephen King & Joe Hill and Seven Psychopaths

Anne – Small Demons and Negronis

 

  Podmentum is sponsored this week by Hot Down Under and Defender: Intrepid 1

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Podmentum: the one where we discover “bathetic” is a word

Posted November 9, 2012 by Anne

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Second podcast! We’re totally on a roll. In this episode we discuss the epic Genre versus Literature battle to the death in the wake of the inaugural GenreCon Australia, then we make fun of Joel for being such a gadget nerd. Also Mark outnerds himself in the recommendations. Enjoy.    

Topic  1 - What we read: Genre v Lit

Arthur Krystal’s Easy Writers: Guilty pleasures without guilt in May in The New Yorker laid down the theory that the divide between genre and literary fiction is becoming less clear, and some genre fiction is now being afforded “literary” status.

Lev Grossman in Time April 2012 responded with an article entitles Literary Revolution in the Supermarket Aisle: Genre fiction is disruptive technology, challenging the idea that literary fiction should be regarded as “superior” to genre fiction. He basically lays down the theory that literary fiction is itself a genre with certain tried and true tropes that every book identified as such follows.

Krystal then responded to Lev Grossman with It’s genre, not that there’s anything wrong with that! in October, which had Joel absolutely apoplectic with rage, and convinced us that it was worth discussing.

Interesting look at horror in The Guardian recently with Horror: a genre literally doomed to hell? 

*note – The Ian McEwan novel that was released the year before he won the Booker for Amsterdam was Enduring Love, not On Chesil Beach (which was actually released a decade later). To my enduring shame, I completely forgot about Enduring Love, which is actually one of my favourite McEwan books. Golf clap.

Topic 2 - Devices: how we read

Joel got his new Paperwhite last week and now that he’s had enough time to fall completely and utterly in love with it, it is probably time to talk about reading technology.

Amazon Paperwhite

 iPad Mini 

Recommendations

Joel’s Recommendation The Silent History – Eli Horowitz The Victory Lab – Sasha Issenberg

Anne’s Recommendations January First – Michael Schofield Life in Publishing Tumblr

Mark’s Recommendation Star Wars Expanded Universe

This episode of Podmentum was brought to you by Stalin’s Hammer: Rome by  John Birmingham, and Drive Me To Distraction by Caitlyn Nicholas 

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Podmentum: The one where Jeff Bezos is a Super Villain

Posted November 6, 2012 by Anne

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Our very first podcast ever covers Amazon and DRM, books that have been made in to movies, and the renewed popularity of the short story format.

You can subscribe via iTunes here, or listen below.

Below you’ll find some links to things we discussed in the inaugural Podmentum: the one where Jeff Bezos is a super villain.

Topic 1

DRM, Amazon and the missing digital library

Martin Bekkelund’s article

“As a long-term writer about technology, DRM, privacy and user rights, this Amazon example shows the very worst of DRM. If the retailer, in this case Amazon, thinks you’re a crook, they will throw you out and take away everything that you bought. And if you disagree, you’re totally outlawed. Not only is your account closed, all your books that you paid for are gone. With DRM, you don’t buy and own books, you merely rent them for as long as the retailer finds it convenient.”

Topic 2

Recent and upcoming book to movie adaptations, Flavorwire’s “unfilmable books

Cloud Atlas

Midnight’s Children

(If any outraged Harry Potter fans would like to email their thoughts to Mark please direct said emails to podcast@momentumbooks.com.au and they’ll be forwarded directly to him.)

Topic 3

Short stories – is the form really under threat? Really?

The Paris Review has just released a short story collection (Object Lessons) and it prompting a rash of new articles questioning the form.

The medium isn’t as popular as it used to be, but a new anthology from The Paris Review makes the case for the power and promise of short stories. Below, an interview with editor Sadie Stein.”

The Atlantic: Why Does the Short Story Survive? 

The Huffington Post: Short Stories: The Paris Review Creates a Great New Compilation

Podmentum is brought to you by Luke Preston’s Dark City Blue and Kylie Scott’s Flesh

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Ebooks and Ownership: Do You Own Your Ebooks?

Posted October 30, 2012 by Joel

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An email from an acquaintance today in light of the Amazon library deletion scandal caused me to write a long rant about digital rights management (DRM) and ebooks and copyright so I thought I’d share some of it below.

It amazes me sometimes that we’re still all talking about DRM and ebooks. I feel like it’s a conversation we’ve been having for a very long time, and made very little progress with. But ultimately that’s the nature of an industry undergoing such huge changes. Protecting the legal rights of authors and readers while also trying to run a business and not violate any licensing agreements can be a nightmare for even the most informed publishing functionary – to an outsider I think it must look like complete and utter nonsense.

There are different issues at work here. One is the legal rights of the reader/consumer and the other is the technology used to restrict those rights.

When it comes to legal rights, most publishers aren’t selling the ebook file itself – they sell a license to use it under certain circumstances. They give the reader the file – but the reader doesn’t ‘own’ this file. This is pretty standard for selling digital content – if you sold the file with with no restrictions then the person who bought it could potentially copy and send it to thousands of people with no legal recourse for the copyright owner (the author, not the publisher). I don’t know of any publisher of any digital content that sells digital files without restrictions – whether they’re using DRM or not.

The second issue is a technological one. Most publishers sell their content with DRM, which on top of the legal restrictions also physically restricts readers from transferring content to other readers or between devices by using encryption software. This software is usually implemented by the retailer (Amazon, Apple or whoever) at the behest of the publisher. Some publishers, like Momentum, have asked retailers not to include DRM on our files. This isn’t because we think users should be able to own the file and use it without restrictions, but because we believe that a reader who buys an ebook should be able to transfer that book between devices without the technological difficulty inherent in using encryption technology. Basically it’s extremely frustrating for a reader who has legitimately purchased a book to transfer that book between multiple devices if it has DRM on it – and that’s why we removed it. We wanted our readers to be able to buy a book from Amazon and read it on their Kobo reader if they wanted to – and now they can.

To be clear – Momentum is still technically selling a license for our books, not the files themselves – we just don’t physically restrict readers from transferring their ebooks between devices. The reason for this is basically down to the nature of digital content – it isn’t some kind of Orwellian urge to control what readers do with their reading material. If we ‘owned’ a digital file in the sense that most of us ‘own’ paper books, by current laws we would be able to do whatever they wanted with it (including selling copies for a profit), which would in most cases violate the contract under which retailers sell ebooks and the rights publishers license from authors. Authors ultimately own the copyright for their content and license it to publishers who can then sub-license it to readers.

In the Amazon case mentioned above, the reader violated Amazon’s terms and conditions in some way that Amazon hasn’t made clear to anyone. As a result, Amazon closed their account, which means they no longer had access to the encrypted files that were stored on their device. If that reader had bought any of Momentum’s ebooks, this wouldn’t have been a problem, as they could have just moved their ebooks to a different device. As far as I know, without DRM Amazon cannot yank a book from someone’s device – but I might be wrong. At any rate, because all of the reader’s books had DRM on them, they lost their entire library (albeit temporarily – Amazon has restored the reader’s account as far as I know).

As much as I think this is a horrible situation for the reader – and this is precisely why we dropped DRM from our books at Momentum – these stories do seem to crop up intermittently and don’t seem to have any real effect on the ebook market. Ultimately the convenience of digital reading outweighs most people’s concerns about it. I’d love it if more readers cared about this stuff as it’s something I care about, and we’ve made Momentum a more reader-friendly place as a result. However, my general impression is that for the most part Amazon’s ecosystem works pretty well and these situations tend to be anomalies or bureaucratic oversights rather than some kind of concerted effort to defraud readers.

Having said that, I’m curious about what you think. Has Momentum’s decision caused you to buy more books from us? Do you seek out DRM-free ebooks consciously? Had you even heard about the story mentioned above? Sound off in the comments and let us know.

 

Please Note: A previous version of this post claimed that selling digital files gave the purchaser the right to on-sell the ebook. As commenter Iain points out below, copyright law should already adequately cover this situation. See my response below for clarification on this issue.

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100 Ways to Write Badly Well by Joel Stickley is a hilarious guide to the art of awful writing. Remember – if a thing’s worth doing badly, it’s worth doing badly well. Available DRM-free for $2.99.

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Don’t be a sock puppet, be a helping hand

Posted September 18, 2012 by Anne

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Recently there has been a lot of discussion in the book world about reviews and criticism. There have been warnings about an epidemic of niceness on social media, articles on unfavourable reviews, the outing of sock puppet reviews on Amazon, and revelations of authors buying reviews in bulk.

Discoverability (drink) has been overtaken by sockpuppeting (drink) as the buzzword of the moment in publishing circles (so says FutureBook maven Sam Missingham), but it’s still the central concern of most ebook publishers. Readers can’t just go into a bookstore and pick up one of their books – they need to stumble across it in the wilds of the online jungle, so reviews and web chatter are increasingly important. Little wonder some authors are driven to fake their own book reviews.

If you’re concerned about how technology and web culture is affecting books, reading and writing, there are several things you can do. There are so many authors and books out there that for the truly excellent to come to the fore they need a bit of help from devoted readers.

I’ve put together a handy list of things you can do to support your favourite authors, and help fellow book lovers.

1. Buy books. I know right, easy

2. Read books. Bizarre, yes, but proven effective

3. Review books. Review widely, review often. You don’t have to be a professional reviewer anymore for your opinion to count  (thanks Internet!). All you need is an account with your friendly (internet) neighbourhood retailer.  Amazon is likely to be the most effective, but there is also Apple’s iBookstore and Goodreads. Or you could even set up a blog and become one of those people that publishing publicity departments adore, a book blogger. But let’s not get too crazy

4. Social media mention it up. Post your thoughts about the latest book you’re reading on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr – hell, even Google+. Do it as you’re thinking about reading the book. Do it when you buy the book – post a photo of the cover. Do it mid-read, if you are inspired by a particularly interesting plot twist, or a beautiful sentence. Triumphantly announce your completion upon finishing the book, or mourn the end of a particularly brilliant book. The more you talk about reading, the more you will motivate others to read

5. Give ebooks as gifts. Okay sure, ebook gifts aren’t quite as impressive as a gift-wrapped print tome, but they are usually far less expensive and far more portable. Just enter in the email address of the lucky recipient, and bam, you’ve made someone’s day. Unless you give them a diet book or something. Don’t do that. Ebooks aren’t just for Christmas guys. They’re an everyday gift. Give one today.

May I suggest one of these?

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Laughter and Cruelty: Book Review

Posted June 6, 2012 by Anne

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Excerpt from a review by Kim Bartlett.

Until I started to cry the Sikh driver, Mr. Singh didn’t believe me when I said we wanted them to take us to an animal shelter on the outskirts of the ancient Indian city of Jaipur, instead of shopping for rugs.

Earlier that morning we had refused to ride an elephant to the top of the Amer Fort, and they reluctantly arranged for a jeep. At the temple atop the fort, we were deeply upset to learn that a goat was being sacrificed inside, and refused to enter. At the temple where pilgrims fed pigeons for good luck, we were pursued by a legless beggar on a roller cart. The only experience we had enjoyed that day was when a languor monkey jumped down from a parapet in front of my son Wolf, who was only seven then, in 1997, ripped a garland of marigolds off Wolf’s neck, and quickly climbed back to the top of a parapet to eat the flowers. It was over in half a minute. First we shrieked, startled, and then began to laugh. The driver was convinced we were crazy.

Even with directions, the Help in Suffering sanctuary wasn’t easy to find. We drove through the old walled “pink city” to a highway that cut through the typical urban sprawl of a populous Indian city, where temporary huts made of garbage bags sheltered street people on sidewalks that surrounded the walled yards of new middle class dwellings. Mr. Singh stopped several times to ask again for directions. The farther out of town we got, the more likely were the people to know of the animal shelter.

Finally we made a turn off the highway onto a smaller road, and quickly saw a sign for the sanctuary. The car was surrounded by a pack of barking dogs and people who seemed to like them. At once I felt at home. Through the happy chaos emerged Christine Townend, the Australian managing trustee of Help in Suffering, and her husband Jeremy.

Thus began my friendship with Christine – poet, artist, and animal activist – whose life story is told by biographer John Little in Christine’s Ark: the extraordinary story of Christine Townend and an Indian animal shelter. Little binds Christine’s multi-faceted history into a coherent whole.

John Little writes of Christine’s first trip to an Indian slaughterhouse in 1989:

“In Australia she had seen pigs slaughtered by sticking a knife in the heart; she had seen frightened cattle rolling their eyes as they were carried along a conveyor belt toward their destruction; she had seen sheep electrocuted between the ears in order to render them insensible to slaughter; she had visited ships where Australian sheep were packed three to a square metre to endure the three-week journey to the Middle East; she had seen hens crowded into battery cages, and pigs kept most of their lives behind iron bars.

But now she began to understand the massive hidden killing which was happening all over the world. She had not thought until then about the significance to humanity of this calculated, callous war between two kingdoms of nature, with one the permanent victim and the other the eternal aggressor. The cattle, especially, touched her heart. The whipping, the shouting, the pulling and pushing toward the noise and smell of blood, the moans and grunts of dying, bleeding, shattered, ripped creatures–all this they meekly endured with their great, confused, helpless, staring eyes. If they had fought or argued it might have been easier, but their trust and their misery at human betrayal seemed to render them immobile. They raised no protest, no questioning voice. And they almost seemed to redeem whatever was done to them by their soft meditative eyes that were the gentle eyes of herbivores who had never killed, never warred, never tortured; who had worked and served patiently and unquestioningly under the yoke that galled and marred. They were driven and whipped, always hungry, usually thirsty, always tired.

Yet at the end of all this they were killed, without having been thanked once, without even one touch of love. She wondered if perhaps somewhere in a field, secretly, a peasant farmer had embraced those sweet-smelling necks for one last time. Perhaps once they had been loved, had been thanked, had known compassion. ‘If I could have asked one thing it would have been that someone somewhere had loved them, that my own love could assuage a lifetime of human indifference. I loved them as deeply as it was possible for any person to love. They were my creatures, of me, my beloved animals, my God.’”

In describing her anguish, Christine spoke for all who suffer because of their empathy for animals.

Many of the stories in Christine’s Ark include mention of other people who are prominent in the animal welfare cause. However, some of the most touching tales are about unknowns and poor people whose poignant struggles to save their own animals make Christine’s Ark a story of compassion for people as well as animals. Case after case underscores the bond of interdependence that exists between humans and animals, whose ultimate natural expression is love.

While portions of Christine’s Ark might bring the sensitive reader to tears, most of the stories are inspirational and uplifting and some are quite funny.

Far from accepting retirement, Christine recently emailed, “I know I have more work yet to do of a more demanding nature.” One can only marvel at her spirit, and hope for a sequel to Christine’s Ark.

Originally published in full at Amazon.com, here.

Find more information about Christine’s Ark here.

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FutureBook: How digital stalking can get you published

Posted May 15, 2012 by Joel

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Nathan M Farrugia’s recently released debut novel The Chimera Vector has dropped into a sea of digital content at the centre of a global conversation around the future of reading.

Ebooks are slowly cannibalising print sales. The traditional gatekeepers of book publishing are embroiled in a dispute with the US department of justice. Amazon is dominating digital publishing both with its closed Kindle platform and huge self-publishing push, and the threat of a monopoly (or monopsony) looms. Fear mongering around the death of the paper book, bookstores and book culture is rampant.

Enter Nathan Farrugia, the first debut author to work with Pan Macmillan Australia’s new digital imprint Momentum. Initially planning to self-publish, the ex-Australian Army infantryman describes ‘stalking’ me through the ‘long grasses of Twitter’, recognising the need for professional editing for his content. He happened to catch my attention at a time when I was just about to undertake the Unwin Fellowship in the UK and was helping set up Momentum in Australia. In other words, I was busy.

Although I initially agreed to take on the editing job, it became clear that the book would be perfect for Momentum, even though the imprint hadn’t been announced at that point. The story was exceptionally fast-paced and action-packed and blended genres in a fresh and fun way. What followed was an awkward few weeks in which I had to convince Nathan I was working on his edit when what I was really doing was trying to sign up his book.

Thankfully, when the offer came, Nathan was convinced that an experimental digital-only publishing imprint fit with his ideas about the future of storytelling and digital consumption. From the get-go Nathan wanted to work with a publisher who was willing to experiment with price, territoriality and copyright restrictions. He was adamant that he wanted to sell his book at a low price with no DRM. ‘DRM actually encourages piracy instead of protecting against it,’ he says. Far from being concerned about piracy, we shared the belief that if you sell content that people want at a price they’re willing to pay then piracy becomes a non-issue. It’s refreshing (and rare) to come across authors who are as informed, engaged and enthusiastic as Nathan – but Momentum has attracted its fair share of them so far, and I’m looking forward to finding more.

Although Momentum was only able to sign up the straight-text book of The Chimera Vector, Nathan had far more ambitious plans. They involved launching the ebook along with an app, audio book and graphic novel to encourage accessibility across different types of media.

‘There are enhanced ebooks, there are transmedia products, there are a few book apps with bells and whistles. But nothing cohesive, nothing integrated, nothing truly groundbreaking. Is that really the best we can do?’

Nathan and his agent, Xavier Waterkeyn, started a Kickstarter campaign to fund the planned book app, but despite raising over $US40,000 it fell short of the ambitious $140K goal. Nathan and Xavier are now slowly funding the bells and whistles themselves, working on audio, graphics and wireframing in their spare time.

The ebook of The Chimera Vector has led the way as Momentum’s first debut author, shooting straight into the top ten on Apple’s iBookstore at launch last week and attracting promotion and sales around the world. The ability to launch a debut author with a digital-only book and still stand out from the crowd proves that publishers will still have a role in connecting authors with audiences, in and out of print, for many years to come.

You can buy Nathan M Farrugia’s The Chimera Vector DRM-free from the ebook retailer of your choice here, and it will also be available soon in print-on-demand.

This post was originally published on FutureBook. You can read it again here.

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Harry Potter and the Digital Rights Management

Posted March 28, 2012 by Joel

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So JK Rowling finally made her ebooks available for sale last night. It’s about time. It’s been described as the ‘Beatles moment’ for ebooks. The Beatles moment they’re referring to is when the Beatles finally acquiesced to selling their albums digitally on the iTunes store.

The Potter ebooks are a bigger deal in book publishing circles than the Beatles going on iTunes for a number of reasons. Imagine that instead of making their music available on iTunes, the Beatles had set up their own website and payment system and forced all the retailers to link through their site in order to purchase their content. Imagine, too, that all music being sold at that point by major retailers was sold with restrictive DRM (digital rights management) and the Beatles were the first major brand to sell without it.

JK Rowling and the Pottermore project (led by ex-HarperCollins head of digital Charlie Redmayne) have done something with ebooks that has never been done before. They’ve effectively forced Amazon to list the books without actually selling them directly. That means JK Rowling and co. get all the sales (and I mean all of them – there’s no commission being skimmed off by paying via PayPal or anyone else). They also get all the customer information that Amazon would ordinarily collect. And they’ve done it by making their books available without DRM.

The screenshot above is the only DRM that Pottermore is including on the books sold through the site. It sits on the copyright page, and identifies the user of the ebook. If you were to post up the unaltered version of a Pottermore ebook on a file sharing site (or email it to a friend, who then shared it), you could be identified with this code, and presumably you could be sued or blacklisted from Pottermore if Ms Rowling was so inclined.

This kind of watermarking, also known as ‘social DRM’, doesn’t restrict the user from doing what they want with the file, but it does make the user think twice about sharing (particularly with someone they don’t trust). As far as I can find by opening up the EPUB file this code doesn’t exist anywhere else in the book except for on the copyright page, so it would be relatively easy to remove it (but not much easier, it should be pointed out, than removing normal DRM from an ebook).

The power of this kind of DRM, though, is that it can be applied by anyone, not just a book retailer, and it costs (virtually) nothing to implement. Importantly, it also means that ebook readers of any platform can buy your book and put it on their device without syncing, linking, three different logins or any other issues. It allows sharing among friends and family that you trust, and it passes the Grandma test (my grandma would understand how it works).

Amazon has been forced to list the books to avert serious leakage from their platform. If Amazon had decided not to link and list the Potter ebooks via their site, then Pottermore would have sold them to Kindle customers anyway. And those Kindle customers, who may have never bought an ebook from outside Amazon before would all of a sudden know that it was possible and how to do it. And Amazon doesn’t want that.

This opens up a massive opportunity for publishers to use a brand like JK Rowling to get some more leverage with Amazon. The Pottermore purchasing system may not be the smoothest around, but it works and it’s certainly not beyond publishers or their intermediaries to set up something similar. Publishers have tried to do this before – but they haven’t done it with a brand like Harry Potter.

There’s more than one way to skin a cat, and Pottermore has demonstrated one way that publishers haven’t tried yet. Amazon’s chokehold on the distribution of digital books is not as watertight as it seemed just yesterday morning.

For its part, Momentum is making our very first debut author’s book available without DRM. The Chimera Vector is available for pre-order right now from your retailer of choice for the early bird price of $AU2.99. Go on, you know you want to.

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