For the Week of November 11, 2002
For most of this fall I've been obsessed with the details of bringing my new book, "The Blankenhorn Effect," to market.
As with my three previous efforts, Living on the Internet, The Time Mirror, and Boom, Bust & Beyond, my new book has drawn no interest from mainstream publishers. My work does not fit into any neat category, my writing style is strictly my own, and my 25-year career as a print reporter has not made me famous. I gained a brief spurt of prosperity in the dot-com bubble (mainly from my work warning against it), but the bust didn't spare me. Far from it.
I knew all that as I began work on this book. I was a bit more willing to embrace self-publishing, and a bit more hopeful (from experience) about the outcome. I still have 8,000 readers at I-Strategy, a few thousand at my Moore's Lore blog on Corante, and (of course) y'all. I have a few friends among those accused of wealth and guilty of education, who might be helpful in pushing a product if I had a product to offer.
Best of all, the book wrote itself. This never happened to me before. The draft came out of my PC just a few months after the outline was written.
What I learned on the way to publication (which is now, thankfully, in process and out of my sight) was quite illuminating. I'd like to share some of it with you.
First, marketing in this business doesn't exist. It barely exists in traditional publishing. The computer books I wrote in the 1990s were pre-sold, based on specific computer products, and relationships with specific product vendors. Beyond this, all publishers did was produce a catalog, mail it, and (perhaps) put a copy or two on the shelf at a Barnes & Noble or Powell's. Here it sold based on the popularity of its subject and its series brand, a war the "Dummies" titles eventually won.
The whole intellectual exercise of "breaking" important new authors has been squeezed-out. Beyond "The New Yorker," "The New York Times," and "The New York Review of Books," there are no outlets. For a short time "Salon" and "Slate" had pretensions of replacing these print publications, but that didn't work out.
Most books are sold name-above-the-title. Go to any airport book store and look at the novels - you won't see titles, you'll see names. Is the new Jerry Pournelle out yet? You know what you're getting with Pournelle (or Stephen King, or Anne Rice, or John Grisham.) On the non-fiction side, celebrity sells. If you're on TV, if you're on there regularly, you're a star and your book will move. Charles Moose is much more likely to get a book deal today than I am.
Self-publishing is the only way a mid-list author today can publish the book they want to write.
My first stop was Booksurge , a Charleston, SC company that handled "Living on the Internet." "Living," however, didn't sell at all. Booksurge made a big deal of their link with R.R. Bowker. But when I learned they were really just selling numbers that publishers should be buying (not authors), and that the "services" provided by that link were standard to all publishers - that my purchase of 10 ISBN numbers gave me no marketing advantage whatsoever - I quietly stopped talking with them.
My next stop was Booklocker , in Bangor, Maine. I knew Richard Hoy and his wife Angela from my days with ClickZ. I trusted them. I had heard they were good with PDFs, and since the book was filled with hyperlinks, that was important to me. But after I signed, there were some hard lessons.
To keep costs low, Booklocker has strict formatting requirements. One typeface, one page size, one way of setting up paragraphs. There are extra charges for photos. And the "cover artist" I was offered turned out to be, well, less than an artist - if it couldn't be cut-and-paste out of a book, it couldn't get on the cover. I'm afraid I lost my temper. After keeping the PDF version of the book online for a few weeks, Booklocker fired me before moving toward publishing the print version.
Next up was 1stbooks in Bloomington, Indiana. This company actually makes money. They say their Web resources help authors sell books and make money. They're the recognized market leader. Their rep kept following-up even after I'd signed with Booklocker.
Then I read their contract. The start-up fee was low, just $400, but there were a lot of extras, some of which I considered "gotchas." Their "marketing kit," for $200, consists of some pre-printed business cards and postcards. The more I read it, the more angry and confused I became. I even yelled at my wife in frustration (a sure sign something's wrong, because she's an angel with the patience of Job). I began wondering how much of my money was going into things that might make me money, and how much was going to that rep. I didn't mail the contract back.
Finally I came to Trafford Publishing . I'd written about them as far back as 1995. I had interviewed (and admired) their founder, Bruce Batchelor. Why hadn't I thought of them before? (Maybe because they're Canadian - from Vancouver, BC?)
Anyway, the contract seemed straightforward, their print requirements were flexible (just create a PostScript file by "printing" to a Laserwriter file with the .prn extension). So far, knock on wood.
But I've spent over $1,000, and I'm no closer to making money from this than I was many months ago. Thanks to the World's Best Branding Expert , however, I'm more confident in what I'm offering. My wife (see above) has read, enjoyed, and proofread the copy. There's a lot more work to do (especially marketing work) and I may not get it out in time for Christmas giving, but we'll see.
A revolution is definitely needed in this business. Several revolutions, in fact. Distribution patterns must change, marketing opportunities must open up, and even the medium needs to be replaced (by something digital and Internet-connected). But you can't change the game unless you get into it, take your lumps, and learn from them. I hope to learn what I need to know before I go broke.
SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion)
My book, "The Blankenhorn Effect: How to Put Moore's Law to Work for You," is coming out soon from Trafford Publishing . If you want to talk it up, ask for a free PDF
You can follow the continuing story on my "Moore's Lore" blog . My other books (which will also get new names soon) include "Boom, Bust & Beyond: The Best of Dana Blankenhorn," , "The Time Mirror," and "Living on the Internet" . I still write for Boardwatch , Boardroom , Marketing Profs Thom Reece's eComProfits and BtoB . I still produce I-Strategy for Adventive
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Takes on the News
A Republican With A Clue
For all of you convinced I'm a raging liberal, let me say something nice about a Republican, one I've fiercely criticized here many times.
If Michael Powell "gets" the idea of spectrum-as-an-ocean, as indicated in his recent Colorado speech he might yet turn out to be an important, powerful, and positive leader of the FCC.
The "USA Today" reporter who covered his talk was aghast and Clueless, writing "Powell's vision would let more companies use the USA's fast-dwindling stock of airwaves." In fact, the supply of wireless spectrum isn't fast-dwindling. We're learning more, all the time, about how to use higher-and-higher frequency spectrum. The 5 GHz spectrum space now used by 802.11a didn't "exist" a few decades ago, because the technology to exploit it wasn't there. Obviously this reporter hasn't heard of Ultra Wideband, which can re-use all frequencies by transmitting below the "noise floor." And there are GHz and GHz whose use is just becoming possible - "fast-dwindling"?
We'll know a lot more about what's coming when the FCC's spectrum task force releases its report, perhaps within a week or two. That would be followed by new rule-making over the next year. If Powell can pull a majority of commissioners behind a plan that changes the agency's role from that of a licensor to a judicial authority, it would be a massive win for U.S. technology. In the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king. Compare Powell's speech to Europe's stupidity and you see what I mean.
Barry Diller is Clueless
I've said it before, I'm saying it again. Barry Diller is not an Internet genius. He's not even Internet-savvy. He's an old-style media mogul who plays an insider's game where reputation is everything, and results something else again.
Take a look at this , the financial results for his online unit. He's losing money, just like everyone else, and with assets like Expedia and Ticketmaster that should be easy winners. For the three months ended September 30 USA Networks reported a net loss of $36.6 million, or 8 cents a share, in contrast to net income of 450.9 million, or 59 cents a share in the third quarter of 2001.
Still thinks he's a genius?
Net War Coming
Over the next two years the Internet will become a primary forum for international conflict.
I don't say this because of anything our "enemies" are doing. They're not a big problem. Them we can stop. I'm more worried about our friends .
When the Internet is used to systematically harass, demean and destroy one's political enemies, all the gloves come off. Any Muslim with an ounce of technical sense who reads the link above will be motivated to become a cyber-Al Qaeda, happy to do anything they can (within their limited knowledge and technical ability) for the cause.
This is true for any and every cause. By making ICANN an arm of the U.S. government (and just as unelected) the Bush Administration has pushed country code operators into divorcing themselves from any central authority. The rules under which the Internet operates will be those of the country code you're operating from, which means lots of hackers are going to gain government protection very soon.
It's a war that didn't have to happen, but it will anyway.
Clued-in is Vivato , which last week demonstrated a new base station antenna that an cover a five-story building while transmitting less power than most consumer base stations. (The secret's in the antenna. )
Clueless is the attack launched by Sun chairman Scott McNealy against bearish analysts . Penguins need to be led, not hectored. You lead by surprising people with new products and earnings momentum. Get back to work and stop blaming the messenger.
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