Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Will E-Readers and Tablets Change the Publishing System?

A couple days ago, my colleague at PC Mag, Tim Bajarin, wrote a column about how tablets and e-books could change the way writers publish. In the piece, he stated that writers could get a bigger cut of their book profits by selling them directly to readers through an online retailer. He writes:

"Creative writers could easily bypass a publisher completely, in much the same manner as an independent developer, keeping the lion's share of the profits. The royalty on an e-book sold through a publisher is currently around 20-percent, while developers get 70-percent from downloads sold through app stores."

Bajarin goes on to say that because of the multimedia capabilities of e-book readers, authors could integrate elements such as photography, audio, and video into their books to enhance the experience.

As far as the direct-to-consumer model goes for authors, I feel we still need publishing companies (or at least a marketing company) to do the promotion. This can include working with bookstores for readings and in-store signings, booking appearances on radio and TV, and generally organizing a book tour. Putting such tasks on the author can be not only burdensome but completely unsuccessful. Publicists and PR people already have the connections, and it would be hard for individual writers to have their calls returned by Barnes & Noble execs. It is hard enough for emerging literary writers to be noticed over the din of the genre bestsellers, not to mention trying to get readers to find and buy your book on the Web.

Multimedia capabilities are definitely a cool idea, but will they enhance the reading experience? Many of us turn to books as a linear escape from the multimedia chaos of Web sites. Will writers use bells and whistles to compensate for lousy writing?

What do you think? Submit your comments.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Writing to Music

Music is a vital part of my life. Although I've never been in a band or played an instrument (besides doodling on the harmonica), I've always been surrounded by musicians. And I get every penny's worth of my Rhapsody subscription by consistently checking out new releases. I even participate in the penultimate annual music dork celebration called Burning Man (not the festival in the Southwest). Each year I get together with about 6 friends (a few of them musicians) and we burn each other CDs of our favorite albums of the year. There is even a presentation portion in which participants make their case for including an album on their best of list.

I do most of my work to music, including writing. The writers I've spoken to about this are divided on the issue. Some find it distracting while others find it inspirational. For those like me whose jobs entail sitting at a desk in front of a computer all day, the right music can make your writing time feel more like unwind time and less like a second job. There are a couple of things I've learned about writing to music to avoid distraction and maximize productivity.

  1. Try instrumental or ambient music. Lyrics can be distracting to those trying to compose words into sentences. If you don't like classical or jazz, try an indie band with the right atmospheric feel, like, say Sigur Ros, God Speed You Black Emperor, Tracker, Mogwai, and so on.
  2. Try music you know well. If you want to listen to music with lyrics, try playing songs you know so well you barely notice the words. My choice here is Neil Young.
  3. Find music that matches the tone of the piece. If you're writing a fight scene, try some heavy metal or punk. Or you can play down-tempo songs for more somber moments in your piece.
  4. Create a giant writing playlist. Switching from album to album and perusing your collection for the next group of songs for your writing session is an easy way to get distracted. Have a go-to playlist you can play quickly to get yourself started. Put it on random if you want to mix it up.
  5. Explore new artists. In your down time, use Pandora, Slacker, Last.FM, Rhapsody, or another music-discovery service to find new, inspiring bands and artists.
So for what it's worth, here are my top 10 albums for writers.

  1. Sparklehorse - "It's a Wonderful Life"
  2. Neil Young - "Decade"
  3. Portugal, The Man - "It's Complicated Being a Wizard"
  4. John Coltrane - "A Love Supreme"
  5. Pink Floyd - "Animals"
  6. Midlake - "The Trials of Van Occupanther"
  7. Bon Iver - "For Emma, Forever"
  8. Iron & Wine - "The Shepherd's Dog"
  9. Alaska in Winter - "Dance Party in the Balkans"
  10. Pretty much anything by Angelo Badalmenti, Bernard Herrmann, or Thomas Newman