Guy LeCharles Gonzalez's Blog:, page 3

May 13, 2013



Fifteen years ago, I founded a little reading series at Bar 13 called “a little bit louder,” and after 4 years, turned it over to a group of close friends and fellow poets, including Lynne Procope, one of my best friends, mentors, co-founders, and all around wonderful person. The series, renamed louderARTS several years back, is still going strong every Monday night, but prior to last Monday, it had been a looooong time since I’d been back, and even longer since it felt like home.

A series of semi-related events found me back there last week, and for the first time since that initial four-year run, it actually felt like home again, from the start of the show, to my getting on stage to read a new poem, all the way to end of the night a couple blocks away at Reservoir, deep in debate with a passionate group of poets, including my other co-founder, Roger Bonair-Agard, on his last Monday before heading back to Chicago for a stretch.

[View the story "Prodigal Son" on Storify]

I’ve noted often in the past that most of what I preach and practice when it comes to marketing and community-building, I learned during those four years of Mondays, and by the end of the night last Monday, I realized how big a hole I’d created when I walked away from that part of my life.

So, I’m back.

What that means exactly beyond being there as often as possible — in mind, body, and spirit — is still to be determined, but that’s a starting point. Along with a commitment to writing again. Not blogging, not tweeting, but old-fashioned pen-to-paper (or fingers to keyboard/touchscreen) writing.

Poems, in particular, a form that I’ve often discounted as having been an important but passing fancy, but have realized of late is the one that offers me the most satisfaction.

I’m particularly looking forward to tonight’s show, their SLAM FINALS, always an energetic night, but especially intriguing for me as I’ve only heard one of the poets competing (and only a few times), while the rest are complete strangers to me. That was always one of the most appealing aspects of the slam: new voices taking you on unexpected journeys.

If you’re in the NYC area, join us tonight!

And if not tonight, you’ll find me there pretty much every Monday from now on.

Because you can go home again, and I’m thrilled to return.

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez

Old/new media pragmatist; works in publishing, plays the field. Sometimes loud, sometimes poet, always opinionated. Beer, bourbon, NOLA. As in guillotine.

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Published on May 13, 2013 07:08 • 56 views

May 3, 2013

toc2009I “attended” my first Tools of Change (TOC) conference in 2009 via Twitter, and it wouldn’t be exaggerating much to say it was a turning point in my career.

Prior to that week, I’d recently been promoted to Publisher & Editorial Director for Horticulture (after a significant reorganization that brought F+W Media’s Books and Magazines units together under single-branded communities); passive-aggressively blogging my thoughts and frustrations about the industry here; and struggling to find anyone on the magazine side using Twitter in an interesting way.

That week, Twitter arguably became the most significant personal tool of change in my career since I taught myself QuickFill back in ’93 and pushed my way out of a temp position into my first full-time job in publishing as a Circulation Assistant. While I was unable to find many people on the magazine side using the fledgling new shiny, book people were all over it and loving it. One follow led to another led to a hashtag led to conversations led to my “attending” TOC virtually, and the experience was so immersive, to this day, some people swear we met there in person that year.

I wrote two blog posts that week based on the conference (“Building Communities Around Content” and “Three Tips for Curating the Community“), and quickly discovered the magic of Twitter as a traffic driver when the first was retweeted by @TOC itself. More importantly, though, I connected with dozens of people I’d have never met otherwise, quite a few of whom would go on to play critical roles in what happened to me over the next 11 months, as I would end up becoming the “Chief Executive Optimist” of F+W’s newest community, and TOC’s newest competitor, Digital Book World:

With a two-day event, though, time is limited.

Fortunately, there are 363 more days in the year to work with.

The publishing community is large, diverse, and extremely passionate, and coming out of this conference, I’m excited to announce that, not only will we be gathering back at the Sheraton New York next year (January 25-26, 2011), we will also be producing a number of events, online and in-person, that focus on implementing the strategies that were put forward at the conference.

From digital workflow to marketing tactics to career resources, Digital Book World will offer programming that addresses the needs of the entire publishing community, from publishers and agents, to booksellers, librarians and authors.

People are reading more than ever, and that’s not a threat to publishers, it’s an opportunity.

Since then, TOC evolved, its tone becoming less antagonistic, more practical and cognizant of the diversity of the industry that makes the digital shift more challenging for some than others. DBW, too, has evolved, as has the publishing industry itself.

Yesterday’s announcement that O’Reilly is retiring TOC came as a bit of a surprise at first, but in retrospect, it makes sense. Its focus on tools was a strength in the early days of the digital transition, but as the new shiny wore off, self-proclaimed “disruptors” faded away quietly, and viable business models came to light, it became clear that the tools of change that counted most were the people in the trenches, not the provocative pundits with plenty of ideas and little or no skin in the game.

One could argue that they could have pivoted (and I’d argue that they actually did over the past three years), but Tim O’Reilly’s purposeful reference to TOC’s origination suggests he believes it has accomplished its mission and there’s no reason to linger: “Our goal is to bring together people who are pushing the boundaries of publishing and those who want to learn from them, and to provide a table of contents (TOC), so to speak, on what modern publishers need to know.”

UPDATE: Tim O’Reilly elaborated a bit more on Twitter, in a conversation with LibraryThing’s Tim Spalding.

“What I said, plus opportunity cost. Expensive in NY, not very profitable; not enough resource to do everything we want.” [link]

“But I’m also very deeply involved in the ebook stuff at O’Reilly. TOC shutdown is a shift of resources, not of interest” [link]

TOC did what it set out to do, and, credit where due, it did a damn good job.

Conferences come and go, but smart people will always find ways to connect, share resources, and move forward.

Kudos and best wishes to everyone involved in putting the Tools of Change conference and related resources together over the years, particularly those I had the pleasure of working with directly (and, at times, competing against): Kat Meyer, Jenn Webb and Sharon Cordesse.

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez

Old/new media pragmatist; works in publishing, plays the field. Sometimes loud, sometimes poet, always opinionated. Beer, bourbon, NOLA. As in guillotine.

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Published on May 03, 2013 07:24 • 62 views

April 20, 2013

Story Chairs

I was honored a while back when Tina Hoggatt invited me to participate in her intriguing Story Chairs project, and I’m thrilled to have two poems included in the installation:

Story Chairs, a project of artist and writer Tina Hoggatt, is an audio installation featuring the work of 32 writers, musicians and readers. Two chairs feature over an hour of audio each. As the listener sits, audio plays over speakers concealed in the chair cushions. When the listener stands the audio stops, progressing to the next selection as the  chair is sat in again…

The installation, in the newly remodeled lobby of Jack Straw, 4261 Roosevelt Way NE, Seattle 98105, will  be installed for several months.

If you aren’t in the Seattle area, you can listen to the audio at her website instead, and enjoy an eclectic mix of work. My two poems are Breathless, a live recording from my old stomping grounds back in 2003, and Handmade Memories, the titular poem from my e-chapbook, as read by Raymond Ussery.

Put A Poem In Your Pocket

I’d never paid much attention to Poem in Your Pocket Day in the past, but this year, it not only invaded my Twitter feed, it made its way into the day job, too, where I was given two new-to-me poems, both of which were inspiring reads.

One was by John Ashbery, an untitled poem that’s permanently (and creatively) “installed” as part of the Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge in Minneapolis. The other was Kenneth Koch’s excellent One Train May Hide Another, which has been wandering around my brain ever since I read it.

One injustice may hide another–one colonial may hide another,

One blaring red uniform another, and another, a whole column. One bath may hide another bath

As when, after bathing, one walks out into the rain.

One idea may hide another: Life is simple

Hide Life is incredibly complex, as in the prose of Gertrude Stein

One sentence hides another and is another as well.

That passage pretty much describes the past week.

I shared one of my favorites by Willie Perdomo, A Poem for a Woman Named Rose, one of only a handful of poems I was fortunate enough to have published, in print, AND PAID THE POETS FOR while I was publisher of Horticulture Magazine back in 2008-2009. Their website does an awful job of presenting it, though, so along with the link above, I’m also going to re-post it here:

It’s hard

to write a poem

for a woman

named after a flower,

a plant, a tree, a season.

You feel like whatever you write

has to be beautiful,

smell good

drink sun that

you need to be gentle

when you touch it

see it shake, dance

when you talk to it &

wherever you place it,

everything around it

looks better

Oh, Fickle Muse…

It’s been years since I’ve written a new poem, and even more years since doing so was a regular and pleasurable activity. At some point between 2003 and 2005, the drama of the slam scene combined with my not having anything new to say (in verse, at least), and my relationship with poetry faded to to chance encounters and missed connections.

Every now and then I get a spark, a flare of inspiration, and think I might feel a poem coming on, but it usually fades as quickly as it arrived, and I carry on.

Perhaps it’s just the drama this week offered — from the tragic and inspiring events in Boston, to some big things finally starting to shake loose at the day job — combining with the unexpected introduction to a couple of good poems, but I’m getting that feeling again, a tentative spark that danced unusually bright in my brain throughout my run this morning.

It wasn’t a full-fledged poem, just the beginnings of one, words and ideas tap-dancing to a vaguely familiar beat, a lucid dream that lasted for a couple of miles before threatening to fade if I didn’t write them down. So I did, cheating my cooldown and stretch to get to the computer as fast as I could.

Will it lead anywhere this time? Who knows.

But far more than previous times, I feel like I’m open to the possibility in a way I haven’t been in ages.

Go with what is. Use what happens.

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez

Old/new media pragmatist; works in publishing, plays the field. Sometimes loud, sometimes poet, always opinionated. Beer, bourbon, NOLA. As in guillotine.

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Published on April 20, 2013 12:20 • 45 views

April 16, 2013


I started running again last February, training for my first Tough Mudder, which I’d crazily signed up for on a lark, as a motivator to get off my ass and get back into shape before age and gravity got the upper hand.

It started off rather sadly, run-jog-walking up to two miles for the first few weeks, combined with cardio workouts, as I re-established my body’s tolerance for sustained exercise. At that point, that’s all it was; exercise, and it mostly sucked. There wasn’t anything pleasurable about it, and only the fear of not completing the course, or worse, getting injured on it, kept me going.

I didn’t consider myself a runner yet, and didn’t have any ideas about what might come after doing that first Tough Mudder, but I stuck with my routine, and kept running, and at some point it stopped being exercise and started being a pleasure. Getting up at 5:30am for a run stopped being something I dreaded the night before, and instead became my preferred way to start the day.

And then, I actually did that first Tough Mudder, run-jogging most of it, walk-limping the last mile or two, and was amazed at how far I could push myself after only 10 weeks of preparation. But more importantly, I was impressed by the camaraderie the event inspired amongst its participants, most of whom didn’t view it as a race, but more like a community gathering.

In that moment, exhausted and freezing, I became a runner. Or, more correctly, I became comfortable considering myself a runner.

…marathon running is a sport of goodwill. It’s the only sport in the world where if a competitor falls, the others around will pick him or her up. It’s the only sport in the world open to absolutely everyone, regardless of gender, age, ethnicity or any other division you can think of. It’s the only occasion when thousands of people assemble, often in a major city, for a reason that is totally peaceful, healthy and well-meaning. It’s the only sport in the world where no one ever boos anybody.

-Roger Robinson, “Boston Bombings: A Loss of Innocence”

When I initially heard the news about the bombings at the finish line, I’d never felt more connected to the larger running community in my life. I’ve never run a marathon, have never viewed more than a few seconds of one on TV, and don’t have any plans to push myself beyond the half-marathon I’ll be doing for the first time in October, but I’ve experienced that sense of community Robinson describes a few times over the past year in other runs.

The feeling of running across the finish line, whether it’s a one-mile walk for charity or a local 10k, an Olympic sprint or the Boston Marathon, is supposed to be a special one. It’s personal accomplishment mixed with exuberant community connection; an emotional high laced with varying degrees of physical exhaustion.

It’s not ever supposed to be a moment where death might lash out randomly. Where cowards make political statements. Where fear and suspicion take root.

And yet…

There will be more marathons and more Red Sox games and more cowbell-ringing for the runners, and the sun will shine on the finish line again. But always, and rightly, we’ll remember the dead, the injured, in the *place where it happened*, which we’ll talk about in whispered tones. We’ll be forced to think about hatred, evil, lunacy, or whatever brings a person to do something like this, and not just the magic of reaching goals worth fighting for and of taking in a morning at a green ballpark or being part of the effervescence of a supportive, happy crowd.

-Ania Wieckowski, “In the Wake of the Boston Marathon”

As news coverage went into overdrive yesterday, I worried about how my kids might respond to what happened; if they’d make a connection to my own running and become concerned about something like this happening at a race I might be in some day. One they might be waiting for me at the finish line, cheering me on.

Or, might choose to avoid altogether.

This morning, I went for an early run, purposefully managing my route and pace to clock in at 26:11, a simple attempt to honor those who didn’t get to cross that line at the 26.2 mark. I wore my blue Tough Mudder t-shirt and my blue Road ID bracelet to work, as another simple expression of… support? Defiance?

I don’t really know, but in the absence of being able to do anything tangible, they felt like something.

#bbpBox_323999530947317761 a { text-decoration:none; color:#0900FF; }#bbpBox_323999530947317761 a:hover { text-decoration:underline; }I wonder if, at mile 26 of future marathons, runners should celebrate peace. Don't know what, but something: a new ritual.April 15, 2013 11:21 pm via Twitter for iPhone Reply Retweet Favorite Alexis C. Madrigal

I like Madrigal’s idea, and would love to see it extended to half-marathons, too, so non-marathoners like me can participate in a similar ritual. It would be especially fitting to have Runners World make it a part of their Half & Festival in October, not simply because that’s the one I’m running, but as one of the premier representatives of the running community, they’d be setting a great example for all.

And much like those first responders did in Boston yesterday, and continue to do every time a tragedy like this occurs, we need as many great examples of the human spirit in action as we can get nowadays.

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez

Old/new media pragmatist; works in publishing, plays the field. Sometimes loud, sometimes poet, always opinionated. Beer, bourbon, NOLA. As in guillotine.

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Published on April 16, 2013 13:05 • 56 views

April 14, 2013

BioShock Infinite Blew My Mind

Games are still in a place where you can say, “Oh, a sneaker! Cool.”

Ken Levine


That was my whispered, slack-jawed reaction to the final 30 minutes of BioShock Infinite, arguably the most compelling video game experience I’ve ever had, going all the way back to my days of stealing copies of USA Today from sidewalk boxes to sell them for quarters I’d pour into games of Space Invaders, Asteroids, Donkey Kong, etc. Back then, it was pure adrenalin, with no thought to immersive storyworlds, ludonarrative dissonance, or any of the other crazy shit that goes with gaming nowadays.

BioShock Infinite is not a “perfect” game by any stretch of the definition, and since finishing it last week, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading everything I can find about it, including some of the more measured, less-than-fawning reviews that haven’t been afraid to point out its flaws while still acknowledging it’s a game worth playing.

To borrow a phrase from Grace Jones, it might not be perfect, but it’s perfect for me.

What follows isn’t really a review of the game, as much as an untangling of some of my thoughts about the overall experience. I’m going to avoid any outright spoilers, but if you haven’t finished it yet and you’re the least bit sensitive about that sort of thing (and assuming you didn’t just end up here via Google), bookmark this post and come back after you’re finished because more than any game I’ve ever played, I want to talk about it with people.

And, on that note, let’s assume the comments section can/will be full of spoilers.

Will the circle be unbroken

By and by, by and by?

As the credits rolled at the end of the game, I eyeballed the various departments listed, impressed at the massive undertaking, and noted the relatively small marketing team with a bit of surprise. More than anything, the main reason I was able to get to that point was the strength of an impressive marketing campaign that not only sold me on the game itself, but on the BioShock brand overall.

By the time you get to the store, or see an ad, the BioShock fan knows about the game. The money we’re spending on PR, the conversations with games journalists — that’s for the fans. For the people who aren’t informed, that’s who the box art is for.

Ken Levine

From my not-quite-casual, not-quite-hardcore gamer’s perspective, and especially as someone who isn’t a fan of the first-person-shooter genre, the marketing for BioShock Infinite was absolutely stellar, and I ended up reserving my copy a couple of weeks ahead of its release, convinced it was going to be something special and live up to its hype. I even ended up buying the Season Pass on the first day, partly for the day one bonuses, but mainly because, at that point, I was all in.

Rumors claim the game cost more than $200 million to produce and market, with approximately half of that dedicated to marketing, and while obliquely denied, it’s undeniable that a lot of thought, effort, and money was put behind its launch, and I suspect the final tally for the game will suggest that whatever the amount was, it was well spent.

Even the “no duh” release of the “Ultimate Rapture” edition combining Infinite’s predecessors was smart, because while the original BioShock is widely considered one of the greatest video games ever, not everyone has played it. I was one of those people, finally buying an Xbox 360 over the most recent Christmas holiday (sorry, Wii U, but my kids have grown up and my wife’s not interested anymore), and the more I learned about BioShock, the more I was sucked into its Levine’s world, so I bought it and started playing it ahead of Infinite’s release, and was completely and totally hooked.

From the various teaser videos that only hinted at what was to come, including as immersive a soundtrack as any movie has ever had, to creative director Ken Levine’s various media savvy interviews, its underlying promise was clear: you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

The “Beast of America” trailer does what Hollywood dreams of, giving a compelling taste of the story and action, but leaving out so many details that by the time you get to the end of the game, you’ve been taken on a journey that far exceeds what you thought was promised. Even if you don’t want to play it, you want to know what it’s about and how it ends. Plus, I had that song stuck in my head for weeks, until it was ultimately replaced by the one that’s haunted me for days since I finished, even now savoring the entire experience like an especially satisfying meal accompanied by good whiskey and provocative conversation.

Is a better home awaiting

In the sky, in the sky?

You might guess the “ending” of the story, but I wholeheartedly believe the whole of BioShock Infinite is an experience that fully embodies the old cliche: It’s about the journey, not the destination. As a result, I’d also argue that, unless you’re looking for a mindless shooter (in which case, you’ve not been paying attention), it’s actually difficult to “spoil” the ending.

I would rather try something and not hit it 1,000 percent than do what the other guy is doing and hit it on the mark… as the president of Irrational, I think that’s probably easier for me to say, because I’m the one who decides what stays and what gets thrown away. But I certainly throw away my own stuff with abandon. If it’s not right, it goes. It’s not without cost, but I find that the people who are the most experienced at Irrational tend to be the most comfortable with throwing stuff away.

Ken Levine

In my years of blogging about comics and other nerd obsessions (yes, I include publishing in that group), I’m pretty sure I’ve never used the phrase “nerd crush.” In fact, I kind of loathe it and its many variations, and yet, I’m going to use it here: I officially have a total nerd crush on Ken Levine.

I haven’t been this taken by anyone’s creative ambition since my pre-Internet discoveries of Stephen King and Ian Fleming, when I scoured the library for everything I could learn about them. I’ve been thoroughly impressed by the many interviews I’ve read with him, particularly those that have delved into his creative process, but especially by the singular experience he’s delivered in BioShock Infinite.

In a lot of ways, the flaws in the game make it even more compelling, as they demonstrate where Levine and his team pushed against the constraints of the first person shooter framework to deliver something more compelling, more accessible, and ultimately, more personal.

If you take the time to engage with the story rather than just barreling through to the end, guns and vigors blazing, and actually explore Columbia’s nooks and crannies, seek out as many of the voxophones as you can find (I dug up an extremely satisfying 73 of the 80), and pause now and then to note how your companion interacts with the world around you, the conclusion of the journey will be most rewarding.

And even then, you’ll likely find yourself realizing there was plenty that you missed; that some of those sneakers weren’t just there because they were cool, and there’s additional layers to uncover.

Scenes you didn’t fully grasp, or music you missed.

A different strategy with weapons and vigors you want to try out.

Sections of Columbia’s Sky-Line you didn’t fully leverage.

You might even find yourself compelled to dig deeper, inside (DLC? Yes, please!) and outside of the game, tweeting about it like crazy and realizing there are other gamers like you in your circles. Writing long-ass blog posts because it’s all so heavy on your mind, like a lingering dream you don’t want to end yet, that you can’t even begin to think about playing anything else.

Or, maybe that’s just me?

If you’ve played it, let me know what you think, and what you’re planning to play next.

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez

Old/new media pragmatist; works in publishing, plays the field. Sometimes loud, sometimes poet, always opinionated. Beer, bourbon, NOLA. As in guillotine.

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Published on April 14, 2013 14:10 • 48 views

February 11, 2013

share save 120 16 Discovery is Publishers Problem; Readers are Doing Just Fine

book2camp 2013 Discovery is Publishers Problem; Readers are Doing Just Fine

“We’re now seeing the transition we’ve been expecting. After five years, ebooks is a multi-billion dollar category for us and growing fast — up approximately 70 percent last year. In contrast, our physical book sales experienced the lowest December growth rate in our 17 years as a book seller, up just 5 percent.”

Jeff Bezos, via GigaOm

The book publishing conference season is in full swing and “discovery” is the buzzword du jour, driven by the curious notion that, with the decline of physical bookstores, readers supposedly can’t easily find books online. There’s even new research that claims “frequent book buyers visit sites like Pinterest and Goodreads regularly, but those visits fail to drive actual book purchases.”

Unfortunately, in the spirit of “lies, damned lies, and statistics,” that research is skewed partly by its authors’ underlying agenda (“Physical retail works if you protect it.”), but more importantly, by its flawed methodology, specifically its dependence on what’s known as last-click attribution, wherein the final interaction that led to a sale is given 100% credit for the conversion, ignoring the realities of multiple touchpoints and myriad potential influencers.

The problem is that this assumes that people are waaaay less complicated than they really are. Very few people buy anything after one brand interaction. We’re comparison shoppers. We want the best deals. I don’t buy anything until I’m sure I’ve found the best item at the best price.

–”The Death of Last Click Attribution,” Kimm Lincoln

Never mind the folly of dismissing Goodreads, a social network dedicated to books with 13m+ members and steadily growing, or even Pinterest, where Random House has inexplicably attracted 1.5m followers, but the very idea that “something is really, chronically missing in online retail discovery” is arguably contradicted by Amazon’s 2012 results, suggesting that “online retail discovery” isn’t really a problem for readers.

It’s a problem for publishers.


Metadata is important. Few would argue otherwise.

But it’s a foundational piece of the puzzle, like saying “publish good books.” If we can’t get these basic steps right, then game over, turn off the lights, go home, and let the algorithms have at it.

Publishers will never beat Amazon at SEO. Hell, B&N can barely keep up with them, though I’ve noticed Goodreads is often in the top 5 results in my own searches. Where publishers might have a shot is in narrow niches that are typically ignored because they don’t generate bestsellers, but they’re more likely to lose out to their own authors and organic interest communities anyway, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Meanwhile, every eager startup with some bootstrap funding and an angle on getting books indexed by Google that suggests otherwise are either lying to themselves, or are lying to the publishers they’re attempting to “partner” with as they position themselves for acquisition.

At Book^2 Camp yesterday, I asked point blank what happens when all publishers have the ideal metadata and all of their books are indexed by Google? The answer was, effectively, nothing. The playing field is once again leveled (though Amazon and Google will still live at the top of hill), and the underlying problem, an ever-increasing glut of content, will remain unaddressed.


“Fewer, better books.”

At some point in every conference, often more than once, somebody says it, we all nod in agreement, and yet, the output from “traditional” publishers continues to grow, or at least remain steady, each year. In the final years of the “bigger is better” era, investors demand it, budgets quantify it, and the bad decisions continue to pile up.

One of the first articles I published back when I was running Digital Book World was written by F+W Media’s CEO, David Nussbaum, wherein he explicitly made the bold claim himself: “Produce fewer, but better books.

Not surprisingly, he caught a lot of flak for that post because his proposed solution, “eliminate the mid-list,” seemed rather draconian, and while he clarified in the comments that what he meant was “middling product,” I think many would argue that publishers have mostly leaned in the direction of his original wording.

More Snooki, less mid-list, and the ice gets thinner and thinner.


One of my biggest frustrations with publishing conferences is the preference for harping on what publishers are supposedly not doing, instead of spotlighting those who are doing plenty, and doing it successfully.

Some forward thinking publishers (OspreySourcebooksConstable & RobinsonF+W Media and the like) have already begun to segment their lists into easily definable verticals. The next stage is to target the consumers who inhabit those verticals and to do that they will need to have strategies in place to leverage the market intelligence derived from ‘big data’ by using modern marketing techniques such as SEO and social media management.

–”Vertical Publishing. Take it to the people.“ Chris McVeigh

Of course, “verticalization” gets thrown around like some kind of unicorn, too, and while I’ve noted in the past that there are plenty of pitfalls along that path, at least it’s a viable path, with plenty of success stories, and is far less reliant on the hit-or-miss, gamble-by-committee, no accountability approach that seemingly drives a lot of acquisition decisions these days. At least in the big houses.

The publishers who have a direct relationship with their readers — not necessarily via direct sales, but via direct engagement — are the ones who will not simply survive the “digital shift,” but will thrive, being less prone to the whims of Amazon, Apple, Google, or whomever the next big tech player might be. Readers won’t have any trouble discovering their books, old or new, nor will they have any obstacles to spreading the word to their friends about those books.

Publishers lacking that relationship are the one’s with a discovery problem, and the clock is ticking…

 Discovery is Publishers Problem; Readers are Doing Just Fine

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez

Old/new media pragmatist; works in publishing, plays the field. Sometimes loud, sometimes poet, always opinionated. Beer, bourbon, NOLA. As in guillotine.

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Published on February 11, 2013 08:04 • 29 views

December 17, 2012

 6Qs: Tobias Buckell, Traversing Publishings Diverse Fantastic

“It was a roller coaster, and it was more work than I expected. But at the end of it, I have another book, one that in a prior age might never have been written.”

One of the good (and bad) things about social media is that it has changed the paradigm for author-reader interactions, moving beyond the controlled conversation space of blogs into a free-for-all cocktail party. Some authors took to it immediately, some reluctantly, some avoid it completely, while others SHOULD probably avoid it. (*sideeyes Bret Easton Ellis*) For those who “get” it, it’s become an integral channel, not simply for marketing themselves and/or their books, but for truly engaging with readers and far-flung colleagues. In many cases, it’s resulted in gaining new readers, establishing new working relationships, and even developing IRL friendships.

I first “met” Tobias Buckell, bestselling author of the Xenowealth Trilogy (one of my personal faves) and The Cole Protocol (set in the hugely popular Halo universe), after reading Crystal Rain two years ago, and tweeting about how much I loved it. Over time, I read and enjoyed more of his work, we became Twitter friends, and even met in person at last year’s Book ^2 Camp in New York City. When he launched a Kickstarter earlier this year to fund the fourth book in his Xenowealth Trilogy, The Apocalypse Ocean, I jumped right in and am looking forward to receiving my limited edition hardcover any day now.

Suffice to say, I’m a fan of his — as a writer, a professional, and as a person — and doing this interview with him was a personal thrill. I’m betting you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

GLG: I first read Crystal Rain based on a recommendation from our now mutual friend, Pablo Defendini, in response to my looking for good sci-fi/fantasy with non-Eurocentric mythologies and characters. You were on a pretty short list of names that were thrown at me by a variety of people, and I feel like if I asked the same question today, that list would probably include Octavia Butler and maybe 4-5 others. Is the market for sci-fi/fantasy really as Eurocentric as publishers seem to think it is, or am I just not looking in the right places?

Tobias Buckell: I mean, just plain demographics in the US has changed so much in the last twenty years, and I think some people are still running on a paradigm that’s a little out of date: that people who like genre work are older, white males. This might make sense if all you constantly interact with a certain, greying, core genre audience that is often the main current at US SF conventions. But I think it ignores the fact that under 35, the demographics of the US are different. And not a lot of the under-35 crowd are showing up at conventions, so they’re sort of a silent readership. At least, in the days before the internet. It’s a more diverse youth this country has, and it’s diversifying further.

And yes, there is a sort of conservatism within the core readership. I get an email, once a quarter or so, ever since 2006, from someone, that usually goes something like ‘it’s a shame you keep falling for the whole political correctness thing and insisting on writing about characters who are minorities. If you were to stop doing that, you’d sell a lot of books and be a better writer.’ Or worse. And that’s disheartening to hear from the core readership, the people that you had hoped would be your tribe because when you grew up you read all your favorite authors talking about how inclusive, and smart, and awesome core fandom was. So that *is* there. Junot Diaz recently talked about how, he found it weird that the same people who’re happy to read orcish and elvish languages while in a Tolkien book could get so bent out of shape about him having Spanish in his books. And I feel pretty similarly puzzled about the rage I get in some mail about the fact I have some Caribbean patois in my books.

And because of people like the above, who make their views known, there is also a form of thinking about the market that assumes diverse people read diverse stuff, and white people read white stuff. The segregation of the fantastic, so to speak. It’s an assumption that seeps in everywhere and that has bedeviled me in some ways. Because publishers know that the above paragraph happens, and they look at the bottom line (they are businesses), they often become part of the larger system pre-rejecting books because they’re worried those reactions above will hurt sales.

Crystal Rain 6Qs: Tobias Buckell, Traversing Publishings Diverse FantasticYet, and this is what heartens me, most of my readership is white and happily reading about diverse characters. And no less awesome for it. They’re perfectly happy to read about Pepper kicking ass in orbit, even though he’s brown and has dreadlocks. Readers read across all sorts of boundaries, and I think it does a disservice to them to focus on the negative, to accidentally segregate literature out of the fear of offending a core group of loud, graying angry people.

That being said, it still has to be acknowledged that it’s out there all over the place (and not just by white structures). For example, for my first few books, I had a database of places to send my books for reviews. Places above and beyond all the usual high visibility genre outlets. Magazines or places that wanted to find bi-racial or diverse voices. With hope and excitement I, time and time again, sent out review copies. Most times it was crickets. Fair enough. Other times… I got back mail that basically said ‘our readers don’t read this white fanboy stuff.’ Which is just… well, sigh. Way to buy into the same myth. Did you all see how excited Samuel L. Jackson was to be in Star Wars? C’mon.

And lastly, to shift this up, I’m also not playing a US-only game. I’m trying to create a world-wide readership. I think modern-day writers need to think beyond their borders.

Two summers ago I was in Barbados, at an event called AnimeKon Expo. It’s like a smaller Comic Con for the south Caribbean, with people from Trinidad, St. Vincent, and Grenada attending. I think it was several thousand strong? Which is cool considering that Barbados has a population, I think, of about 300,000 or so. So anyway, on a hunch, I took two whole suitcases full of books down with me. Hardcovers I’d purchased when previous novels had gone out of print.

I sold *every single one* and had to turn people away. It was epic. I’ve never had so many people lining up for me. One of the big things they were telling me was that local bookstores wouldn’t carry much SF, and that they all had to ship from Amazon to get physical copies (despite high shipping fees). They have to work for it, man, and yet they’re there!

Is there a market?

Hell yes.

And we’re not doing a great job of finding it, I think.

Your bio notes that you’re “a bi-racial Caribbean boy who’s ‘light but not quite white’ and long-proud in his Caribbean roots.” How has being “light but not quite white” influenced your writing, and external perceptions of it? Have you found yourself and/or your novels placed in ethnic sub-categories of traditional sf/f?

Tobias Buckell: It’s hard to analyze yourself entirely. But one thing I try to do is bring more diversity to my characters. And another is that a sort of ‘little guy playing against the dominant forces’ aesthetic seeps into my stuff. I’m interested in power dynamics, having grown up in a small nation that was buffeted by global forces and policies set by larger nations.

As to how I’m perceived from the outside, I’m not really sure. I’m bi-racial, but I look white. It’s confusing to Americans, where I live. It’s easier to hold onto that identity where I grew up, in the Caribbean. People know there where I’m coming from. Here, it’s complicated. Many times I see ‘comprehensive’ lists of non-white SF/F novelists and often never see my stuff listed or noticed. Some do. Sometimes I wonder if the light-not-white thing means I fall between the cracks. I’m never sure if it’s the quality of my work, my reach (I mean, hey, honestly, lots of people just don’t even know I exist, they’re not trying to slight me, it’s a big world with lots of noise and discoverability is *hard*), or a decision that I’m not non-white enough, or too white, or whatever. I wish I could reach more people in the Caribbean based on my experience of being so welcomed in Barbados. Does it sting a little? Maybe. But in the big game of being an author there are worse indignities and I’m grateful those people are curating any lists at all, to raise awareness of the cool writers on them. And the adult thing for me to do is always promote, link, and pass on those lists and just keep writing and letting my work be what it is. There are so many ways to get in your own head, worrying about how I’m perceived is one I made a strong decision to not worry about a long while back. I try to focus as much as I can on the work, particularly these days. I just have to believe that the work is what matters, and if I keep working at my craft I will keep finding my audience and things will work out.

Ragamuffin 6Qs: Tobias Buckell, Traversing Publishings Diverse FantasticAs to the question of whether I have found myself placed in ethnic sub-categories of SF/F, I’m not sure. In the beginning, when I was trying to sell my first novel, I had a weird experience of editors really wanting me to write, sort of magic realism set in the Caribbean, or about recent immigrants with a magical ability (I’ve had two editors actually give me that logline and ask if I’d be interested in writing that story, but it’s just not there for me, I’ve got other stories still to tell). There was a strong sense that, hey, this is how you can be marketed as a Caribbean novelist. I think a couple people expected me to be a Nalo Hopkinson/Tobias hybrid. And, fuck, I love Nalo’s work. She’s amazing. But she’s amazing in ways I can’t be amazing, or even decent at. She’s Nalo. She’s a grand-mistress, a stateswoman. I’m Tobias. We all have to find our own paths and voices. I’m trying to write space opera, massive dumb objects awakening, hard cyberpunk, techno-thriller. I wanted to go after big explosions and adventure with guys in dreadlocks plugged into a massive starships.

So I headed that way, and man did it confuse the hell out of a lot of people.

Karen Lord, an SF writer out of Barbados (please, if you read this, go read Redemption in Indigo right away), is writing these amazing novels, and people are finding her. And she’s charting her own whole course. And I think what everyone will find is that ‘ethnic SF’ isn’t a thing, it’s just SF written by people who happen to be ethnic. There will be things, concerns that we share in common due to having some common experiences. But as a group, we’re a pretty wide-ranging bunch of thematic writers. As far as I can tell from reading.

How does living in Ohio impact your writing career? Are there compromises that come from not being closer to New York City, or has the industry evolved to the point where NYC is no longer the center of things?

Tobias Buckell: Well, to be honest, the biggest impact is that living in the gray weather of Ohio negatively impacts my productivity. I don’t get enough sun on my skin, and the gray winters are depressing. Add that the to the whole rust-belt chic aesthetic all around, which also brings me down, and I really do find it a bit of a downer. I’m used to sunlight and bright colors, and people being able to walk everywhere.

But on the other hand, it’s cheap to live here. I can afford to freelance and write fiction and make ends meet. So on that end, it helps my career way more than it hurts it. Or maybe, during the winter, it’s a bit of a wash!

Sly Mongoose 6Qs: Tobias Buckell, Traversing Publishings Diverse Fantastic

But that’s more locational aspects. In this day and age, the distance from place shouldn’t be considered in miles, but in hours to destination. Most New Yorkers involved in publishing I know live minutes, to as many as two hours away via train from Manhattan. I live four hours away (1hr drive to airport, 1 hr wait for flight, 1.5 hr flight, 1/2 hr cab ride) from Manhattan. If I moved closer to an airport, I could cut that down to 3.5 hours away.

I’ve bugged out of my house in the morning, caught a plane, done a lunch meeting for an important client, and been back home later that night in DC. It’s a long day, but not unfeasible, to do it for a lunch in NYC (but I usually prefer to stay with a friend overnight and do something fun and come back a day or two later).

It means that I still go into New York a couple times a year and meet people. Science Fiction is cool because we often attend a lot of conventions, so you also touch base with a variety of people randomly in different places across the country throughout the year.

I do feel it’s important to go in person to NYC. Yes this digital future is more connected… but to contacts you already have. There is a magic to random introductions, and face-to-face friendships and contacts that just ‘click’ and become alliances, sources of enablement, and development, and honest friendship. You mentioned Pablo Defendini recommending my books. I met Pablo on one of my many self-funded in-person trips to my publisher to meet the faces behind the company. And I consider him an amazing and close friend now. I doubt it would have happened without my venturing out in person.

So I still feel it’s important.

Recently, several companies that moved their headquarters out into the ‘burbs to save money have moved them back into the city. Why? Random personal interaction increases productivity. The more dense the area, like cities, or college campuses, the more patents per thousand people are filed. The more creativity there is. And I think it’s simply because you have more chances to randomly plug-in to a connection or a potential friendship or source that you never may have met if scattered out.

And I do feel that, although I’m glad I can afford to write/freelance full time and I’m lucky, luckier than many, that when I can afford to move a bit closer to NYC, I will be doing so. Just for the simple fact that I will create more interesting opportunities.

The Apocalypse Ocean is the 4th book in your Xenowealth Trilogy (Crystal Rain, Ragamuffin, Sly Mongoose), and while the first three were published by Tor, you self-published this one via a successful Kickstarter campaign. Why did you go that route, and how would you characterize the experience? Would you declare it a success?

Tobias Buckell: The first three books were doing okay. They were earning out, but not turning into runaway hits. We were gaining a small number of readers with each book. But with each book, bookstore chains were carrying fewer books. Readers were compensating by buying them direct. So we had a strange pattern of stable, slightly growing readership, horrible bookstore numbers spiraling down, and a dilemma. My editor and I put our heads together and I decided to write a new kind of book (near future) and see if that could prod me into the next level.

But that meant letting the series get canceled. And I’d already written a portion of The Apocalypse Ocean.

So I had this large fan base that liked the Xenowealth books, and wanted more. And due to the bookstore sales, I couldn’t sell the next book in the series to a publisher. But I’d been watching Kickstarter, and for over a year, wondering if I had enough of a fanbase to Kickstart a whole book.

I decided to jump in and try it.

The Apocalypse Ocean 6Qs: Tobias Buckell, Traversing Publishings Diverse FantasticWe raised enough money to make it a feasible project. I had 130 or so passionate readers willing to pony up for an unwritten book. I had Pablo Defendini agreeing to help design it with me. Suddenly I was writing a book directly for my fans, trying to find a proofreader, printing my own copies. It was a wild ride. I learned a lot.

It was a roller coaster, and it was more work than I expected. But at the end of it, I have another book, one that in a prior age might never have been written.

Was it a success? Well, after paying for the design of the book, the printing, the shipping, the profit is quite a bit less than my going advance. But, it gave me some capital needed to even conceive of turning down freelance work to write it. So… as I often say, at the end of the day, if I’ve created art and not bankrupt somehow, I’m ahead.

We really find out if the book is able to match the money I make from ‘traditional publishing’ here over the next few months. As the backlist sales kick in, they’re all profit. Once I have some more of that data, I can get a better idea of how this way of doing a book compares.

Now, I’ve also done a short story collection of mine, Mitigated Futures, as a Kickstarter. And I can tell you right now that for me, the economics of a collection work far better as a Kickstarter than traditional publishing, or even a straight eBook release, has for me so far. It’s ‘common knowledge’ that short story collections don’t earn money for authors, but that project is really turning that assumption upside down for me.

Amazon, ebooks, Kickstarter, self-publishing… the publishing industry looks very different today than it did five years ago when the first Kindle launched to mixed reviews and self-publishing was synonymous with vanity publishing. What are the three biggest things that have changed for you as a writer over that period, and do you consider them positives or negatives?

Tobias Buckell: As a writer I now have more choices. And that’s positive. I know everyone’s stressing. There’s a lot of change going on. That’s always hard to wrap one’s head around when you want to have your head down and focused on art. But since I got started with my first short story sale in 2000, I’ve tried to make sure I was agnostic about how my story got delivered, and focused on a) getting paid, yo and b) reaching as large an audience as I can. I was early to the idea of letting my work go up online, as long as I was getting paid for it. I was early to blogging (since 1998), which allowed me to reach (now) some 2,000 people a day. Back when Fictionwise was first to sell eBooks, I signed up to sell my short fiction through them. I also put up creative commons stories for free. I test and try it all out, and make sure I have a pulse on everything and a diversified basket of income streams.

For whatever reason, thanks to foreign rights translations and luck, my traditional books still make the bigger income stream.

The negatives to all this? New stuff to learn. I have to say, making sure my manuscript was really well copy edited, had a cover, interior design, was printed, and then shipped, meant keeping track of a lot of variables and schedules. That’s all new stuff to learn. Uploading digital books, testing out eReaders. More stuff. Filtering out messianic personalities who claim to have The One True Way and spread a lot of Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt on all sides, that takes work. A lot of egos are bound up in this transition.

But I think cool-headed folks who diversify, roll with it, they’ll be fine. They usually are. I like my hybrid career. I mean, right now I have my latest novel out, The Apocalypse Ocean. It’s currently for sale at all the usual eBook outlets. It was pre-sold to fans via Kickstarter, who raised the seed money to make it happen and got limited edition hardcovers and ebooks of it, depending on their level of support.

Earlier this year, my novel Arctic Rising came out from Tor, a semi-independent division of Macmillan. And that’s awesome.

And I have two short story collections. One has limited editions for sale via a smaller press, Wyrm Publishing, as well as the eBook which I sell directly via eBook outlets. The other I launched and sold directly as an eBook, but then later a smaller press asked for print rights and let me keep the eBook selling.

All these methods have their place in my tool set.

The last thing I’d caution is that I wouldn’t assume this period of awesomeness via Kindle will last. I’m seeing that most of the newest regions added don’t have 70% royalty rates *unless* you agree to use Amazon’s lending program and withdraw your books from other bookstores.

Seeing as that Kindle initially began with a 35% royalty rate offered, and only changed because iTunes said it would be launching with 70% and spooked them, one can see where some of that momentum is slowing. It’s one reason why I’m pushing really hard to do direct sales via my own website as much as I can, and why I thought Kickstarter was a really good additional arsenal in the toolbox.

For anyone who has enjoyed (or is intrigued by) your Xenowealth Trilogy, what are three other series you’d recommend as read-alikes, each with a one-sentence review?

Tobias Buckell: If you liked the Xenowealth, then try reading C.J. Cherryh’s Merchanter’s series. Somewhere between space opera and hard SF, or just good solid adventure SF, I still reread Merchanter’s Luck over and over again. Also, you’d probably enjoy Iain M. Banks if you liked Ragamuffin; start with Consider Phlebas and work forward. And really, you have to read Alastair Reynolds. Just trust me.

BONUS Q: Who is your favorite non-white superhero and why?

Tobias Buckell: Black Panther, as done by the BET channel recently in a motion comic. Normally I hate motion comics, it’s neither animation nor a comic. But they got Djimon Hounsou to do the voice, and it’s really, really awesome once you give the awkwardness of motion comic format to get past your brain. Djimon gives Panther the gravitas to get past some of the sometimes silly worldbuilding and on the nose characteristics of the original. Almost no one I’ve talked to has seen this, and maybe I’m completely wrong, but I thought it was awesome.

Then again I could listen to Djimon read a phone book.

If you overrule me on BP, then it’s Spawn, man.

BIO: Tobias S. Buckell is a Caribbean-born New York Times Bestselling author. His work has been translated into 16 different languages. He has published some 50 short stories in various magazines and anthologies, and has been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, Prometheus, and Campbell awards. Longer bio | The Books & Stories.

 6Qs: Tobias Buckell, Traversing Publishings Diverse Fantastic

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez

Old/new media pragmatist; works in publishing, plays the field. Sometimes loud, sometimes poet, always opinionated. Beer, bourbon, NOLA. As in guillotine.

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Published on December 17, 2012 07:07 • 51 views

November 27, 2012

share save 120 16 You Cant Manage What You Dont Measure: On Social Media & Publishing

For the third consecutive year, I had the pleasure of doing a presentation on social media for my friend Peter Costanzo‘s M.S. in Publishing: Digital and Print Media class at NYU last night, and while preparing for it, I was surprised by how much has changed since the first time, and how much hasn’t. Pinterest and Tumblr are bigger deals now (or at least perceived as such), while Twitter is steadily maturing (from a business perspective), Facebook changes its approach every six months, and email is still the underrated king of the hill.

Yes, email is a form of social media, and is a critical channel for every social network worth talking about. If it’s not a central component of your own marketing strategy, well, you’re doing it wrong.

Full stop.

As the students have gotten savvier each year, my presentation has gone further into the weeds, moving from focusing on the “what” to the “why” and “how,” and emphasizing the importance of analytics, aka, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.”

Making the Direct Connection: Social Media and Publishing from Guy Gonzalez

A few notes from my comments for additional context:

The reader is at the center of everything, and everyone is a reader.
A publisher’s organizational structure must support its business goals. If digital is where the growth is, that’s where the investments have to be made, and that’s where the skillsets need to be upgraded.
Know your marketing fundamentals, use what works, break the rules when necessary.
Understand biases, dig deeper, and take all pundits’ proclamations with a grain of salt.
Customer service is a critical aspect of social media; if you’re there, people expect a response and the “vocal minority” will take full advantage of your silence and/or corporate PR-speak. The “vocal minority” has an audience, too, sometimes bigger than yours.
Publishing is based on relationships; always has been, always will. As such, everyone is a marketer.
All content should have a purpose, and there should always be more than one purpose for it.
“Gamification” is bullshit. Stop it.

As always, I stressed that , in this day and age, there’s a community for everything somewhere on the internet, and any book worth publishing has an opportunity to find its audience, if you know what you’re doing.

Side Note

I can’t believe I haven’t posted anything here since July, but it’s been a crazy year at the day job (good crazy, but crazy, nevertheless), and I’ve gone back to internalizing a lot of the publishing and marketing-related things I used to write about rather than writing about them. I’m also hiring, so if you want in on the craziness, check it out.

I’ve also never been a fan of repeating myself, and 95% of what’s been happening in publishing lately has been incremental, involving issues I’ve already dropped my two cents on over the years. It makes me a bad blogger, but on the flip side, being in the thick of the changes that are happening on a daily basis has been a far more refreshing challenge than maintaining my “personal brand.”

See you in the trenches!

 You Cant Manage What You Dont Measure: On Social Media & Publishing

About Guy LeCharles Gonzalez

Old/new media pragmatist; works in publishing, plays the field. Sometimes loud, sometimes poet, always opinionated. Beer, bourbon, NOLA. As in guillotine.

Mail | Web | Twitter | LinkedIn | Google+ | YouTube | More Posts (1863)

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Published on November 27, 2012 07:12 • 61 views

July 24, 2012

6815827169 1ce19258a2 The Unbearable Stiffness of Formal Poetry and Writing for the Page

Bird Cage Theatre by Loren Javier, via Flickr

[Helen Vendler] knew about gardens and nightingales, Grecian urns and Christian theology, but not about hip-hop or comic books, and these provide the material, or at least the glue, for many of today’s poems. Poetic subjects, voices, diction, and tone change. And forms, like subjects, change as well.

“Has Poetry Changed? The View From the Editor’s Desk,” Willard Spiegelman

An essay in the Spring issue of the Virginia Quarterly Review by the editor of Southwest Review, Willard Spiegelman, makes some compelling points about how poetry has changed over the years. While the second half derails a bit, offering a lukewarm defense of formal poetry (“Perhaps it would increase an appreciation for poetry’s difficulties.”), the first half is an interesting read for its insights into the challenges old-school editors and critics face in grappling with the work of younger poets, and Spiegelman offers some telling anecdotes on how submissions have changed over the 20+ years.

His basic premise syncs pretty closely with my own experience, having belatedly connected with poetry via contemporary voices I wasn’t exposed to in grade school, where “the canon” is forced down your throat with little context beyond “these are the greats!” Willie Perdomo and Patricia Smith were the first two poets who had a notable and lasting impact on me, starting in the late 90s when they were more likely to be dismissed as “slam poets” or “urban poets,” and continuing today where both have been embraced, to varying degrees, in more traditional circles, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to imagine Smith ultimately being officially canonized as one of our generation’s best.

Interestingly, Spiegelman nails the underlying problem with poetry in general, though he seems to imply it’s a flaw related more to a poet’s level of experience with form rather than an inherent flaw in poetry in general, but especially that written for the page:

When a poet has fulfilled all the formal schematic requirements, she may have composed a sonnet, but not necessarily an interesting poem. She has neglected the tropes for the schemes; the language is flat, the sentiments banal. Nothing in it surprises; she has forgotten the metaphors.

While formal poetry has never been my cup of tea, the vast majority of poetry — formal and free verse, written and oral — actually bores me to tears for the exact reasons Spiegelman notes.


The poetry slam scene was a gateway drug for me, a vibrant, energetic forum that welcomed all voices and styles, wherein the “competition” was a ruse, and connecting with audiences and getting them excited about and engaged with poetry was the real point. Philosophically, at least. In reality, it was/is as much a mish-mosh of good, bad, and subjectively terrible as any literary journal (and often even more pretentious), but there was undoubtedly something special about getting on stage, reading a poem out loud, and getting immediate feedback, good, bad, or indifferent.

Hearing a poet read their own work is always a revelatory experience, and reading out loud was always part of my own editing process. A first draft wasn’t complete until it had been tested on an open mic, or at least read out loud in a workshop. I do the same thing with essays and fiction (aka, talking to myself while I write!), needing to taste the words in my mouth, ensuring they’re effectively communicating what I want to say and not getting tripped up in flowery language or smoke and mirrors vagaries.

Even the best poems die a little bit on the page, embalmed and stripped of context; but read aloud, even if the poet isn’t a great performer, they tend to have a spark that cannot be replicated in print.

For several years, the slam scene was my creative outlet, both as a writer and an organizer, and besides meeting and working closely with a number of up-and-coming contemporaries (particularly Roger Bonair-AgardLynne Procope, and Marty McConnell, among others), my own tastes and writing (and performing) style evolved over time. I was especially fortunate to be able to visit various parts of the country at the peak of my “slam career,” and mingle with poets from all over the world every summer at the National Poetry Slam, exposing me to topics and styles that, contrary to popular belief, didn’t have an outlet of note in the chaotic New York City poetry scene, and I’d eventually even come to love the canonized likes of Charles Bukowski and Langston Hughes, too.

During my short-lived online literary journal experiment (Spindle), and a few years later, introducing poetry to Horticulture magazine, I read hundreds of poems, most written by people who’d clearly never read them out loud and/or were guilty of focusing too much on schematics over metaphors, and it ultimately soured me on poetry in general.

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In a Twitter discussion yesterday, I “joked” that “I find 93.7% of poets and poetry annoying and pretentious,” including half of my own work.

Despite the “loudpoet” moniker, I typically hesitate to refer to myself as a poet (and “retired poet” sounds pretentious and misleading), as I haven’t written a new poem in years; rarely do public readings of my own work; and, most egregiously, can’t bear to attend a poetry reading for longer than 30 minutes without comparing everything I hear to the poets I came up with, usually not favorably.


 Even now, most online literary magazines are comprised of static text organized into distinct quarterly or semi-annual “issues,” complete with tables of contents. Sometimes they’re even organized to look like print publications, with animated “page turning” effects. All of these aspects are unnecessary holdovers from print culture. Reading these magazines, I sometimes feel like I’m watching a silent film where the camera is fixed in place and the actors, because they are trained for the stage, gesticulate wildly and unnecessarily. Watching old films like that drives me nuts. I want to scream, STOP! What are you doing?!?! Stop waving your arms like that! There’s so much more that film can do!!

“How I learned to stop worrying and love online publishing,” Sean Bishop

All that being said, whenever I think about myself in a publishing role and all of the possible genres and/or communities I might focus on, I’ll be damned if more than half the time it doesn’t come back to poetry!

I’ve often said poetry is the one form that could benefit the most from digital platforms, not simply to reach wider audiences than is typically possible via minuscule (and expensive) print runs, but to completely rethink what a poem is and how it’s presented, much like good spoken word and performance poetry do in the physical world.

Coincidentally, at the same time I was reading Spiegelman’s thoughtful essay, I got an email from my webhost that my domain was automatically renewed for another year, and, inevitably, the wheels start turning again.

All these amazing digital opportunities for poetry and so few are tackling them, largely because there’s really no money there. Arguably, though, there’s no money there because poetry lives on the periphery of our culture, and on the rare occasion it breaks through, it’s usually gimmicky and short-lived.

*cough* Def Poetry *cough*

In a world where a silly photo-sharing app that makes pictures look old is deemed worth $1B, surely there’s a $1M angle for poetry that speaks to a broader audience without dumbing it down or sacrificing metaphor for mediocrity?

 The Unbearable Stiffness of Formal Poetry and Writing for the Page

About Guy LeCharles Gonzalez

"As in guillotine." Old/New Media Pragmatist. Writer, Reader. Marketer, Publisher. Father, Husband. NY Mets, NY Jets. Bourbon, IPA, Malbec.

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"As in guillotine." Old/New Media Pragmatist. Writer, Reader. Marketer, Publisher. Father, Husband. NY Mets, NY Jets. Bourbon, IPA, Malbec.

Mail | Web | Twitter | LinkedIn | Google+ | YouTube | More Posts (1867)

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Published on July 24, 2012 07:54 • 84 views

July 20, 2012

3865066 7e7c548929 Penguins Modest Self Publishing Gamble

Risk by Parl, via Flickr

In 2011 Author Solutions generated revenues of approximately $100m, growing at an average annual rate of 12% over the past three years. Its business is split broadly evenly across three key areas: publishing, marketing and distribution services, with revenues generated primarily from services to authors.

Yesterday’s news that “Big Six” trade publisher Penguin’s parent company, Pearson, had acquired the biggest “traditional” self-publishing player, Author Solutions (ASI), for a mere $116 million caused quite a stir among publishing’s chattering class, and my own first reaction was pretty cynical, based on the press release spinning it as related to “ASI’s expertise in online marketing, consumer analytics, professional services and user-generated content.”

My cynicism was driven partly by my own experience working with several of ASI’s units, before and after they acquired them (back when I worked for Writer’s Digest in 2007-2008), and partly based on their relatively low revenues of $100m in 2011, spread across 11 different brands and services, while employing 1,600+ people in Bloomington, Indiana and Cebu City, the Philippines. While ASI almost definitely has more experience with digital marketing and analytics than Penguin does, those skills could easily be internalized for much cheaper than $116m, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a lot of that work is being done by staff in the Philippines!

[EDIT: I found this breakdown of ASI's 2011 revenue from Publisher's Weekly after I hit publish, but it's both fascinating and disturbing, and it confirms my snarky comment about outsourced staffing: "Its workforce totals 1,565 full-time employees with by far the greatest number, 1,215, located at its facilities in the Philippines which handles not only production but sales and marketing as well."]

Seriously, though, being sold for only slightly more than the revenue you brought in the prior year isn’t exactly a signal that anyone believes the company has a lot of growth potential, especially not one whose roster theoretically covers the full gamut of shiny author services so many seem to believe are publishing’s revenue streams of the future. Plus, ASI was apparently on the block for a while with no buyer, so I find Penguin’s CEO John Makinson’s claim odd, as reported by Publisher’s Lunch, that he expects there will be a “new and growing category of professional authors who are going to gravitate towards the ASI solution rather than the free model.”

Jane Friedman, former publisher of Writer’s Digest (whom I worked with, and remains a good friend), pretty effectively dismantled that notion last year in her smart essay, “The Future of Self-Publishing Services“:

There will always be some level of demand for full-service, fee-based publishing companies. But it’s now a mature business that has seen its peak, and that will sharply decline. Given the transformational changes taking place throughout the industry, very desirable industry professionals (agents, editors, many others) will find ways to offer high-quality services that can make a perceptible difference to an indie author’s book marketing and sales.

Makinson also seems to be ignoring the burgeoning middle ground of services that are carving out a niche between pseudo-DIY via Amazon’s KDP, et al, and ASI’s overpriced vanity publishing services, like The Atavist and Hyperink, two of the more intriguing ones among many others.


Meanwhile, Penguin already has one foot in the self-publishing/author services pool with Book Country, an online community for aspiring genre writers that launched a suite of self-publishing services last fall in the inevitable step towards monetizing its modest user base:

 The site has attracted more than 120,000 unique visitors since going into public beta in May and has close to 4,000 members who have posted over 500 works of genre fiction and offered thousands of constructive critiques of those works…

While there are dozens of book packagers and self-publishing sites, Book Country is the only one that allows writers to create an eBook and a print book in one simple flow. Book Country combines a robust peer review process, a staff with decades of book publishing experience, and groundbreaking browsing tools to help writers be discovered. Book Country also provides a cover creator tool and suggests fonts and styles that would be appropriate for the book’s genre. And unlike other self-publishing sites, the author can make up to 15 free formatting changes if they need to make small refinements late in the process. Three options—user-formatted eBook only, user-formatted eBook and print, and professional eBook and print—are available. Start to finish, the Book Country self-publishing process is streamlined and simple, while offering flexibility and customization.

Oddly, during the same conference call where Makinson claimed there was a future in the ASI fee-based model, he admitted they “haven’t thought in detail” yet how the acquistion might affect Book Country, but he expects it will benefit from “gaining access to all of the functonal skills within ASI.”

#bbpBox_225978224797171712 a { text-decoration:none; color:#FF3300; }#bbpBox_225978224797171712 a:hover { text-decoration:underline; }Perhaps Booktango, Author Solutions' ebook platform, is what Penguin really wanted? h/t @July 19, 2012 11:39 am via HootSuite Reply Retweet Favorite Guy L. Gonzalez

In the spirit of half-full glasses, I’m going to give  him credit for being a little too cagey for his own good, and make the assumption that the BookTango platform is solid and the ASI acquisition is really an infrastructure move, bolstering their digital platform across all of Penguin, and expanding upon whatever positive signals they’re presumably getting out of the Book Country experiment.


Laura Dawson, one of my favorite people in publishing, seems to back this line of thinking up in her own take, via two key points:

Penguin emphasizes infrastructure. This is something I know from previous experience with them – as an institution, as part of its corporate culture, Penguin is actively investing in workflow and interoperability between divisions. To a company who values infrastructure, $116 million for services and tools that are proven in the marketplace is a solid investment.
Author Solutions certainly has its own brand(s), but one of its core strengths is providing white-label solutions.

Looked at from that perspective, the acquisition is a relatively modest upping of the ante on Penguin’s part, though one fraught with several notable risks, not the least of which is the potential for brand confusion as Author Solutions isn’t exactly the most beloved of brands.

Writer Beware’s Victoria Strauss nails several of them, including:

- Will ASI begin to advertise itself more transparently? So far, the company has put out twowhitepapers that promulgate the misleading claim that it is an “independent publisher” (along with other inaccuracies about the publishing industry). Other less-than-transparent marketing efforts include maintaining sites like, which purport to be utilities to help writers choose a publishing company, but which all default to ASI brands.

The press release says “Author Solutions will be integrated into Penguin’s back office and technology infrastructure but will continue to be run as a separate business,” and in a new post today reflecting on the deal, Friedman skeptically notes that “it seems unlikely that Pearson would meaningfully change any business practices that made ASI profitable in the first place.”

What struck me as particularly odd is how quickly ASI was able to slap “a Penguin Company” onto their logo, while Book Country seemingly went out of its way at launch to keep itself at an arms-length distance from its parent company, and even today only references Penguin in the footer of their site, not above the fold as part of the logo.

While I don’t agree with some observers that this is a particularly “innovative” move for Penguin — pitfalls aside, the upside is incremental, at best — it’s definitely an intriguing one that’s worth watching. It also represents one of many examples of traditional publishers not standing still, but exploring all avenues, experimenting with different models, and risking failure, things they’re so often criticized for not doing by pundits with no skin in the game and pageviews to accumulate.

 Penguins Modest Self Publishing GambleAbout Guy LeCharles Gonzalez

"As in guillotine." Old/New Media Pragmatist. Writer, Reader. Marketer, Publisher. Father, Husband. NY Mets, NY Jets. Bourbon, IPA, Malbec.

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Published on July 20, 2012 09:15 • 66 views

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