Independent Publishers Unite!!!

I read recently in Business Insider that Amazon’s strategy for making its brick-and-mortar stores successful hinged on three factors: exploiting big data to tailor the store’s offerings to its local demographic; reducing inventory to only a few thousand titles of proven sales potential; and adding a generous mix of non-book products to broaden shelf interest and boost revenue.

There is nothing revolutionary about what Amazon is doing here. Strategies like Amazon’s are exactly what feisty independent booksellers have been using for years to survive the onslaught of big boxes, high rents, and even Amazon itself. Though they may lack the mega-data that Amazon collects from its vast online sales records, indie bookstores do collect data, are locally owned, and, thus, locally knowledgeable. Indie bookstores have also reduced and tightly curated inventory as they shrink their square footage to lower rents. And, for many years, indies have been selling sidelines, including journals, used books, cards, book lights, puzzles, and other items.

But now that Amazon is adopting these exact same strategies in its own retail spaces, what will save the indie bookstore in the future? Is customers’ loyal rejection of big, bad, corporate Amazon enough? Sure, some percentage of book buyers will always favor their local retailers over outsiders, but if Amazon rolls into America’s top book-buying communities with dozens more shops featuring computer-designed inventories, low prices, and lots of shiny objects to fascinate their customers, the ability of indie booksellers to compete will be seriously eroded.

There is one resource that remains almost entirely undiscovered by indie booksellers, and that might be the key to their long-term survival, if not a revolution in bookselling itself. And that is the hundreds of thousands of books published each year by small independent presses and self-publishers. Currently, these books are almost completely shut out of the brick-and-mortar retail environment. Why? Because the American publishing industry is governed by antiquated systems that were established long before the digital revolution.

To reach bookstores today, books must be printed, shipped to a distributor, and shipped again to a retailer. If sold within a week or two, great; if not, the books will sit on a shelf in the bookstore, taking up valuable space, and producing nothing. If the book sits too long, it gets returned—more fuel, time, and chargebacks to both the retailer and the publisher. Then the book might be too shopworn and subsequently be destroyed, or it may sit at the distributor until the whole process starts again.

We all know how wasteful this cycle is. We all—and I mean all of us in every segment of the industry (except the printers and truck drivers, perhaps)—complain about it.

One negative feature of this system is that very small publishers and self-publishers don’t even have a chance to participate in it. Bookstores generally won’t stock their books because they’re not available from distributors due to their being one-off titles or because their publishers/authors are too small, unknown, lack clout, whatever. There are, in fact, many perfectly good reasons that these books don’t get into bookstores. It’s not that bookstores are ignorant, uncaring, or don’t want them—after all, many of these books are as substantive and well-designed as anything from the Big 5. Booksellers don’t sell these books because it doesn’t make financial sense to even try to sell them. The only way authors can get into some stores is on consignment, but this is obviously not a strategy for broad distribution.

Maybe these publishers should count their blessings that they have avoided the whole wasteful ship-and-return cycle. But the absence of indie books in local bookstores is in every sense a bad thing. It deprives the public of choice. It deprives the publishers of sources of revenue. And, most galling of all, it keeps all the control in the hands of Amazon. Currently, readers who want to find self-published titles have to go to Amazon. And now that Amazon is going local and using the very same strategies as indie booksellers, what is there left to distinguish local booksellers, aside from the fact that they are “not Amazon”?

What if there was a way to make all these hundreds of thousands of books available in the local bookshop?

I think there is. I call it IndieBook. I know my concept is not shovel-ready, but I offer it here as a “thought experiment” for a possible vision of a new future in which book publishers and booksellers can truly support each other and break free of antiquated systems of mutual obstruction.

IndieBook, simply put, is a brick-and-mortar retail environment where real indie booksellers sell real indie books. Not just books from small publishers already served by Consortium, IPG, Midpoint, PGW, and IPS, but books from publishers of every size and scale.

1. The IndieBook physical retail space is community- and consumer-driven, laser-focused on local interests as informed by the knowledgeable store owner and by the store’s exploitation of big data.

Customers in the local area have personalized store accounts that they can log in to at home, or at the store itself. Customers use their account to indicate interest areas, check out new offerings, order books (or e-books or other content), RSVP to events, receive promotion codes, and so on. Many indie bookstores may already be doing this, but these IndieBook personalization systems need to be extremely robust, up to date, and networked in to the store’s own database.

2. IndieBook is 100-percent wired, filled with high-touch kiosks.

Some kiosks are for customers to log in to and service their accounts and preferences; others are dynamically curated by booksellers with up-to-minute listings, tie-ins to whatever is happening in the news, whatever band is playing in town, or backgrounders on important environmental or political issues that everyone is talking about. Large, brilliant color screens serve up covers, snippets, and videos with a “buy” button at the end.

3. IndieBook depends on print on demand (POD), the only sustainable technology that makes sense for small-scale indie publishers and self-publishers.

POD reduces risk at the same it expands inventory a thousand-fold. Readers today already can order POD books printed at Lightning Source or CreateSpace, and they can do that at home on Amazon. But I’m talking about stores using devices like the Espresso Book Machine (EBM), which can turn out a finished book on-site for instant gratification (five to eight minutes). A reader can browse their account at home, find the book they want (an obscure title but one that has just been recommended by their favorite blogger), hit the buy button, and, by the time they get to the store, it’s there, ready for pickup. Or pick your own dreamy scenario of how you can unite readers with the indie books they want in a way that none of your competitors can—and deliver them the same day.

An Espresso Book Machine (EBM) at the Brooklyn Public Library.

I’m aware that the current version of the EBM needs work, but if publishing thinks of this as its moonshot, then reliability, speed, flexibility, and cost can all be improved over time. (And there are delicious possibilities. For example, an entrepreneur could set up an EBM hub with deliveries three times a day in a metro area, providing almost just-in-time service but at a cost shared with several retailers at once.)

4. IndieBook is multimedia.

It provides access not just to books, but to e-books, magazines, granular assemblies of cookbooks and guidebooks, movies, music, personal screeds, whatever content the consumer wants—all available for immediate download or print. Reading is not dying, but reading habits are changing. Booksellers must be content providers first, and find those alternative media and sidelines that serve the reading habit, regardless of medium or format.

5. IndieBook is participatory.

The store must be a gathering place for happenings, tastings, workshops, panels, and community actions that provide helpful information and content in a thoughtful, long-form way. Is there a hot-button issue in town? Load an LED kiosk with relevant front- and backlist titles from publishers large and small. Let local writers print up custom copies of their memoirs, cookbooks, and first drafts. Use the EBM to create personalized copies of books at author signings. Indie bookstores are already masters at this sort of thing. But now they can do it with store inventory, on demand and up to the minute, in a scenario that cannot be replicated online.

6. IndieBook is no returns!

Smaller retail spaces mean fewer books displayed. Everything else is available on-demand. Retailers should have confidence in their choices and know their customers: after all, they are locally knowledgeable. So, by all means, bring in the offset-printed bestsellers, art books, and big books with big names with assured sell-through. Otherwise, use POD. But the point is to make everything available, hundreds of thousands of books—not just what publishers are willing to sell returnable with free freight through a creaky and environmentally unsustainable distribution system.

Make no mistake: authors, readers, and publishers are finding that smaller is better. Fewer projects qualify for offset runs. That means more books produced POD by smaller companies serving focused audiences and with no mainstream distribution. Let’s stop punishing them! If we, as a culture, believe that diversity of voices is of crucial importance to maintaining a fair and civil society, then we have to do a much better job of guaranteeing those voices access into our community spaces.

Amazon is already planning its next move—are we? What happens when Amazon brings its CreateSpace technology to the storefront? You know they’re already thinking about it.

Peter Goodman is the publisher of Stone Bridge Press in Berkeley, California, and a member of the IBPA Independent Editorial Advisory Committee.

 

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More Books from the PTP Book Division

Stalked_Cover_for_Kindle

List Price: $14.95

6″ x 9″ (15.24 x 22.86 cm)
Black & White on White paper
424 pages

ISBN-13: 978-1987433937
ISBN-10: 1987433939
BISAC: Fiction / Action & Adventure

Twenty-two-year-old Brittany Carlson has just been signed by Baez Productions to star in a film that everyone in Tinsel town is sure will be the next Oscar winner. Brittany should be thrilled, but instead she is terrified. Her life has been turned upside down and she is trying desperately to keep it a secret. Someone is stalking her and yet the police are suggesting this is merely a publicity stunt!
She is even more horrified when her Pulitzer Prize-winning mother descends on her home in the middle of a party only to find that cocaine is one of the guests.
Between the efforts of her world famous mother as well as Brittany’s two sisters, life begins to look as though it might just have a chance to get back to normal; at least as normal as any life in Hollywood can be. That is until the stalker makes a lethal threat against her mother and her sisters. Brittany is sure this nightmare can’t get any worse. Now, her whole family is in danger. How do they find this psycho and will they be in time?

HostageCoverImage

List Price: $14.95

6″ x 9″ (15.24 x 22.86 cm)
Black & White on Cream paper
310 pages

ISBN-13: 978-1984187567
ISBN-10: 1984187562
BISAC: Fiction / Action & Adventure

In 1972, the political situation in Nicaragua is far from stable and Signe Carlson is worried. The corrupt dictator, Anastasio Somoza Debayle, controls the National Guard that acts as both police and army. The leftist guerilla group, The Sandinistas, is waging a covert war against the current regime. Mick McKenna and her daughter – Jenna Carlson – who has become one of Mick’s top operatives at McKenna International are both on assignment in Managua as are several other of Mick’s senior agents.
Signe’s sixth sense is in overdrive and when her daughters, Lia and Brittany, unexpectedly show up at her home, she finds out that her intuition was correct: Mick is missing. His plane made a forced landing in the mountains of Nicaragua and although his operatives got to the site in less than thirty minutes there was no sign of either Mick or the pilot.
Signe goes into action and within three hours of receiving the news, she is on her way to Managua in her corporate Learjet. She has a plan and she intends to find Mick. An old friend from her days in the OSS, Maria Dolores Díaz Aguero, lives just outside Managua and Signe knows that she and her family are highly involved in the politics of their country. Although Signe plans to commandeer Jenna as well, if anyone can help her to locate Mick, it is Maria.
StormCoverImage

List Price: $11.95

6″ x 9″ (15.24 x 22.86 cm)
Black & White on White paper
292 pages

ISBN-13: 978-1987433791
ISBN-10: 1987433793
BISAC: Fiction / Action & Adventure

March 21, 1976
Family and friends are gathered at Buckingham to celebrate Signe Carlson’s 51st Birthday. Mick McKenna’s gift to Signe is a month long cruise on their yacht, The Enickma. Where they would cruise is up to Signe and little did either of them suspect the deadly threats from both man and Nature they would undergo during their vacation.
From their home in Scottsdale, AZ to cruising the South Pacific attractions of Micronesia to a boardroom in Austin, TX, Signe and her family as well as Mick and his associates must work against time once the schemes of the man they call The Puppet Master are discovered and before he has a chance to turn his plans into catastrophic events.

 

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New from the PTP Book Division

Atsa - Cover

List Price: $11.95

5″ x 8″ (12.7 x 20.32 cm)
Black & White on White paper
218 pages

ISBN-13: 978-1986942294

ISBN-10: 1986942295

BISAC: Fiction / Native American & Aboriginal

This story traces the life of a half Navajo infant boy abandoned by his birth mother on the steps of a Catholic Navajo Mission School. The mission’s staff cared for him during early childhood. Betty, the school’s cook was Navajo and named the abandoned child Atsa. Interpreted definition is eagle. Atsa was born mute causing social challenges he was forced to confront. A retired college professor widower eventually adopts him. Atsa displayed high level academic prowess and this trait combined with sign language and written responses allowed him to transcend his disability and achieve a medical degree from The University of New Mexico on a full academic scholarship. His adoptive father adds significant input to Atsa’s life combined with his formative years, as Sister Cynthia served as Atsa’s surrogate mother at the mission school and influenced Atsa’s progression through adulthood.

 

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Moving; Stay Tuned

The PTP Book Division is closed temporarily because we are moving to a nearby new facility. We will be back soon. Please watch this site for future updates.

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Building a PTP Book Division Brand

Brand building: The PTP Book Division of the Path to Publication Group, Inc. is rolling out its offerings: a) Adult fiction suitable for New Adult and adult family reading, b) Nonfiction for adults in the behavioral, aquatic and terrestrial sciences, specific to animal behavior, fish and wildlife and forestry sciences. The PTP Book Division is looking for volunteer book designers and developers, writers and editors to join a small, independent, 501(c)3 nonprofit publishing firm in Fountain Hills, AZ (www.ptpbookdivision.com).PTP Book Logo

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Six Steps to Seeing Your Book Published

The writing process for a book can take several years. During that time, you will write and rewrite many times. It helps to join a writing group, which can help you stay motivated and focused, encourage you and critique your work. If you can’t take criticism, you are at a distinct disadvantage from the beginning. Practice taking criticism from your critique group. DO NOT take criticism personally; they are trying to help you to get published.

Step One

Create a team of those you trust who can help shepherd you through the writing  process, whether you intend to self-publish or you dream big of getting your book picked up by one of the omnipresent Big Six publishing houses.

Step Two

Get a driving force who can throw out realistic and pertinent deadlines. Someone who is an interested third party who keeps you in line for you to attain actual progress. This is crucial so you actually can see the idea into fruition.

Step Three

Write, write, write, take a break, go for a walk or swim, or have coffee with a friend then write some more.

Step Four

Take breaks from time to time. It helps prevent writer’s block. Hint: always take a break just when you’ve decided on a distinct direction for your story. Be sure there’s enough of it down so you won’t lose track and can pick it up readily when you return. Leaving the story at the end of a chapter can cause your mind to go blank. Begin the next chapter don’t leave a blank page for your return.

Step Five

Breathe. Take time to walk away from your masterpiece and breath. Get a fresh perspective from a trusted adviser. Take time to vent about your long writing journey. And take time to walk away for entire days, maybe a week or two. Time when you have left your thoughts on writing to the birds. Free your mind, meditate on life and it’s beauty, but what ever you do, remember that stepping away and thinking of other things can help you re-evaluate what you are putting on each digital or physical page.

Step Six

This one is just a thought: Think about writing a chapter or two at a time, maybe not in the order they’ll appear in the final product. This is a distinct advantage of the word processor over the typewriter.

 

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Conflict in Literary Fiction

by William H. Coles

Conflict is the essence of drama, and all literary fiction requires drama to please the reader and to succeed as a story. At the story core, conflict is the momentum of happening and change and is crucial on all levels for delivering information and building characterization.  Conflict is the source of change that engages a reader, and in a story, conflict and action does what description and telling of feelings and situations do not.

The best storytellers seem to have a knack for engaging the reader, bringing them inside the skin of the story. Readers are carried through a story with a succession of related action scenes.  However, many contemporary authors don’t seem to have the ability or desire to do this for their readers. There is the increasing habit of storytelling about me—my thoughts, my life, my accomplishments–often under the guise of fiction. But for lasting success–a story that will carry into the future of great literature as an art form–authors should strive for most of their story ideas to be expressed in creative fiction with drama and conflict, and not as authorial catharsis.  It is the way to write great stories.

In life everything seems to move toward inertia. Throw a rock into the air, it falls to the ground and lies motionless.  Pour water into a glass, it flows and settles and becomes motionless.  We are born, we are active, but we are always moving toward the solitude and inaction of motionless death. In fiction, writers succumb to this natural tendency to write stories that seek a state of inertia, a state where nothing happens. This is especially prominent when a story relies on narrative description of past events–description and exposition in place of dramatic action scenes. Inertia is avoided by in-scene and in-the-moment action, by learning  to instill conflict in narrative that must press on to resolution or no resolution, and by assuring an overall conflict embedded in all aspects of the prose.

Here are ways conflict can be embedded in prose.

  1. Write lively dialogue.

Conflict in dialogue is essential. Even snippets of dialogue should have elements that interest a reader.

Almost never is this type of interchange useful:

“Do you plan to join the church?”
“Yes, I think I will.”

This is flat, uninteresting dialogue. This type of dialogue is so disruptive to flow, it must be revised or omitted.  The information, if necessary, can be provided in a few words of narrative: I decided to join the church.

In order to keep the story moving, lively dialogue with conflict is needed.  In the examples below (overwritten for emphasis), note how the use of conflict helps establish the emotion of the dramatic present and enhance characterization. It also allows, when appropriate to situation and character, subtle back story information to be layered into the story writing. Here are some alternatives.

“Do you plan to join the church?”
“It’s none of your damn business”

OR

“Do you plan to join the church?”
“The church never did anything for me, why should I join?”

OR

“Do you plan to join the church?”
“Your piety irritates me.”

OR

“Do you plan to join the church?”
“Will you join too?”

  1. Be dramatic in the storytelling.

Drama is storytelling and in fiction, dramatic elements are necessary to move the reader sentence by sentence, idea by idea.  And drama provides the tension. Conflict is established and readers, especially if they sympathize (not necessarily like)  the character, become  tense about what will happen. In literary fiction, withholding information to evoke tension is not often useful. When the author and the narrator know who killed the parson, tension is in the discovery, and the process of discovery, of the murderer. It’s mechanical and may often seem contrived. In literary fiction, contrivance is not effective. Characters and their decisions and foibles drive the plot. All plot information essential to the story is usually delivered when needed (not withheld for tension). Now readers become involved in what will happen to a character they care about. And they will discover tension in a series of logically structured and logically interrelated scenes filled with conflict in the language, in the syntax, among the characters, and in plotting.

  1. Use language with conflict and energy.

The beauty of language is enhanced when motion and conflict can be incorporated in the prose to maintain a reader’s interest word by word. In writing, the reader’s mind is active in creating and forming images. Basically, authors don’t create still-life images, they paint portraits that intrigue and engage the reader with scenes that live on the page. There was a bird on a limb. Static. The flying bird settled on the limb. Improved with some action. The olive branch quivered when the claws of the sparrow grasped the sturdy twig. A lot of energy.

  1. Word choice

Some objects as nouns have life and motion, some don’t.

Sparrow.  Nail.  Butterfly. Comet.  Ocean.  Atom.  Building.  Pebble.  Tadpole.  Vacuum.  Hurricane. Skeleton.  Flame.  Puddle.

Find those that are animate or inanimate, moving or motionless.  Imagine writing prose while being aware of the quality of the word in regard to movement. Life is movement and change—and the conflict it implies. It should be obvious how word choice can improve the reader interest in well-crafted prose.

Description of animate things, rather than inanimate, is always better for story in fiction. In general, description (and exposition) should always be buried in action for maximum effect.

  1. Modifiers

When an inanimate object is on the page, writers often need to prevent the burned-out effect inanimate objects create. Some inanimate objects, with modification, can imply motion (and impending conflict). Here are examples:

hand/trembling hand;
knife/serrated knife;
car/race car;
gun/Gattling gun, etc.

Action can be implied with similar effects by changing general to specific.

Soil›››muck;
Meteor›››shooting star;
Spice›››cilantro;
Horse›››thoroughbred;
Painting›››hunt scene.

And in the language, it is always wise to strive for motion when the story motion and pacing allow (i.e., don’t drivel, write only what counts for the story). Compare:

He sat in the chair.

This might be improved, if space permits. This has action, imagery, and information.

He put his hands back for support, bent his knees, and painfully lowered himself into the wheelchair.

  1. Syntax and conflict.

Note the way syntax, and how ideas are delivered, can change the energy of a sentence, often by clarifying the conflict.

A basic message: Grandpa killed Granny

At the funeral and for years after, grandfather never mentioned the day he hammered granny to her grave.
Comment, The construction—past, distance, telling–gives a fait accompli tone that might not serve well.

Grandfather killed our granny.
Comment, A telling.  No action.

No one was witness and we had to imagine Grandfather standing over the bed and smashing Granny’s skull with a hammer before she woke.
Comment, Action filtered through character’s imagination but action and conflict present because of in-the-moment construction.

Grandpa stared at the hammer as Granny’s blood began to congeal with hair and fragments of skull bone.
Comment, There is in-scene action with tension present (What happened? Is she dead?)

After he killed Granny with a hammer, Grandfather washed imagined blood off his hands every hour of the day until the skin was raw.
Comment, In-scene action.  Implied emotion of guilt.  Movement. Internal conflict revealed.

We thought Grandfather was an intelligent man, well educated, famous in his own right, but we discovered his major flaw the night we discovered Granny murdered in her bed and Grandfather laughing hysterically a few feet away.
Comment, Telling. Lots of information. The only action is description of the past with Grandfather laughing.  Basically unsuccessful sentence. Energy potential dissipated by complicated construction.

In-scene, in-the-moment action, rather than telling, invigorates the language. Note also how changing position and content of phrases changes emphasis. In general, the basic noun/verb structure that comes last in sentence or phrase construction is often strongest in effect. Note too, the more general, rather than specific, the sentence, the less effective it is. Complex constructions, when compared to simple terse constructions, lose energy and impact.

  1. Build Emotional conflict

Drama and emotions.

In a good story, emotions of characters never match exactly. Even in a love story, the love interests need to be unequal–at least one never sure if this is love, or one loaded with guilt from a previous affair, etc. These out of sync emotions is what will add dramatic energy to the scene writing. It is, after all, conflict, and conflict is drama. Keep emotions changing and flowing in nature and intensity, and always relate the emotion to the core need or desire of the character.

Internal conflict examples

Love/hate
Sympathy/blame
Fear/sentimentality
Pliant/resistant
Understanding/unyielding

  1. Use humor as source of change and conflict.

All humor requires a change, disparity, surprise, that cause a change in perception that activates a humor response. Humor can express conflict. Ridicule, a type of humor, is an example. Woman sports commentator to on-air, older-man colleague: “What was it like, Cliffy, when you played tennis . . . you know . . . in the age of the dinosaurs, when the technology couldn’t give us the speed of the ball on serve.” Here the attempt of humor by ridiculing the age difference implies competitive conflict in the relationship, and says that the woman commentator may be unreasonable and insecure (character development). An example of embedded conflict in the language illuminated in a humor attempt.

Summary

Conflict in storytelling and in the prose used for storytelling in literary fiction is essential. There are unlimited ways to discover the use of conflict and action. Writers improve by developing a style based on conflict and action to please readers through character development and reader engagement in the story. Persistent practice in writing dramatic prose is necessary throughout a writer’s career.

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