Saturday, August 12, 2006

It's a GREAT time to be a writer!

I read a monograph recently that said that this was a terrible time to be a writer.

This is a great time to be a writer... either fiction or non. There are more publishers than ever. There is more media access than ever. There are emerging nations of new readers looking for material. There are more places to market intellectual property. Indeed, there is more opportunity than ever before for a writer or an artist, musician.... even poets... if they know a little about lyrics.

Why do you think there are so many people wanting to write... or "trying" to write? My take is because they see an opportunity to "make it."

How else does an unknown woman writer, on welfare (the dole) in the UK end up with more money than the royal family?

What I have said for years and years and years is that one problem we have in our society is that we don't have many GOOD writers or GOOD artists. You can debate the hell out of this, but bottom line, so much of the stuff that we are presented with is plain old unadulterated crap.

Write something really good. I mean really, really, really good (a Death of a Salesman, a Caine Mutiny, a Lord of the Rings, a Kill a Mockingbird, a What Color is your Parachute, a Grapes of Wrath, a Zen and Motorcycle Maint., or any of your favorite books) and if you work hard at it and do all you can to get it noticed, you will have A GOOD CHANCE for a huge success. I truly believe that. Hey. It works for 'pulp.' So why won't it work for 'quality.' John Grishem sold books out of the trunk of his car. He WORKED FOR IT. Most of his stuff is 'pulp.' How many authors (or publishers) are will willing to really WORK for it like John did?

I believe that our society DOES recognize quality. The problem is that we see so little of it from our "creative" intellectuals. It's a hell of a lot easier to write "another" murder mystery than something that takes some real "creativity".... like what a Hemingway or a Wouk might produce.

These are great times to be a writer or an artist or a musician. And because of it, everyone and their dog thinks they can be one... and the majority of them are just plain terrible. Thus, we are deluged with crap.

I don't for a minute buy the argument that it is TOTALLY our 'society to blame.' We're all here and when quality is presented to us (The Beatles, Rowling, Woodward, Miller, Williams, Vorst, etc.) we buy it.

Why aren't most "literary" writers rich and famous... or well-read? Maybe because they all sit on thier butt and do little to get their work noticed? You think?

We not only have to "sell" people on reading (as opposed to TV, GameBoy, X-Box etc.) but we also NEED quality content... and if the content is out there, I sure as hell don't know where it is coming from. All I see is crap.

Moan and groan all you want about how "good works" don't get sold. Then show me the "effort" made on the part of those creators to get them sold and I'll tell you again that the only place where success comes before work... is in the dictionary.

Writers tell me "Quality won't sell." I ask them "How much work have you put in to selling it?" They tell me "That's the publisher's job." I don't disagree at all... except that it just does not happen.

First of all publishers don't care about quality. They care about profits. They have to. THEY take the risk! It's their jobs, homes, savings accounts on the line. Yes, it IS about the money!

And because it takes a fair amount of money to get into print, publishers in the USA have grown scared. It's all a "numbers game." They have followed the lead from the movie industry where you put out ten films knowing that six will fail, three will either break-even or make a tiny profit, and one will be successful enough to pay for all the others and still return a nice profit.

I've always wondered what would happen if publishers tried to 'push' GOOD books instead what I call 'crap.' I've always wondered how this business would work if there were either fewer publishers or just fewer books published... but those that had trees killed for them were quality works.

Well, I won't live to see that, especially in a society that rewards rap and hip-hop crap and an entire generation who has never seen much in the way of quality (beyond Harry Potter).

And why have they not seen it? Because no one 'pushes' it.

(Look how required-reading lists in high-school and college have been either watered down or eliminated. Why aren't students required to take 4 years of literature instead of PE in post-secondary education?)

It's not just the fault of publishers. I think those who want to write 'quality' are afraid of the work it will take to sell it. And THIS is WHY I say it's a great time to be a writer of "quality". It's much easier to learn how to do "quality" media and publicity than to write quality fiction or biography or history, etc.

Show me a writer who says "Screw the publisher, I'm going to make this happen on my own" and I'll show you a writer who will succeed.

Unfortunately the writers in that category.... are all writing crap (diet books, bogus self-help garbage, revisionist junk-history, shock-politics, etc.) They are the ones willing to WORK for it.

I'd love to see a bunch of writers (a collective maybe) who write 'good stuff' (as agreed upon by all) join forces, all contribute to a fund for media and publicity... not for their particular books, but to promote quality. In due time I'm sure their own books would do well (colleteral damage :-)) and we'd all be better off for it.

It's a great time to be a writer. It's too bad there are so few of them who know how to sell.

There is a whole world of people sick and tired of crap. Go find them. It's a lot of work... but what isn't?

Al Canton
Adams-Blake Company, Inc.
http://www.adams-blake com

Copyright 2006 by A. Canton and Adams-Blake Company, Inc. This piece may be freely copied and published in any media with proper attribution to the author and including his company and URLs.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

It's the SERVICE, stupid!

Man, I'm steamed. OK, maybe it's a small thing... but I'm still steamed.

I get two copies of a well-known news magazine and I only need ONE! This has been happening for a few months and I've called and written them to PLEASE fix it. Does it ever get fixed? What do you think?

I guess I get peeved about stuff like this because WE'RE PUBLISHERS. I mean to say, that if you are a PUBLISHER and you are going to PUBLISH a something, then I expect you to KNOW the technology or distribution... or at least something about it. It's part of the 'skill set' of being a publisher. Most of us don't know how a web press works, or the fine points of CYMK... but we know something about them... and we know whom to ask and what to ask.

So when the magazine has a problem they can't or won't solve, then it's time to change. That's how we in the small press would deal with printers.... I'm sure that's how you (all) would deal with me and our JAYA123 service (see how I slipped that in??? :-) What if JAYA had constant problems or lots of downtime... yet I tell everyone that I'm an expert in computer technology? What are you going to think of me?

The magazine is an EXPERT in publishing. Thus, when I get 2 (sometimes 3) copies of the rag each week for months and months.... and I've POLITELY written to them about the problem and NEVER get any response.... well it makes me wonder.

To me a player is only as good as his or her last game. Why are guys like D. Poynter and S.Horowitz, and T&S, and Data R., and M&G, and M. Gilliland, and Midpoint, and M. Long, and B. Kerrigan held in high regard as vendors? Because they don't drop the ball too often and when they do, they acknowledge it and work their butts off to make sure they don't screw up again.

I'm just on a tear about bad service from people that I expect really good service from. I'm just sick of it. I'm sick of the "We got your money now so who cares about you" attitude. And I'm sick of calling customer service to someone I pay good money to each month and getting a "script reader" in Bombay who doesn't know his or her ass from a kumquat (or whatever the hell they eat in India!)

So is this a bad thing? Yes it is. But it's also a good thing!

I'm more convinced than ever that we are heading into what will be a golden age for small business. I think people are tired of the "Wall-Martization" of everything. It's not just price. People are starved for good service.

Case in point. At 4 PM yesterday (Friday) I was about ready to wrap up my day in the office. Phone rang and it was Peter D. from Silverback Books ( They are a big JAYA123 user... they have 3 logins for 2 employees and a fulfillment center in Kansas. They have about 100 titles and do about $2 million a year gross. (And you thought JAYA was just for the small-fry?) [Note: they have given me permisison to state the above stats. We would never ever say anything to anyone about a Jaya123 client without express permission]

Peter says that there is a problem with the Rep Commission report. So instead of going to the country club to work out (so I'm 'buffed' for BEA's book-babes), I fired up the local copy of JAYA to see if I could replicate the problem.

And yes, there WAS a problem with the report. It took me about 20 minutes to find and fix it and put it out on the server. I emailed Peter. He calls back and he is just stunned that anyone would fix or could fix or even be willing to fix a problem that was important to him at that moment (most folks don't have sales reps so it is not a heavily used report... he was trying to close his accounts for the month.)

He was incredulous. It just blew him away that I dropped everything and DID what he's PAYING me for.... to run the damn service! Yeah. It's supposed to be error-free. That's what I advertise. That's what people give me their money for. So what is the issue? He expected "Bombay service."

Peter is going to go to BEA and he is going to tell ALL of his publisher friends about JAYA123 and the good service I gave him, yada, yada. And so will our own Florrie K. of Patria.... because I've provided her with good service as well (she's a blonde book-babe so you have to expect that she will run into (and cause!)lots of computer problems!!)

My point is that we CAN compete with the big guys.

Hey, I go head-to-head and toe-to-toe with Intuit's Quickbooks on The Web. Do you think for one minute that anyone at Intuit would fix your problem, or add a new feature, within hours... much less days or weeks? Damn right they won't!

But I'll bust my butt for you... and THAT dear friends is what will be the key to survival for small businesses.

I don't know how applicable it is to publishers.... as we don't have that much customer contact... but if you publish non-fiction and can somehow adopt the Poynter model of surrounding your book biz with added services (you publish bicycle books so maybe you should open a bike repair shop or sell bike parts on the web?) the lesson is clear. You can compete with the "Intuits" of the world by getting a bit of press.... working your butt off... and letting your happy customers get the word out.

It's not enough to have a good product. "It's the service, stupid." They don't teach that at Wharton. I don't think there is a single MBA that knows this. You know where I learned it? From my days in sales at EDS working for Ross Perot.

He taught me that people don't buy products or even services. They buy EXPECTATIONS. I'll let you ponder that. Either you will get it or you won't. I'm all out of breath here and have beaten this into the ground. I'm off to the golf course to take a walk in the woods!! Fore, Five, Six...

Al Canton
Adams-Blake Company, Inc.
http://www.adams-blake com

Copyright 2006 by A. Canton and Adams-Blake Company, Inc. This piece may be freely copied and published in any media with proper attribution to the author and including his company and URLs.