Blankety Books

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Play Blankety Books and WIN Books!

5pm every Friday on Twitter

Follow @boomerangbooks and #blanketybooks to be part of the action!

How do you play?

We will post on twitter a book title and author with all the letters missing.

eg

_ _ _ _ _ _ / _ _ _ _ _ by _ _ _ _ _ _ / _ _ _ _

Guess a letter by tweeting at us using the #blanketybooks hashtag

eg

“ @boomerangbooks I guess the letter A #blanketybooks ”

We will slowly reveal the book title and author as more letters are guessed (you can guess as many times as you like but only one letter per tweet)

eg

_ _ _ _ A _ / _ _ _ _ _ by _ A _ _ A _ / _ _ _ _ #blanketybooks

_ _ _ _ A _ / _ _ _ _ _ by H A _ _ A H / _ _ _ _ #blanketybooks

B _ _ _ A _ / _ _ _ _ _ by H A _ _ A H / _ _ _ _ #blanketybooks

B _ _ I A _ / _ I _ _ _ by H A _ _ A H / _ _ _ _ #blanketybooks

First correct answer wins the book!

eg BURIAL RITES by HANNAH KENT #blanketybooks

We will contact the winner to post out the prize!

(Australian residents only)

Book Review – Skinner

9781409124375You’ve never read an espionage thriller like this before. It is complex and twisted and there are no easy answers. Huston challenges you as a reader, which I totally love, to not only keep up but also decipher what is happening both on the surface and below it. Taking a world of unmanned drones, wikileaks and social media Huston has constructed a complex and nuanced spy story that will blow your mind.

Skinner works for a company called Kestrel, a private offshoot, so to speak, of the CIA. His job is to protects assets and do whatever that takes. He has a fearsome reputation built on his own maxim where if someone tries to take, hurt or kill an asset in his protection he will seek revenge against anyone and everyone involved in the threat. But when his employer seemingly sets him up, he breaks from his maxim and goes to ground.

Seven years later a serious cyber attack has taken place on a power station in the US. Jae, a brilliant robotics expert and data analyst, is called in by Kestrel to find what Kestrel’s analysts have been unable to spot. She is a valuable asset and they need Skinner to protect her. Skinner is coaxed out of hiding but he can’t trust Kestrel and Kestrel can’t trust Skinner. Everyone knows what he is capable of, what they don’t know is what Skinner will actually do.

It took me a while to get into the book, to get my head around Kestrel and in particular Skinner, whose backstory is something that needs to be digested. But once the strands of the story started to form together the book just absorbs you. There is something manic to the writing, which is reflective of the book’s characters. It builds in sentences and then calms but there’s always the threat that it will all boil over. But once you get the rhythm, of the characters, you are in all the way.

Huston’s last book, Sleepless, elevated his writing to a new level, Skinner takes it even further. Huston is amongst the best when it comes to action but he builds those scenes around cutting-edge, thought-provoking storylines. In Skinner he taps into issues of poverty, anarchy, terror and despair. He explores the inhumanity of warfare, on the battlefield and behind closed doors, and the power of information in a socially networked world. It will reverberate inside your head for days after you finish reading it.

But the book here…

Book in for the 2013 Women Writers Challenge!

Australian Women Writers ChallengeWhich of the many books on your to-read list will you pick up (or click on) next? If you’re as indecisive as me, it’s a struggle each time.

In 2013, I will have a mission to guide me. I’m signing up for the second annual Australian Women Writers Challenge, with a plan to read 27 books by Australian women writers, many of which have been gathering dust on my real and virtual bookshelves for years (the full list to come in a future post).

I found out about the event too late in 2012, but tracked the progress of other bloggers who joined in via Twitter and GoodReads with interest. So what exactly is this giant digital book club, how did it come to be, and how can you get involved? Founder ELIZABETH LHUEDE explains all …

1. What is the Australian Women Writers Challenge all about, and what inspired you to launch the campaign?



The Australian Women Writers Challenge is a reading and reviewing challenge organised by book bloggers. It asks people to sign up and read, or read and review, a number of books by Australian women throughout the year, and to discuss them on book blogs and social media. Through the challenge, we hope to draw attention to and overcome the problem of gender bias in the reviewing of books in Australia’s literary journals, and to support and promote books by Australian women.

Indirectly, the challenge was inspired by the VIDA count, an analysis of major book reviewing publications in North America and Europe. This count revealed that male authors were far more likely to have their books reviewed in influential international newspapers, magazines and literary journals than female authors.

An analysis of Australian literary pages by Bookseller + Publisher showed a similar bias (reprinted in Crikey in March 2012). 

From my own experience I know the problem isn’t just with male readers not reading books by women; it’s more entrenched than that: women, too, are guilty of gender bias in their reading. This is part of a much larger problem of devaluing work labelled as being by a woman. A 2012 study quoted recently by Tara Moss demonstrates that this bias exists independent of the actual quality and content of the work (see excerpt here).

To help solve this problem, the Australian Women Writers Challenge calls on readers to examine their reading habits and, if a bias against female authors exists, work to change it by reading – and reviewing – more books by Australian women. The quality of the work is there: it’s up to us to discover and celebrate it.


2. Is it just a coincidence that the challenge arrived on the scene around the same time as the Stella Prize for Australian women’s writing?



The challenge owes a lot to the people who created the Stella Prize. Kirsten Tranter, one of the Stella panelists, wrote about the VIDA statistics in early 2011, as did many others in the early part of that year. Without the Stella Prize, the challenge wouldn’t have been the success it is.

3. How highly would you rate the influence of Miles Franklin on all of this, and why do you think she has become such a symbol for women writers in this country?

The Stella panelists chose Miles Franklin as a symbol, I believe, because no women were shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award in 2009 and 2011, despite the prize having been established at the bequest of a woman – one who, incidentally, chose to publish under a male pseudonym.

I can see the strategic reasons for adopting Franklin as a symbol, but I also think it’s a symptom of the problem. There are far more talented Australian female authors. There are also other literary prizes that have been going for years that don’t get anywhere near the publicity of the Miles Franklin Award, such as the Barbara Jefferis Award and The Kibble and Dobbie prizes. To be honest, I hadn’t even heard of these awards before I started researching books to read for the challenge. Why is that, unless it has something to do with the fact that they, in varied ways, celebrate women?

4. A year on, do you feel the campaign has been a success?

The challenge has been a huge success. The Huffington Post Books blog published a wrap-up of recent releases of books by Australian women, Overland blog announced 2012 as The Year of Australian Women Writers, it has been mentioned on Radio National, and the Sydney Morning Herald’s Daily Life blog counted it among the 20 Greatest Moments for Women in 2012. I couldn’t have hoped for more.



5. How important has social media been to its reach?

Twitter especially has a major force in getting word out about the challenge, and has helped publicise the many reviews now linked to the blog (well over 1300). Recommendations via book bloggers and, to a lesser extent, Facebook have also been important. The real spikes in terms of hits on the blog, however, have come after mentions in traditional media.



6. You’ve done some survey research into AWW’s impact. Have you seen the results of that research yet?

A brief look at the results has revealed that the majority of respondents didn’t sign up for the challenge, but had heard about it; a majority of these also happened to read more books by Australian women this year. There are many other factors beside the challenge which have raised the profile of books by Australian women in 2012, so the challenge can’t take credit for this result, but it is a very encouraging trend.

Of the people who did sign up for the challenge, a majority read more books by Australian women than in previous years, and most reviewed more and read more broadly. A majority of respondents credited the challenge for their having a greater awareness of authors’ names, book titles and a sense of the breadth and diversity of genres being written by Australian women.

7. Do you have anything different planned for AWW in 2013?

In 2013, the challenge will remain basically the same, with the aim to read and review more books by Australian women. One change is that there will now be a ‘read only’ option for people who are reluctant (or too time poor) to review. This is a gamble – as it could easily diffuse the challenge’s goal. But it is my hope that people who sign up for this option will actively participate in the challenge.

How can they do that? By discussing books they’re reading on social media, using #aww2013 on Twitter, posting comments on the AWW Facebook page, discussing the books in the AWW GoodReads group, and – especially – by commenting on book bloggers’ reviews. Book bloggers have made a huge effort to read and review these books and I’m sure they appreciate people commenting.

8. Are the goals for the campaign the same, or have they grown with the movement?



The goal for the challenge remains to help overcome gender bias in reviewing, and also more generally to support and promote books by Australian women.

9. How can readers, authors, publishers, booksellers, the media and bloggers get involved?



The best way to get involved is to sign up to the challenge, to pledge to read and review books by Australian women in 2013, and to encourage others – friends, co-workers, family members, book group members, local librarians, school teachers and bookshop owners – to join as well. You can sign up here.

10. Can men participate (of course I know they can, but you never know, some might be too shy unless you extend them a really warm invitation!)?

Men are very welcome to participate – as they were in 2012. One male participant in the 2012 challenge was David Golding who recently wrote a wrap-up post on his participation which included a call for more men to sign up.

Another participant from 2012 is Sean Wright from Adventures of a Bookonaut blog. Sean has joined the AWW team and will be looking for ways to help get more male readers engaged in the challenge. (If you have any ideas, let him know!)



11. Who is/are your favourite Australian woman writer/s?


This is a tough question. I can honestly say my knowledge of books by Australian women is still too limited for me to have a favourite or favourites. This year I have discovered a wealth of genuine talent  – world-class authors I didn’t know existed this time last year – and I’m convinced there are many more to discover. My favourite genre is crime, particularly psychological suspense, and in those genres I’ve enjoyed the work of Wendy James, Rebecca James, Sylvia Johnson, Sara Foster, Caroline Overington, Angela Savage, Sulari Gentill, Nicole Watson, PM Newton and my friend Jaye Ford. But one of my goals this year was to read widely, which means I’ve read a lot of single books (46 so far) by different authors. The only authors I’ve repeated have been Gail Jones, Charlotte Wood and Margo Lanagan (two each). It’s not enough to go on to develop a favourite.

12. What were your top three reads by Australian women writers this year?



Only three? Eva Hornung’s Dog Boy, Margo Lanagan’s Sea Hearts tie for first, and a shared tie second includes Emily Maguire’s Fishing for Tigers and PM Newton’s The Old School, while Kate Morton’s The Secret Keeper comes in third. These are all very different books but, in my view, compelling reading. (Sorry, that’s five, isn’t it?)

13. What are you planning to read next?

I’ve just finished Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan, an emotionally devastating and imaginative speculative fiction novel, and before that was Annabel Smith’s Whisky Charlie Foxtrot, a very readable literary book about sibling rivalry. I have a huge stack books by Australian women to read, both recent releases and older titles, but I’m also keen to get back to my own writing which I’ve neglected this year while working on the challenge. Creating the new websites has required fulltime work for the past few months, and I need to get back to my own writing.

13. Could you tell us a little about your own writing? Has your work on the challenge pushed your own literary career along?

I started writing novels after I finished my PhD (in 1995) and I’ve had success in competitions with several romantic suspense novels and a fantasy title, but so far no acceptances from publishers. My latest story is a page-turning psychological suspense novel which draws on some hair-raising encounters I had working as an intern counsellor at a private hospital, as well my experience growing up with a schizophrenic father.

Earlier this year I attracted the attention of literary agent, author and former editor, Virginia Lloyd, who loved the story and agreed to represent me. With a great team now supporting the AWW challenge, I hope to get on with writing my second psychological suspense novel in 2013.

Have I been inspired by what I’ve read? Without a doubt. It has also been intimidating to see the depth, breadth and quality of the work that is out there – work that clearly doesn’t get the attention it deserves. It’s scary, in a way, to go back to my own writing now with this new ‘anxiety of influence’. I would love to write with the richly textured imaginative flair of Margo Lanagan, or the terrible emotion of Eva Hornung, or the compassionate humanity of Charlotte Wood. I would love to write crime with the sense of history and stylistic precision of PM Newton, or have the exquisite appreciation of nature and human heartbreak of Favel Parrett, or the contemporary feel and nuanced characters of Emily Maguire. I’d love to write suspense, mystery and history with the scope and readability of Kate Morton – and to have my books be half as popular with readers. I doubt I can do any of those things and I feel grief about that. I know the next step in such thinking would be “Why even try?” But what I can do is what I’ve always – sometimes hesitantly – tried to do: to write as skilfully and honestly as I’m able, informed by who I am and my unique experience of the world. If one day I get published and find readers who enjoy reading the stories I’ve created, great: that will be a dream come true. If not, at least I can be an active and appreciative reader of those writers who have a great deal more talent than me.

 

Dabbling in digital storytelling at drabbl.es

drabbl.esCanberra writer and entrepreneur Ellen Harvey has launched a new global platform for writers who can cope with word limits. The drabbl.es website, which is live but in alpha testing, invites visitors to create 100 word stories in one of dozens of subject areas, from journalism to crime and chick lit to biography. It’s an addictive format, and one that will appeal to writers of all genres and experience levels. Ellen took time out from her busy schedule to answer some questions about drabbling and literary start-up life for Boomerang Books. 

How and when did you come up with the idea for drabbl.es? 

The idea for drabbl.es came about as I was thinking of a way to write, collect, share and get others to do the same with 100 word stories. My writing group at the time loved the idea and I would give them ‘homework’ tasks to write 100 words around a certain theme. I wanted to read their drabbles, and they wanted to read other people’s drabbles too. Drabbles have been around for a while, the term originating from Monty Python, and are quite popular on online blogging platforms such as Livejournal. At the end of 2011, my husband, Lachlan Blackhall, and I were having a conversation about how to make this 100-word story-sharing website a reality. It was then that drabbl.es really started to take form, including many features and improvements that we can’t wait to implement on the website in future versions.

How long have you yourself been writing drabbles?

I have been writing drabbles since I was 14 and sharing them with friends via email and online blogging.

What’s your day job? 

My day job is split into three segments really: I’m a writer working on my first manuscript. I also started a company with my sister this year called BnE Media (www.bnemedia.com) where we create animated storybook apps for children. And of course, I work on drabbl.es.

And your dream job?

This is pretty much the dream. I am able to travel while working, I am able to write full-time, and I am able to work on interesting projects.

How many of you are involved in the project and what are the key roles?

As mentioned earlier, my husband is a key member of this project. He works with many start-up companies and is the ideal partner to have for this website. Plus, it’s great fun to be working on something with Lachlan. David Elliot and his team at Agile Digital are amazing–they worked tirelessly to make sure we had demos for workshops and a working version to begin this first trial in October.

How long has it taken to get the site up and running?

The idea was developed into a working website early in the year, and we were able to secure our developers (Agile Digital) in April. In six months, we have been able to start our first trial.

Now that drabbl.es is live, how much work is involved in running and promoting the site?

It’s actually a lot more work than I thought. Running a website, especially one in the early stages, means that I read 95% of all the drabbles. Drabbles are then randomly picked to be ‘promoted’ on social media, as well as advertising our challenges on social media so users know there are new ones. Running a trial, in particular, means I sort through feedback results and am constantly updating the development strategy for the next version. It definitely keeps me busy – but I love it all the same. It’s a new experience that I wouldn’t get anywhere else.

When do you anticipate leaving alpha stage and launching proper?

We plan to have the alpha trial running until the end of January (although we may continue into February). The site will still be live after that, but behind the scenes we’ll start working on the beta version. We’ll then release the next version and collect feedback. I love the idea of an evolving website that is exactly what its users want. After the beta trial and redevelopment, I think we’ll launch the proper version.

Will there be iOS and Android apps for drabbl.es?

I certainly hope so! To me, drabbling is definitely something that can be done on the run. You can be at a concert and write about the song you just heard; you can be watching the New Year’s Eve fireworks and describe the atmosphere; you can take a picture and explain what it means to you right then and there while still being in the moment.

Why should people post to drabbl.es rather than Facebook or Twitter or their own Tumblr/blog?

Drabbl.es allows people to tell stories. That is our aim. We want to read about a moment in someone’s life and feel as if we experienced it with them. Drabbl.es is about connections. Facebook and Twitter statuses have developed to the point where they are often used to talk about a very specific moment, but once the moment is over, the update or tweet is often no longer relevant. We want drabbles to have longevity and to mean something a week, a month, a year, a decade after it’s published. Tumblrs and blogs allow users to write as much as they want–we want to encourage creativity by having the word restriction.

Might we see drabbl.es anthologies in ebook form in the future?

It is definitely something that we’ve thought about. Possibly as a way to deliver drabbles daily, weekly or monthly to users interested in particular genres or users. Almost like a newsletter, but hopefully delivered straight to your eReader. That being said, we’ve also thought about users able to export their drabbles straight to ePub/mobi and upload to the various stores themselves. It’s something we’ve thought about, but still a little while off from implementing.

How will you deal with copyright issues ie does the writer retain copyright and what if you were to publish a book, would you have to ask for permission?

Writers always retain copyright. As a writer myself, this is something I feel very strongly about. When they post on the website, the work is always theirs. If we were to publish a book, we would ask the users for permission.

What about moderating the drabbles to ensure nothing defamatory or racist etc is posted, is that a big job? 

Currently, our users are wonderful and don’t make it a very big job. I imagine it may turn into one, though. Our website is only as good as the users on it, so I hope that our users will alert us to anything they think we should check out, in addition to our own moderation.

What’s the end goal and how will you make money/pay for the site?

Ideally, and it’s a big dream, I’d love drabbl.es to be on the Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook stage–something people do for fun, but is totally addictive. Regarding making money, we believe the site can make money in two ways. Firstly, sponsored challenges are a logical step. The challenges are already part of drabbl.es functionality and with our view that drabbl.es can be written about events and experiences, then having drabbl.es host challenges for other companies seems reasonable and something the drabbl.es community would do because they are already using the challenges section of the website. The second way is by creating levels of paid users. There will always be a user type that is free and without advertising, but if they want more functionality, such as linking drabbles together or adding more than one picture to a drabble for example, they would need to pay for their account.

How did you come up with the extensive list of drabbl.es subjects? Can contributors suggest more?

I searched for writing genres on Google and came up with a multitude of sites that declared they had the best list of writing genres. I ended up just picking the one I like the best and started with that. The list is a work in progress and I would love for users to suggest more.

What other online forums exist for posting drabbles ie what’s your competition?

A wave of citizen journalism sites have cropped up in the last year and I feel that this is probably our major competition. They all allow their users to add pictures, follow other users, get email updates, comment and socialise on the websites. What’s more, they all promote that their site is about storytelling. Despite this, I know that our concept and website is strong because our 100 word restriction on the stories is a challenge (and an addictive one at that) which only enhances and promotes creativity.

Win a Jessica Rudd book-pack

Jessica Rudd is hilarious. I’ve just finished giggling my way through her very clever second novel, Ruby Blues (due out Monday through Text Publishing at $29.95), and have a copy of it, and its predecessor, Campaign Ruby (see review below, $18.14 through Booku.com here), to give away to one of you.

I’ll be posting a Q&A with the 27-year-old author on Monday (check back to find out whether Jess has her eye on a political career and more).

Jessica will be touring the country to promote the new book, starting with this event at the National Library in Canberra on November 1.

To be in the running for the two-book prize (printed not ebook – though I read a PDF review copy of Ruby II and recommend reading both that way – they’re the sort of page turner that is perfectly suited to ereading), you’ll need to take to Twitter or Facebook. This is apt, because both platforms make highly amusing appearances in Jessica’s new book.

Visit facebook.com/ebookish, “like” it (it’s a great way to receive updates on blog posts here at Booku.com), and answer the question below in a post there.
Or follow @ebookish on Twitter, and address your tweet entry to @ebookish.

Just tell me which of the following hashtags you’d be more likely to use and why: #bringbackkev #getrealjulia or #jessruddforpm

You can enter as many times as you like between now and 3.30pm Monday (when I’ll be choosing a winner then heading to the post office with the prize), but the answer the judge (ie me) deems the wittiest, funniest or most surprising will win.

Last August, I reviewed Rudd’s debut novel, Campaign Ruby, for The Canberra Times. Here’s that text (add 14 months to the time references).

Poor Jessica Rudd.

A former lawyer and public relations consultant now living in China, the 26-year-old daughter of Kevin decided more than a year ago to write a novel. It would feature a young English woman who accidentally lands herself in the middle of an Australian election campaign – a campaign sparked by the ”swift and seamless” ousting of the fictional prime minister by his treasurer, Gabrielle Brennan. Ms Brennan is not a red-head, but she does quickly visit the Governor-General to ask for an early election. Her ex-boss, Hugh Patton, meanwhile, is deemed ”unlikely to serve under his challenger and successor”.

Canberra-born Rudd, who wrote the book 14 months ago, must’ve been mortified when Julia Gillard replaced her father as PM on June 24, only days before the inadvertently prophetic Campaign Ruby went to print and well after her deadline for making changes to the text.

Still, there can be no doubt the art-meets-life element of it all will help boost sales of this entertaining debut novel. Not that it needs any help. Rudd is a natural writer who has written a page-turning book that injects lots of fun and froth into the corridors of power.

”Imagine Bridget Jones on the campaign trail”, the publisher spruiks, and for once the comparison is apt. Accidental political adviser Ruby Stanhope is terribly Bridget. A Brit, she’s unlucky in love, lives alone in a Notting Hill apartment, drinks too much pinot noir, writes lists at every opportunity, and has a knack for landing herself in sticky situations (think flushing her boss’s voice recorder down the loo, locking herself out of her hotel room in a T-shirt and knickers, appearing in metropolitan dailies wearing only thongs and a belted beer singlet at a press conference, and attempting to vote in the election despite her lack of any Aussie credentials).

We meet investment banker Ruby in London as she’s opening an email the HR department has sent to sack her. One drunken night and an impulsive Qantas booking later, she’s on her way to Melbourne. Planning to drink more wine and visit family while holidaying, Ruby instead finds herself joining the campaign team of the Leader of the Opposition after a chance meeting with his badly dressed and over-worked chief of staff, Luke Harley.

What follows is a vivid (and, true-to-life, utterly exhausting) account of Ruby’s time on the campaign trail, written as only an insider could. There are 4am starts, outfit changes in taxis, flirtations with hot (but off-limits) television journalist Oscar Franklin, a debate, campaign launches, endless flights to catch, and, in Ruby’s case, an uncanny ability to make snap decisions on everything from policy to fashion that help her boss, and his party’s candidates in marginal seats, win voters’ hearts.

It’s tempting to look for traits of Rudd’s parents in her Leader of the Opposition, Max Masters, and his smart, supportive wife, Shelly. Surely there is an element of Jessica or her brothers in her depiction of their children (and their treatment by the media), too.

Speaking of which, Rudd does wrap a couple of serious messages into the essentially fluffy plot: on the importance of family; and on retaining integrity in the face of political pressures to do otherwise.

Meanwhile, the ambitious ”pretty boy” Oscar is as beguiling to the reader as he is to Ruby. He may or may not remind some Canberra readers of a journo or political staffer they’ve seen holding up the bar at the Kennedy Room or Holy Grail in Kingston on a Wednesday night. Will Ruby be able to resist his charms? Could she be the one to change his bad boy ways? Let’s just say that the romantic subplot to this novel is everything you’d expect from a pink paperback with a handbag, mobile phone and high heel on the cover.

Jessica Rudd has said she hopes this novel won’t be her last. It seems, then, that she is set to join the likes of Maggie Alderson, Anita Heiss and Melanie La’Brooy as a regular contributor to Australia’s contemporary commercial women’s fiction scene.
Here’s hoping.

Remember to check back on Monday to read uBookish’s Q&A with Jessica (you might also like to follow @jessrudd on Twitter).

Emerging writers get digital in BrizVegas

I’m rubbing my eyes today after waking at 3am to get ready for an early flight home from Brisbane, where a crowd of emerging writers spent a festive weekend discussing all things digital.

Check out #ewfbris on Twitter and the Emerging Writers Festival’s website for a full run down of the action – I’ll be posting some more on it here soon.

Festival organisers Karen Pickering and Lisa Dempster in Brisbane.

As requested by a couple of attendees, here’s my presentation from Saturday’s Working online event (“Our panellists hash out how they make new technologies work in their writing careers, from finding markets, marketing to making money!”).
Hopefully some of the social media tips will be of use.

Self-marketing via social media to build profile and network with your tribe wherever they are (or you are) in the world

18 months ago I had an argument about Facebook and Twitter with a writer friend who worked for a federal minister.

She couldn’t see any business or government application for Social media, believing it would only ever be a tool for communicating with friends and family.

Try telling that to the makers of hazelnut chocolate spread Nutella now. They have 11 million international Facebook fans.

Or in Australia, to Chux. With posts like “who wears the washing up gloves in your house?” they’ve attracted 14,000 fans – all happy to read about dish cloths alongside updates from friends in their Facebook feed.

Facebook has more than 10 million unique Australian visitors per month. YouTube is not far behind with 9.9 million. Blogspot and WordPress combined receive 6.6 million unique visitors, linked in 1.8 million and Twitter 1.6 million.

Social media marketing expert Tom Voirol, of digital agency Reading Room, told me this month that not being present in social media is like cancelling phone lines or email accounts. He also provided a great analogy: if advertising is like archery, social media is like ping pong”.

So it’s not about broadcasting to your followers or fans, but engaging with them, by starting and joining conversations, by sharing compelling, useful, original and relevant content, and by being an authentic online voice.

So, how does an emerging writer get started with social media?

I’d recommend you do some online research. Check out Wikipedia definitions of platforms, and blogs about social media like Mashable, ProBlogger, Digital Buzz and Social Media News Australia.

Looking at how others are using digital communications tools is a vital and ongoing part of the process.

Where are the conversations you’d be interested in taking place? Who are the influencers? What are they talking about? When?

The members of today’s panels would be a great place to start. I’d also recommend you follow Bookseller & Publisher, this very festival and ifBook along with your state writers centre.

Once you’ve sussed it all out, you can join in, either as an individual, or by creating a brand as I did.

Either way, choose a niche you’re passionate about and in which you have some expertise, and build your persona around that. It might be corgis or chick lit or cottage gardens. For me it was vegetarian Italian food and, separately, ebooks, digital publishing and related technology.

Lock that brand in for yourself across the major social media platforms and Register domain names.

I recommend WordPress for blogging, Crazy Domains for registering a domain name and JustHost for web hosting.

Set up a LinkedIn profile for professional networking, Facebook page (not a straight profile – for business purposes you need a page so that you can attract everyone rather than just those who actually know you to like your work), Twitter account (to follow anyone in the world who might be talking about an area of interest), Google + profile (it’s the newest of the major platforms, and allows you to divide your networks into categories called circles) and a YouTube channel for video or slideshow content sharing.

Take lots of photos and videos to share. The iPhone 4 and the DropBox app changed my life on this front.

Get some business cards printed. Include details of your social media accounts (make sure you get vanity URLs first).

Start commenting on your blog on everything that happens in your chosen field.

Attend every relevant launch, conference or jam jar opening and post on it.

Pitch opinion pieces, reviews and features to relevant newspapers, magazines or websites.

Comment on similar blogs and related stories on mainstream media sites.

Retweet links to blog posts or articles by fellow bloggers and writers.

Set up a list of your most useful Twitter contacts and check it religiously.

Make sure you monitor all your channels regularly and respond quickly to direct messages and often to mentions. You’ll need to set aside time to do this just as you would for any other tasks that are essential to a business, like paying bills or responding to emails or phone calls.

Share information and knowledge freely and generously … But advisedly. You want to be recognized as a trusted source.

Be a good digital citizen. Respect the copyright of others. Credit and link back when possible. Don’t vilify or defame anyone (and that includes Andrew Bolt).

Post as often as you can, without setting precedents or creating expectations you can’t live up to.

People will ignore you if you just log on once a month to tweet out a link to a blog post, or tell them where to buy your new ebook.

Consider establishing yourself as an influencer on specialist platforms like social reading site Goodreads.com.

Once you’re established, you can think about campaigns to build follower numbers or promote particular events or publications. Tom Voirol suggests building a campaign around a core idea that is easy to grasp for the public, aligned with your overall goals, measurements and success criteria, and, most importantly, has social interaction at its core.

Speaking of measurement, it is important to track your success. Facebook offers great analytics to users of its pages. There are plenty of standalone free and paid tools you can use to assess the reach of your blog posts. Stats like these can help you decide when to post, and which topics have the most traction.

Will any of this work? Like anything, it’ll depend how much you put into it.

For me, the vegetarian blog, vegeterranean.com.au, fulfilled my desire to write restaurant reviews and cookbook reviews, and led to my recipe creator mother having a meeting at Penguin about a possible cookbook.

I’ve devoted more time and energy to ebookish.com.au, which solved my problem of being a former literary editor and tech writer who would love to be more involved in the book industry but is stuck in Canberra. It’s helped me to make friends and build a network of contacts in the publishing hubs of Sydney and Melbourne and further afield.

It led to a paid blogging gig for online bookseller Booku.com [Yay Booku!] which I love, board membership of the ACT Writers Centre, a series of teaching and training gigs in social media, and an invitation to look at doing a PhD on a related topic.

The biggest surprise for me has been discovering that there are plenty of completely like-minded ebook and social media geek friends in Canberra after all. I just needed to get onto global forums to find them.

The great digital newsprint struggle

The book industry has handled the transition to digital with greater intelligence, foresight and strategy than the newspaper business.

In the space of two years (given the Kindle arrived in this market in late 2009 and the iPad and Kobo in May 2010), all major book publishers and many smaller operators have begun to publish ebooks simultaneously with printed titles. Larger book retailers were either already selling ebooks, or moved as quickly as they could to partner with businesses that would allow them to do so. Customers who adopted ereader technology understood from day one that they would need to part with cash to buy ebooks, just as they had physical books.

Newspaper publishers have posted their content online since the mid-90s (making it available to their readers for no charge in most cases), but many are still trying to find a digital model that will make their business sustainable.

Perhaps it’s because newspaper editors are so flat out getting the next day’s edition together, they don’t have time to research, plan, and ponder their likely future, whereas book publishers are used to thinking long term.

Perhaps, like many who are opposed to taking action on climate change, the newspaper bosses see the so-called digital threat as a problem for their successors, and thus one they can ignore or pay lip service to without taking genuine steps towards a sustainable model.

Andrew Rossi’s documentary Page One: Inside the New York Times examines some of these issues, and is a must-see for anyone who is interested in the changing face of the mainstream media. It’s showing in arthouse cinemas in Australia now.

A poster for Page One.
Rossi spent a year in The New York Times newsroom, focusing particularly on the media desk as it covered the dramatic changes affecting the reporters’ own industry.

During that year, the paper’s editors debated how they would cover WikiLeaks’ Afghan war logs, the release of the iPad, the bankruptcy of the Tribune Company (some serious scandals in that one, I’m definitely keen to read more about the workplace culture that filtered through to the LA Times and Chicago Tribune among other papers), NBC Universal’s merger with Comcast, media staff cuts impacting on coverage of the White House and the end of US combat in Iraq.

The film also looks at the Jayson Blair and Judith Miller incidents, the rise of Gawker, Pro Publica and new models for investigative reporting and charging for news online (the Times introduced a metered model of charging regular users of its website during filming).

The lively characters who fill the newsroom and those who commentate on the future of the Times for the cameras provide intriguing side-stories within the larger narrative. Media and culture columnist David Carr, a former crack addict whose 2008 memoir, The Night of the Gun, was a New York Times bestseller, is a star of the show.

But it is the newspaper itself that plays the leading role, surviving by adapting to make best use of new tools like Twitter and blogs and (as has been the case in newspapers here) cutting staff.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the future of newspapers. Do you still read them? How often? In print or online? Or via apps for smartphones or tablets?

Do you prefer to read native apps (purpose-built for tablets) or replica versions of the print editions, like those found in the PressReader app?

Or do you find you now read only the occasional newspaper story you’ve found via Twitter, Facebook or other social media platforms?

Would you be prepared to pay by the article, ebook-style, to access quality, well-researched long-form journalism?

Finally, do you think newspapers will even exist in five or ten years?

I’ll write a follow-up post with some of my own thoughts on these questions (as a former online editor of three newspapers, including one that introduced a paywall a decade ago) soon.

Charlotte’s posts on books, digital publishing and social media also appear on Twitter (@ebookish), Facebook (www.facebook.com/ebookish) and at ebookish.com.au.

New Direction, New Momentum

Plenty of things have been happening in the world of ebooks over the past few weeks, but for the first time I’ve been too busy working on an exciting project of my own to post about them. That project is Momentum, a new digital-only imprint of Pan Macmillan Australia, which was announced today. As a publisher for Momentum, I’ll be looking for books to publish globally, from writers who are digitally savvy, switched on to the possibilities of electronic publishing and, perhaps most importantly, know how to tell a good story.

Momentum will be launching in February 2012 with a truly amazing stable of frontlist authors. I am honoured to get the chance to work with each of these writers, and I look forward to the opportunity to work with new and established authors alike in the future.

We also want to hear from authors who have older titles that are out of print or yet to be digitised who want to inject new life into their old books. There are potentially thousands of books out there that can no longer be accessed online or off and no longer provide an income for the authors who wrote them. Momentum will give these writers the opportunity to breathe new life into previously published work and make them accessible for a new audience of digital readers.

Accessibility is going to be the name of the game for Momentum. Momentum ebooks will be available globally and at an affordable price. The Smell of Books has provided me with a wonderful excuse to listen to digital readers, and I think there is a lot I can do to make the relationship between readers and publishers as open as possible. This is going to be a tremendously exciting time, so I hope you’ll spread the word and contribute your thoughts, ideas and hopefully your books!

As part of this new direction, I’ll be shifting the Smell of Books to a new independent location. I’ll still be blogging on all things bookish, digital and tech, but as the demands of Momentum will be a bigger drain on my time, I’d like to make room for new voices here at Booku. If you’d like to keep up with the Smell of Books, please head over to www.thesmellofbooks.com where I’ll continue to post rants, analysis and news about the digital publishing world. You can also follow me on Twitter @joelnaoum. It’s been a blast, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the people here at Booku and Boomerang Books, especially Clayton Wehner and my fellow bloggers over at Boomerang.

To find out more about Momentum, visit the website at www.momentumbooks.com.au and follow Momentum on Twitter @momentumbooks.

 

iPad 2 Sells Out in the US: Should You Buy One?

 

As some of you may already know, the iPad 2 was announced on 2 March, and released on Friday in the US to much fanfare. News has officially surfaced about the tablet sales over the weekend and it seems overwhelmingly good (for Apple, at least): the iPad 2 has completely sold out, and sold more than half as many again as the original iPad. What does this mean for Australians – and more importantly, what does it mean for you?

The answer? Not much. Going by the early reviews of the second iteration, your decision to get an iPad should not be much different from when the first one was launched last year. If you were waiting for Apple to iron out the bugs for the second version, then wait no more – the iPad is ready. If you were dubious about the iPad the first time around, then it’s likely you’ll feel exactly the same way now.

Almost a year on from getting my iPad, I realise that although it’s a desirable product, it is something I found a use for rather than found useful in and of itself. It is a gadget, and as a gadget lover it is a beautiful thing. As an editor, I’ve found the iPad far more useful than I thought it would be. It’s versatile enough to read any manuscript you can throw at it, and as a device for editing it is as good or better than a laptop. As an avid reader of websites, blogs and other social media, it is a device that fits somewhere between a smartphone and a laptop. It’s also fantastic for travelling – ten hours of battery life takes you a good long way into a long haul plane trip. It is not ideal for writing – the on-screen keyboard is great for short bursts of text but for the most part it is inferior to a laptop.

For most casual users of a computer who are not yet in the habit of checking social media sites or email every hour or so, it is less useful than a laptop, and not as specialised as an e-reader in either battery life, screen quality or heft. And that means it falls between use cases. I am not an average user, and the iPad is not an average gadget.

For the most part, people still don’t really know why they want an iPad (or any tablet for that matter). Apple seems to be adjusting their own expectations as well. The original iPad was launched with a keyboard dock and a suite of Office-like apps. The iPad 2 has dropped the keyboard dock and is now concentrating almost entirely on casual media creation – it sports new video editing and music mixing apps, as well as a photo booth app for taking and editing photos.

Having said all that, if you’re still entranced by the shiny new iPad 2, and you have the money, then you should get it. This is a purpose-defining gadget – something you will use once you own, because it is a pleasure to use. If you’re a reader of ebooks, despite all my reservations about the direction Apple is going in, it is still more open and more versatile than a Kindle (or any other straight e-reader).

 

GIVEAWAY WINNER

It’s my pleasure to announce the winner for my last post’s giveaway. Congratulations to Melinda! I’ll be in touch with Melinda by email this evening to arrange the $100 worth of Booku Bucks.

The Tyranny of the Digital

News surfaced this week of Rupert Murdoch’s plans to launch a newspaper exclusively on tablet devices. It’s the kind of plan that sounds great in a press release. Murdoch knows how to put a newspaper together – The Daily, as it will be called, will be housed in a real office, with real journalists, but it will not have a print or web edition. The only edition, which will be released seven days a week for 99c, will be available solely on the iPad. Murdoch, I fear, has finally jumped the shark.

It’s not that a new newspaper (can you even call it that if it’s not printed on paper at all?) is something to sneer at. Or that newspapers don’t need to experiment with new models to succeed. But the distribution model – locked to a single kind of device and behind a paywall – fails to acknowledge that people who read the news no longer do so in isolation. A huge proportion of digital natives rarely, if ever, get their news from a single paper delivered to their front door; news comes piecemeal from diverse sources like Facebook, Twitter and from multiple websites, RSS feeds and email. Most importantly, news comes from trusted colleagues, friends and family members – through connections that are more important than loyalty to a brand of news. Murdoch’s The Daily will not be able to join in on this participatory news experience, which is increasingly becoming the norm. It will be edged out by content that is more easily shared. In essence, like many follies in the digital era, Murdoch is trying to replace the analogue experience of a newspaper with a digital facsimile, and it is not going to work.

It’s a similar story with ebooks. Publishers would much prefer it if ebooks were just like real books, only digital. The problem is, they are most emphatically not. Digital content is completely different – it can be easily shared, copied and moved around. These things are all good things; they’re what make ebooks cheaper to produce, easier to carry and faster to buy. They are why ebook readers buy more books than regular dead tree book readers. But ebooks could be more successful than they are, and the reason they are not is that publishers (and retailers) are still trying to control the content in a way that is even more restrictive than the dead tree books they are trying to emulate.

Why, to pick just one example, are ebook loaning rights so restrictive? Barnes & Noble’s Nook already has the ability to lend books, and the Kindle is soon to join it. However, owners of digital books will only be allowed to lend a book once for a period of two weeks. Does anyone in their right mind really think that the book business is going to be sunk by giving ebook readers the ability to loan out their books to a single person at a time for as long as they want as many times as they like? This is a basic feature of any dead tree book, and the benefits to the book industry are obvious. Anyone in publishing will tell you that the basic problem with selling books to people is getting people to read books. To paraphrase Tim O’Reilly, obscurity is a far greater threat to the book than piracy. It’s why publishers give away paper books to drum up interest in it. It’s one of the cheapest ways to market a book. Why not harness the word-of-mouth power of social networks to get books out there to at least as many people as it was already getting out there with the paper edition?

But no. Where producers are able to restrict, they restrict. What producers of content are not doing is working backwards from what their consumers want. Consumers want fast, cheap, easy access. Producers of content want to be paid enough to keep doing what they’re doing. There is a compromise position between these two points that allows both to be achieved. But it won’t happen when producers are sticking their heads in the sand and trying to recreate the analogue in an increasingly digital world.

NaNoWriMo Procrasti-tools

For those of you who are not masochists, you may not have heard of NaNoWriMo. It stands for National Novel Writing Month, and happens every November. Participants attempt to write 50,000 words over thirty days and thirty nights in an often vain attempt to make some headway on that novel many of us have stored in our brains and nowhere else. As an editor, I hear about these novels all the time. “Oh, I’ve got a great novel idea.” Many people do. But few people actually have the chops to sit down and write it. Hence NaNoWriMo: an opportunity to get a support network together to help motivate, cajole, plead, coerce and bribe you to write roughly 1700 words per day every day for thirty days.

I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo for the past few years and have never finished. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t useful. But I am an epic procrastinator, and NaNoWriMo does not reward procrastination. I can find ways to procrastinate that would blow the minds of lesser procrastinators. One of those ways, especially around NaNoWriMo time, is to investigate software that helps you write. As you can imagine, as someone hooked on gadgets, this always seems to be a worthwhile way of spending time and inevitably ends in seven hours of procuring software and no hours of writing. So to save those of you out there, like me, who like to software procrastinate: here are some software options to help you finish NaNoWriMo.

Scrivener was my writing software package of choice for many years, and if you’re on a Mac, is still one of the best choices out there (it’s coming to Windows early next year). It’s an absolutely fantastic program for starting a new writing project, as it keeps everything you might need for writing a novel in one place, from storyboarding and research to a full-screen distraction-free writing mode that keeps you in the zone when you need to be.

I discovered Write Or Die last year when I was a week from the end of NaNoWriMo and had written about five thousand words. Unlike Scrivener, Write or Die provides little in the way of procrastination options, but is great for forcing you to write. It is utterly diabolical. Available on the web and as a downloadable desktop program, Write or Die detects when you stop typing and then gives you a little leeway (which is customisable) before the screen starts flashing and then a loud beeping sound reminds you that you shouldn’t be staring at your screen, but typing goddammit! After this warning, the words you have already written will begin to delete, one word at a time, until you start typing again. Scared? You should be.

The Pomodoro Technique is less a piece of software than a productivity approach, but there are tons of software options out there to help you Pomodoro. The basic Pomodoro premise is that you set an egg timer for twenty-five minutes and work steadily without looking at any distractions for that amount of time. That’s one pomodoro. After twenty-five minutes you give yourself five minutes to stretch your legs, check your emails and tweet about #pomodoro. Then get back into it. As I said, there are a lot of software options out there, but a good web-based one is Tomatoi.st and one I use for my iPhone (or iPad) is PomodoroPro.

So there you have it, all the procrasti-tools you’ll need not to complete NaNoWriMo this year like me. Now, I best get back to the novel.

The Return of the Short Story

There’s a popular idea that the rise of the internet has given us short attention spans. It’s something book and long-form journalism publishers have been bemoaning for years. The internet is a compendium of short form content – short videos, pithy reportage, compendiums of weird and wonderful things and, of course, there’s 4chan. Content was originally limited by bandwidth, but now that technological constraints have been lifted? Content on the net is still short – but it’s limited instead by our attention spans. If I see that a YouTube video goes for more than about five minutes, I will sometimes not bother watching it. Seriously. It’s become that bad.

Although this short attention span has (arguably) given us lots of good things (nobody with a long attention span could have thought up Twitter), it’s also made it more difficult to sell books. Even with digital books, which take out much of the chore of going to an actual bookstore, browsing for a book, buying it and then thumbing through pages – books still sell to a limited range of people. People no longer have the free time or the levels of concentration required to read a whole lot of books.

But, of course, people have never really had a lot of time (or concentration) to read a lot of books. It’s just that back in the days before the internet, TV and radio there were fewer other things to distract oneself with. Back in the bad old days, people would sometimes read this thing called a short story. And now Amazon (at least to begin with) intends to bring it back.

Last week Amazon announced Kindle Singles, their attempt at rejuvenating the short form with two heavy-handed blurbs: “Compelling Ideas Expressed at Their Natural Length” and “Kindle Singles, Which Can Be Twice the Length of a New Yorker Feature or as Much as a Few Chapters of a Typical Book, Coming Soon to the Kindle Store” both of which manage to make this announcement sound like the most boring thing of all time. Nonetheless, the announcement is a very interesting one for publishers and authors, many of whom have complained about being forced into a cost effective length in order to make publication in paper form possible. Well, actually, it’s only the publishers who say that. The authors say, “I’ve got this great idea for a short story,” which the publisher quickly shuts down because it isn’t cost effective to publish it. Even short story collections are pretty rare nowadays. They’ve become like the literary equivalent of a Best Of album – only ever awarded to writers at the end of their career. And so the short story has been forced to the margins – awarded to the already-successful author, or sold by hand for $2 a pop by a crazy person on the streets of Newtown.

So what do you think about this development? Would you be tempted to buy an attractively priced short form text? Or is this just not something you’re interested in? Will the lure of other short form distractions get the better of readers and distract them from this new/old one? And authors – are you excited to get a chance to bring that short story to the masses? How successful can this endeavour actually be? Let me know what you think in the comments.

Review: Kindle 3

I’ve been using the new Kindle 3 for a couple of weeks now, and I think this is the first ereader device I’ve used that gets almost everything right. I’ve been using my iPad for months now to read books, and while the experience reading on the iPad is great, my attention span is often tempted out of the reading apps into checking email or Twitter when I should be absorbed in a book. It’s great, but it’s not as absorbing as reading from a paper book. My previous Kindle (the Kindle 2), was an excellent reading device, but the screen on the new one is far sharper, with better contrast, and the other extras make it an all round better experience.

Screen comparison. The contrast on the Kindle 3 is much higher.

I have the version with WiFi and 3G wireless, so this is the first Kindle I’ve used that you can transfer personal documents wirelessly without paying a fee (if you use the 3G connection, Amazon charges a nominal fee of a dollar or two, depending on the size of the book. Books you buy from the Amazon store are transferred free). In some ways this even trumps the iPad, which can’t accept ePub books in the native iBooks app unless you plug the thing in. The wireless connection doesn’t just give you access to books though. You can use the built-in sharing feature to immediately share a quote from a book you’re reading on Facebook and Twitter. This might sound like the last thing on your mind, but if you’re a compulsive social networker, sometimes you can’t help but want to share the perfect line from a book with your 300 closest friends.

The Kindle 3 is also lighter and smaller than its predecessor, which was already pretty small. With the case it feels a bit like a B-format hardback book to hold in your hands, which is just about my favourite book size to read. The new cover I got with it (people with Kindle 2s beware – your old cover will not fit), has an integrated light that runs off the battery of the Kindle, something version 2.0 couldn’t do as far as I know.

The keyboard, like the old Kindle, is not great, but that’s hardly a massive issue, as if you were buying something like a Kindle to do a mass of typing, you’d have bigger issues. Along with the new price drop, I’d have to say this represents the best value single purpose ereader on the market at the moment bar none. Having said that, it’s almost certain that the price will drop further and the next version will be even better – so if you’re not sure it would still pay to wait.

What are Facebook Pages and Why Do You Need One?

Having recently gone through the abject torture of setting up a Facebook Page for someone, I see the usefulness in a a rough and ready guide on what a Facebook Page is, whether you need one and how to use it once you have it.

What and Why?

Facebook Pages are used for public figures or business of any kind trying to reach out to people who might be interested in them. That’s the simple answer. They solve the problem inherent in Facebook – that most people are not interested in being ‘friends’ with a business or an author they admire, but they still might like to use Facebook to check up on that person or business. For authors, Facebook Pages allow you to connect with your readers without the slightly creepy idea that you have 10,000 ‘friends’ just because 10,000 people like your book.

So should you start a Page? If you are trying to use the internet to reach out to your audience, customers or readers, then probably yes. Pages are a very easy way to have a social networking presence without the hard work and constant attention involved in setting up a website or blog.

How to Set Up a Page and Use One

Like a lot of things on Facebook, starting a Page is not something that is as straightforward as it could or should be. There’s no direct link from your existing Facebook profile to start a page, but if you search for ‘Pages’ in the help, it will eventually lead you to the Create a Page site (or you could just follow that link). From there it will ask you to specify the type of page (be it for a writer, a business etc etc), and confirm that you are the official representative of that person or business.

If you’re already on Facebook and looking to start a Page, you do not need to sign up with a different email address or login. Just start the process and you’ll become the main ‘administrator’. The good thing about Pages is that you can also sign on other administrators, such as publicists or marketing people from your publishing company, who can sign on temporarily or for good to add information to your page. But for now, just go for it

Once you’ve started a page, you’ll be greeted with a page of options like this:

If you already have a Facebook profile, uploading a photo and filling out this basic information shouldn’t be too difficult for you. From this page you can also advertise your Facebook Page, but for starters that probably isn’t something you need to worry about. You can also suggest that your existing Facebook friends ‘like’ your new Page – let’s face it, if your own friends don’t do it at this point, how can you possibly expect anybody else to?

It’s at this point that I got quite confused about how to use the Page to interact with the rest of Facebook. Pages can’t have ‘friends’. So how can you, for example, instruct your Page to ‘like’ a fellow organisation, writer or business? And how can your page access Facebook applications, in order to sync info between websites like Twitter, Shelfari or Amazon? After all, it’s not really social networking if you can’t actually connect with others.

‘Like’ another Page                                    Install an application on your page

It’s not immediately apparent, but it’s all done by using the text under the logo or profile picture in the top left of the Page or application you’re interested in. Everything you want to add to your Page, you do through that point. If you try to ‘like’ something as you normally would with your Facebook profile, then the ‘like’ will be recorded on your personal profile, not on your Page.

OK, so that’s about it for this getting started guide. If you have any tips or questions about this process, please let me know in the comments.

Your Dress Is Tucked Into Your Underpants

Day three of the Brisbane Writers Festival saw me sitting on a panel. I know, a mention beforehand would have been handy for those of you keen to heckle, but I was so incredibly nervous I didn’t tell anyone. Not even my mum. She found out about 9pm last night and changed her plans to come down and offer moral support. And I’m kind of glad she did.

After AmericaAs far as I know, the panel went well. At least, I hope it went well—the whole thing is a bit of a blur of anxiety-meets-adrenalin and the couple of friends who were there were under strict instructions to give me hand signals to say ‘slow down’, ‘you’re not making sense’, and ‘your dress is tucked into the back of your underpants’. You know, the gestures that are required when all those public speaking horrors are realised. Often all at once.

But the audience seemed interested, the other panellists were fantastic, and I got a few laughs and a few questions—neither of which I was expecting. The panel was entitled Twittering, Pinging, Poking, Facebooking: The World of New Media. My co-panellists were the esteemed John Birmingham, of He Died With A Felafel In His Hand, Weapons Of Choice, and After America fame, and Chinese writer Mian Mian, famous both because her book, Candy, which focuses on the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll of post-Mao China, was banned there for 10 years, and because she sued Google for scanning her book without permission. My expertise, obviously, was in blogging (this blog is one of five I regularly write).

Weapons of ChoiceAs my first time on the other side of the writers’ festival microphone, it was simultaneously terrifying, exhilarating, and incredibly humbling. I’d love to recount the witty repartee that I participated in, but trying to recall is like trying to catch clouds. I do know there was some mention of the woman who put the cat in the bin in the UK last week, who is now being mocked with a viral spoof that involves someone dressed up as Sylvester the cat putting a human in a bin. I do know I managed to talk about how I think hardcovers are outdated and should be rendered obsolete (for the record, most people agreed with me). And I do know I managed to get in a mention of the Hot Guys Reading Books blog I’ve previously blogged about.

I also know that I managed to make it through the session coherently, at an understandable pace, and that there were no dress-tucked-into-underpants incidents. At least, none that I’m aware of. Thanks to those of you who came to support and heckle—both were much appreciated.

The Kind of the Rest – My New Novel

In my last post I wrote about a nightmarish scenario in which books we read are created automatically by a software algorithm. I’ve had time to think about it since then, and to use the wonderful TweetWriter, a promotional tool for the Melbourne Writers’ Festival. TweetWriter takes the body of writing that makes up your Twitter feed and creates a customised book based on your style of expressing yourself, which, as everyone knows, is usually at its finest in tweet form. Here’s my automagically customised back cover blurb:

When asked to described the real Joel Blacklock, Joel would often say “I am the walrus”, but 127 loyal fans will always know Joel best as the prolific writer who published over 1643 works, all written from Joel’s secluded playboy style mansion in Sydney, Australia.

In this astonishing latest work, ‘THE NAME OF THE KIND’, Blacklock’s writing is both mesmeric in tone and labrynthine in structure, and is surely destined to achieve the status of a contemporary classic.

Hear that? ‘Mesmeric in tone and labrynthine in structure’. One hundred and twenty seven fans can’t be wrong!

Let’s just say the software algorithm that will write a true bestseller is some time away. Quite aside from the fact that the back cover blurb is littered with errors and the title of the book is different on the front and back (I tend to think The Name of the Kind is better than The Kind of the Rest – thoughts?) I can’t imagine a single person would even pick this book up off the shelves.

Nonetheless, for the curious and the lazy, here are a few of Twitter’s finest minds at work.

The always adorable @stephenfry:

The redoubtable @johnbirmingham, erm I mean John Birmingha:

The terrifying @tara_moss:

What about our potential prime ministers? Here’s Red:

And the Mad Monk?

Check out your own book titles and link to them in the comments.

The Melbourne Writers’ Festival runs from 27 August to 5 September 2010.

Tweet Writer: The Cardboard Box For Adults

The best entertainment often comes from the simplest, most unlikely sources—just ask parents whose children derive hours of play from the empty cardboard box rather than the expensive toy that came in it.

For me, today’s surprise fun came courtesy of the Melbourne Writers Festival’s Tweet Writer website, which my sister phoned me all the way from Melbourne to point out.

The premise? You enter your Twitter account name and it analyses your tweets to create mock book covers, titles, artwork, and blurbs.

The outcome is a rotating 3D book cover with a title drawn from words contained in your tweets—yes, you will wonder what you wrote—as well as a logo or image to make a sort of headshot.

It’s a kind of virtual publishing meets comedy and is, quite simply, pure genius on a simple web page.

Tweet Writer does multiples, so hitting ‘republish’ on the right-hand side sends it back trawling to create a new book for you. Ah, the thrill of new and seemingly limitless combinations!

The best part is perhaps that it’s not confined to your own Twitter account. With only the correct account name required, you can enter anyone’s and determine what sorts of book titles they’d have.

I’m not overly active on Twitter (I’m yet to be convinced that it’s not boring and over-run by marketers), but from the few tweets I’ve made in the years I’ve had the account, mine included many Book Burglar-themed titles:

  • The Burglar of the End
  • The Unfairly of the Embracing
  • The Book of the Talk
  • The Reputation of the Edition
  • The Book of the Talking

Yes it’s a time-sapper. But it’s a fun time-sapper. One that is as much—if not more—fun than a cardboard box.

Can Editors Keep Up With Technology?

An editorial clarification last week at The New York Times and the reaction to it has made me wonder if it’s possible for editors to keep up with how quickly language is changing in the face of technological development.

I had suggested that outside of ornithological contexts, “tweet” should still be treated as colloquial rather than as standard English. It can be used for special effect, or in places where a colloquial tone is appropriate, but should not be used routinely in straight news articles.

The reaction to the Times‘s editorial statement – a decision which would ordinarily have come under no scrutiny whatsoever – was intense and harsh. People sneered at the idea of the so-called ‘guardians of the English language’ for daring to pronounce on what should or should not be considered ‘standard’ English.

I can see both sides of this argument. As a writer and reader, I hate the idea that some kind of arbitrary standard should limit the way people can express themselves (though to be fair, I don’t think whether or not The New York Times uses the word ‘tweet’ is of that much importance). On the other hand, as an editor, standardised decisions like this make my job much easier.

Yahoo News, swiftly becoming a trusted source of news as well as an aggregator, has recently released a stylebook in the vein of the much celebrated (and much despised) Associated Press stylebook. They are selling printed versions of it, but it also exists as a website for free. But I have to wonder, is there really a need for a resource like this when we have Google? The Yahoo stylebook has a fairly comprehensive FAQ, including questions about standard spelling and SEO. SEO stands for ‘search engine optimisation’. SEO is basically the umbrella term for all the tricks a web developer uses for getting their website to the top of Google search results. A part of this is ensuring that the standard spelling used for a word throughout a website – particularly if it’s a key word – is the spelling most likely to be used by people searching on Google.

This raises an interesting question. If Google is (among many other things) a global and aggregated digest of common spelling and usage, then is a stylebook even necessary anymore? Google has already become my go-to source for standard spelling, hyphenation or spacing of a word that doesn’t appear in the dictionary. ‘How many pages are on Google?’ is often my first question when a fellow editor asks me for the standard way of writing something. As books are increasingly digitised and searchable, is it more important to be visible – or technically correct? Is there, in fact, even such a thing as ‘technically correct’?

Language is a tricky thing. There is a balance between authority and democracy to be struck, and the internet is tipping that balance toward democracy. It’s something that I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, the strength of the English language is its fluidity – it can change and adapt to the changes and adaptations of its speakers. On the other hand, the pedant in me screams at the idea that someone can start using ‘literally’ just to emphasise their point. But what if Google says it’s OK? Does that make it right? What do you think?

For Whom The Microwave Beeps

Twitter has become a great way of disseminating information to fans of a particular type of media. Sometimes it happens in a straightforward, linear way – the company or person involved in creating a book, movie or television series tweets something that gets re-tweeted by a bunch of people that are interested and then flows out from there.

Sometimes, however, information flows out in a far more interesting way, which, I would argue, is unique to the internet, and particularly common on Twitter. Someone makes a joke, and the joke is shared not directly, but by the person making up their own version of it and passing it on to their friends. The concept of the joke, idea or news is shared, but not the content. On Twitter this happens with hashtags (marked off with the # symbol). For example, the recent leadership spill in the Federal Labor party, which resulted in Julia Gillard becoming Australia’s first female PM, was marked off with the hashtag #spill. Users interested in following the spill on Twitter could search for #spill and find up to the second news and chatter about the story from random people, journalists and celebrities. Hashtags are tracked by Twitter and are kept track of in Trending Topics, which appear to the right of the Twitter feed on every user’s screen.

Sometimes the hashtag is not as serious or important as a leadership spill, but is just a vehicle for users to communicate ideas, jokes and thoughts. A recent hashtag on books was funny enough that I thought it might justify a blog post. The tag was #lesserbooks, and the premise was to come up with a pun on an existing book title that made it seem somehow … lesser. I first saw the hashtag in author John Birmingham’s feed when he tweeted one of his own book titles (Without Much Warning #lesserbooks), and saw a number of friends follow with their own interpretations.

Below are a few that made me laugh – I haven’t bothered to seek the original author, as it’s as likely as not that multiple people came up with the same titles at the same time. Sound off in the comments if you come up with one of your own.

  • Lionel Ritchie’s Wardrobe
  • A Brief History of Tim
  • Great Expectorations
  • The Bibble
  • Schindler’s Lift
  • The Merchant of Tennis
  • The Lord of the Files
  • Catch 21
  • Are You There God? It’s Me, Hitler
  • The Crepes of Wrath

The Tower of eBabel

The problem with new technology is that it costs a lot of money. Technology companies frequently spend years and years without making a profit, shaping their business model, trying to ‘monetise’ their creation. Amazon, for example, was launched in 1997, but didn’t become profitable until 2002. Facebook only became profitable last year, and Twitter still doesn’t make money, despite all the people that use it. Nonetheless, when these technologies take off they often make a lot of money.

Most big technology companies have become massive by creating platforms that have ended up being the de facto standard. A platform, in the technology sense of the word (rather than a raised piece of floor), is the system used to manage certain kinds of content. Facebook, for example, is a social media platform. The iTunes Music Store is a platform for music. Amazon’s Kindle is a platform for digital books. The most useful outcome for consumers is that a single platform ends up delivering a single type of content. In the days of physical media platforms – CDs, DVDs, audio cassettes – there was a certain amount of disconnect between the company that owned the rights to the platform and the people who sold the content.

Digital media has changed this. Nowadays, the iPod and the iTunes Music Store are synonymous with buying music digitally. Amazon would like to make the Kindle synonymous with ebooks. Apple would probably like to do the same with their iBooks software on the iPad (and as of this week, the iPhone and iPod Touch too). People in the industry call this eBabel – as each new company enters the fray, they bring with them a different format with a unique type of DRM. This situation is absolutely horrible for consumers. People are locked into a single platform with their purchases because digital media cannot be transferred between competing platforms. I’m not going to try and stretch this into an awkward physical media metaphor – there is no equivalent. It’s just bad – frustrating, confusing and annoying for readers.

It’s easy to argue that a single format will win out in the end – it’s what has tended to happen with physical media (we have Bluray instead of HD-DVD, and had VHS instead of Betamax), but with digital media the result of a single format ‘winning out’ is dramatically different. The only settled digital format so far (digital video is still up in the air, as is the format for ebooks) is Apple’s iTunes platform. This model has succeeded by Apple being in complete control of the platform and the content delivery. In order to use the iTunes Music Store and the iTunes platform, you need to use an iPod. In order to use an iPod, you need to use the iTunes Music Store.

In the future, it’s easy to foresee a company like Apple or Amazon being the only place you can buy ebooks from. They control the hardware and the software – the platform and the content. Is this what we want for ebooks? I think the answer is an emphatic no (though by all means, please disagree in the comments!). Unfortunately there is no clear solution to this problem. Getting rid of DRM would be a nice start, but publishers are very unlikely to stop using it – even though it demonstrably benefits technology companies far more than it does content providers. I’d love to hear what you guys think – sound off in the comments if you have an idea or even just an opinon. How do you want to get your books in the future?

Is the real-time web helpful for books?

Business Insider reported last week that the half-life of YouTube videos is now hovering around six days. For those who aren’t scientists or web developers, what this means is that 50% of the average YouTube clip’s viewers see the clip within the first six days that it is put up on the internet. This number has dropped from fourteen days in 2008. The half-life of YouTube clips is getting shorter – and we can theorise that a big reason for this is the real-time web. The ‘real-time web’ is a fancy way of saying Twitter, and the way that Twitter has affected other social media platforms. You could say (if you wanted to be entirely simplistic and make a crude generalisation based on these statistics) that we are now so efficient at instantaneously sharing and distributing pithy little videos around the internet that the majority of us never see something unless we see it within a week.

What, you might ask, has this to do with books? Well, with the increasingly close integration of social media and books (the latest firmware for the Kindle includes the in-built ability to post what you’re reading and quotes to Twitter and Facebook) we might reasonably expect the shelf-life of books to decrease along with other digital media.

Or can we? Interestingly, Google is putting a lot of effort into trying to turn web video into an experience that mimics television. Particularly regarding how much attention we pay to television – and for how long we watch it. The web – which by its nature privileges active browsing over passive viewing – is not very easy to monetise. This is obviously very important when your primary income comes from advertising. With the announcement of Google TV this week, we can see that the next frontier for the search giant is colonising our living rooms.

Is it reasonable to draw a similar line between Google and TV and Google and books? Shelf-life (or at least profitable shelf-life) for books that are published today is about six weeks at the maximum. Books that haven’t sold much in six weeks are very unlikely to sell more. Can the publishing industry survive a shorter shelf-life? Or will it just mean we buy more books (and perhaps read less)? Or are books by their very nature entirely different to other kinds of media – and therefore immune to the vagaries of the real-time web? Sound off in the comments and let me know what you think.

The Gap

I came to a realisation yesterday while attending the Interrogating Twitter session at yesterday’s Sydney Writers’ Festival: there is a significant gap between those who get Twitter and those who don’t. And that gap may never be bridged. How can it? Those who despair of social media genuinely believe that it will destroy our language and do irreparable damage to our consciousnesses. But those who use social media can barely understand why everyone is complaining about it.

I don’t necessarily think this gap is generational. The panellists ran the gamut from the venerable Ruth Wajnryb through to the younger, hipper end of the spectrum with John Freeman and David Levithan. Nonetheless, all of the panellists seemed to be in agreement that there was nothing wrong with Twitter (or other forms of social media) and that we shouldn’t worry that it will cause the next generation of children to be illiterate. In fact, if anything, the panellists seemed mildly perplexed that this should even be at question. The only dissenting voices came from the audience, who managed to sound exactly like the fusty SWF grumpy-old-person stereotype.

So where does this gap come from? And why? Freeman’s new book, Shrinking the World, posits that each forward leap in communications technology has been greeted with scepticism, fear and contempt. The Gutenberg press was called the ‘devil’s machine’ by monks and the telephone was going to tear families apart. Nonetheless, Freeman cautions that Twitter, just like any other communications technology, is not necessarily benign. How could it not change the way we think, he says, when we can barely go a moment without checking our phones?

This is a conversation I’ve been having with a lot of people of late. And it perplexes me – maybe because I’m absolutely on the ‘understanding Twitter’ side of the gap. Why is there a persistent myth that those who participate in the brave new world of texting, Twitter and Facebook suddenly become automatons who cannot make the choice to switch off their devices and will have some kind of panic attack if they’re ever alone? Nothing I’ve learned by participating in social media has led me to believe this to be true.

This kind of Luddite moaning about the value of being ‘alone with one’s thoughts’ is ubiquitous on the other side of the gap. I had a conversation with another (very young) author at the SWF about travelling on the train. Nowadays, he says, it’s impossible to have a moment of quiet introspection while on the train, such is the cacophony of noise produced by communications devices. Since when, I ask you, has public transport been the most Zen part of anyone’s day? Human beings have spent thousands of years going to remote locations in order to be truly alone. How has that changed?

You always have the choice. Whether it’s to switch off, go somewhere quiet or to not participate in social media at all. As David Levithan said – if you’re not interested, don’t worry about it.

Books: Just ‘Fodder For Digital Chatter’?

It seems reasonable to assume that the future of book reading is at least going to involve more social networking. The newest ebook readers make connectivity a selling point – the built-in ability to share your views or quotes from a book on Twitter or Facebook is the next logical step, if it hasn’t happened already. This will be the digital equivalent of the bookshelf; except you won’t need to invite people into your home to brag about what you’re reading. Is there a chance, however, as suggested in this article in the New York Times, that this will mean books become merely ‘fodder for digital chatter’?

In my last post I talked about the rise and risks of self-publishing, and received an interesting response from one of the commenters:

I think we’re going to see more and more titles gaining success without going through traditional publishers. With most books being bought online, access to physical outlets … will matter less and less … I think it will come down to author reputation and following. The real success stories will be people who can get their book in front of influential people who will recommend it.

In other words, the future of publishing forecast by this commenter is democratic. Readers, through the medium of Facebook newsfeed algorithms and John Mayer’s tweets, will decide what gets through to you – in just the same way you heard about that funny cat picture. While this might seem both sad and unrealistic to some people, it’s a very common view, especially on the internet. The internet, in fact, has turned us all into writers, musicians, actors and journalists. There are so many people out there creating content that the vast majority of it remains unseen – at least until a highschool student from Idaho mashes up the video/poem/blog post and turns it into a meme.

Books, for the most part, have been immune to this type of thing. This might be because they’re long and not very easy to cut up into small pieces, but it might also be that there isn’t all that much digital access just yet. As this changes, it’s likely we’re going to see more “OMG LOL did u here about Banquo? Mbeth totally pwned his ass”.

Is this a terrible thing? I’m certainly not at the point where I have to tweet every funny line of every book I’m reading, but I’ll often turn to the person next to me and share something that made me laugh. At other times I’ll be itching to tell a particular group of friends about something specific I’m reading. Is moving this behaviour onto social networking so very wrong? It certainly feels … weird. Like a transgression of some kind. But I’m not sure why. What do you think?

Notes From Everything Twinterview

… See what I did there?

Simmone Howell is made of awesome. I’ll make no attempt to hide my bias. I’m a teenage reader, and I’d place her as equal to Barry Jonsberg in terms of producing some of the greatest Australian YA fiction at the moment. Her debut Notes From The Teenage Underground was an amazing read (but I will say I wasn’t a fan of the last two pages…), but her follow-up, 2008’s Everything Beautiful was perfect. Warm, fun, heart-warming, silly, poignant, funny – Simmone balances it all masterfully. If there’s one notable omission to the CBCA’s Shortlist, it’s this book. One look at the back cover, and you’re sold. There appear the words:

I believe in Chloe and chocolate.
I believe the best part is always before.
I believe that most girls are shifty and most guys are dumb.
I believe the more you spill, the less you are.
I don’t believe in life after death or diuretics or happy endings.
I don’t believe anything good will come of this.

Visitors will know I’ve been hyping up Boomerang Books’ first Twinterview (I won’t say it’s the first ever interview on Twitter, I mean… it can’t be… can it?!?), and earlier this week, Simmone and I both sat down in front of our computers, I delayed doing my uni homework, she delayed prepping dinner, and we had a fun conversation about everything from influences to portable animal farms, shameful childhood stories to Christian camps. She spilled the beans on considering writing a prequel to her first book, Notes From The Teenage Underground, on actually working on the screenplay for its film adaptation, and her work-in-progress teen noir novel.

You can still catch it on Twitter, all you need to do is follow both Simmone (http://www.twitter.com/postteen) and us (http://www.twitter.com/boomerangbooks) and go through your history of stored tweets!

Are you an author? Fancy a Twinterview? Send me an email here and we’ll make it happen.

Upcoming Author Interviews

Just a quick heads-up to say our first two exclusive Boomerang Books author interviews have been scheduled.

Later this week, I’ll be sitting down with Australia’s undisputed Queen of Fantasy, Kate Forsyth, to discuss her latest children’s release, The Puzzle Ring (which is part of our May Giveaway, so don’t forget to enter it HERE).

And this one’s for you, JayTay, a Twittexperiment of sorts. On Tuesday, May 12th, at 5p.m., I’ll be hopping onto Twitter and Twinterviewing (yes, I’m going to do that with all my Twitter-related words, the sooner you come to terms with that, the better) Simmone Howell, who, two books-deep, has proven herself to be a formidable force on the YA market. Her debut, Notes From the Teenage Underground won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Young Adult Literature 2007, and was brill, and her latest, Everything Beautiful, was my favourite book of last year. How does a Twinterview work? Well, you log onto Twitter at 5p.m., make sure you’re following both Simmone (postteen) and I (boomerangbooks), and you can watch our interview as it happens… You can even hurl her a few questions yourself.

Any authors you want me to hunt down for an interview? Leave a comment, or email me: [email protected].