24 March 2011


SELF-PUBLISHING. The headline "Best Selling Author Turns Down Half A Million Dollar Publishing Contract To Self-Publish" caught my attention. We know that the world of all things written is undergoing a shift from the tradition of landing a contract for one's book through an established publishing house (usually through the auspices of an agent, and with certain strings attached); to simply uploading one's book to an online service such as Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble, which then makes the book available for minimal cost to anyone with a portable reading device like an iPad, Nook, or Kindle reader.

Each has advantages and disadvantages, and writers Joe Konrath and Barry Eisler illuminate both in a revealing discussion (click on the headline link). Bottom line, a publisher provides services like editing and marketing, then charges a larger asking price per copy from the reader, with the writer receiving an up-front advance payment plus (on average) 15 percent royalties on subsequent sales, after the publisher's expenses have been met. In contrast, self-publishing involves no editing or marketing services, a substantially reduced cost to the reader per copy sold, no advance payment to the writer, but a hefty average 70 percent royalties on all book sales. Forever.

The discussion is instructive to any reader or writer, and I highly recommend it. One aspect that intrigues me is the analysis of the industry itself. Konrath and Eisler compare the paradigm shift occurring within publishing to a much earlier shift -- "There's a saying about the railroads: they thought they were in the railroad business, when in fact they were in the transportation business. So when the interstate highway system was built and trucking became an alternative, they were hit hard. Likewise, publishers have naturally conflated the specifics of their business model with the generalities of the business they're in. They're not in the business of delivering books by paper -- they're in the business of delivering books. And if someone can do the latter faster and cheaper than they can, they're in trouble.

" .... there may be many individuals within the various publishing companies who get this. But institutionally, they seem to be reacting to trying to hold back the tide. This is a pretty standard reaction, and we've seen it in other industries before. One typical response that we hear when pointing this out is that these publishers don't want to make that "leap" to really embrace the new until they know that it's sustainable and that it can work. But the key lesson that we've learned over and over and over in other industries is that if you wait for such things, it's too late. In ceding that leadership position, you give up on being the enabler, and what's left for you is often ... not much."

Very, very interesting, especially to someone like me who is on the verge of publishing a novel. Self-publishing is looking increasingly attractive. Which isn't to say that I turn my back on good old-fashioned hard-copy books. I love the feel, the weight, even the smell of ink and paper. I love the fact that curling up with a book feels like an act of intimacy, as opposed to being tied to the glare of a computer or electronic reader screen. Still, the reality is that both media have their advantages -- to the writer and to the reader. And as devices like the iPad begin to include more functions and accessories, they may well find a place in my library, as another means of reading what I want to read.

BETTER SLEEP. 15 to 30 percent of older adults experience some degree of insomnia. Imagine "a quick, effective solution without drugs, without even needing to consult a physician." Paula Span reports just such an alternative, based on research at the University of Pittsburgh. The solution is a brief behavioral treatment intervention, consisting of two explanatory sessions and two follow-up phone calls, over the course of a month. I refer you to the article for a fuller explanation, but the core elements are four simple rules --

  • Reduce the time spent in bed.

  • Get up at the same time every day.

  • Don't go to bed until you feel sleepy.

  • Don't stay in bed if you're not sleeping.
I confess that I have a few doubts. I'm looking forward to subsequent trials which will confirm or deny the efficacy of the initial research. But in principle I understand and respect the value of behavioral modification, as in cognitive behavioral therapy. Stay tuned.

FOOTNOTE -- Happy 137th Birthday, Harry Houdini !!

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