Oct 102006

Avoid fee-charging agents!

Plenty of sites warn writers against fee-charging agents, it turns out that pet owners are furious about an alleged fee-charging pet talent agency, Hollywood Paws.

I love their mangled advertising copy: call for your free copy of “How to train your pet act like a movie star!” (yeah, drink this, take that, let me tell you this about the cat conspiracy.)

Apparently the firm delivered on the training but few of the pets were ever booked for actual shows. I’m not sure if the pet owners are in the right here but if they believed this was their doggie’s ticket to fame they should have thought a little harder.

You can find the article at the L.A. Times.

Per Fark, your dog is ready for his close-up.

  •  October 10, 2006
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Oct 102006

Van Wolverton’s Running MS-DOS 6.22 is in the top 1000 at Amazon today, currently #22 on the Computer books list between Tufte’s Beautiful Evidence and David Busch’s Nikon D200 guide.

How the heck did that happen? The book is 12 years old, published in August 1994 and it’s not even available at Amazon.

Must be a ghost in the machine. Shows you how useful those Amazon rankings are…

  •  October 10, 2006
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Oct 092006

Also not retiring, some indie booksellers who find that in the age of cut-rate online booksellers they need focus, creativity and community. At Wired News, via Boing Boing, Linked.

  •  October 9, 2006
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  •   Publishing
Oct 092006

A client called my attention to well-respected copywriter and advertising author Bob Bly’s Finis, his post about retiring from writing books.

Bob’s writing about exactly my market: the non-fiction book caught in the headlights of Google. I feel his pain and I share many of his concerns, and I’m sorry that he has decided to retire from the business, but I’m not retiring from the book business just yet.

Alas, publishing is dead again. Really, it keeps dying over and over. This time it’s the Internet.

And boy, the children’s book market was in the doldrums before J.K. Rowling and Daniel Handler showed up.

Uh oh, flat is the new up in the computer book market. And what happened to home and garden books and all those “nesters?” They too have hit the skids.

And why doesn’t anyone talk about how high gas prices have also affected the book market?

Year to year sales at B&N and Borders, honestly, aren’t that great. It’s true. And I agree with Bob that the decline in the importance of books in our culture is a huge problem for the industry. We need to encourage our kids to read and we need to create books that rival or complement other experiences.

I also agree that there are lots of crap books published. Who cares about a novel “written” by the “famous for being famous though not as famous as Paris,” Nicole Richie? Well, sadly, more than 100,000 buyers did.

But, is the Internet killing the non-fiction book?

Well, some kinds of non-fiction books, sure. Encyclopedias have had a heck of a time. Straight-ahead references, well I can find pretty much any answer I need at Google or Wikipedia. Still, somehow, the “for Dummies” and the “Missing Manual” series continue to grow.

And the internet seems to be actually helping the writers at Boing Boing, who turned a cool but obscure zine into one of the top blogs in the world.

Plus, it looks like new franchises such as O’Reilly’s Head First series, which does books that are immersive and can’t be easily duplicated by online Q&A, are doing just fine. Not to mention MAKE or CRAFT, which aren’t just books but are also marketed as magazines.

And Rachel Ray is doing very well in all media everywhere, thank you very much. Tell me, was she even a blip on anyone’s consciousness five years ago?

In the sales and marketing arena I guarantee you that Seth Godin and Malcolm Gladwell are seeing great advances and selling lots of books, and they’ve built incredible unique selling propositions, some may even call it a platform: namely, hundreds of thousands of people care what they have to say.

And about those crowded shelves? Not to be arch, but Bob Bly himself told his readers to write books so that they could become known as experts in their field and generate multiple streams of income. It’s still good advice, but it sure has a way of crowding those shelves!

Honestly, publisher obsession about “platform” is okay. Publisher curiosity about the sales on your previous books is fair. Lower advances in a time of diminished expectations, that’s a drag and I know that from personal experience, but over time new books and authors will enter the market and some authors will write meaningful and useful books that sell well regardless of the advance.

Fundamentally, it’s hard to be relevant and new every year. What’s increasingly difficult about publishing is simply competition and the authors and publishers who are suffering are either not publishing books that readers want or need, or need to re-assess their own priorities and goals. Much as Bob has.

I know that with our new baby we spent at least as much time at as we did reading What to Expect or Ina May. Publishing has to change, but it has always had to change, and it will continue to change.

The “new new thing” eventually gets out front. The problem is that no one is in charge but the marketplace, which is always disconcerting to the establishment!

New writers will emerge that will topple old sales records. New series will emerge too.

And George W. Bush’s advance for his memoir will probably exceed Bill Clinton’s.

C’est la vie.

The king is dead, long live the king.

  •  October 9, 2006
  •  Posted by at 9:48 am
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  •   Publishing
Oct 062006

I’ve been busier with the baby than I’ve been with the blog over the last month but it’s been an increasing headache to deal with blog spam in the comments, so I’m turning off the comments for now until I upgrade and/or add (hopefully non-buggy) captcha to the blog. If there’s anything you’d like to comment on or ask, I’m happy to post a response, so please feel free to email me at matt at Thanks.

  •  October 6, 2006
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Oct 042006

Congratulations to Edward Baig on the publication of Macs for Dummies, Ninth Edition.

“Ninth edition” is a bit of a misnomer as this edition is an entirely new book, re-written from the ground up — the first edition of Macs for Dummies to cover the new generation Intel Macs.

Congrats, Ed, and thanks for working with me!

  •  October 4, 2006
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  •   Client News
Sep 212006

Michael Nolan’s post at the Peachpit Commons this morning, On Arranging Books By Color, reminded me of this cool project a few years ago at San Francisco’s Adobe Bookshop. Artist Chris Cobb re-arranged the entire bookstore stock by color. It looked awesome (from the photos, alas I only saw photos). The project is linked from Michael’s post, and here’s an article on the project at Silverfish, Linked.

  •  September 21, 2006
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Sep 202006

Found via Mediabistro, this short post, Convenience and Quality, from noted publisher Peter Osnos.

The Caravan Project is simultaneously releasing books in multiple formats. Peter writes

“About two dozen books will be released simultaneously in the traditional printed version in hardcover or paperback supplemented, if necessary to keep the book in ready supply, by the latest version of print-on-demand technology. At the same time, the book will be available in digital formats for reading on computers (desk, lap, and hand) either in full or in parts. An audio version will be read by its author or a professional reader and downloadable on to your favored listening device. Finally (at least so far) the books will be rendered in a large-type format.”

That’s really cool and a great experiment, though it’s odd to think that it’s groundbreaking. I know there’s a strong economic incentive to release in hardcover first, and that makes sense, but what’s so revolutionary about releasing multiple formats?

What’s funny to me is that the book industry (including its bloggers and reporters) seems oblivious to that fact that the tech market has been way out front with alternative publishing strategies, from ebook subscriptions services such as Safari or Books24X7 to publishers asking that books be delivered in XML format and therefore ready for all sorts of electronic slicing and dicing from the get-go. Not to mention that for obvious reasons the tech book market is probably the best environment to explore ebooks (note too O’Reilly’s Rough Cuts or Pragmatic Programmer’s Beta Books. You’d also want to look at companies like Wiley, which is a leader in the electronic journals market.

Of course in the reference world there’s more incentive to get information fast and to stay on top of the newest technologies.

Osnos says “Books, particularly the serious nonfiction and specialized works in the Caravan demonstration, have always been limited in distribution. As the technology enables them to be always available in so many different ways, it is fair to predict they will be more widely used.”

Yep. That’s true. Interestingly, that’s also a big selling point for Google’s Book Search.

The biggest challenge with multiple formats, and one not solved in the tech market, is piracy. With increasing frequency, books that are available in electronic form are available for download for free on warez sites throughout the world. The hope is always that downloaders will convert to purchasers, but that hasn’t happened yet.

  •  September 20, 2006
  •  Posted by at 10:22 am
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  •   Publishing