Hello, Kindle Worlds and fanfiction; Goodbye, Pearson Education in New Zealand

June 4th, 2013 by Anna von Veh § 0 comments § permalink

Kindle Worlds – a new world of publishing?

Fanfiction is a topic that generally invites disdain from the publishing industry for understandable reasons, although of course there has been attention since the outrageous success of Fifty Shades of Grey, which by now is commonly known to have been based on Twilight fanfiction.  I am hopeful that Amazon’s new venture  Kindle Worlds, which in its current form anyway, seems to be a limited approach to fanfiction (I will cover this more fully in an upcoming article in Publishing Perspectives; update: now published), will nevertheless open up dialogue about fanfiction. The number of fanfiction stories uploaded and read on Wattpad alone is incredible, as shown in this infographic, and online writing is a trend that publishers ignore at their peril.

With the advent of Kindle Worlds, my professional interest in fanfiction as an online model for interactive, dynamic book publishing has garnered some attention. In the past week, courtesy of an article I wrote last year on fanfiction being republished by Publishing Perspectives, I have been contacted by Business Week in the US, been interviewed by the German publishing magazine buchreport.de and wrote the article for Publishing Perspectives.)

Pearson Education in New Zealand – a thing of the past?

In the same week, it was with great sadness that I read that Pearson Education’s New Zealand office was likely to close down. Martin Taylor, long a proponent of digital publishing in New Zealand, wrote an excellent post on what this might mean to New Zealand publishing.

I worked at Pearson for eight years, and was the Editorial and Production Manager, and Content Management representative, until I left to do further postgraduate study in Business Administration and to concentrate on digital publishing and content management. While I haven’t worked at Pearson for some years now, it will always be meaningful to me as I started my publishing career at Pearson Education (Maskew Miller Longman) in Cape Town, and it was Pearson head office’s promotion of technology and content management that first got me thinking about new forms of publishing and sparked my interest in content management.

I wish my ex-colleagues at Pearson, New Zealand, as well as the excellent authors and freelance editors and designers I worked with regularly, the best. I remember well our weekly Editorial and Production morning teas when we each took turns to bake. Some baking could have been contenders for national baking awards, whereas other cakes, for example made by this Anna, were swigged down with a good gulp of tea. Thanks to you all. And I wish you well.

Kia ora, Frankfurt Book Fair

November 21st, 2012 by Anna von Veh § 0 comments § permalink

Visiting the Frankfurt Book Fair this year was special of course because New Zealand was Guest of Honour. I  loved the quiet spaces at the New Zealand Pavilion where dreams of water, myths, stories, and history swirled in sounds of dark and light. (For once, the word ‘twilight’ in a publishing context didn’t conjure up visions of vampires.)

Inside the New Zealand Pavilion

Inside the New Zealand pavilion

My week started with my participation in a panel on The Evolving Role of Readers at the O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing Conference. I am interested in online publishing for books, with a particular interest in using fanfiction as a business model. My fellow panelists were Allen Lau and Amy Martin of the online writing platform, Wattpad, and the moderator was Ami Greko of Kobo. Wattpad is a phenomenal success, with numbers of readers and writers in the millions, and viewing minutes in the billions per month. This is the future of reading (and possibly publishing), most of it on mobile. Even Margaret Atwood is a fan.

That evening, I attended the Official Opening Ceremony of the Frankfurt Book Fair and I wore my silver fern brooch with such pride. Bill Manhire’s speech was quintessentially ‘Kiwi’ and his easy going, intelligent and kind and generous words resonated with everyone. Bill English and Joy Cowley also gave good speeches, and it really was a good night to be a New Zealander.

I spent one day enjoying the sites of Frankfurt and had the bizarre experience of reading Fifty Shades of Grey (it really was research for our panel) at a café on the river and then visiting the nearby 12th century Cathedral called the Dom. #wordsfailme #definitionofirony

The Fair itself is larger than one can even begin to imagine, and even though I’d been there last year, I was still amazed.

Just one of the many Halls. Shuttles ferry tired visitors between the Halls

Digital played a much larger role this year, with several stages devoted to discussions of digital publishing of one sort or another, and the StoryDrive Conference was a magnet for many.  I also attended an excellent presentation on Networked Publishing arranged by Helmut von Berg of Klopotek, moderated by David Worlock, with a distinguished panel of speakers (Brian O’Leary, Fionnuala Duggan, Ingrid Goldstein and Christian Dirschl) which looked beyond digital product.

The actual footprint of digital products was still small in comparison to the still almost overwhelming focus on print. In the ebook survey conducted by Bowker (discussed in a keynote at the Tools of Change Conference), New Zealand had one of the lowest uptakes of ebooks, but I imagine our presence at the Frankfurt Book Fair and the resulting demand for New Zealand titles might well drive quicker exploration of digital in New Zealand too.

The New Zealand stand bustled with activity every time I stopped by. It seemed everyone at the fair was interested in New Zealand as a whole, not just in its publishing. We are so far away from nearly anywhere else, that it seems almost a mystical place to many people.

It was truly a memorable  experience to be at the Fair this year. And congratulations to all who were involved in creating the wonderfully creative and wide-ranging representation of New Zealand culture.

Home sweet home

 

 

Separation anxiety and the digital divide

July 28th, 2012 by Anna von Veh § 0 comments § permalink

Or ‘Anna ruminates (endlessly) about who she is in an online world and how to deal with multiple online identities’

I have a relatively complicated, online life, which goes counter to my recommendations for integrated digital strategy! But what I’ve realised, is that this ‘messiness’ is also a reflection of human reality, where subjectivity is neither clear cut nor perfectly integrated.

Bear with me …

Working life

Say Books

For most of last year, I was a Postgraduate student of Business and Administration (Bus Info Systems), and in mid-year co-founded Say Books, our digital publishing consultancy and now also publishing company. This is where my interest in ‘book’ publishing is invested, where I experiment with new business models based on the premise that online is (nearly) everything, and where I blog about digital publishing. It is the account I use to tweet about digital publishing (@saybooks), and the ID I used for posting on LinkedIn in early 2011. It is in this role that I present at publishers’ conferences (Publishers’ Forum, Berlin, O’Reilly’s Tools of Change Conference, Frankfurt in 2011, 2012), and write articles (see Publishing Perspectives here and here).

Author-it Software Corporation

My interest in digital publishing is complemented by my other work, but is separate from it. In September last year, I started working as a Consultant/Project Manager for Author-it Software Corporation, the innovative company in the enterprise content authoring, managing and publishing space. Ever a devotee of content management and technology for publishing, I was immediately attracted to their slogan when someone referred to them in a LinkedIn discussion: One Source. One Solution, and sought them out. It is wonderful working in an environment where innovative thinking, content management and technology is part of the very fibre of the company. (I don’t tweet about Author-it from my @saybooks account because my affiliation with Author-it is not transparent there, and I like to be scrupulous about disclosure.)

Geeking out on Twitter

Another part of my life is devoted to following popular culture and in particular the TV Show, Castle. » Read the rest of this entry «

Jumping fences with our online subscription novel

June 3rd, 2012 by Anna von Veh § 3 comments § permalink

The chapters have been written, all have been uploaded, and Fences, our first online subscription novel, is now published and available as an ebook (on Amazon, AllRomance, Kobo and our website).

What did we learn?

We learnt that experimenting is great fun, a lot of work, more time consuming than we’d imagined, and that people are generous and supportive (there’s always an exception).

Fences for subscribers websiteWe used Pressbooks™ because it is a simple web-based book production system for presenting long-form narrative online, has a commenting system, has the facility to sign up subscribers, and produces valid epubs. These points were key. Although Pressbooks isn’t currently set up for the subscription model I wanted, the basic infrastructure gave me sufficient leeway to create an ecommerce model that would work for us. Hugh McGuire was, as always, at the ready to help out with tech issues to do with activating subscribers (an area outside of our direct control, and handled by Pressbooks).

The other important part was that because this was our own publishing venture, I was free to experiment. The only guarantees we needed in order to proceed were that we could deliver what we promised and that payments were secure. A few subscribers had hiccups related to receiving activation emails for the subscriber site, and some struggled with downloading the final zipped ebook files, but in general things worked pretty seamlessly, with the ecommerce part working perfectly. I’ve become friends with quite a few subscribers in the process too.

The other key was to have an author who not only understands the online world, but for whom writing online to an actively participating audience is the norm. We were thus very fortunate to have Laura Bontrager writing for us. She is a very good writer, widely read, an extremely warm-hearted person, very respectful towards all the subscribers, and much loved by her fans.

The numbers

Almost half of the subscribers donated more than the $5 required to receive an ebook in the end, many of those donated double than that, and only a handful of people donated less than $2. Most subscribers seemed to like the idea of supporting a writer’s work and efforts, and really did embrace the idea of being a patron of the arts. Let me also make clear that for this particular project, Laura is earning the lion’s share. We will revisit the contract for Laura’s next book, but our intention is always to treat our partnership with our authors as exactly that: a collaborative effort with the royalty reflecting that.

It was great having access to Google Analytics for the various sites (including our own website) and that gave us a good indication of interest. Clearly there was a spike on the first day, and until Google blocked our bulk emails, we got a similar spike every day when we emailed the update regarding the latest chapter. (We will be using something like MailChimp for bulk emails next time.) We got similar traction with our daily reminder tweet. (I’m not sure how our usual followers felt about these tweets as they are used to getting tweets from us about digital publishing.)

What’s next

We will be meeting with Hugh to discuss everything in more detail and to see how we can work together to ensure a seamless subscription service, particularly regarding activation of subscribers. We’ll also simplify things for ourselves in terms of maintaining the Pressbooks sites, and we’ll probably continue with the same ecommerce system, which worked well.

While we assume that most readers buying the files from our website (which provides Laura and us with greater revenue) will have the technical nous to install the relevant ereading apps etc, we may need to provide some generic instructions for subscribers about downloading files to the different platforms, how to install Kindle and iBook apps, ADE, etc.

We’ll also look at ways we can engage with our readers even more.

It has been a great couple of months, we’ve had a ball, and I can’t thank Laura, the subscribers, all our readers, and Hugh, enough. We’ll keep the subscriber site open for a while to new readers. Existing subscribers will continue to have access to it for the foreseeable future.

Writing undercover on the web

February 3rd, 2012 by Anna von Veh § 21 comments § permalink

Confession: I’m a serious fan of the TV show, Castle,  which stars the ‘Geek God’, the witty Nathan Fillion, and the beautiful, and enviably multilingual, Stana Katic. What does this have to do with publishing, you may ask. Well, a lot it turns out.

I tweet about Castle under a ‘Castley’ pseudonym, and fangirl with the best of them (many of them teenagers, but also a fair smattering of English majors, doctors, teachers, film/media types, and of course, Firefly fans). What became increasingly interesting to me as I watched the show and followed fans on Twitter was the way the show crossed the usual boundaries of fandoms, media types and genres. I was particularly fascinated with how a show about a crime writer seemed to be encouraging young people to read long-form narrative that they might not have read otherwise, if they read books at all.

» Read the rest of this entry «

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