Sunday, July 14, 2013

How I Ended Up on the Kindle

Amazon’s stock topped $300 a share for a short time yesterday before slipping back to $299.60.   You can be sure that this good showing was due to Apple losing the anti-trust suit over e-book pricing and not to the fact that I launched my first e-book on the Kindle.  More about that later.

I recall chatting with an Amazon executive after the Kindle was launched and asked him whether they were thinking about magazines.  He replied that “they are not yet on our radar.”  And the Kindle was decidedly not then on the radar of magazine publishers.  After all, why play in that black-and-white sandbox when the iPad offered the dream resolution for four-color magazines. 

For me, Amazon was a disruptor to be sure but also the behemoth that was putting my neighborhood bookstores out of business.  And the big guys too.  In the past during quieter times, I’ve roamed cities with bookstores serving loosely as my navigation points.  This is getting more difficult, certainly in New York.  Borders left town.  B&N is harder to find and could very well disappear too, following the Nook out the door.  But Amazon can’t be blamed for B&N’s incompetence and getting into the device game without a clear strategy.   The ruling that Apple conspired with other publishers to fix e-book prices clearly plays into Amazon’s strategy.  The price of e-books is going down.

I have written and edited more than a dozen books for a variety of publishers, including Dell, Warner, Rodale and a handful of small presses that are now out of business.  I have published hundreds of poems in a variety of journals from The Sewanee Review to something called Twig.  Most of these publications are no longer in print.  Those that survive have  outsourced much of their business operations.  Many poets and writers I know support financially various titles just to keep them going.  That Poetry magazine got something like a $100 million endowment a few years ago is the exception rather than the rule.  Most operate on a shoestring.     

Disruption in the book business started long before Amazon.  Over the last twenty years, book publishers have been taking less risks with mid-list books and requiring that authors that they do publish do much more of the work, including marketing.  At one time, I was sent on a 15-city media tour by Warner to promote a health and fitness book.  Sure it meant going to Cleveland, Detroit, and Green Bay but it was planned, paid for and generally successful.  I was talking to a book agent friend recently and he said that publishers require even well-known authors to submit detailed marketing plans with their book proposals.  This outsourcing is likely to continue.

The recent merger of Random House and Penguin is likely to exacerbate this situation as it brings the number of major book houses down to five.  The Atlantic Wire suggests that the net effect will be fewer editors editing few books; lower advances; and less diversity in subject matter.  As with Hollywood, we will likely see much more emphasis on the blockbusters.  I know from experience that it will mean fewer book agents taking queries from authors, even those with substantial publishing and media experience.  Since the business has been experiencing lower advances for authors, this means a lower cut for agents, who are already hurting because authors are going the self-publishing route.

But self-publishing is not for the faint-of-heart.  Authors have to do literally everything.  The contemporary rule-of-thumb is that for every hour you spend writing a book, you should spend another hour marketing the book.  Interesting, but this is practically impossible for most writers.  I haven’t handed out book flyers outside Grand Central Station in New York City yet, but I’ll have to think about it.

I’ve published two novels (Limey Down, The Sirens of Vulture Creek) and two volumes of poetry (Set Pieces of the Feminine, and In the Shadow of the DMZ) with Amazon, on-demand services.   You can find details about these titles at  The most recent is The Archetype of the Gun, an e-book.

Ever since the Newtown school massacre, I have been thinking about the gun and gun violence in America in its broadest context.  I published a blog earlier this year (February 12, 2013) about the subject on this site.   Soon after the shootings, the conversation quickly got back to “us” vs. “them” and nothing happened.  The Senate failed to pass what most Americans considered reasonable legislation about background checks.  I suspect that nothing happened because the gun has such a powerful hold on the American imagination.  It is a Big Idea, what the Jungians would call an archetype.

In that spirit, I decided to write an epic poem—in structure--and explore in image and metaphor the psychological, religious, and mythological aspects of the gun, weaving in my military experience, my service during the Vietnam War, conversations with veterans and family members who served, and the growing examples of “militarism” at home and abroad.  This is not about guns but about “gun-running.” 

The WSJ reminded us this year in May, which is poetry month, that no one reads poetry any more.  Perhaps so, but we keep trying.  Now back to the business of books.

I decided to publish this as a Kindle e-book because the poem’s format works well on the screen size, the data sharing, and market distribution.  I like Kindle’s lending library program and other promotions.  And you can take it to the beach.  I priced the book at $3.99, which is considered the consumer sweet spot.   I’ll consider a print version if the response warrants.

Please find a link to the book, including a description and summary pages:

Please share.


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