August 2008

Chelsea Green Publishing was established by Ian and Margo Baldwin in 1984, and got launched in a big way with the publication of The Man Who Planted Treesby Jean Giano. Today, Chelsea Green is considered the major publisher of books on sustainable living.  Since then, Chelsea Green titles have received a number of awards over the years, including ALA and Booklist Notable Books of the Year, the John Burroughs Medal, James Beard Award finalist and the Garden Globe Award. 

Margo Baldwin

Margo Baldwin

Margo Baldwin stepped in to run the company in 2002, and in 2003 refashioned the company’s mission statement to reflect and reinforce its commitment to the political – as well as the practical – aspects of sustainable living.  She has always been an activist – in publishing as well as politics; including taking on such venerable icons of the publishing world as the New York Times and Barnes  Noble.  

Margo took time recently, in the middle of launching Obama’s Challenge during the Democratic National Convention, to talk about Chelsea Green and share her views on the future of publishing.

FPP:  What motivated you to become a publisher?

MB:  My husband and I moved to Vermont from Brooklyn with consulting jobs. After a year we had to figure out how to stay and be employed. Almost on a lark, we decided to start a publishing company. He had been in publishing but not for a long time and I had never done anything before in publishing. I bought him a letterpress book of poetry published and illustrated by Michael McCurdy and we decided we’d like to “do that.” Also, we wanted to find something we could do together while raising a family that would produce a beautiful and important “product.” Publishing good books seemed to fit the bill. Little did we know what that would mean

FPP:  When you started Chelsea Green in 1984, was it difficult to find a market for books on sustainable living?

MB:  When we started the company we were not doing books on sustainable living. We just wanted to do “important” books and thought we could be a general trade publisher. We discovered that we couldn’t stay in business unless we got focused and niched. We both had a commitment to environmental issues and our third book was The Man Who Planted Trees, which is one of the most inspiring books we have ever done and also probably one of the most successfully published books in our entire history: beautifully designed and produced with illustrations by Michael McCurdy, the famous wood engraver, and written by Jean Giono, one of France’s great authors. It has sold over half a million copies in all formats and editions and speaks to people today as well as it did almost 25 years ago. So that set the tone for our future publishing program. Then we signed up an old classmate of Ian’s, Eliot Coleman, to do The New Organic Grower, followed by The Four-Season Harvest. Eliot’s two books, in two editions each, have sold well over 300,000 copies and are selling two or three times better today than they did five years ago! So once we began to put a real backlist in place we decided to focus on all aspects of sustainable living. it wasn’t that hard to find the books but it was hard to sell them in a culture that was not at all focused on green living issues.

FPP:  The mission statement on your company website indicates that Chelsea Green is a “publishing leader for books on the politics and practice of sustainable living.” How has the balance between the politics and the sustainable practices shifted over time?

George Lakoff

George Lakoff

MB:  I stepped back into run the company in late 2002. Both Ian and I had stepped out of the day to day running of things around 1998 and the company was not doing very well. It had become too narrowly niched in the practical part, the how-to, and was not publishing books with broad appeal. I felt an urgency about the world’s current situation, especially the environmental crises we were facing, that we needed to address in more political ways. After spending about a year kind of cleaning things up on the operational side, we began broadening our editorial mission to include political books. In the spring of 2004, when we heard that George Lakoff was looking for a publisher for his short handbook on framing, Don’t Think of an Elephant!, we jumped at the chance and told him we could get it out before the election, which we did. That time we went from manuscript to bound books in seven weeks and it immediately took off. We ended up selling over 300,000 copies and it’s still selling. At the same time, we deepened our commitment to the practice side and began signing up new books by key practitioners in the fields of renewable energy, organic gardening and sustainable agriculture, eco-cuisine, green building, as well as bringing out new editions of our best backlist books. So now it feels like a good balance.

FPP:  What do you look for in the titles you choose to publish?

MB:  Very high quality of content, good writing, timeliness, backlist potential, content that is at the leading edge of our key areas of interest. With lots of publishers jumping into the green arena, it’s really important that we are signing up the people on the leading edge of what’s coming next. We have developed a great reputation over the years that authors seek us out.

FPP:  What is the typical profile of a Chelsea Green author if there is such a thing?

MB:  Not sure there is such a thing except a strong commitment to changing the world for the better. Our authors are not writing books, nor are we publishing them, just to turn trees into paper for their own sake. We are publishing books to make a difference and to promote our sustainability mission. Often our backlist authors are not writers first, but practitioners. But even on the political side, writers like Naomi Wolf (The End of America) and Robert Kuttner (Obama’s Challenge), are writing these books to change the cultural dynamic, not just to have another book out.

FPP:  Can you identify 2 or 3 authors you admire and would like to publish?

MB:  Bill McKibben, Barbara Kingsolver, Paul Hawken, Michael Pollen. I’d love to do books with them some day!

FPP:  Given the concerns about global climate change and all of its effects on the planet, are you seeing more demand for your titles than in previous years and changes in the readership for your titles?

MB:  Absolutely. Our books are selling better now than they did a few years ago or even when they were first published. Eliot Coleman’s books have tripled in sales in the last 2 years.

FPP:  What role, if any, do you see technology playing in the way you will produce and market books in the future?

MB:  Well, with Obama’s Challenge, we just demonstrated that we could beat our own record and get a book from final manuscript to bound books in 4 weeks. We were able to do that because we used print-on-demand technology to make the book available immediately, thus filling the gap between when the files are uploaded to the offset printer and when they come into our warehouse. We did this to have the book available for the Democratic National Convention, which we felt we had to target for our core audience to get the book launched. We have also made it immediately available as an e-book through’s Kindle technology.

FPP:  There was some controversy recently about the plan for distributing copies of Obama’s Challenge to the channel. Could you tell us about that and your reaction to some of the criticism that it provided Amazon with an unfair advantage?

MB:  First of all, the idea that there is some kind of “level playing field” in this business is nonsense. Chelsea Green is a very small publisher trying to outcompete corporate giants. We were not trying to give Amazon any kind of advantage; we were trying to build demand for the book so it would sell through all channels. We put together an innovative promotion to launch the book via at the DNC, period. Secondly, I can’t remember a time when any bookseller cared whether they had a new book of ours in the first two weeks of its release and they often tell us to hold books and consolidate orders to reduce shipping costs, so this outrage seems kind of misplaced. Finally, the book business has lots of “traditions” that are set up so favor the big players, like national lay downs and embargos and having the national media all hit in the first few weeks. We don’t operate that way. Our books build over time, even the ones we rush out, so we never saw this as giving unfair advantage.

FPP:  What do you see as the biggest challenges for book publishers in the next few years?

MB:  One of the biggest challenges is going to be how to handle the digital content and distribution of books. I think we’re finally going to see a move to e-books and on-line database access. The increase in energy costs is helping to drive this as well. We are simply not going to be able to afford to ship printed books back and forth across the country or the world with such easy abandon. There is a new generation that has grown up reading on-line and will want to read books that way. We need to make our content available in all channels. The other challenge is the speed challenge. Publishers simply have to get books to market faster. Traditional lead times are going to be a thing of the past. We feel we are at the forefront of that change and have developed something of a specialty in that regard and really good authors are seeking us out for that reason.

FPP:  How do you see the sustainability movement evolving over the next few years and will that change the titles that you choose to publish?

MB:  I think the sustainability movement will become more broad-based and mainstream. It will also be co-opted by the big corporations who are greenwashing themselves like crazy. So it will be a challenge to know what is authentic and what is not. We just need to stay on the front lines and work with the people who are driving the real change forward.

FPP:  What would you like to change about book publishing?

MB:  I’d like to see it less dominated by the corporate conglomerates and I’d like to see authors less reliant on huge advances, which then excludes smaller publishers from getting their books when they can actually end up doing a better publishing job and earning the author more royalties in the end. I’d also like to see returns done away with. There is no reason anymore to buy books on a returnable basis when books can be ordered on demand. It’s actually criminal to be shipping books back and forth in terms of energy use and climate change. Finally, I’d like to see all publishers commit to using recycled paper and for authors to be insisting on this in their contracts.

FPP:  Have you considered trading your publishing career to become more directly involved in politics?

MB:  Good God no!

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What are the components of value in an e-book?  How much of the price depends on format, how much on content?

The debate about the best way to price an e-book seems to be endless.  The digital format severs that convenient anchor to a physical product and makes it more difficult for many consumers to determine what’s a fair price.  So far, there doesn’t seem to be a magic one price fits all formula similar to what Apple has used with its $0.99 per tune pricing for music on iTunes.  Publishers are left to experiment to establish the right price points.

Below are some of the factors that seem to regularly appear in commentaries on e-book pricing:

  • Type of book – Non-fiction seems to command different price points than fiction.
  • Goals of the consumer in purchasing it – If the content of the book promises to deliver special value – e.g. increases productivity or convey a new skill – the consumer might be willing to pay more.
  • Quality of presentation – The more professional the design and marketing of the e-book, the better the odds are that a consumer might pay a higher price.
  • Perceived value relative to a print version (if a print version exists) – If the title or author is well known, and the book is available in print at a substantially higher price, a prospective buyer might pay more for the e-book version because the perception of getting good value is heightened.

Judy Cullins presented a variety of different e-book pricing strategies in her article Top 7 Ways to Price your eBook to Sellon Christopher Knight’s Top7Business e-zine.  Like many who have commented on the price of e-books, she recommends pricing based on the value of the content and cautions against underpricing just becasue the format is digital.

Dvid Hennebery, in his article Setting the best price for your ebook for maximum profit, offers some additional strategies for selling more e-books.  These include offer bonus items with the e-book and bundling several e-books together under one price to effectively lower the price of each e-book if sold separately.  He also recommends that publishers or self-publishing authors survey previous buyers of their e-books to determine the price for a forthcoming e-book.

Perhaps in future, part of the e-book pricing equation will be the platform it’s delivered on and the extra capabilities for the reader that inhere in the platform.  Joe Wikert, commenting on a BusinessWeek article by Sarah Lacy, says:  “social network capabilities are something I’ve been pleading for Amazon to consider when developing Kindle version 2.0, 3.0 and beyond.”  An e-book that can take advantage of such features would have more intrinsic value than the same e-book on a reader that was less capable.

While we wait for accepted e-book price points to emerge from the fog, the somewhat chaotic auction between readers and publishers that is today’s pricing mechanism will continue.

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Mark Jeffrey

Mark Jeffrey

Most of us have enough on our hands just keeping up with our day jobs.  But Mark Jeffrey, author of the ultra popular Max Quick series of books and podcast audiobooks has two day jobs.  His first podiobook, Max Quick 1: The Pocket and the Pendant, has received over 2 million downloads to date.  And he is currently CTO of, a human-powered search service.  Previously, Mark co-founded ZeroDegrees, a business social network (sold to IAC/InterActiveCorp in 2004).  He was CEO and co-founder of SuperSig in 1999. Mark also co-founded The Palace, Inc., an early (1995) avatar chat platform backed by Intel, Time Warner and Softbank with 10 million users (sold to in 1998). Mark lives in Santa Monica, California. 

We recently interviewed Mark about his work, as well his thoughts about writing and the future of publishing.

FPP:  How did you come to write the Max Quick series and why did you choose to pursue the young adult audience?

The Pocket & the Pendant

The Pocket & the Pendant

MJ:  Initially, it was because it was something I thought I could do, that it was within my abilities as a first-time writer. I thought I would start with a ‘toy world’ and graduate from there to more serious stuff. But I quickly realized that I had actually, unwittingly, begun writing in one of the most serious of worlds possible. Paradoxically, it’s adult fiction that is usually rather trivial. Think about it. Who’s zooming who, who killed who — it’s all the same stuff, over and over. But Young Adult (YA) deals with large, archetypical themes. We are dealing with stories from the collective unconscious. That’s explosive. That’s handling nitro, baby.

Carl Jung once said, “One of the most difficult tasks men can perform, however much others may despise it, is the invention of good games and it cannot be done by men out of touch with their instinctive selves.” I think the same can be said of good YA fiction (though I don’t think it’s as much despised these days 🙂 )

The Two Travelers

The Two Travelers

I think Harry Potter and His Dark Materials opened some eyes to the fact that this sort of thing could be successful in recent years. Of course, there have been countless similar examples over the last century: Star Wars, the Oz books (easily the ‘Potter’ of the turn of the century), Narnia and Lord of the Rings are all supposedly ‘young adult’ content. In fact, I find the stuff I like best tends to fall into this category.

One other bit of ‘young adult’ content I would highlight includes ‘Ender’s Game’ by Orson Scott Card. I had not read it before I wrote ‘Pocket’. But a lot people told me ‘Pocket’ reminded them a lot of ‘Ender’s Game’ in that the children have to grow up very fast, and they’re kind of on their own. The children are not there to be cute. Nor are they sort of half-people. Rather, they are narratively full, rich individuals and are taken very, very seriously as people. Same thing with ‘Stand By Me’, actually. I tried very consciously to do the same thing.

But finally, there is a certain marketing logic to YA. The movie industry whispers in awe about a ‘four quadrant’ hit — one that appeals to young and old, men and women equally. Good YA is likewise ‘four quandrant’. It has much more hit potential than anything narrowly focused. Why? Because it is archetypal. It is universal and timeless. At least when it is done correctly 🙂

FPP:  What do you think has been responsible for the tremendous success of the Max Quick series?

MJ:  It’s simultaneously very similar and very different to other things out there right now. ‘Potter’ opened everyone’s minds, of course. And created an audience. But after that, in the book world, you pretty much have Pullman, and that’s it. Nobody else has delivered! Space has been done to death. Sword and sorcery has been done to death. But YA … its been done well very few times. I like to think I’ve done it pretty well 🙂 At the very least, I’ve done something people like, judging from the reviews in the iPhone App Store.

Secondarily, the podiobook version of ‘Pocket’ was early enough and popular enough (it’s gotten 2.3 million downloads to date) that it provided the early explosion in the fanbase. That was certainly a factor, and I owe a thanks to Evo Terra and for that early success.

FPP:  Are there particular authors who have influenced on your work?

MJ:  Absolutely. I am a huge fan of Stephen R. Donaldson and Anne Rice in particular. I’ve also read lot of Carl Jung, Stephen King (specifically Dark Tower), Neal Stephenson (Snow Crash), Mervyn Peake, Karen Armstrong, JRR Tolkien, Philip K. Dick, JK Rowling, Carlos Casteneda, Frank Herbert, Phillip Pullman — all great stuff. Movies and television influence me as well — some of my favorites include Star Wars, Amadeus, Somewhere In Time, Fight Club, The Natural, Blade Runner … and TV: LOST, Battlestar Galactica (new, not disco version), Deadwood, Carnivale … it’s an interesting mix.

And all of this stuff influences me, of course. There is a theme of both Philip K. Dick and Donaldson that is a big one in ‘Two Travelers’. As Dick puts it: “Anyone who defeats a segment of the Empire, becomes the Empire.” In Donaldson’s ‘Thomas Covenant’ series, Covenant thinks he is supposed to destroy the Banefire — and he very nearly does — which is exactly what the Enemy wants him to do. Lastly, Jung has a saying: “The which we resist, persists.” I find this paradox fascinating, that the more we fight something negative, the more we actually give it power. Kind of a Chinese finger-puzzle, if you will. So that became a big theme of ‘Travelers’.

FPP:  You are a serial entrepreneur who has started a number of businesses based on new Internet technologies. How has that influenced your writing and marketing of the Max Quick series, if at all?

MJ:  Oh, it has influenced the marketing of it quite a bit. A lot of my previous businesses succeeded because myself and my partners were among the very first people ever to do them. ZeroDegrees, my third company, was the very first win in the social networking space. It was sold to Barry Diller’s IAC/Interactivecorp in Feb 2004. At the time, we didn’t even have the word ‘social network’ anywhere on our business plan! We didn’t know it was called that.

Similarly, the Max Quick Series has been marketed in many innovative ways — and was among the first in each case. And that can be directly traced to my ‘DNA as an Internet Guy’, if you will. I released the book first via in 2004 as a self-published paper book and as a downloadable PDF. In the beginning of 2005, ‘Max Quick 1: The Pocket and the Pendant’ was one of the very first podiobooks ever released (Scott Sigler’s Earthcore and Tee Morris’ MOREVI were the other two). I also released ‘Pocket’ on the Kindle. And most recently, ‘Pocket’ and ‘Max Quick 2: The Two Travelers’ were both released in the iPhone App Store as $5.99 ebook downloads.

FPP:  You’ve distributed your work as podcast, in print form, as a download, an e-book on Kindle and now on the iPhone. What adaptations, if any, did you have to make for each of those formats?

MJ:  The Kindle was a bit of a pain. The iPhone was quite easy — my partner on that, Tom Peck, took my original Word documents and converted them to his iPhone e-reader format — and it was some work on his end, but nothing terrible, I’m given to understand.

FPP:  Has the free podcast version aided or detracted from sales in print and other paid formats?

Abigail Breslin

Abigail Breslin

MJ:  Definitely added. The free podcasts have gotten over 2.3 million downloads. And as a direct result, Oscar-nominee Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine) heard the podcasts and recently called it one of her favorite books. Which was great marketing, of course — nothing better than one of the top child actors in the world saying nice things about your books!

FPP:  Could you tell us a little about how the community of readers / listeners for the Max Quick series has evolved since you began writing it?

MJ:  A lot people follow me on Twitter and friend up with me on Facebook these days. Some people email me. It never gets old, either. I love hearing what people think about the series — the good and the bad. I love hearing how they found out about it. It’s still sort of something that you have to discover somehow on your own.

In the second edition of ‘Pocket’ I included a lot of fan art that people sent in to me. Most of it is quite good! There are some seriously good artists reading the books!

FPP:  How do you see technology changing the way consumers read and authors write over the next several years? Is the printed book in danger of extinction?

MJ:  I don’t think so. Personally, I am still a big fan of being able to have a book on my bookshelf — and I think a lot of people feel the same way. Maybe if I were younger I would feel differently — I might be too old to adopt fully digital books.

However, I was shocked at how much I liked reading books on my iPhone. I wouldn’t have called that one. I am personally not a big fan of the Kindle or the other e-readers out there. Probably because I already have in my iPhone a multi-purpose device, and the Kindle is a one-trick pony. It seems ridiculous that I should have to purchase a bit of standalone hardware like that. My iPhone is already my email client, iPod, web browser, ebook reader, GPS device, camera, etc. It’s already in my pocket. You get the point. And I’ve sold way more iPhone copies of my books in the first two weeks than I’ve sold on the Kindle in the last year. So, I think the iPhone — or other multipurpose mobile device — crushes the Kindle. You heard it here first! You can’t be a one-trick pony hardware device anymore.

I also love the fact that I can go direct to a market of millions without a publisher as an unnecessary intermediary. I published directly to iPhone via Tom Peck’s wonderful e-reader application. Apple takes a cut, Tom takes a cut, but I — the artist — take the biggest cut. Now that is a proper world! And of course, I am very happy to see both Tom and Apple do very, very well. I want them to do well!

FPP:  How do you balance managing your new startup, Mahalo, and your writing?

MJ:  Ha. Well. 🙂 — where I am CTO, for your readers who do not know — is a new human-powered search engine. All the results are hand-crafted by humans. No spam! The best links always on top, not buried on page 32 or 47 of the results. (Short-form information is also presented with the links, so if it’s just a factoid you’re looking for, you’ll generally get it.) It’s really pretty extraordinary — and a big leap beyond the machine-powered search engines. It’s all information you can trust 100%. Sorry to sound like a commercial, but Mahalo is really an awesome idea (and it wasn’t mine, I’m sorry to say 🙂 it was the idea of Jason Calacanis, our CEO and personal friend of mine) and it’s sorely needed: the Net is getting more polluted every day — and that’s why I signed up.

But Mahalo is an internet start-up. And it is intense, with very long hours. Which doesn’t leave a lot of time or ‘psychic energy’ for writing. I come home drained a lot. You’ll notice there is no Max Quick 3 yet. True, I am doing Max Quick 2 as a podiobook now, but I’ve got that down to a science — only takes me 2 hours per episode now, it used to take me 8. And it is kind of ‘rote’ — I just have to do a performance of something I wrote awhile ago, edit it, release it. Very different from finding the proper ‘head space’ for writing a Max Quick book.

At some point that will be finished with the podiobook, and I’ll slowly begin work on MQ3 (I do have an outline). I’m guessing by October I’ll break ground on it.

But I’ve done several internet startups of my own before, as you note. I knew what I was signing up for with Mahalo. And so far, it’s been one of the best startup experiences I’ve had.

FPP:  What writing projects would you like to pursue after Max Quick?

MJ:  I have no idea. The Max Quick universe is large enough to encompass just about any story I want to tell — sort of like Star Trek or Gate.  At least, for me it is.  Every time I toy with an idea outside of the Max Quick universe, I end up integrating it. In ‘Two Travelers’, the Casey storyline was a separate book — until I realized it was perfect for the Casey story that had been eluding me. Likewise, I had an idea I called ‘Bondsman’ that was to be a series parallel to Max Quick and end on the same book — until I realize it was perfect for the Max storyline in book 3.

So when I figure this out, it’ll be as much a surprise to me as it is to you.

FPP:  Based on your experience, what advice would you give new writers today?

MJ:  Take advantage of the new distribution mediums! Own your own future! Get it out on, the Kindle (why not?), iPhone, PDF, — whatever. You’re problem is not that you’re not rich. Your problem is nobody has ever heard of you before. It’s a privilege that someone else will take the time to read your stuff.

Also, the definition of what a book actually *is* … is pretty fluid now. It’s more like software. For example, what is out right now for ‘Pocket’ I consider ‘Pocket 1.0’. I may do a ‘Pocket 2.0’ with expanded scenes, new scenes, etc. I may double the length of it — like an extended edition DVD. There’s a lot of things I wanted to do with the journey across America that I could not get to and remain under 100,000 words. Now that there are so many fans of the book, I feel I have permission to expand it. There’s no reason not to.

I may release the first six chapters for free in the iPhone App Store (in fact I probably will) like a sampler game level.

The point is: we are no longer in a world where you publish it and it is set in stone for eternity. You can keep upgrading it. You have to be careful so you don’t destroy the illusion of continuity — you can’t be completely fluid to the point of silliness (for example, in the newer ‘Star Wars’, Lucas has Greedo fire at Han Solo first — and miss at point blank range! — that is silliness, don’t change your stuff THAT much).

Finally, your early audience can help you write your book. Readers have found consistency errors in earlier version of Pocket that I’ve since corrected. They are basically beta testers. Take their feedback, fix your book, re-release it. Scott Sigler, JC Hutchins (7th Son) Matthew Wayne Selznick (Brave Men Run) have commented on this at length. The audience can help you write. Take advantage of that. Again, books are more like software now.

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J.C. Hutchins

J.C. Hutchins

J.C. Hutchins is a groundbreaking pioneer in the realm of building participative fan-based communities around works of fiction.  He is the author of the 7th Son trilogy, the most popular podcast novel series in history.  The technothriller trilogy, distributed as free, serialized audiobooks on the Internet, has featured cameos by science fiction/horror icons Nathan Fillion, George Romero, Richard Hatch, Alan Dean Foster, Kevin J. Anderson and others. Hutchins’ work has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and as a Blogger & Podcaster magazine cover story.  Affter a successful career specializing in feature and entertainment reporting, in 2002 he left journalism to begin writing the 7th Son trilogy.

He recently agreed to talk with Future Perfect Publishing about his writing, the 7th Son fan community and what’s next for himself and the future for writing.

FPP:  What prompted you to start 7th Son originally and what gave you the idea for the characters and storyline?

JCH:  I’m a huge fan of superhero comic books and wanted to write my own. But as I developed the idea for 7th Sonand its core concept – seven human clones who had identical childhood memories, thanks to an ultra-secret technology that records human memories and “downloads” them into human minds – I realized that the story would be better served as a prose fiction novel. Since I believed then … and still do .. that it’s very difficult to convincingly tell a superhero story in a prose novel, I cast aside many of the “super” elements of my ideas (spandex suits, powers such as flight, ray guns, etc.) and made my seven clone protagonists “everyman” characters. Despite some of the high-tech plotlines and tech still seen in 7th Son, this creative choice grounded the narrative for me.

The story line – seven unwitting participants in a human cloning experiment brought together by the government to stop a megalomaniacal villain, the very man they were cloned from – unfolded organically during the writing process. Nearly all of the conspiracies, technologies, characters and plot twists revealed themselves to me as I wrote. It was a blast to discover this world as I wrote the book.

FPP:  Who are the writers that you most admired or had the most influence on your work?

JCH:  My inspirations are all over the place, found in many media. Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Jeffrey Deaver, Brad Meltzer, James Cameron, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Joss Whedon … the list goes on.

FPP:  You have developed a very active community of listeners for the 7th Son trilogy. Was that surprising and can you tell us how that has evolved over time?

7th Son fan content

7th Son fan content

JCH:  It was surprising, yes. I was initially shocked that so many people wanted to contribute something to “the 7th Son experience,” as I call it. But after receiving a few fan-created stories and pictures, I began to actively solicit such content from my listeners. Soon there were galleries and pages on my site filled with artwork, music, photos, poetry, fan fiction, screen savers, images and more. I still receive photos and artwork from listeners, even though the 7th Sontrilogy podcast concluded last December. It was incredible and life-changing, knowing that people were so invested in my fictional world.

FPP:  Was it a little scary when your fans first began creating and sharing their own content based on your work?

JCH:  Why would I be frightened? I believe the contract between an author and his audience is straightforward: authors produce entertaining content, and the audience consumes it. That’s it. Anything else the audience may do – tell a friend about the work, send the author an email, buy a branded T-shirt or other merchandise – is positively heroic in my world view, and far above and beyond what any author should expect. In that context, the fact that people quested for my content, leaped through a few technological hoops to obtain it, listened to it, enjoyed it … and then invested even more of their personal time and creativity to create their own art inspired by my story is as staggering as it is humbling.

There’s nothing frightening about that. It’s nigh-miraculous, and I’m touched by my fans’ generosity.

FPP:  To what extent has the community influenced the development of characters and storyline in your novels?

JCH:  None. I wrote and edited the 7th Sontrilogy long before I released it as a podcast. I did not write the series as I released the content, and I don’t recommend authors do it that way. I believe the work should be as tight and polished as it possibly can be before it’s released in the wild, and that nearly always means completing the work, editing, rewriting, rinse, repeat. I know a few writers who are good enough to release serialized fiction as they write it week-to-week, but I’m not one of them.

FPP:  What is the process you would go through to create a podcast episode? What were some of the things you had to learn or hurdles you had to overcome in the production of the podcasts?

JCH:  Creating a typical podcast episode for a serialized audiobook such as mine involves recording what I call the “core content” (the chapter that will be released in that weekly episode), editing out all the reading flubs, writing and recording timely announcements that preclude and conclude the core content, adding promotional recordings for other podcasts, mixing the entire production down into an episode, uploading it to a Web server, and then activating the content in my podcast feed.

I won’t bore your readers with the minutiae of the things I had to learn in those early days, but they involved learning what affordable recording gear to purchase (in 2006, I spent around $100 for the microphone and mixer that I still use), using an audio editing program (I use the free Garageband program for the Macintosh; there are free programs for other computer platforms, as well), understanding the fundamentals of what powers a podcast (RSS and XML technologies), and how to build and manage a website. It sounds daunting, but nearly all of this stuff was easy to grok, once I realized that I didn’t have to be a “master” of all of these things at once. LIke writing a novel, I baby-stepped my way through learning these things, and only after I was confident that I knew the basics did I launch my podcast.

The greatest revelation I made about podcasting my fiction was that it can be a colossal time suck. I’m a solid performer of my work, but I’m a terrible reader. Recording a typical 45-minute episode takes around 90 minutes for me, and another three hours to edit it. Even more time is required to write and record the timely announcements. The mixdown of an episode can take as long as 30 minutes. Even more time is taken uploading the final audio file to the Web, and activating it for people to download.

The technology is relatively easy to master, but the time investment can be enormous.

FPP:  In the past, you have delivered your work through podcasts. Now you’ve announced a print title for summer 2009. Why did you choose the podcasting route first and how do you think your listeners will respond to seeing your work in print?

JCH:  From 2002 to 2004, I wrote what we now know as the “7th Son trilogy” as one long manuscript. The complete story – nearly 1,300 pages in length – was far longer than any publisher would purchase and release from a first-time novelist. Egotistically, I ignored this and spent 2005 querying literary agents. I received deserved universal rejections from the industry. The project I’d spent two years of my life writing (and breathing) was dead on arrival. It was disheartening.

During 2005, I was listening to podcasts and discovered the serialized “podcast novel” works of Scott Sigler, Tee Morris, Mark Jeffrey, Jack Mangan and others, and realized that if I couldn’t sell 7th Son, I could at the very least share it. In early 2006, I chopped my monster manuscript into thirds (act one became Book One: Descent, etc.) and began releasing it as a podcast. More than two years — and more than 40,000 listeners and nearly 2 million downloads later — I now have a print deal for that first novel in the 7th Son series. It will be released next Fall by St. Martin’s Press.

And yes, I have another novel that will be released in Summer 2009, also by St. Martin’s. This for-hire project, called Personal Effects: Dark Art, is an ambitious novel-meets-Alternate Reality Game supernatural thriller that will break more than a few rules in the way readers perceive and experience prose fiction. This deal also hailed directly from the success of the 7th Sonpodcast. St. Martin’s Press associate editor David Moldawer facilitated both deals.

How do I think my audience will respond to these two print releases next year? I think they’re going to love it. I’ve received thousands of emails from fans during the past two-and-a-half years as a podcaster, and a great many of them specifically mention how excited they are to know that these books will be published, and how they’ll purchase copies for themselves and friends. I’m humbled by this, as I believe they – the fans – are the No. 1 reason for any success I’ve experienced as an author.

FPP:  How would you like to extend the community in the future?

7th Son Obsidian

JCH:  This is an excellent question, and one I’ve yet to answer for myself. I believe the key to audience and community growth will come from extending my reputation and work beyond the microcosm of podcasting. When my current podcast fiction project – called 7th Son: OBSIDIAN – concludes in September, I’ll be thinking very seriously about this. How can I present myself and expertise in more visible places? What advice can I offer the fiction and social media communities to help creators explore this exciting landscape?

While I have no satisfactory answer for myself (or your readers) yet, it’s something that’s on my mind. I want the print releases of my novels to be successful in 2009, and I want to do everything I can to make that happen. Growing my fan base – and the awareness of what I’m doing – will become my absolute priority, rolling into the new year.

FPP:  You’ve described yourself as “a shameless (but tactful) self-promoter.” Can you elaborate on that?

JCH:  Sure. Maybe it’s my folksy Kentucky upbringing, but I try to treat others the way I’d like to be treated. That’s why I’m as cheerful as I can be on my podcast, I answer every email I receive from listeners … and when I promote myself and my work – and I do it quite often, and quite vociferously – I try to be as kindhearted and realistic as I can be about it.

This might be an affront to traditional authorial sensibilities, but I believe my job as a writer is not only to entertain folks with my work, but to shake my ass and get as many newcomers to my content as possible. To do this, I often ask my audience to evangelize on my behalf, and will occasionally provide incentives such as merchandise, exposure on my podcast, etc. to make it worth their time. I make sure that the promotions I create are not morally offensive, are generally fun (or funny), and have an “opt out” clause for my audience. I try not to make people feel obligated to promote my stuff, and I try to be as up-front with my listeners on how I might benefit from their hard work.

In addition to this, I personally promote my work on my podcast, on social media sites/services, and to other podcasters. Whenever possible, I make an offer of reciprocity to colleagues who help me. I want to be treated with respect, and I do everything I can to do the same for my fans and peers.

FPP:  How much of your time is divided between interacting with the 7th Son community and writing?

JCH:  Podcasting, keeping up with fan correspondence and managing my social media persona and all that comes with it – my website, etc. – currently consumes nearly all of my creative time and energy. Times such as now, when I’m releasing podcast content, force new projects to the backburner. This is a dangerous game for authors, and it’s challenging to keep all the plates spinning.

Despite my love for podcasting, I believe I was put on this planet to tell stories. I’m taking the risk that this “front end” work of community-building, podcasting, etc. will help create a supportive network of fans that will purchase my work when it’s released in print, and make those releases a success, so I might someday make this my full-time profession.

FPP:  What would you like to do after 7th Son?

JCH:  The podcast release of the 7th Son trilogy concluded last December, and 7th Son: OBSIDIAN’s finale will debut next month. When 7th Son: OBSIDIANconcludes, I plan to take a well-deserved vacation from podcasting, and begin focusing my efforts on creating new stories and content. Some of this will be used to promote the Summer release of Personal Effects: Dark Art. Some of this will be new novels and short stories.

FPP:  How do you see the emerging social media affecting the way writers create and market their work in the future?

JCH:  It’s mission critical. The frontier for self-promotion, content creation and ways of telling never-before-seen breeds of stories is changing rapidly, and for the better. Technologies and services are so cheap – or in many instances, free – that the tools for creative expression are accessible to nearly everyone with a computer and Internet connection. Combine this with the inarguable reality that digital distribution of stories and promotional materials is becoming more and more mainstream – and will someday become ubiquitous – and it’s obvious that writers must explore this new Wild West. They must carve a place for themselves in it.

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Sheila Clover-EnglishBook Vid Lit

by Sheila Clover-English

Sheila Clover English, the CEO of Circle of Seven Productions, has been a pioneer in book video production, marketing and distribution for authors and publishers.

As book videos become more important in the book marketing mix and book video distribution options expand, it is critical to distribue tyour video on sites that closely match your audience demographics.  Distributing effectively is part judgment, part technology and part experimentation.  The technology aspects of book video include: formatting, search engine optimization (SEO) and distribution.  These represent major concerns and hot topics for the COS Productions‘ R&D team which is made up of internal employees as well as contracted specialists.

Last year our primary focus was on book video distribution.  We worked on establishing relationships with booksellers and specialty sites.  We submit our videos to over 300 booksellers and 5,000 libraries as well as specialty sites such as: Watch the Book, Preview the Book, DigiGirls Library, TerrorFeed, Dark Scribe Magazine, Romance Novel TV, and so on. More recently we’ve been working with BooksiRead and GoodReads and delving into more niche communities while continuing to reach out to additional booksellers and book clubs.  We’ve mastered the RSS feed and are now able to do more with less time invested. We can even use RSS to get our blogs out to several areas and then monitor comments using Friend Feed.

Our big focus in R&D right now is video SEO. Now that technology has caught up with SEO opportunities for video we plan on taking full advantage of that. Our team is currently working on a tutorial video and guide for our network partners that will help our videos have greater SEO.

Today there are many distribution options.  We have a list of over 400 sites that we can distribute to online.  We believe this gives us the broadest possible coverage for our book videos in the various social media. Here is a small sample of sites that provide some basic distribution opportunities.

5min (when applicable) Meebo Viddler
Addicting Clips MeeVee VidPow
AOL Mefeedia Vimeo
AtomUploads Mixx VSocial
Backflip Myjeeves Yahoo Video
Blinklist MySPace YouTube
Blinx Pando Borders
Blip TV Photobucket
Bluedot Propeller
Break PureVideo Southern Independent Bookseller’s Association- all bookstores
ClipBlast Putfile Watch the Book
Crackle REAL Preview the Book
DailyMotion REC TV DigiGirls REC TV Blog Dark Scribe Magazine
Digg Reddit TerrorFeed (Horror only)
Flickr SearchforVideo Romance Novel TV (Romance only)
Flurl Sevenload GoodReads
Folkd Spash Cast BooksiRead
Furl Spurl Ebookisle
GoFish StumbleUpon Night Owl Romance
Google Video Sumo Romance Designs Theater
Internet Archieve Technoratti COS Productions website and newsletter
 iTunes TotalVid Find Me an Author
Lycos Twitter Kim’s Wonderful World of Books
Magnolia Veoh OverDrive (sends to 5000 libraries)

Some of these sites are very specific to genre and allow you to target your book video to the most receptive audience.  So, for example, if you have an inspirational book, we won’t send your book video to TerrorFeed.  In this respect, it is exciting to see book video on the same playing field as video game trailers and movie trailers.  2009 promises to be an exciting year for book video!

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Jonathan Karp is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Twelve, a new imprint within the Hachette Book Group.  The imprint was established in August 2005 with the mandate to publish no more than one book per month.  Eight of the first twelve books published by Twelve were New York Times bestsellers, including: Boomsday by Christopher Buckley; The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner; Microtrends by Mark Penn; and God Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens, a #1 bestseller and finalist for the National Book Award. 

Jonathan Karp

Jonathan Karp

Prior to Twelve, Mr. Karp compiled an equally impressive track record during his tenure at Random House where he was Editor-in-Chief.  Among books he acquired and edited while at Random House are: Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand; Faith of My Fathers by John McCain and Mark Salter; The Conscience of a Liberal by Paul Wellstone; Franklin and Winston by Jon Meacham; What Should I Do With My Life? by Po Bronson; The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean; Thank You For Smoking by Christopher Buckley; Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson; Never Have Your Dog Stuffed by Alan Alda; and The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl.  He is a 1986 graduate of Brown University and has been published in The American Scholar, GQ, and The Washington Post.  He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and lives in Manhattan.

He took time recently to talk with Future Perfect Publishing about Twelve’s unique publishing model and his views on the industry.

FPP:  What motivated your idea to publish just twelve titles per year?

JK:  I wanted to be able to look people in the eye and say, “This is the only book you need to read this month.”

FPP:  Could you contrast your experience at Random House and Twelve?

JK:  I started my career at Random House and worked there for 16 years, so I will always carry its editorial values and standards with me. Really, the only difference is that I am the publisher of TWELVE and have more responsibility for the books themselves.

FPP:  You’ve talked about the book publishing industry returning to a focus on books “built to last.” What, in your view, characterizes a book with this kind of durability?

JK:  I’ll give you a simple answer, but one I truly believe: Often, the acclaimed (and, I hope, enduring) books are the product of more time and thought. Writers (and publishers) shouldn’t be in such a hurry. One of my colleagues used to say, “No one remembers what month War and Peace was published.”

FPP:  Twelve is now entering its third year. Looking back over the time since its formation, is there anything you would have done differently?

JK:  There are a couple of books I wish I’d acquired, if I hadn’t been so damn picky (or such a big tightwad) but this is a perennial problem of mine. Years ago, I was among those who urged Eric Schlosser to turn his magazine article about fast food into a book, but then I was too miserly to win the auction for it. That’s one of my great regrets.

FPP:  How does publishing just twelve books per year affect the way Twelve operates?

JK:  It makes it difficult for us to take vacations because we always have something about to be published!

FPP:  Does the limited number of titles create greater pressure – e.g. with respect to title selection and marketing?

JK:  “Pressure” is a self-imposed state of mind. I’ve rarely felt it in publishing. Let’s face it: This is one of the softest jobs in the world. We sit at a desk all day and read (even though we’re mostly reading email). I edited John McCain’s book about his five years of imprisonment in Vietnam. Now, there is a man who was under pressure. In fact, I’ll bet he’s still under a bit of pressure today.

FPP:  How do you measure success for a title published by Twelve – both in a quantitative and qualitative sense?

JK:  My highly subjective measurement of success is rave reviews for the book and royalties for the author.

FPP:  What do you see as the biggest challenges for publishers today and over the next few years? What do you envision as the biggest opportunities?

JK:  The biggest challenge will be to build word of mouth in a media environment that is paying less attention to books. We need more influential voices online who can create a groundswell of interest in new works and underappreciated writers. We need more critics like Michiko Kakutani and Janet Maslin and Jonathan Yardley — reviewers whose recommendations carry weight with readers. The opportunity is for publishers with a clear and original editorial vision to reach audiences directly. For example, Chelsea Green has an environmental mission and has published a number of highly influential books. They should be considered a model for independent publishers.

FPP:  How would you most like your contribution to publishing to be remembered?

JK:  As a champion of good books.

FPP:  Have you ever thought about leaving publishing to become a full time writer.?

JK:   A common response from successful authors, when asked to name their favorite book, is: “They’re all my children.” I guess I believe in population control. I’m not even sure that writing full-time is ideal. A lot of writers teach, or are journalists, or do other things to bring balance and creative spark to their lives. That said, if someone is willing to pay you money to write, it’s certainly a good way to earn a living.

FPP:  What would you like to do after Twelve?

JK:  Thirteen?

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Breaking Dawn

Breaking Dawn

The July 31,2008 issue of BusinessWeek put the spotlight on social media as an effective force in helping to drive book sales.  In the article, The Online Fan World of the Twilight Vampire Books, Heather Green chronicled the manner in which Stephanie Meyer, a 34-year-old mother of three from Phoenix, built a huge fan base for her work using a variety of social media sites and tools.  Meyer has written four books (the Twilight Saga) featuring two star-crossed lovers, Edward Cullen (a handsome vampire) and Bella Swan (a teenage girl living in Forks, Washington).  The final book in the series, Breaking Dawn, was released August 2.  The book has an initial print run of 3.2 million copies.  Overall, sales of books in the series have topped 7.5 million copies. The film adaptation, Twilight, is due to be released in theaters December 12, 2008.  In the meantime, numerous Twilight videos (including the official movie trailer) have appeared on YouTube and other video sites.

Edward Cullen & Bella Swan

Edward Cullen & Bella Swan

Her story and characters were inspired by a dream.  She describes it on her website:

In my dream, two people were having an intense conversation in a meadow in the woods. One of these people was just your average girl. The other person was fantastically beautiful, sparkly, and a vampire. They were discussing the difficulties inherent in the facts that A) they were falling in love with each other while B) the vampire was particularly attracted to the scent of her blood, and was having a difficult time restraining himself from killing her immediately.

Her location for the saga was somewhat less inspired – the result of some research on Google.

For my setting, I knew I needed someplace ridiculously rainy. I turned to Google, as I do for all my research needs, and looked for the place with the most rainfall in the U.S. This turned out to be the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. I pulled up maps of the area and studied them, looking for something small, out of the way, surrounded by forest… And there, right where I wanted it to be, was a tiny town called “Forks.” It couldn’t have been more perfect if I had named it myself.

But it was her efforts to build an audience for her books that was truly inspired.  Here are some of the extra steps that Meyer took to develop this community.

  • Personal website – She created a website for her novels separate from the publisher’s book site
  • Fan access – Meyer gave readers her personal e-mail and shared family photos on her website.
  • Active community sites – Enthusiastic readers have built up a large number of fan sites that help drive sales of Meyer’s books.  On her website, Meyer lists over 100 fan sites, including 5 in languages other than English.
  • Fan content – Allowing, even encouraging fans to play with the content.
  • Events – For the launch of Breaking Dawn, Meyer helped organize a kind of vampire prom night in multiple cities.  These kind of events reinforce the community experience for fans.

Stephanie Meyer

In terms of community building, Stephanie Meyer does many of the same things as J.C. Hutchins (Seventh Son) and Frank Warren (Post Secret).  What lessons can writers draw from her success?  There is no magic formula for the mega success of the Twilight Saga.  Many genres may have the networks of inspired enthusiasts necessary to match Twilight’s level of success.  But here are some things that could probably benefit any aspiring writer.

  • Engage potential fans early and often; access is important though it may not be sustainable if you become hyper successful
  • Go to the sites and forums where your readers hang out
  • Let your fans play a role in defining your brand

None of these steps is easy; all are time consuming.  But an author’s most important job is building an audience.  The good news is that these days there are plenty of good social networking tools to make that job easier.

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