blogs & writers

anthologize logoRecently, I became aware of a new tool for authors called Anthologize.  Anthologize is a WordPress plugin created as part of the One Week One Tool project at George Mason University in Washington DC.  According to the press release accompanying the launch of Anthologize,

. . . [the] project was inspired by the model of rural “barn-raisings” to bring twelve dynamic individuals to CHNM with the mission to create, build, and release a digital tool useful to humanities scholars in seven days. The project offered the team a short course in the principles of open source software development, collaborative project management, and community outreach. The project’s team included professors, graduate students, recent undergraduates, museum professionals, librarians, and digital humanities staff.

In a nutshell, Anthologize lets authors quickly gather information from blogs and combine it with their own posts to create electronic documents, published in a variety of formats including PDF and ePUB.  Inside the tool, you can set up projects which consist of “parts” (chapters) and items (“content”).  These can come from your own posts or be imported via feeds from other sites.  You can drag and drop items to any place within the project.

anthologize plugin

The strength of the tools is that it leverages all of the WordPress capabilities in terms for pulling together a rich variety of content. and provides an organizational structure well suited to a book.  While powerful, the tool isn’t perfect.  A review by Teleogistic flagged some of its weaknesses – e.g. in the export process.

None of these export processes are perfect. Some require that certain libraries be installed on your server; some do not offer the kind of layout flexibility that we like; some are not great at text encoding; etc. This release is truly an alpha, a proof-of-concept.

However, the reviewer acknowledges that the tool is a potent framework for further development in the world of independent authorship, publishing, and distribution.

According to the Anthologize website, future plans for the tool include:

  • Importing blog comments into your editing environment and transform them into end notes or footnotes
  • Importing content via URL when an RSS feed is unavailable
  • Maintaining version control of the individual items in a project
  • Creating editions of your electronic documents
  • Providing an annotation interface for adding editorial comments during the crafting process
  • Developing an interface to aid in the construction of document indexes

Anthologize is clearly a major step forward in the evolution of blog to book.  It gives authors a way to organize their blog posts, as well as externally derived information, into a coherent book structure and then publish in formats that are suitable for print or e-book.  One can easily imagine Anthologize becoming a must have base tool for authors that others developers contribute to through complementary plugins – much like the NextGen Gallery plugin has become in the image gallery arena.

anthologize on the iPad

Anthologize can be downloaded and installed from the tool website’s download page, or you can download it from the plugins section on Check it out!

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Several interlinked shifts are leading to a whole new ecology within book publishing.   First is the loss of jobs in the industry.  Over the past year, for example, employment in print related industries, including book publishing, has fallen by almost 90,000 jobs.  Second, as technology plays a bigger role in all aspects of book publishing, many publishing jobs are becoming obsolete or are being radically transformed.  Third, the expectations that publishers have of authors is changing.  More and more, authors are asked to do a greater share of the marketing for their titles both before and after publication.

At the same time,  the continuing democritization of book publishing means that more books are being produced and marketed than ever before despite the down economy. These trends are symptomatic of an ongoing process of creative destruction and haves created a (mostly) freelance ecology of contractors who are retooling for the new era in publishing,

In addition to the traditional freelance jobs associated with the development of a book, here are some examples of non-traditional jobs this new ecosystem does or might include:

  • Ghost blogger – Many authors use blogs now as a way to build and maintain an audience for their work.  But blogging can be time consuming and the pace of frequent blogging can be demanding.  A ghost blogger is an individual that writes blog posts or tweets on behalf of an author.
  • Blog tour specialist – A person who sets up and manages blog tours, where an author’s work is reviewed on blog sites pertinent to the book’s content.

How to Create a Virtual Book Tour

  • Social media specialist – Someone who monitors and manages an author’s online presence, especially as it relates to the use of social sites like Facebook, Twitter, Shelfari and the like.  Many folks from the realms of traditional book PR are moving into this area.
  • Book project manager – As more of the work of marketing titles shifts to authors, they will need the assistance of a team of specialists who can help them get the greatest possible exposure for their work.  The role of this person is to help guide the author through the maze of choices and assemble / manage the right team of people for their book project.
  • Web developer – The continuing incursion of technology into book publishing arena brings with it the need for experts to help with author website development, widget creation, even database setup for certain types of titles.
  • E-book conversion specialists – There are now many e-book formats, some easier to navigate than others.  A number of companies and individuals now provide assistance with getting titles converted into all the major formats and making sure they look good in those formats.
  • Book video producers – Book trailers are becoming a popular and effective marketing tool.  Creating and distributing a quality video usually requires expertise outside that of the author or their publisher.
  • Analytics interpreter – These days, authors and publishers can be awash in numbers- e.g. website traffic, blog metrics, book sales data from BookScan, social media stats.  Gathering and interpreting this data will become more important as we move from intuition based to evidence based publishing.  Making sense of it all could become a specialty of its own.
  • Online writing coaches – This individual works with authors making the transition to new, compressed forms of writing – e.g. mobile phones, blogs, Twitter, etc.

The emergence of a new book publishing ecosystem is inevitable as the industry embraces technology.  It offers new opportunities and hope for those who have been displaced from book publishing firms over the last decade.

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Electric Literature will begin a new venture in microserialization by ‘tweeting’ Rick Moody’s new story, Some Contemporary Characters, from November 30th to December 2nd.  Mr. Moody wrote the story expressly for Twitter. 

Rick Moody  

As Andy Hunter, Editor in Cheif of Electric Literature remarked in his announcement of the Twitter story:   

It is broken into bursts 140 characters or less, each clearly labored over with a precision and lyricism that floored us.

 Rick went head-to-head with the 140 character limitation of Twitter and used it as a source of creative inspiration. It reminds us of the film The Five Obstructions, wherein an artist’s acceptance of an arbitrary constraint leads to innovation. We feel Rick has taken something that could seem gimmicky – “Twitter-fiction” – and created something transcendent.

The Four Fingers of Death book coverRick Moody is one of the most celebrated American writers of his generation.  He is the author of four novels, three collections of stories, and a memoir, The Black Veil which won the PEN/Martha Albrand award for the Art of the Memoir.. In 1994, he published The Ice Storm, which became a best seller and was made into a feature film of the same name, directed by Ang Lee.  His new novel, The Four Fingers of Death will be published in July 2010. He also plays music in The Wingdale Community Singers, whose new album, Spirit Duplicator, is out now.We had the opportunity to ask Rick about Some Contemporary Characters and the challenges this new medium presents to authors.

FPP:  What inspired you to write a Twitter story?

RM:  I think my contempt for Twitter is what inspired it, initially. In general, I think the way to describe the world is to get longer not shorter. Twitter, by virtue of brevity, abdicates any responsibility where real complexity is concerned, because it forbids length. This seemed to me like a challenge, then: how to get complex in a medium that is anathema to complexity and rigor. And a challenge is always thrilling.

FPP:  What is the most difficult part of writing a story 140 characters at a time?

RM:  That’s it’s 140 characters at a time! Is that not difficult enough? It’s very difficult to get real traction and real change into that space.

FPP:  What is essential to carrying the story line in this new species of storytelling?

RM:  I think you have to imply a lot of story because there’s just not that much action you can get into the character-count box. You can’t dramatize a scene so much on Twitter. Or, you have to cut up scenes into the little hunks available. To the extent that you can imply action rather than depicting it, you’ll have more room available for doing other bits of fictive work. Description, dialogue, character, and so on.

FPP:  How does character development change in the Twitter format?

RM:  It didn’t change that much for me. It’s still central to this piece, as it most often is, in my work.

FPP:  Did you create Some Contemporary Characters as a Twitter story originally or take a full blown story and trim it down for the Twitter format?

RM:  It was absolutely written ground up on Twitter, for Twitter, about Twitter, with the character counter page open the whole time, to keep me from going OVER.

FPP:  Would you consider using Twitter as a means to preview future stories for your readers?

RM:  Never say never. But I sort of think that if you mean to use Twitter well you should use it from the start, rather than carving up hitherto existing text to fit into its strictures. That seems slightly obscene to me. It’s cheating.

FPP:  What did you learn as an author from creating “Some Contemporary Characters”?

RM:  That, despite my contempt for Twitter, it IS sort of like writing haiku all day long. And I like writing haiku. Twitter’s brevity, that is, started to have some sublime qualities.

FPP:  Do you think micro-serialized Twitter stories can find a permanent place in literary fiction or is the format too restrictive to be viable long term?

RM:  It remains to be seen, really, because the form is still in its infancy. I’m betting it’s a flash in the pan. I’m betting Twitter itself is a flash in the pan, and that as soon as video is more readily available a lot of these text-based media on the web will be a thing of the past. That’s good, because the word “tweet” is really embarrassing.

FPP:  Are you planning to do more Twitter stories in the future?

RM:  As of right now, I am not. But you never know.

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365 days. 536 recipes. One girl and a crappy outer borough kitchen.
Julie Powell (The Julie / Julia Project – August 25, 2002)

Julie and Julia movie posterBlog to book success stories have been around for awhile.  Now Julie & Julia has entered new territory – making a profitable  transition from blog to book to movie.  The first month’s box office receipts topped $70 million.  Sales of Julie & Julia (the book – Amazon rank 90) were brisk and Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Amazon rank 4) have sold more this past month than they did in entire years past.

julie_powellFor the aspiring writer, are there attributes that augur well for a blog in terms of turning it into a book and perhaps a movie?  What was it that made Julie & Julia a hit?  Here are some thoughts:

  • Celebrity – The blog involves a celebrity – in this case Julia Child.  What made the whole thing interesting was that she would have the conversation with Julia Child (who was not supportive of the blog) as well as her readers.
  • Drama – Julie Powell made herself the story; setting out her challenge in a very pubic way.  And she had a definite deadline; there was no ambiguity about whether she would succeed or flop.
  • That could be me! – Julie Powell took on the fears of EveryCook – preparing difficult recipes and sharing all her travails with her audience.  Each day, her readers could empathize with her discouragements and celebrate her triumphs, but be glad they weren’t going through it themselves.  In some respects, it was like reality TV.

All the right elements for any good story. The blogging medium might be new, but the formula for success is age old.  Bon appetit!

Julie & Julia movie trailer

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neal stephensonThe term Spew refers to the torrent of information spilling out over the Web.  It was an image first conjured up by author Neal Stephen.  Today the term could serve equally well as a description for the tsunami of tweets pouring forth from Twitter-ers across the globe.  Individuals and organizations have discovered many interesting uses for Twitter:

  • A research tool to plug into the raw elements of news stories while they are unfolding –  e.g. the Tehran protests
  • Live blogging at conferences
  • Distributing news stories – e.g. CDC using Twitter to get the news out swine flu
  • Mobilizing customers – e.g. the bakery in San Francisco that updates local customers on when its sumptuous peach pies are coming out of the oven

Top Twitter Tools Exposed & Explained at Lightning Speed

Not to be left out of the Twitter-mania, authors have also started using the tool to support their book development and marketing efforts.

  • Seek assistance with research for your book
  • Build a following that you can direct to your longer blog posts
  • Respond to comments about your book
  • Announce events such as readings, appearances and book signings
  • Delivering sample book content
  • Share news stories (and pictures) related to your book

twitter-toolsA plethora of Twitter apps are now available to make all these task easier.  The most comprehensive list I have found so far is at Mashable.  Want to follow some authors, agents or the publishing industry?  Try this starter list from Maria Schneider’s blog.  And if you want to track and quantify all your tweet followers and activities, there is a list of excellent Twitter analytics tools available at Social Media Today


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bonsai tree in containerEvery life is a complex story.  Our particular story is shaped by milestone experiences and important relationships whose consequences  unfold over time and ultimately define us like the living sculpture that emerges from the careful prunings of a young bonsai tree   Several sites have built large followings by allowing individuals to share their stories and secrets in a micro-format; in this case a postcard.  Like the dwarf bonsai tree, the art that results is due in part to the constraint imposed by the container.

For authors looking for character sketches or a good idea to build a story around, these sites can be invaluable.  Two of the most notable sites in this regard are PostSecret and Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story.

PostSecret – This is a site where individuals share their ecrets in pubic.  They submit their secrets on a post card and mail it – yes snail mail – to the Post Secret PO box.  The site’s founder, Frank Warren, then pubishes a new batch of secrets every Sunday evening.  Some of the ssecrets are humorous, others naughty, while many touch on very dark areas of the sender’s life experience.  Most individuals have presented their secrets in a compelling and artful fashion.

Postsecret Confessions

Michel Writes Your Life Story – This site is a variant of the postcard theme used by Post Secret.  Individuals tell their story to Michael Kimball, the site’s owner, who then renders a micro-biographysized to fit on the back of a postcard.  According to an interview with Madelaine Brand on NPR, Kimball began doing this in response to a friend’s challenge to turn his writing into performance art.  Kimball demonstrates a knack for extracting the meaningful core of each individual’s story. 

Madeleine Brand life story on postcard

There are many useful toolsto help authors develop character profiles with depth and powerful story ideas .  Drawing on this public psychography may be a productive means to jump start  the imagination.  The sites above reinforce the old adage that truth is often more interesting than fiction.

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blog on KindleAmazon recently rolled out a new program called Kindle Publishing for Blogs.  The beta program offers Kindle owners subscriptions to blogs.  Blogger receive 30% of anywhere from $0.99 to $1.99 per reader per month; so for every thousand readers, a blogger could get $999 to $1,999.  (It’s not clear how Amazon determines the price it charges for a particular blog subscription.)   The setup process  takes about 12 to 48 hours before a blog appears in the Kindle Store. 

For bloggers, it offers potentially wider distribution.  As Shawn Farner commented on GizHQ, “Aside from giving the content creator a weak 30 percent, the new system could present an opportunity for blogs to tap into new audiences and become more widely read, and I’m all for that.”

But it’s unclear how Amazon will get consumers to pay for what they can now get for free.  Kit Eaton of Fast Company wondered about Amazon’s larger strategy:

. . . blogs derive much of their power from their nowness–their real-time relevance is what’s presenting a challenge to traditional media reporting. By offering them to Kindle readers as so much dead text…is this Amazon’s subtle way of propping up the ailing newspaper industry?

Either that, or Amazon is thinking far into the future to a time when people will pay to read blog posts. Hard to imagine, but not outside the realm of possibility.

Some other possibilities:

  • Amazon sees blogs eventually supplanting newspapers (and in some cases magazines), at least in the US.  As these blog based news organizations grow in influence and sophistication, they may begin offering premium content for subscribers.
  • Amazon sees a tie between blogs and books.  Blogs can function as the progenitor of books, and as an extension to a published book.  Blogs by popular authors may command a small subscription price and help drive sales of books.  
  • Amazon thinks readers may be willing to pay for a different blog reading experience – something between a computer screen and a printed page.
  • Amazon isn’t sure what to expect but thinks the experiment is worth a shot.

One thing is sure; if the Kindle blog publishing program is successful, other purveyors of e-readers will soon follow with similar programs of their own.

Jeff Bezos and Bestselling Authors Discuss Amazon Kindle

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