Weird and Wonderful: Digital Book World and Guy LeCharles Gonzalez

So I’m tweeting along, minding my own business, when up pops a very nice tweet from @glecharles about how Book View Café is getting epublishing right. How wonderful! And weird. Who @glecharles is, I can’t remember. I’ve always enjoyed his tweets, but have no idea where I found him or why I decided to follow him. I run over to BVC Central and ask around. Amy tells me he IS Digital Book World. Is, as in not just the “Chief Executive Optimist” of his title, but also the CEO, CFO, and the CIO. On Nancy Jane’s urging, I decide to interview him. I don’t often interview people. If I have a burning question I’ll take the opportunity, but that’s about it. Today’s burning question is: where is all this (meaning digital publishing) headed? I can’t think of a better person to ask than the person who IS Digital Book World.

So I give you Guy LeCharles Gonzalez aka @glecharles.


Sue: Guy, thanks for taking the time to answer some questions. Before we get into the Burning Question, tell me what Digital Book World (DBW) is and what your role with them is.

Guy: My official title is “Director, Programming & Business Development,” which is sort of equivalent to a magazine’s publisher and editorial director. DBW’s tagline is “The Publishing Community for the 21st Century,” and the broad vision for it is to be fully embedded in the industry as an educational and networking resource for publishing professionals. We produce a variety of events, online and in-person, including our main event, the Digital Book World Conference in January. Through digitalbookworld.com, we also publish articles from a broad range of publishing and technology professionals intended for publishing and technology professionals, including writers who want to stay on top of the myriad transitions happening in the industry. I solicit and edit those, and occasionally write some of my own, too.

While I’m arguably the most visible member of our team, especially on the website and via social media, it’s not quite a one-man show. Mike Shatzkin serves as our Conference Chair with a pretty impressive Conference Council helping him develop the program, and behind the scenes, our parent company, F+W Media, has a great events and emedia staff who help make the magic happen.

For better or worse, though, I have a hand in pretty much everything that’s connected to Digital Book World.

Sue: I like the description I found at the site:

“In the midst of the gloom-and-doom naysayers and pundits, there’s a thriving community of publishers, editors, marketers, agents, booksellers, librarians, authors, and readers of all kinds who are passionate about the book, in all its forms, and are working within the industry to help change it for the better.

That’s the description of a DBW Member.”

That sounds like a good place for a member of Book View Café, but DBW is expensive to join. Considering what an ebook author needs (readers), is it worth it for them to join? What would they get out of it?

Guy: First, let me say that I don’t define authors by their format. An author is an author, whether their work is published in hardcover, paperback or eBook formats.

That said, authors, especially independent-minded authors who either aren’t getting what they want from their publishers or have gone the self-publishing route, need to understand the publishing business, both how it works and how it’s changing.

There’s a lot of fluff and blather right now that makes it sound like eBooks are a magic bullet and simply uploading your book to Amazon makes you an independent author.

Most of that fluff and blather is coming from new intermediaries who take a smaller cut than traditional publishers, while putting your eBook on a virtual shelf where no one who doesn’t already know it exists will ever find it. And, of course, some of them will also upsell you on services to help you market your eBook and increase sales, for which they’ll get their cut.

In a lot of ways, it’s basically Vanity Publishing, in a shiny 2.0 coat.

I’m biased, of course, but I’d argue that the value DBW offers authors really depends on their goals. The free information and resources we provide will suffice for most, while $99/year is pretty cheap for access to the full range of content we produce. The information and insights in the video and audio from January’s conference alone makes it a worthwhile investment, and access to our archive of on-demand WEBcasts is the cherry on top that grows in size and value every month.

Sue: “Vanity Publishing, in a shiny 2.0 coat.” I like that. I don’t know if new authors are aware of how much marketing they’ll need to do regardless of where they’ve published. (I might remind everyone at this point that all of BVC’s authors have been published by traditional publishers as well as here at BVC) I noticed that DBW has a lot of information for authors on the subject of marketing. What strategies should ebook authors be thinking of, keeping in mind that non-fiction writing cuts into fiction writing time?

Guy: My advice to all authors is to write about what they’re passionate about, both in their books and online. Warren Ellis is one of my favorite examples of an author with an amazing platform, but he’s a pretty extreme example. Cherie Priest and Matt Ruff are two more who find time to blog and engage online while still writing and publishing excellent books.

Chuck Wendig is a well-published freelancer (day job) working on a novel and a screenplay, and maintains an excellent blog that he updates daily while also being active on Twitter.

It’s not easy, but it can be done. As the old saying goes, “Nothing worth doing is ever going to be easy.” But if you’re passionate about it, you often won’t notice how “hard” it is because you’ll be enjoying it.

Also, having a day job is an excuse to avoid all this, not a reason. So is being an introvert, actually.

Sue: Good advice and expanding on that, there’s this provocative statement at your personal blog: “Instead of worrying about the latest trends and what’s on the bestseller list this week, writers should focus on telling the stories they want to tell. And publishers should focus on connecting those stories to the readers who will appreciate them, via every available channel, not simply hoping for intermediaries and serendipity to do their jobs for them.”

It seems you’re laying responsibility for marketing on the publisher. Lately publishers seem to be laying it back on the author. Why is that?

Guy: I most certainly believe that marketing is, first and foremost, a publisher’s responsibility. Especially at a time when supply far exceeds demand, and the shift towards ecommerce and eBooks means the value of getting a physical book on a physical bookshelf is decreasing.

Any publisher who believes their value-add to the process are things that can cost-effectively be outsourced nowadays — editing, design, printing, digital conversion, publicity — is fooling themselves.

They have to be able to identify an audience and create demand for every book they publish, and if they can’t, they really have no business publishing those books.

That said, authors need to realize it’s a very different world; writing is an art (even when it’s commercially focused), but publishing is a business, and authors have to take ownership of their own businesses. That means leveraging all of the appropriate marketing tools that are available to them and developing an audience for themselves that can sustain their writing, whether they have a traditional publisher or not.

Sue: Much advice along this line has to do with the care and feeding of an author’s platform. The philosophy seems to be that authors must build a readership through social media and then, upon successful publication, continuously reconnect with fans via that same social media. Is there a requirement for a huge investment in social media?

Guy: It’s completely untrue that every author MUST develop a platform, be engaged with their readers and actively involved in social networking. It’s just that those who are stand a far better chance of being successful, selling more books, and positioning themselves to be able to write for a living.

People get hung up on the term “platform,” but it’s nothing new. In the old days, it was all about getting stories published in journals and magazines, and having lunch with the right people. What’s changed is many of those journals and magazines have gone away, or moved online and don’t pay, and most of the people willing to have lunch are looking for jobs or trying to sell you something.

Any author who complains about their workload increasing probably hasn’t held a day job in the past 10 years. Welcome to the real world.

Sue: Regarding this from your blog: “And, finally, readers who appreciate such challenging work should step up and spread the word about their favorites, at every possible opportunity, rather than waste energy bemoaning the faults of lesser works. Review your favorite books on blogs and social networking sites; tweet recommendations via #fridayreads; give copies of your favorite books as gifts; write letters and send emails to publishers of books you’ve enjoyed and tell them you want more!”

How does the author find these fans who will do the crowing, without the author doing the crowing first.

Guy: “Ask not what your readers can do for you…”

Any author who isn’t also an avid reader, probably isn’t an author worth reading, and any author who isn’t raving about the great books they read shouldn’t expect others to be doing it.

Sue: Before I move on from this marketing topic, tell me what you think is the single best thing an author can do on the Internet to reach their readers.

Guy: The best thing authors can do on the Internet is to become active
in communities of personal interest and understand how and why other
people use it; engagement comes first, marketing second. The Cluetrain
Manifesto
(a must-read for every author who’s serious about
understanding the Internet) says it best: “Some of these conversations
ended in a sale, but don’t let that fool you. The sale was merely the
exclamation mark at the end of the sentence.”

Sue: There’s a tenth anniversary edition of Cluetrain out now. How can a book about the Internet that is a decade old still be relevant?

Guy: Cluetrain is astonishingly relevant because it deals with the “why” of
the Internet and not so much the how, and the “why” hasn’t really
changed in the past 10 years. The whole book is free online
(http://www.cluetrain.com/book/), but I like having a copy on my shelf
to refer back to every now and then.

Sue: And now, the Burning Question. Where is digital publishing going?

Guy: Digital publishing is either going to expand the audience for books, in print and electronic form, or it’s going to destroy publishing as we know it and authors will be left to fend for themselves in a flood of unfiltered content that we’ll all mindlessly pick our way through based on provocative titles and pictures of half-naked celebrities.

As a publishing optimist, I lean towards to the former extreme more than the latter. More people are reading more than ever before, in more formats than ever before imagined.

How is that not a good thing?

Sue: I agree with that. People are reading more. We might not be reading the same things we were fifty years ago, but we’re all reading a lot more. I’m fond of reminding the authors at BVC that readers of ebooks and readers of print books are two different animals. Do you agree?

Guy: I think there’s a bit more overlap than some people assume, and that, TODAY, there are far more readers of print books than there are of eBooks. Over time, I think we’ll see a decrease in the defiant “smell of books” crowd, an increase in the “print is dead to me” crowd, but the vast majority will live in the middle, choosing a format based on the content that best suits it.

The zero-sum mentality that dominates much of the print vs. eBook discussion is silly and short-sighted.

Sue: I found an unfamiliar term at the DBW site: Transmedia. What is transmedia and should fiction writers be thinking about it?

Guy: The definition of transmedia is up for debate, but I wrote an article for the September 2010 issue of Writer’s Digest that posits it as one of the major things writers need to be thinking about for the future. The way I see it, simply put, it’s about thinking beyond the book and rethinking the usual approach to rights.

It’s especially critical for genre authors. What other stories can you tell with your characters and settings, and what other formats can they be told in? Think about the Star Wars universe and the myriad stories that have been told across various mediums: movies, TV, comic books, video games.

Sue: This gets me excited because, at the moment, I’m turning one of my short stories into a short film. I guess I’ve always been a transmedia content provider. I’d love to see events–parties and conferences and such—designed to connect authors with other types of media people like indie movie makers and musicians. Considering Internet usage and the new opportunities it brings us, I get the feeling there are two Internets: one for consumers and what they consume; and one for the producers of what the consumers consume. I also get the feeling that contrary to what the Internet philosophers have been telling us, all people do not use both of these Internets. We were all supposed to participate in the great creative orgy, but I don’t think that’s happening. I think most people would rather consume than produce. Do you agree?

Guy: You’re absolutely right.

GROUNDSWELL, one of the better books on marketing in the digital age, introduced the “Social Technographics Ladder” a few years back that broke down how people use the Internet into overlapping categories, including Joiners, Spectators, Critics and Creators. The last update back in January, which added Conversationalists to the mix, estimated Creators at 24% while Spectators were 70%.

Creators includes “traditional” bloggers along with people who make and upload their own music and videos, and while a little higher than I’d guess, it doesn’t feel WAY off.

CHART: http://forrester.typepad.com/groundswell/2010/01/conversationalists-get-onto-the-ladder.html

Sue: Interesting. Speaking of creating content, you stated somewhere that you are no longer the “loud poet” of your website. You are writing a lot in a lot of different places, but it’s all non-fiction. Do you no longer write poetry or fiction? Has the digital world helped you find yourself or has it dissuaded you from your true calling? In other words is there a poet or a non-fiction writer hiding in the skin of Guy LeCharles Gonzalez?

Guy: I haven’t written a poem in a couple of years, and since 2003, when I left the poetry slam scene, I’ve probably written a total of 5 or 6, not including an attempt at participating in National Poetry Writing Month last year. When I moved away from poetry, it was with the intention of focusing on fiction, what I’d long believed was my passion and calling. I started blogging in January 2003 and haven’t written any fiction of note before or since.

What I did finally realize a few months back, though, was that I’d written a TON of non-fiction content, not just on my blog, but for other websites and even a handful of magazines. Because it was almost all about things I was passionate about, I didn’t really think of it as “writing,” and so it never occurred to me that perhaps non-fiction was actually my passion and calling.

That said, I still want to write fiction, but I no longer consider my NOT doing so a good reason to not consider myself a writer.

Sue: Personally I think your non-fiction is first-rate. I’m very glad you’re out there and observing and reporting on and promoting this epublishing phenomenon. Thanks for that. Final question–When and where is the DBW Conference?

Guy: The next Digital Book World Conference will be held on January 25-26, 2011 in New York City at the Sheraton Hotel & Towers. Watch http://dbw2011.com for more information and registration details.

Thanks for your great insight, Guy LeCharles!

Thanks also go to Guy for picking up a copy of Shadow Conspiracy. He told me it was the first book he bought for his Kindle. I hope he’ll pick up a few more or our titles.

Find Guy at http://loudpoet.com/
Follow Guy at Twitter: @glecharles
Find Digital Book World at: http://www.digitalbookworld.com/

Sue Lange
Sue Lange’s bookshelf at Book View Cafe
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