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1000 Black Lines

:: digital coffee stains on the paper of the blogosphere ::

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Four books and four reviews with take away points

Purple Cow
This past week I read three out of four titles. In fact, Blue Like Jazz took me about a day in a half as did Book Business. My reading list has been varied as of late. Part of this is due to career changes and part is due to new discipline as a writer to read more extensively.


Purple Cow, by Seth Godin, is a wonderful book if you're in marketing or new product development. I came to his book after reading Godin's web log. I am also investigating the idea of a brand pyramid for poets -- more specifically, poet who don't currently have NEA grants or book contracts. It is obvious that outside academia, poetry books don't sell well. So, I wanted to learn what makes a strong product and brand.

Last year gapingvoid offered free advice concerning the subject of a brand pyramid.
"In marketing there's something called 'The Brand Pyramid'.

"Basically it describes how the brand "interacts" at different levels of the value chain... Starting from the bottom of the pyramid and working upwards:

-At the bottom, you have reading the stuff on gaping void for free.
-Then you have the affordable merch, let's say, blogcards, t-shirts, books etc.
-Then you have prints and drawings.
-Then at the top you have commissions and consulting.

"Basically, all the layers inform and nourish each other..."

So, applying a brand pyramid to a relatively unknown poet/writer might go like this:
-Free sample pieces available on-line (excerpt or first chapter) and free public readings.
-The book itself (in one format or another – i.e. audio book, e-book, traditional hard cover book)
-Paid speaking engagements/lectures/writing workshops

The Purple Cow was useful in pointing out the simple fact that in a postmodern society consumers have become very adept at ignoring a lot of marketing and advertising efforts. Seth Godin goes as far as to say advertising is dead (which I tend to agree with in part). PR has expanded its reach while advertising in general has diminished. The theme of Purple Cow is to invest in "remarkable" products.

My take away is this: if it's not a remarkable poetry book, then it will die in obscurity. This of course leads to the question; how does one make a remarkable poetry book?


How to become CEO
How to become CEO: Thanks to Tom Peters among others there is an industry of business consultants and their books and their seminars. What I don't like about the consultant industry propaganda is the reliance on outsourcing work to other countries in order to maintain a cheap bottom line and appease the board of directors and shareholders. North Carolina's textile industry (almost extinct at this point) has suffered greatly from this line of thinking. Instead of encouraging innovation, business consultants encourage manufacturing executives to ship jobs overseas or across the border. So how does one lead a company with innovation and sustainability?

How To Become CEO does not follow the typical model of business books. The book consists of maxims for people who want to ascend the corporate ladder. For example, arrive at work 45 minutes early and leave 15 minutes late. These nuggets of wisdom can be applied to corporations with over 1000 employees or an activist organization of 10. Most of Fox's maxim's center upon leadership and networking and didn't really answer how to operate a sustainable company. In a way, the book reminds me of something one might read on how to win at chess in three moves or less. The theme is the title; if you know where you want to be (CEO), then this book is full of advice on how to get there. If you want to know how to operate a sustainable operation, then you'll have to find another book.

May take away: leadership can be a very lonely road but rewarding.


Book Business
Book Business: One of the projects I'm developing is a book for a local publisher. What better place to start my research than to read Jason Epstein's Book Business in which he offers wisdom culled from over 50 years of experience in the New York City publishing world. The book covers the dawn of publishing in America to the birth of the retail chains and speculates on the future of publishing. Of course, there's name-dropping (he was the first publisher to release large excerpts of Lolita) as he was directly responsible for several publishing world innovations like the proliferation of paperback classics.

As one who would like to be published and one who is assisting someone publish others' works, I found it a fascinating read. Publishing is not a business to enter if you want to make a fortune. For that matter, writing is no longer a career where one might make a fortune, unless so ordained by the benevolent goddess Oprah. Publishing and writing are careers one pursues if one wants to change the culture by sharing ideas. That's not to say one cannot survive in publishing, but making a fortune is more likely to happen in real estate or investment.

My take away: unless working with a major New York publisher the sperm will never make it to the egg. Independent publishers work the edges of the publishing world and can survive to some extent only because they cater to niche markets. However, the dirty little secret is that many "independent" publishers are owned in part by a larger, New York-based publisher. Thus, insuring an affordable title for an audience used to discount prices from retailers and online retailers (i.e. the American addiction to cheapness).


Blue Like Jazz
Blue Like Jazz: The author describes Blue Like Jazz as this: "I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn't resolve. . . . I used to not like God because God didn't resolve. But that was before any of this happened."

Several people suggested I read Blue Like Jazz because some of my blog postings and essays echo themes discussed in Donald Miller's spiritual memoir. For that reason I did not want to read the book because I didn't want it affecting my own writings. In the last few months I've written several essays on the topic of spirituality (non of which have been published yet). So, confident that those essays would be immune from Miller's influence, I began to read Blue Like Jazz last Sunday.

Much of the book resonates with me. If you've grown up in evangelical America and are completely pissed off by organized religion then you'll enjoy the storytelling as the author explores his own spirituality. He chose a wise approach in writing one this topic -- confessional non-fiction. For this reason, he keeps his critics at bay because he's not presenting theological manifestos or ideological creeds. He offers his own personal journey. And you can't really argue with that. It's his story. You may be able to argue with his conclusions but not his story.

In much the same manner I've written my essays on spirituality from the same angle: it's my story. And that's why I'm not sure I like Blue Like Jazz -- he beat me to it. And there's no award for second place. Everything published after Blue Like Jazz will be compared to it. However, Miller is no Annie Dillard. And that fact offers me a bit of hope for my own writings. Miller may have created a market for "new-realism essays" (his term from page 188) for which there may be many voices – some polished and refined, others streetwise and hip. On the other hand "new-realism" is a relatively obscure market to begin with -- so...

My take away: write something remarkable, know where I want to be 10 years from now, lead with confidence, seek a New York publisher first (an independent publisher second, third, fourth or last), to thine own self be true, keep writing, keep exploring, keep reading, write well, write often, and submit manuscripts.

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  1. Anonymous David | 9:26 AM, February 26, 2006 |  

    Some interesting points raised about the contemporary publishing environment. For me, the important question is: how do you define success? Across the board--financial, critical, ethical/moral, cultural, ideal--what are your writerly aspirations? What are the aspirations of other writers?

    The level of noise in the world today is sufficient to drown any attempt to influence discourse on a broad scale. The things that get repeated ad nauseum are the ones people remember. Most of the time we either agree or disagree with them, but have no means of engaging in a dialogue. We can yell right back at Bill O'Reilly, etc., but he can't hear us nor does he want to.

    But when you scale it down, we can have an impact. We can go to town hall meetings, we can give local readings, we can talk to people we meet at parties, and whether we agree or disagree, we have a much better chance of achieving dialogue. And meaningful change won't come until you have dialogue.

    All those little conversations have a ripple effect, of course; my conversation with you at a party leads me to your blog, which lets me explore your ideas and discover your writing. You hope the next time I'm in a conversation in which your ideas are relevant, I will share them with my peers, thereby propogating the cycle. That, my friend, is community. It is also marketing. It is even simply the free flow of ideas. It is influence. I don't think it takes much more to "succeed."

    This theory is more conveniently acceptable with the advent of blogs, the Internet, the "great equalizer." We list our affiliations in the marginalia, in the blogroll. I can find your blog after reading an article in Mountain XPress, but that isn't how it's supposed to work online. I shouldn't even have to meet you at a party to find your blog; I should have followed a trail from one blog to the next, gorging myself at the buffets of literary blogs, regional blogs, design blogs, etc., eventually finding yours while I'm still in a reasonably lucid state. And if I happen to miss your blog in my grazing, well, at some point you'll make an entry cogent enough that another blog I read will cross-pollinate.

    That's where the notion of excellence comes in (which is not the same as "success"). Even in microcosm, you have to rise above the din.

  2. Blogger 2e | 5:18 PM, March 21, 2006 |  

    I read, but didn't want to read, Blue Like Jazz for the same reason. And I concluded much the same thing as a writer. I also consoled myself with something similar as well. All you can do is keep doing your thing.

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