Sunday, July 15, 2012
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
A few years ago, in my late 30s, I realized that I wanted to write a book.
I was staring into time's horizon, gearing up for the inevitable midlife crisis. I had friends my age who were taking up golf, tinkering with home remodeling or putting in extra time to climb the corporate ladder.
What I really loved hadn't changed much since I was 8 years old. I loved the world of fiction and literature. Growing up on a steady diet of Tolkien, Salinger, Bradbury, Joyce, Kafka and Beckett, I'd been trying to tell my own stories since I was old enough to spell my name.
I spent my 20s and 30s learning to a make a living through an eclectic mix of barely related professions, but my dream of being an author never really died. I still wanted to find my voice and then go out and find an audience. So I decided I was going to give it a try, happily aware that this endeavor might not go anywhere.
What intimidated me about this prospect wasn't actually writing a novel; that was fun. Instead it was everything that I was supposed to do after finishing the manuscript. Contacts in the book publishing industry told me I should plunge into a grueling, endless process of random submissions to literary agents and publishing houses in hopes that, against all odds, someday, somewhere, someone out there might actually read a few pages of my book.
The first thing you need to do is get a hundred rejection letters under your belt, they told me. I was always warned to make sure my novel was "marketable" -- it should be exactly like some other book that has sold well. It should not experiment with genres or contain any unproven themes or ideas that might scare the industry establishment.
For me, creative writing was just a hobby. So the idea that I had to spend my precious free moments butting up against a vast, depersonalized labyrinth was annoying to say the least.
It wasn't the prospect of failing that bothered me. As an unknown author, I knew I was more likely to get struck by lightning than land a book on the best seller list. (I have a screenwriter friend in Los Angeles who already was struck by lightning growing up in Florida. She's fine now and we're trying to figure what this does for her odds of a successful writing career.)
We've all heard about hit novels that made it into print through an impossibly random fluke. Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series only saw the light of day because a new assistant at a literary agency didn't realize the manuscript was way too long for young-adult submission requirements.
What really frustrated me about the impossible odds, the slush piles and the rejection slips was the fact that, like most writers, I wasn't trying to become a star. Most first-time authors just want a chance to find an audience. They know there is probably some community of readers out there that will connect with their work, they just don't know whether it's 50 readers or 50,000 readers.
So it's very important for novelists to have a quick, easy way to put a story out there to find an audience and get some kind of feedback, just like most other creative types. Actors and musicians aren't dependent on the machinery of Hollywood and Broadway to practice their art. There is a whole universe of outlets for them connect with a crowd, from the open mike night to community theater. Why should writers spend years pushing through a wall of faceless gatekeepers to get a chance at sharing their work with readers?
The importance of putting a new creation in an open forum was something I understood well from my "day job" building corporate websites. The iterative process of developing software, observing how people use it and then refining it based on feedback is the lifeblood of the Internet industry.
A new school of management known as Agile supports the theory of creating products in a rapid, flexible and interactive environment. Companies like Google, Amazon and Netflix typically roll out "beta" versions of new business lines, starting a conversation with their customers that will influence the evolution of the product without middlemen or buffers.
Agile is based on interdisciplinary studies where math, computer science and biology intersect, such as Complexity Science and Chaos Theory. One particularly important influence is Cybernetics, a field with origins after World War II, conceived by a diverse group of engineers, neurophysiologists, anthropologists and psychiatrists.
Cybernetics examines all systems that have goals and interact with an environment via feedback mechanisms. This includes the circular process of acting (having an effect on an environment), sensing (checking the response of the environment), evaluating (comparing the current state with the system's goal), and back again to acting.
I realized that there was an obvious connection between my work in the fast-paced world of Internet software and my personal dream of writing a novel. The future belonged to innovators who could interact with their audiences in an Agile work mode.
After all, innovations like Facebook, YouTube, WordPress and Twitter give billions of people a platform to say something, tell a story, test an idea or start a conversation. The William Faulkners and Jane Austens of tomorrow will communicate their art fully expecting the benefits of cybernetics.
Services like Create Space make it easier than ever for first-time authors to publish a professional-looking book for less than $1,000. E-reader devices like the Kindle, Nook and iPad reduce the distribution and inventory costs of books to practically nothing, allowing unknown authors to sell their titles for as little as 99 cents. It's true that do-it-yourself publishing has been around for a while.
But this is bigger than that. This is about critical mass of new ideas coming together at the right time.
At its core, the promise of a Web 2.0 world is about taking storytelling back to a time to when it was grounded in close relationships between authors and readers. Homer, Chaucer and Dante all read their stories for audiences, in their context of the social network. They received their own versions of Facebook "likes" for their authored works in the cities of ancient Greece and medieval Europe. Even after Gutenberg, most books still gained readership from town to town and colony to colony through the 17th- and 18th-century equivalent of "tweets" and "shares."
This isn't to say it's easy to find an audience on your own. Without the resources of a big publisher, I've realized how hard it is to get out word that my book exists. (After all, I have only a finite number of friends and relatives whom I can nag into buying a copy.)
My Internet career taught me the importance of setting specific goals that are ambitious but at least within the realm of possibility. For "Employee of the Year," I will try sell 1,000 copies total. I realize this will be really hard. After all, Nielsen Bookscan statistics show that each year only 20 percent of all books available in the U.S. sell more than 99 copies per title. When it comes to fiction, hardly any novels sell more than 5,000 copies, even with the support of a major publisher.
But the great thing is that, regardless of whether I reach my starry-eyed fantasies, I feel like I've already succeeded in my original intent when I started writing the novel more than two years ago. I've found a way to get my labor of love to a small but warm and receptive community of readers.
Since the book went live last month, I've been approached by friends, acquaintances and even a few strangers who told me they loved the twists and turns of "Employee of the Year" and can't wait for my next mystery. (I also have an uncle who thought the story was lousy. But getting his point-by-point critique was almost as much fun as the praise I've received.)
The most exciting thing about creating books in a Web 2.0 world is that it gives me the space to do what I love to do. Writers trying to tell a good story really want the chance to focus on trying to tell a good story. At the end of the day, that's all you can really ask for.
Dmitri Ragano, a graduate of Allderdice High School, is a writer and Internet professional based in Irvine, Calif. "Employee of the Year" is available on Amazon and www.dmitriragano.com.
Friday, October 28, 2011
t may have been a “fluke Hit,” but Akashic Books publisher Johnny Temple says Adam Mansbach and Ricardo Cortes’ bestselling kids book parody, Go the F**k to Sleeep, has spent six months on the bestseller lists and has more than 500,000 copies in print. It’s so successful Akashic will publish a real kids’ book based on it next year. While the parody has also spawned a TV sit-com and a horde of copycat titles it is allowing the independent house to stabilize its finances and plan for the future.
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
UCLA physicist and complex systems theorist Didier Sornette, who used statistical physics and mathematics to analyze 138 books that made Amazon.com's best-seller list between 1997 and April 2004. His team's initial results are published in Physical Review Letters Nov. 26.
"Complex systems can be understood, and the book market is a complex system," said Sornette, a professor of earth and space sciences, and a member of UCLA's Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics. "Each buyer is not predictable, but complex networks have a degree of predictability."
Best-selling books typically reach their sales peaks in one of two ways. The less potent way is by what Sornette calls an "exogenous shock," which is brief and abrupt. An example is "Strong Women Stay Young" by Dr. Miriam Nelson, which peaked on the list the day after a favorable review in the Sunday New York Times. A second example is Sornette's own 2002 book, "Why Stock Markets Crash: Critical Events in Complex Financial Systems," which spiked following a favorable review by Jon Markman on CNBC and TheStreet.com. "On Jan. 17, 2003, my book was ranked 2,000-something and then suddenly it was No. 17," Sornette recalled. "A few hours later, it was in the top 10. As a physicist, it looked to me like an exogenous shock to the system."
Sales are typically greater, however, when a book benefits from what Sornette calls an "endogenous shock," which progressively accelerates over time, and is illustrated in the book business by favorable word-of-mouth. Such books rise slowly, but the sales results are more enduring, and the decline in sales is slower and more much gradual, he found.
An example includes "The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood," which reached the best-seller list two years after it was published, without the benefit of a major marketing campaign. The book was popular with book clubs and inspired women to form "Ya-Ya Sisterhood" groups of their own. A second example is Nora Roberts' novel, "Heaven and Earth (Three Sisters Island Trilogy)," which peaked only after a slow rise and also fell slowly, which Sornette attributes to word of the book spreading among friends and family.
The slower peaks tend to generate more sales over time, Sornette said.
"Word-of-mouth can spread like an epidemic," he said.
The trajectories of many books' rankings are combinations of both kinds of peaks, Sornette says, which suggests that an effective, well-timed marketing campaign could combine with a strong network to enhance sales.
A specialist in the scientific prediction of catastrophes in a wide range of complex systems, Sornette said his model for analyzing peaks and falls in book sales is very similar to one he uses to understand earthquakes. He has applied techniques of physics to economic data, and has developed a quantitative model that can predict the signatures of a coming stock market crash.
"Is it possible to derive a quantitative law of how book sales behave?" Sornette asks. "We have derived a law of how a sale's shock to the system will jump up and decline over time. The books we analyzed behaved the same way. We can statistically predict how the system will evolve, how sales peaks can emerge, and we can predict the expected decline slope for books that rise sharply."
Sornette hopes this research will provide insights into complex physical systems, and will shed light on scientific questions in geophysics, biology and climatology. Sornette, who is also a research director at the University of Nice's National Center for Scientific Research in his native France, has written or co-written more than 350 papers in scholarly journals.
Complex systems in nature experience catastrophic events, such as earthquakes and climate change, but it can be difficult for scientists to tell whether these events are caused by natural, internal fluctuations or shocks from external forces. Sornette's team's success in distinguishing between internal and external causes suggests that it can be done for other extreme events in complex networks as well, he said.
Sornette's Web site is:http://www.ess.ucla.edu/faculty/sornette/.
Friday, May 6, 2011
Thursday, May 5, 2011
It has been my pleasure to help many of my clients publish their books this past year, and a number of them have chosen to self-publish, partly due to Amazon's revolutionary free platform called Create Space.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
There are six essential elements for successful digital marketing and when used together they make for a powerful combination. Each element is important on its own, but when you use all six together you will see a strategy that is effective, scalable and long term.
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
"Two questions form the foundation of all novels:
Monday, December 6, 2010
JOIN IN THE HOLIDAY CHEER - THIS SATURDAY @ DEJA VU
Books make GREAT holiday gifts, and here is another opportunity for Pittsburghers to support local authors:
HOLIDAY BOOK SIGNING
Saturday, December 11
11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Deja Vu Books and Antiques
222 Bridge Street
Bridgewater, PA (Beaver County)
I will be joining about a dozen other local authors at this charming indie bookstore that specializes in antique and collectible books. Stop by and do some holiday shopping!
Hosted by Beaver County Wordsmiths - visit them on Facebook!
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
I was recently asked to take part in the 2010 Happiness Project, designed to create the “happiest year of your life.” The project coordinator, Dr. Nancy Mramor, and I have joined a dozen other authors to present articles on the top 12 things proven by researchers to cause happiness. In this series, I report on the topic of "proximity and happiness." Consider taking a moment to read it at www.drnancymramoronline.com/GinaMazza.html . . . your happiness could depend on it!
Since we know that happiness is contagious, feel free forward this article after you read it to anyone who you want to be happy. And check out the other articles in the series at www.drmramor.com. You can also access this article under the G-vents tab on my website www.ginamazza.com.
To your happiness!
Monday, October 25, 2010
- View the world as the fount of glory that it is, and use this as delicious fodder for your writing or chosen art
- Rise up from the umpteen demands on your life and stake out time for your creative self
- Attract a conscious stream of achievement with your writing endeavors
- Widen your “PVC pipe” to higher guidance
- Burn through the thoughtless, negative junk that others have said about your creative dreams
- Take small yet radical steps to change things up in your life so you can swim in a stream of inspiration
Thursday, October 14, 2010
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Friday, August 13, 2010
I suppose if I was a writer who thought getting published was all about luck that I wouldn't invest too much energy on revision. After all, a lucky writer will find the right editor to fix up any manuscript flaws, right? I guess I wouldn't waste time building a platform or developing an audience either, because that surely comes to writers who are already lucky and/or published, which is the same as lucky.
There are examples of writers getting lucky, but let's face it: Most success stories come from writers making their own luck through working at their craft, networking (online and off), and persevering. Don't let yourself get caught in the trap of thinking you're not lucky enough to make it as a writer; you can make yourself lucky starting now.
Until next we meet, keep writing and marketing what you write.
Senior Content Editor
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
The amazing young sage Tone Anogianakis flew to da 'Burgh from Vancouver last week to interview me about EMNM, higher consciousness, PGH's role in the planet's spiritual evolution, conscious parenting and other topics. Filmed at the West End Overlook....
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Monday, April 19, 2010
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
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