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The End

October 29, 2010

A year and a half ago, I came up with what I thought was a great idea. I wanted to create a vast database of people willing to give their opinions on any type of writing. The idea for TypeTribe was small in principle, but I was thinking big: I wanted to redefine how the publishing industry creates loyalty among readers by soliciting feedback (and thus increasing profits).

For a while, I had momentum. I raised over $4K in seed capital, I was seeing tons of advance signups, I signed a software developer, I had a designer…everything was in line with my goals.

The developer was key to the success of TypeTribe. He was a guy I knew from college, a very intelligent software engineer. And he was cheap—he was only charging me a few thousand dollars for the entire project, while other developers had estimated the project somewhere between $10,000 and $15,000.

I soon realized that the developer had major shortcomings. He rarely communicated, he was very slow, and he wasn’t able to incorporate the design with the underlying platform. I gave him deadlines, but it was hard to hold him to them since he was essentially doing the project for free. Finally, back in April I removed him from the project. After much discernment, I’ve decided to discontinue my efforts on TypeTribe. A number of reasons contributed to this decision:

  1. Twitter: I’ve been on Twitter since I first got the idea for TypeTribe. It was an excellent tool to spread the word about my idea, but Twitter has become something else for writers in the last year: It’s become a place to build relationships with fellow writers and exchange your work with theirs. It’s a wonderful system, but it completely undermines TypeTribe’s profit plan. And it’s free.
  2. Author Blogs: One of my greatest hopes for TypeTribe was that already published authors could use it to increase their audiences. However, more and more authors of various degrees of popularity now have blogs, and a number of them that I follow use their blogs—at times—for the exact same purpose that TypeTribe would.
  3. 10pens: Back in February, a like-minded fellow launched a site called 10pens that is almost the exact same thing as TypeTribe. It’s a slick, well executed site—it is what I wish TypeTribe could be. Although this site isn’t exactly the nail in the TypeTribe coffin (there are plenty of near-identical sites on the web), it certainly makes me hesitant to spend the rest of my funds on my site.

But perhaps the biggest reason of all is my involvement in a new, St. Louis-based publishing company. I won’t go into the full story here, but basically me and two other people founded a publishing company back in February, and we recently selected our first two authors. I will be spending a significant amount of time marketing and supporting these authors, and I’m realizing that I need to make a choice between these two endeavors. Given that I actually have partners (one of whom is funding the publishing company) in Blank Slate Press, I feel that the right decision is to proceed in that direction.

Thanks for your support, and I hope to see you over at jameystegmaier.com or blankslatepress.com in the future.

Jamey

Publishing Idea #7: Digging Deeper in Data

March 31, 2010

If/when TypeTribe gets big, it will be a wealth of information for writers, readers, and publishers beyond its intended use. Cases in point: Google culls a wealth of information from searches so that when you start to search for something, it autocompletes your search with suggestions from other common things people are searching for. On the same note, the online dating site OkCupid provides users and potential users useful graphs and charts about things like the most effective profile photos.

In a recent blog post, Paul Lamere wrote about how Amazon should be using and providing a lot more information about how people interact with different books on the Kindle. He suggests using the data from Amazon’s Whispersync platform to let the general book-buying public the actual experiences that people have with different books. Here are some examples from Lamere’s blog:

  • Pageturner – the top books ordered by average number of words read per reading session.
  • Burning the midnight oil – books that keep people up late at night.
  • Most Re-read – which books are read over and over again?
  • Trophy Books – books that are most frequently purchased, but never actually read.
  • A turn for the worse – which books are most frequently abandoned in the last third of the book?  These are the books that go bad.

Lamere’s list is much longer than that, and it’s fantastic. Sure, you could poll people for this same information, but the sample size would be so small. With the Kindle you could have immediate access to the way millions of people interact with their books, and you, Consumer Joe, could make purchase decisions based on that. Pretty brilliant, Lamere.

Publishing Idea #6: The Freeness of Free

March 30, 2010

It must have been over 10 years ago that I was in a giant chain bookstore back in Virginia. I was at the register to buy a book when I noticed a free book for the taking.

“Free?” I thought. “Must not be a very good book.”

I didn’t take it. A free book, and because of my perception of “free,” I didn’t take it.

The book in question? Robert Jordan’s first book of his bestselling Wheel of Time series (which I haven’t read, but I’ve heard it’s quite good until the 29th book).

Free plays tricks on your mind. When it comes to a physical object, freeness diminishes the perception of the quality. Sure, you might take the free book, CD, movie, whatever, but you’re probably less likely to read it because it’s free. Why not read that book that cost you $15 instead? At least that book has assigned value.

But there are ways to give things away for free and have them retain value. I read about a great example of this today. The Concord Free Press gives away all their books. They’re a small publisher with a decent supply chain, and their authors seem pretty good too. But they’re a nonprofit. They’re not even a charity.

Their model is pretty basic: They’ll give you a book, and you donate some amount of money to a charitable organization. Simple as that. This model has gotten them tons of good press and raised about $300,000 for charity (from three books).

Do people read their books? I don’t know. But these books certainly have more value than a strictly free book. This free is free + charitable donation + reading a book that other people are talking about. That last part is perhaps the most valuable.

My publishing company, Blank Slate Press, is going to find value in free (and yet we won’t be a nonprofit). We have to select our first author first, though. Stay tuned for more news about how BSP will give value to free.

Publishing Idea #5: The Unknown Ending

March 26, 2010

Have you ever been completely immersed in a great book, there’s all this conflict and awesome characters and multiple plotlines leading to what appears to be an amazing ending, and you truly didn’t want to know how many more pages until the end of the book?

The tricky thing is that you always have a pretty good idea of the number of remaining pages. You know that you’ve reached the final twist because there are only a few pages left, or you know that something big is going to happen immediately because of the limited time remaining.

Me, I like this aspect of books to remain a mystery. I don’t want to see the ending coming. I want it to hit me out of nowhere, and I want to be pleasantly surprised when it doesn’t. I offer a few solutions, and I’m sure you can think of others.

  1. Add extra pages at the end. I don’t mean blank pages (unless they’re covered in invisible ink). I mean pages with author interviews, sample chapters from the next book, a short story, things like that. I think Penguin does this with their PS books. I love those PS sections.
  2. Publish the final chapter(s) online. Think about this. You’re reading a book. You think you’ve reached the end, but on the last page, it says to go to a protected private link online for the final chapter(s). Sure, this could be annoying if you’re on a plane and just want to finish the book, but how cool would it be to be blindsided by that? You could have a forum in following the final chapter online for people to discuss the book–it’s an automatic community.
  3. Use ebooks. This seems like the easy way out, but the fact of the matter is that you can turn off the page number function on ebooks (well, Kindles, at least, but I’d be bewildered if you couldn’t do this on the iPad too).

What do you think? Do you want to see the ending coming, or is ignorance bliss?

Publishing Idea #4: Maps

March 25, 2010
Maps – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
David Anthony Durham’s Acacia

Isn’t it awesome when you open a book and find a detailed map on the inside? I love that.

The problem, though, is that you don’t want to look at the map too closely or you ruin the story. I’m wondering if there’s a better way.

I have a solution for both paper books and e-books. For paper books, you actually include a map at the beginning of each chapter that reveals all known information up until that point. It doesn’t even have to be a fantasy book–if you have several characters doing different things in separate locations, track their footsteps (if that information adds to the experience of the book). As you progress through the book, the map gets bigger and bigger until you get to the back cover, and you see the full map of the newly revealed world you just discovered.

With ebooks, you essentially incorporate the same function into the book as often as you’d like. The map can be a drop-down option that you can access at any time. The key is that it wouldn’t show the entire map. Remember the original Warcraft computer game? When you’d start a new map, you could only see the area that was directly around your little orc until he explored. Same with the ebook map widget. The more your characters explore, the more of their world you can see.

How would you use a map in your book?

Publishing Idea #3: The Wedding Invitation

March 23, 2010

What you’re going to see below is that you can tell a great story the old fashioned way–with words, not pictures or videos–while doing so much more than just putting words in rows on paper. This is also a fantastic example of a way to design a story, a concept I’m fascinated by. Check out the coolest wedding invitation ever:

What are some ways you can design your story?

Also, if you haven’t noticed, I copy this blog onto Blank Slate Press’s Blog every day. Because this is what Blank Slate Press is all about–adventures in the future of publishing. (Other content goes on that blog too, so it’s worth subscribing to.)

Publishing Idea #2: Magazines

March 23, 2010

a sample page of diverse content in Wired Magazine

Today I was thinking about magazines. Magazines are designed so well (or at least, so intentionally). There’s art, there’s variation in font styles and sizes, there are boxes for extra info, helpful graphics, photographs…magazines, to me, have achieved a higher level of evolution than novels.

And yet nobody keeps them.

What do you do with a magazine when you’re done with it? You recycle it. Maybe you give it to a friend. But you don’t keep it and treasure it like a book. Why is that?

I’d predict that it’s possible to have a magazine-novel hybrid that would be way more well designed than most novels and yet be treasured (unlike most magazines). And I think that’s something that ebooks and tablets will never achieve…the treasuring. You might treasure the technology, but it’s hard to separate the technology from the work that went into the diverse content the technology holds. Well after the technology is obsolete, you’ll still treasure that tattered copy of your favorite book on the shelf.

Also, this is almost another topic, but it still relates to magazines: What happened to serial novels? I think some have emerged online, like Maxx Barry’s Machine Man, but do they still exist in magazines like they did in the days of Dickens? That’s right–Dickens wrote his novels in serial form. It’s one of the reasons they worked so well, because he had to write something that left the reader wanting more the next month. Couldn’t that work in a beautifully designed magazine in the present day? Is there something that could be done to make that magazine–or that series of magazines–worth treasuring instead of discarding?