A Canadian book blog: Publishing, marketing, books and technology from a Canadian perspective

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Book Review: The Map and the Territory by Michel Houellebecq

imageMichel Houellebecq’s The Map and the Territory is one of those books that makes the mind tingle. The novel’s caustic sense of humour and irony had me eagerly turning the pages and thinking fondly of Ayn Rand.

Like Rand, Houellebecq (pronounced “Wellbeck”) is equally controversial in his own way. His protagonist Jed Martin, an emotionally stunted and highly successful artist, befriends French novelist Michel Houellebecq in his quest to have Houellebecq write the catalogue for his forthcoming exhibition. The novel version of Houellebecq is a satirical fictionalization of the author himself. Houellebecq describes Houellebecq as having a reputation for drunkenness, strong misanthropic tendencies, and a fondness for charcuterie. Surprisingly he is brutally murdered in the third section of the novel.

Let me get to that in a second. In the first two sections of the novel, we experience the artworld through Jed Martin’s eyes. He approaches life with neutrality and often with distain, but it also seems understandable that he, like the reclusive, fictional Houellebecq, wants as little human contact as possible and the space to create his art. The modern art world presented in the novel is one of consumerism and one-up-manship, where Martin’s portrait-style paintings of CEOs and architects fetch millions of dollars and become cause for murder.

Yes, speaking of murder, the third section takes a distinct turn, both in perspective and writing style. Instead of the high-minded, sophisticated writing style of the first two sections, we get detective, genre writing. It’s quite the contrast.

The Map and the Territory isn’t a book for everyone, but I found it masterful. As Jed Martin’s father remarks, “he [Houellebecq] is a good author, it seems to me. He’s pleasant to read, and he has quite an accurate view of society.”

Friday, March 29, 2013

Amazon Buys Goodreads

In publishing news yesterday, Amazon bought Goodreads. The big question in the minds of users and publishing industry folks is “what will they do with it?” In particular will they remove the buy buttons for other retail sites? Word on the street is that Goodreads was working on a bookstore function for the site, hence the acquisition by Amazon. Like Facebook and Google, Amazon likes to take any competition off the table. They already own Shelfari and have a stake in LibraryThing, so maybe owing Goodreads was always in the cards.

People like publishing consultant and Digital Book World partner Mike Shatzkin think it’s definitely because of the bookstore competition though. And why is Goodreads competition? Because they have an awesome recommendation engine and rapid user growth. Add a bookstore to that and they stand to make a nice bag of coin.

With 12 million users as of late 2012, Goodreads is the largest book-focused social network so it will be interesting to see how Amazon, the largest bookseller, is going to capitalize on that. The Digital Book World site has a good article on the acquisition — Amazon Acquires Goodreads — and they’ve provided a few logical guesses at what Amazon will do with Goodreads.

  1. Use the site’s data to augment and improve its own book recommendations.
  2. Remove buy buttons for other retailers’ books.
  3. Supplement its own reviews with Goodreads reviews.
  4. Add Goodreads to its suite of marketing solutions for publishers.
  5. Nothing. The company is growing quickly (nearly tripled in users since the end of 2011).

I think they’ll definitely use the site’s data, and they will likely remove or make much more prominent the Amazon buy button. At the moment Barnes & Noble is the prominent call to action. I do not think they’ll replace their reviews with Goodreads’ reviews because for SEO reasons they’d want the content to be unique on both sites so they have have a double whammy in search results. Goodreads does have a good marketing program, including author chats and advertising, so perhaps that becomes part of an offer to authors and publishers. Oh the anticipation!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

What John Green Can Teach Authors and Publishers

Stick with me on this one.

A hilarious text exchange yesterday morning led me to these thoughts:

  • John Green is hilarious. I didn’t know that.
  • One of my Pub355 students introduced me to his videos (and I should have watched them immediately).
  • Craig Ferguson is still hilarious (always knew that, loved his show, haven’t watched it for awhile, thought his novel was darkly funny).
  • I’m now addicted to John Green videos.
  • I’m ready to read The Fault in Our Stars (cancer story, couldn’t read that last year due to a family illness).

Here’s how it all went down.

SDS: Do you know John Green?

Me: I know Joslin Green (Boxcar designer).

SDS: John Green. He’s big on the internets. There’s a video clip where he goes on about being a big Harry Potter fan and going to conferences.


Wait. What? I’m a big Harry Potter fan and go to conferences. Who are we talking about?

(Search “John Green” and autocomplete brings up “John Green Books”)

End Pause

Me: Oh, John Green, author. I thought we were talking about someone I know personally. I know author John Green of The Fault in Our Stars. Harry Potter fan though?

SDS: Yes, the interview on Craig Ferguson is about his book. He goes to Harry Potter conferences.


I go to Harry Potter conferences. Who are we talking about?

(Search “John Green Craig Ferguson”)

Yes, yes. Same guy. Ok, the puzzle pieces of this text thread are coming together. John Green. Author. Interview on Craig Ferguson.

Watch 11 minute video (actually it’s not that long because the last 4-5 min are some other show promo). OMG funny, worth watching. I didn’t know how personable John Green is.


Discovery: Yes John Green is a Harry Potter fan and goes to conferences because his brother plays Wrock. (That’s Wizard Rock for those of you not in the Potterverse). I personally like the Mudblood’s “Be My Witch Tonight,” which I first heard at Portus 2008.


Who, then, is his brother?

(Search “John Green Brother”)

Hank Green. Thank you Wikipedia.

Ah! This is the guy behind “Accio Deathly Hallows”, which was super popular because it went viral before the last Harry Potter book was released. I know this (without knowing or connecting the details). Hilarious! This is a fun internet-browsing adventure.

(How are you liking the inner workings of my sleep-depraved, new mom brain? Fascinated, I’m sure. Thankfully this blog is called So Misguided.)

Next thought: That song launched Hank and John’s Vlogbrothers YouTube channel into the stratosphere, which is what my student Calvin was telling me in September. I clearly should prioritize reading/watching links sent to me, not just by students but by James, Boris and friends who diligently keep me up to date. Mea culpa.

(Go to YouTube “Vbrothers” channel)


John Green video—Mar 19, 2013—offers a great commentary on advertising and where marketers are going wrong when they think about social media and advertising. (See this is valuable, work-related research now.)

Plus, the video was filmed in advance of the Craig Ferguson interview so the neurosis of this video is a perfect complement to (my state of mine, ur, I mean) the actual interview itself.

I’m now addicted to John Green and most certainly want to read The Fault in Our Stars, which I wanted to read before anyway.

And here’s my work-related thought to show that a portion of my professional brain still exists ... the video highlights a good point made by Jane Friedman earlier this week in her post on 5 publishing industry trends writers need to understand:

3. The Value and Distraction of Author Platform Building

I’ll make a bold statement right here that I don’t think I’ve made before.

If you’re a totally new, unpublished writer who is focused on fiction, memoir, poetry, or any type of narrative-driven work, forget you ever heard the word platform. I think it’s causing more damage than good. It’s causing writers to do things that they dislike (even hate), and that are unnatural for them at an early stage of their careers. They’re confused, for good reason, and platform building grows into a raging distraction from the work at hand—the writing.

Therefore, build your platform by writing and publishing in outlets that are a good fit for you, lead to professional growth, and build your network. The other pieces will start to fall into place. It might take longer, but who cares if you’re feeling productive and enjoying yourself? Go be a writer and take a chance on the writing. Writing and publishing good work always supports the growth of your platform—and I’m willing to bet more valuable platform building will get done that way, especially for narrative-driven writers.

Exception to the rule: Nonfiction/non-narrative authors and entrepreneurial authors who are self-publishing. Sorry, but you should probably focus on platform as much as the writing.

I 100% agree. And when publishers are talking to authors about building a platform, they are looking for a John Green.

But you know what? Green is a total outlier. See above activities with Hank Green. Then look further back than Vlogbrothers. Vlogbrothers was predated by the Brotherhood 2.0 Project.

John Green and his brother Hank ran a video blog project called Brotherhood 2.0. The original project ran from January 1 to December 31, 2007, with the premise that the brothers would cease all text-based (‘textual’) communication for the year and instead converse by video blogs, made available to the public via YouTube (where they are known as the ‘vlogbrothers’) and on their Brotherhood 2.0 website. Thanks again Wikipedia

Dear authors: a platform is often years in the making. Be realistic about the time you have available if you want to build an audience faster than that.
Dear publishers: See above point for authors.

And now I’m off to feed Finlay. Another day. Another 8 feedings. Another 8x to get lost in the ramblings of my own brain. Thanks for following the thread of this one.


Saturday, March 09, 2013

Belated Read Aloud Day

March 6 was World Read Aloud Day and many organizations celebrated by giving away books. Global Mechanic’s A Sweet Story iPad app is one of those freebies. Check it out as it’s Canadian produced and self funded by Global Mechanic. If you like it, consider writing a review as that helps people discover the app.


What is World Read Aloud Day?
World Read Aloud Day is a global literacy movement that is about “taking action to show the world that the right to read and write belongs to all people. World Read Aloud Day motivates children, teens, and adults worldwide to celebrate the power of words, especially those words that are shared from one person to another, and creates a community of readers advocating for every child’s right to a safe education and access to books and technology.”

A Sweet Story iPad app

“A Sweet Story is a charming book packed with lovely illustrations, quirky animation and an assortment of tasty childhood memories. After one reading of A Sweet Story, I found my daughter staying up late, hiding the iPad under the covers to read it one more time. That might be the highest recommendation one can give.” —Linda Simensky, Vice President of Children’s Programming at PBS

“A delicious and fast-moving little story about a brave boy and the food he hates. Best of all, it reads just like a real book.” —Russell Smith, Novelist, Globe and Mail columnist and parent

Friday, March 08, 2013

Canopy Reprints Two Canadian Bestsellers on New Straw Paper

A limited number of signed collectors’ editions of Alice Munro’s Dear Life and Yann Martel’s Life of Pi have been printed on straw paper and are being sold for $250-500. The special sale is a campaign to demonstrate the versatility of straw paper developed by Second Harvest Paper in partnership with Canopy. At present, 50% of forests cut in North America currently become paper. This new straw paper contains only straw left over from grain harvesting and recycled paper, with no virgin forest materials used at all, and therefore no damage to our limited forest ecosystems.


Press Release (Vancouver) – Celebrated authors Alice Munro and Yann Martel have collaborated with award-winning environmental group Canopy to print collectors’ editions of their bestselling books Dear Life and Life of Pi. Printed specially on forest-saving paper made from straw rather than trees, the books highlight a viable solution to logging carbon-rich forests for paper. Published by Random House of Canada, a limited number of signed copies of each book will be available from these printings. All proceeds go towards Canopy’s continued forest conservation work and development of alternative paper sources.

“Future generations will only know bears, tigers, orangutans and caribou as fictional creatures unless we protect their habitat in the Boreal, tropical and temperate forests now,” said Yann Martel, after last week’s Oscars win by the film based on his novel. “Using straw paper for my book demonstrates that there are elegant solutions that keep the world’s towering trees standing.”

Canopy arranged the production of these rare special editions with Random House of Canada as part of their campaign to diversify the North American paper fibre basket. Kick-starting commercial-scale development of straw-based papers will significantly reduce the stress on endangered forests.

“Now more than at any other time in our history, we need to bring our intelligence and imagination to sustain our life support systems,” said Alice Munro. “With a pure passion and unwavering conviction Canopy has been working to protect the world’s forests and inspire innovation. This is exactly the kind of practical solution required.”

Both Alice Munro and Yann Martel, and their respective publishers, McClelland & Stewart and Knopf Canada, have worked closely with Canopy since 2000 when the organization first started its work to green the book publishing industry. At the time, no publisher was consistently printing on environmental papers.

“A decade ago Alice Munro and Yann Martel were amongst the first authors to work with Canopy and their publishers to curtail books being printed on paper from ancient and endangered forests,” said Nicole Rycroft, Canopy’s founder and executive director. “Today, they are yet again helping to pioneer solutions that will keep more than 800 million trees standing in North American forests every year.”

Every year millions of tonnes of wheat straw and flax straw, left over after the grain harvest in Canada, could be used to make commercial-quality paper. As of February 2013 Canopy’s ongoing market survey quantified an annual North American demand for more than 1 million tonnes of straw paper. The paper used in Alice Munro and Yann Martel’s titles is made from wheat straw, flax straw and recycled paper, and has half the ecological footprint of conventional paper. It is the product of a unique partnership that Canopy forged with paper producer Cascades Fine Paper, technical collaborators at Alberta Innovates, and printers Friesens and Webcom.

Signed special editions of Life of Pi will be available for purchase beginning March 6, 2013. Signed special editions of Dear Life will be available for distribution as of mid-April 2013, in time for Mother’s Day, but can be preordered today. Both books are available exclusively at canopyplanet.org.

Canopy is a not-for-profit environmental organization dedicated to protecting forests, species and climate. Canopy believes collaboration is the key and that businesses can be a powerful force for solutions, and work with more than 700 companies to help ensure their supply chains are sustainable. Canopy’s partners include Sprint, The New York Times, Random House, Hearst, Scholastic, and Lonely Planet. For more information, visit http://canopyplanet.org.