Before Harry Potter…

In the 1920’s and 30’s, a boy dreamed of owning a horse, and of being a writer. Encouraged by his high school teacher, he wrote every night after dinner for an hour. He worked on his book through high school and continued as an undergrad at college.

In 1940, his book was finished, and Random House was going to publish it. The editor told the author, “Don’t figure on making any money writing children’s books.” The author disagreed, saying “If you can write a book that will interest children you can make a living.”

His first book was an instant hit when it appeared in 1941, and it developed it into a series — even a fan club. This series has sold over a hundred million copies in the last 60 years, and even inspired several feature-length films in recent years. The author had proved his point well.

The author was Walter Farley, and that first book was The Black Stallion.

The Black Stallion was so successful, that Farley had enough financial security to quit school and travel around the world. Though flooded with an avalanche of requests for sequels to his book, being drafted into the service during WWII to work as a government reporter during the war, prevented the release of the next book. A few years later, he met & married his wife, and he settled down. Because of the success with the first book, Farley wanted to write full time, and told his editor of his desire. This was the response from Louise Bonino, Farley’s editor, in a letter dated February 8, 1945:

“Your desire to devote yourself exclusively to writing after the war is perfectly natural, but I know of only one writer of teenage books who has managed to come pretty close to what you’re after. Even he admitted to me once that if he were to depend on book royalties alone, he wouldn’t be able to support his family. The last thing in the world I’d want to do would be to crush an extremely worthwhile ambition, but I would feel remiss both as a friend and as a publisher if I didn’t caution you to do some careful arithmetic before you decide to burn your bridges.”

In October of 1945 the wartime restrictions on publishing were lifted and Farley released his second book, The Black Stallion Returns, to immediate success. Soon the royalties were enough that the Farleys had no concerns about making ends meet.

I have no doubts about the editors’ sincerity in their cautious statements — I’ve made similar statements myself to authors from time to time. (Heck, I’ve even pondered if we’ll make a living being publishers.) But Farley is an inspiration.

When speaking in classrooms, libraries & at book fairs, Farley often shared his philosophy that you can make a living doing what you love best, or doing something related to it. He took his two loves, writing & horses, and put them together with hard work, making his dreams a reality. Along the way, he inspired countless readers, certainly some horse owners, many authors, more than a few filmmakers — and he inspired this publisher.

At the time of his death, Farley had received over 500,000 letters from fans, and his books remain popular generations later. It’s a wonderful legacy for an author. But Waler Farley the man has an even larger legacy: one of imagination and inspiration for all.

“I don’t think kids are encouraged to use their imaginations,” said Farley. “Imagination can help you reach into the heavens to grasp an idea, bring it down to earth, and make it work.”

Now those are words to live by, to write by, and yes, to publish by.

Thanks, Walter.

NOTE: This is a rerun or “classic” post I am resurrecting from an old dead site ;)

Blogging Death Knells Are Premature & Passe

This sort of “blogging is dead, especially for business” thinking as shared in Beyond Blogging: 13 Content Marketing Opportunities for Ecommerce by Linda Bustos drives me nuts:

Remember when business blogging was really big? You know, 2007-ish, before Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram came and stole all that consumer attention span.

The death of Google Reader may just be one more signal that blogging is passe, at least as a marketing tool for commercial products.

Only 25% of the 85 retail blogs we tracked in 2007 are still actively updated today. That’s a 75% abandonment rate.

So if blogging’s dead, what content marketing opportunities remain for ecommerce?

First of all, the majority of the sites listed rely on content produced elsewhere to fill them — not only curation sites, like Pinterest & Scoop.It, but social media sites, like Facebook & Twitter (which are also blogging or micro-blogging), as well. Without blogs and websites creating content, what is there to curate or share? And, in fact, at least half of the 13 “opportunities” Bustos lists are actions (content, curation) performed at blogs; many are actually dependent upon blogs specifically for content, and at least three of them (Infographics, Newsletter/email, QRated content) require blogs or websites to make them work.

Premature_Burial_VaultIf The Future is based on blogging, how can it be dead?

Secondly, there are major issues with the subject of blog abandonment rate claims. Blogs, like the static sites before them, have always had high abandonment rates. Since 2004, Technorati’s State of the Blogosphere has been examining such things as the supposed “death” of blogs — and the more the death rumor waves rolled in, they rolled back out again as more data put the rumors out to sea. Sure, blogs are abandoned. Blogging has made it super easy for the code-ignorant to self-publish — come on in, the water’s fine! And, like so many self-directed activities, such ease has allowed them to self-perish just as easily. Any one of those reasons can just as easily be applied to curating or “Facebooking”.  (But, by the way, did you do any digging to see why that 75% of retail blogs were abandoned? Are the companies still around? Have multiple blogs been combined? Have blogs been rolled into retail sites? Have they simply been “guest blogging” at other sites, or using Facebook Pages?)

Beneath all of this, however, is the fundamental issue of what blogging is.

I’ve long contended that blogging is a method of publishing; it’s the software, the mechanism, the platform. In that case, Facebook, Twitter, etc. are platforms for blogging. Platforms which are far more controlled by others than the single stand-alone sites which Bustos & others call blogs and are trying to declare dead.  But to say “blogging is dead” is a more than premature; it’s just plain not true.

You can split-hairs over what blogging is or isn’t, which platforms, software, distribution methods etc. are trending now and where it might go tomorrow, but whatever you call it, people will be creating and many of them will opt to control their creations as well. (…Well, many of us will do our best to try to control as best we can in this Digital Wild West. And for many of us, that means our own sites and even our own servers. Because as we are learning more every day, sites and platforms come & go every single day. And censorship is a threat. Wise folks who value their creations know that using another party’s service/site/platform has plenty of risks.)

Whether the blogging/self-publishing mechanism changes is not really an issue, for as technology advances it certainly will change. But the creation of content itself will remain. And (hopefully!) we will always have individuals involved who will opt to retain their roles of both creator and publisher, i.e. their own blogs and sites (whatever they’ll be called), for which the curators, sharers, etc. should be most thankful.

Image Credits: Wikipedia

More Women In The Pages

Another woman for the women’s pages is Miriam Baker Nye. Known simply as “Miriam” — often used just like that, in quotes — she wrote a regular column for rural women entitled From the Kitchen Window which ran from 1953-1981 in the Farm Weekly. (The Farm Weekly was a publication of The Souix City Journal and Journal-Tribune newspapers of Souix City, Iowa, which served “all Siouxland.”) This scan of page 16 of Here’s How The Farm Weekly Serves You presumably shows the regular header for her columns.

Her recipes and ideas from that column would later be published in book form in Recipes and Ideas “From the Kitchen Window” (1973). (If there aren’t any copies at Amazon, check eBay.)

She would also author But I Never Thought He’d Die: Practical Help for Widows (1978) after the death of her husband, Carl Baker. (Three years after Mr. Baker’s death, Miriam would marry Methodist minister Reverend John Nye and become Miriam Baker Nye.)

What Kind Of Curation Site Should You Use?

No doubt about it, content curation is growing. If all the news stories about it wasn’t convincing enough, the number of clients asking me about curation would! Here’s a simple little primer on the two major types of curation sites — and a decision tree I made to assist clients.

Pinterest, LoveIt, and the like are image-based eye-candy. At best, this type of curation is like a great store window; it might just lure a lookie-loo inside (to the original site) for a sale. At worst, this type of curation is content theft (allowing curators to garner the traffic and exposure at the expense of the creator of the image, product, etc.), or is just a bunch of spam links sent out in numbers large enough that even a tiny percent is hoped to garner a sale or conversion. (Please don’t do either of those worst-case scenarios!)

Snip.It, Scoop.It, and the like are article-based brain-candy. Images from the sites themselves are generally used, but the focus is the articles. The best of these sites (which most definitely includes those named) aim to not only avoid content theft but to get readers to actually read the content at the original site by not allowing entire articles to just be reposted.

Neither type of content creation site is better than the other; your goals ought to dictate which type of curation site you use. This is where the decision tree will help you. Click the image for a larger view of the content curation site decision tree.

Curation Is The New Black; But Will It Get In The Black?

There’s a lot of talk about content curation; but is anyone making money?

I’m sure some are making a few bucks… But big profits? So far, probably not. Will it? Let’s take a look…

When it comes to potentially profiting from curating online, there are three main groups:

1) Software/site creators — those who have built, hoping the people come. These folks have invested time and money in the venture adventure, and some of them are charging for their services. Much like those charging for blogging software and/or hosting, it remains to be seen whether or not curators will pay for such services — and in enough numbers to pay for the developer investment.

2) Companies and individuals selling the products, services, and content being created. So far, this is the group seeing the greatest rewards. While numbers and margins are murky, it’s clear from the investment and funding dollars that big business believes (or hopes) curation will be the future of brand and product promotion.

3) Curators themselves. This group is last on the list for two reasons. First, they are the base on which this whole business is built; without them, no one is paying for curation sites/software or curating the products, brands, and ideas that corporations are counting on. And second, curators are apparently last on the list in terms of consideration.

Despite the fundamental importance of curators, they currently have relatively no means of making money from curating.

By and large, there are no spots for advertising on content curation sites. Not only are there no means by which the curators themselves may edit pages to place advertising, but the curation sites themselves are without their own advertising, so there’s no option for profit sharing between curation site and individual curators. This doesn’t necessarily preclude the possibility of curators being bought. Other than, perhaps, the difficulty in contacting a curator, what’s to stop a curator from accepting payolla, putting a dollar value on a “curated” link like many bloggers do with paid posts?

If you think this lack of built-in monetization will keep curators honest in their curation — that they’ll do it for the pure passion and love of it all, you are naive. Curation is a commitment. Without the prospect of money, only a few diehards and crazies (such as myself) will bother to curate and then it will be as time and inclination allows. That is not the steady stream of “superhero” curation that enthusiasts are predicting.

Without advertising options, how are are content curators are going to make money? In order to make money directly from curating (i.e. curators are not merely pushing their own products, services, and/or sites that they have monetized), it will need to be because people are going to pay for curated content, because companies are going to pay for curators to push profits for them (via payolla or paid curator/marketing positions), or some combination of the two.

But will people really pay?

So far the evidence says, “No.”

Curation really isn’t anything new. Curation is, if not exactly the same, a lot like blogging; and we all know blogging isn’t a sure-fired, self-supporting, money-making activity. Not that it necessarily should be. I mean, some guy’s playlist isn’t necessarily equal to that of a radio station DJ — and it’s not just a matter of audience numbers either. Quality and importance — perceived or real — also matter. The low barrier of entry to self-publishing and self-producing comes at a cost to the entire media marketplace. Value perception (heavy on the “values” for the growing confirmation bias tendencies) is ironically at the heart of this supply and demand issue of this new Information Age. For example, how many mixed tapes have you actually purchased?

Image via 123 Stock Photos.

 

 

A Pen Is

Resisting all jokes and puns about what a pen is, euphemisms for swords, and even the pragmatic discussion of women’s rights to wield the power of writing implements, I bring you the folly of the BIC For Her Amber Medium Ballpoint Pen. There’s little I can say, really… This pen, “A gel pen essentially for women!” is only sold in Europe and the fine folks there have responded accordingly, filing the following reviews (and more) in retaliation for a poorly thought of product designed “for women.” Enjoy. And take heart that there are sane people.

I never knew I needed this so much, 16 Aug 2012
By Butch McCassidy

Oh. My. God. I’ve been doing it all wrong. There was me thinking I didn’t need to worry about whether my writing implement sufficiently reflected my gender. Thank you so much Bic for showing me the error of my ways. Perhaps Bic will also bring out a new range of pink (or purple) feminine spanners, screwdrivers, electric drills and angle grinders so that I can carry out my job as a bicycle mechanic without further embarrassing myself? Luckily my male colleagues have managed to keep their disapproval of my use of their masculine tools to themselves. I’m so ashamed. And re-educated as to my place in society. Thanks again Bic!

At Amazon, the above review, “The most helpful favourable review,” is pitted against this next one, “The most helpful critical review.”

No good for man hands
I bought this pen (in error, evidently) to write my reports of each day’s tree felling activities in my job as a lumberjack. It is no good. It slips from between my calloused, gnarly fingers like a gossamer thread gently descending to earth between two giant redwood trunks.
Published 6 days ago by daveyclayton

But there plenty more; this one may be my favorite, simply for the title:

Such a useful little tool (and that’s not just a description of the man in charge of the marketing campaign), 21 Aug 2012
By zak jane keir “decadent media” (UK)

How could I have missed my own deep inner need for such a product? It’s just perfect for ramming straight up the hogs’ eye of any sexist man I happen to be oppressed by – no more tabasco-dipped nasty old medical catheters for the misogynists in my life!

But perhaps this one is most sarcastic:

Send from Heaven by the Angels, 20 Aug 2012
By Siobhán

I could never write until now because I’m such a thick little Princess that I refused to. I just drew pictures of my pink little bike, with the lilac streamers. I thought I’d just grow up and let a big manly man come and marry/save me.
Now I’ve found this pen, I’ve learned to write. It’s so pretty, with it’s comfortable grip, not like the razor like surface on ordinary mens pens. It will help me list all my household chores and record my calorie consumption in my diary. Who knows? Maybe it will give me the confidence to take the stabilisers off my bike.

Or maybe it’s this one…

This product cured my girly dyslexia., 21 Aug 2012
By I am a private person, not a real name!

Before I bought this product I couldn’t write but now I’m an engineer. Mind you, I only design pink, flowery bridges, motorways and sewers. Blue ones would be wrong wouldn’t they.

Borders Bleed & Blow My Mind (Thoughts On Context)

Sometimes history is thought of as it is taught: In separate chunks. But history passes, weaves, and certainly is attached and connected to time — the time behind it, the time before it, and simultaneously to persons and events which, even in attempts to understand and reclaim, we have neatly severed into subjects and categories.

History and culture isn’t simply a matter of dates or compartmentalized periods. The subject of context isn’t merely one for writers, bloggers or content curationists, i.e. photo or image with research or text story, properly credited, for real readers. Context is even more than the object, person, or event in cultural context of what came before it, what came after it. Context must include what and who are contemporaries.

For example, do you think of opera legend Marian Anderson and artist Frida Kahlo as contemporaries? As friends even? Most probably do not.

[About the image: Marian Anderson and Frida Kahlo with Diego Rivera, Miguel Covarrubias, Rosa Covarrubias, Ernesto de Quesada and others in Mexico, 1943.
More astonishing than this photo which went wild on Tumblr is the video.

The video is silent home film footage of that same trip, from the Penn Libraries Marian Anderson collection, A Life In Song, use of and upload to YouTube approved by Nancy M. Shawcross, Curator of Manuscripts, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, University of Pennsylvania on June 19, 2012.]

For in our (admirable) attempts to reclaim lost stories of Black Women and Hispanic Women (groups who have felt marginalized from Feminism and Women’s Studies), separate stories emerge. Separate stories may narrow focus, provide an ease for our brains (which many falsely claim are over-stimulated and bombarded with information; information overload is a myth) tasked with absorbing information, but so many separate stories not only lead to false notions of separate lives issues (which fosters a sense of competition, risks alienation, and further divides what is Us), but removes the full complex beauty of cultural context.

Oxford University historian Dr. Cliff Davies, in his discussion of the myth of the Tudor era, describes this compartmentalization of history as “seductive” and helping “to create the idea of a separate historical period, different from what came before and after.” I say this seduction also includes the temptation to remove the context of contemporaries. And that it ought to be avoided. Even in an age of working to create filtered focus.

Even when you have multiple blogs, collections, and curated topics — each with its own focus, there is likely to be some overlap between them. If you are aware of and include context with your collections, there will be, ought to be, some repeated content and objects across collections. Even those with the most dedicated focus.

I consider this to be not redundant overlap but more connections, yet another layer to your stories. Practically speaking from a marketing approach, it is another way to find more readers too.

And another way to blow their minds.

Pan Historia

Pan Historia is:

[A] community for collaborative fiction and role play writing. Whether you just want to browse and read, or whether you want to write one or many different stories from the point of view of your characters this is the place for you. In addition to the stories there are fun discussions, games, contests, and many opportunities to make new friends. Inside you can find all your favorite genres: science fiction, fantasy, horror, history, and more. You can explore over one hundred different collaborative novels, join in, create your own home pages for your characters, learn from others on how to design great homes, create fabulous graphics, or just hone your creative writing skills with others of like interests.

Pan Historia is run by librarians and researchers, rumor has it.

And Pan Historia is blowing my mind.

But Pan Historia is also a bit too intimidating for a girl like me. I’m down with the ; I’m just not a fiction writer or a gamer, so I don’t think I can . Unless my character is a Medieval fish out of water in a post apocalyptic desert. And possibly mute.

Or maybe I’ll wait for the board game version.

Share & Share Alike: Why Posting Your “Junk” Is Worthy Of Your Time

In 2010, I was a presenter at the first Bookmark Collectors Virtual Convention, encouraging collectors not to be embarrassed about their collections (bookmarks or otherwise). And recently I discussed how I believe collectibles can — and ought to be — used to teach. Today I present an incredible example of the marriage between two these concepts.

In 2008, author Midori Snyder posted a photograph from the 1940s of her maternal grandmother at a crowded kitchen table, drinking and smoking with friends:

It was a cute, rather sentimental post, not only laden with nostalgia but whispering of stories and potential stories; charming, but nothing earth-shattering. Then, in June of this year, something happened…

On June 8, 2011, Snyder posted an update involving that vintage photograph. Snyder received an email from a middle school English teacher who’d been teaching poetry to sixth graders. This teacher was trying to move the students past the “misconception that all poetry is cryptic and impenetrable by nature,” including the use of photographs as inspiration, instructing the students to “bring in a picture to which they are emotionally connected in some way.” Knowing the err, limitations and penchants of students, the teacher had gone to the Internet in search of photographs for students who failed to bring their own in. Along the way, she had found Snyder’s photo. That photo became the “back up” photograph so that students could continue their classwork.

That was the moment of intersection between the teacher and Snyder.

This would be cool enough on it’s own. But what’s cooler than that, was the intersection between Snyder’s grandmother and her adult gal pals from the 1940s and 11 to 12 year old kids in school — and how that fictional “what if” emotional connection bridged a gap to inscrutable poetry. In the teacher’s words:

We wrote. I wrote one too, alongside them. We read them, we clapped, we nodded our heads, we listened. The purpose of this email is to let you know that the act of putting that picture out there changed some of us. It helped us look deeper. It forced us to connect. It made us listen to each other and see things the way we wouldtn’ve on our own, perhaps.

If Snyder had been too “embarrassed” or otherwise dismissed the idea of sharing such a little thing as an old family photograph (and some thoughts about it to assist searches), this magic may not have happened. Yes, the teacher is to be applauded; I make no mistake about that! But she and others like her would have lots less to choose from if the rest of us didn’t offer up our photographs, scans, images, etc.

This time is was a school teacher. And one who took the time to inform Snyder how great her act of sharing was; no small thing to those of us who do share. But every day, lots of other intersections and connections are made from the bits of “stuff” and pieces of “junk” that everyday folks and collectors share. These images and objects help connect students to literature, journalists to stories, researchers to proof, collectors to information, people to memories, individuals to their ancestors in family trees, nerds to history… People connect for the first time to abstract theories. People rediscover individual intimate connections. People reclaim the past, work toward a future. People find answers; people like me find more questions… Heck, people even just find more objects and photographs they must have (often in pursuit of much loftier things than materialistic motives).

The moral of the story is this: No matter what you have, no matter how big or small, how Big Picture or insignificant you think it is — someone is just waiting to see it, learn from it, remember it, be inspired by it.

PS You can read one of the student’s poems at Snyder’s post.

Of George Eliot & Marilyn Monroe

George Eliot

I am absolutely fascinated by Adair Jones‘s debate on the following question: “Was George Eliot’s late marriage a resignation from being a strong-minded woman?”

I haven’t read the works under discussion and, embarrassingly, my knowledge of George Eliot wouldn’t fill a thimble — but that doesn’t put an end to my opining. For it’s not the “did she or didn’t she” of the argument which has me most fascinated, but the “how” of it all…

Once there was a school of thought that held that autobiographies were superior to biographies; a person is the only one who really knows their own life, no amount of research can replace that. Along the way, the sub-genre of memoirs was created in order for a person to be able to tell a smaller story, the story of only a chapter or two in their lives as opposed to the whole story. Memoirs were greatly discredited in the whole Oprah-Frey fiasco. None of that memoirs stuff is of importance here; but memory is.

You see, I don’t remember things by dates. I have a linear concept of time, but dates are not my thing. And time itself passes unevenly for me — for most of us. My children, for example, grew up overnight despite those sleepless nights which I thought would never end. Time waiting for a child in a counseling appointment without a book vs. the same one hour appointment with a book, well, you know how that goes. And then there’s the matter of memory…

What I remember and what my husband remembers about things we’ve done, conversations held, etc. clearly exposes problems with perceptions. What I consider significant, he may not; and vice versa. And I, like many people I am told, often walk to the kitchen only to wonder why I went there.

Memory is a twisty thing.

So how reliable am I in terms of writing my autobiography?

I’m guessing not good at all.

So would the biographer be better?

I swore I wrote about (some of) this before, but I write so many places that if I did, I couldn’t find it; if I do find it, I’ll update with a link. [Note to self: you’re loosing your mind.]

But that is, in part, precisely what I’m talking about. If I were writing my own biography or memoir, I might just reference something I believed I wrote. And even upon being unable to produce it, would swear it was misplaced (or, if I’d grow even more paranoid, claim it was stolen). I’m that convinced I did it. Even if I hadn’t included that tidbit in my autobiography, some researcher pouring through my personal effects, correspondence I’d written over the years, etc. might just find that I’d penned a letter in which I swore that I had written on the subject. Perhaps I’d even accuse a person of the theft of it. This poor researcher / author would then have proof of my presumption, but not what actually happened.

And this is only one example which is far more cut and dried than other realities… The article or written work exists or it doesn’t; my faulty memory may be found out due to evidence one way or another. But what of my motivations?

What if I insisted I wrote something, knowing I did not, but wished to claim the work of someone else? What if I hated someone so much I convinced myself the story was true, could even pass a lie detector test because I, in fact, believed what I was saying? Maybe I did believe it so much because I was unable to be truthful with myself about my own actions?

We all tell ourselves lies everyday. Just to get through the day. Most of them aren’t so big and bad as accusing someone of theft. We usually don’t lie to hurt others but rather to protect ourselves. We lie to ourselves about the deeper things we cannot face, little and big vanities alike.

Whatever George Eliot aka Mary Ann Evans aka Mary Anne Cross writes to her friends she is also writing to herself. She has her reasons as much as her denials to motivate her. And so, even a historian with access to public and private works, letters and diaries, is still limited by the memories and motivations of their subject.

Did Eliot consider her last marriage an act of dependence? An independent or vain act that would ensure her legacy? Was it just easier to count on someone in her old age, easier to tell people that, or what?

Who knows.

It’s intellectual fun to pluck at the strings left behind, like clues leading to the the ball of yarn that is a hero’s psyche. But we don’t know. We cannot read their soul.

Marilyn Monroe

This is why we have so many biographies. Even after the memoirs and autobiographies (with and without the help of others), even after hundreds of other biographies, there’s still room for more.

Some people who count such things say there are 600 books on Marilyn Monroe alone — with new releases each year. Because she continues to fascinate me us. Forget the suicide-or-murder debate; forget the motivations, cover-ups, bungles, etc. of other people; we can never know what went on in Marilyn’s head or heart because no one, not even her contemporaries and confidants, knew that.

Marilyn and Mary Anne, and all the others, will continue to fascinate us because we will never ever know. We will never be truly sated by any “definitive” book on a person because we can never ever have the definitive answers.

Whatever the subjects of biographies and autobiographies leave for us, whatever they tell us, remains forever between the memory gaps, what they believed, the stories they’ve told themselves, what they believed they needed to protect when they told others their stories…

That is unsettling.

It’s a realization that we cannot ever really know anyone.

And so we continue to read, investigate, interpret, what we can. …Still hoping we will find The Truth.

Rethinking Pink (Or Girls Don’t Need Pencils)

Speaking of suffrage colors

A news clipping from the New Brunswick Times, October 15, 1915, about Miss Ellen Murray who threw an anti-suffrage party:

The house was decorated in the colors of the antis, pink and white and anti-suffrage posters were in evidence. The girls were given anti-suffrage pencils and the boys anti-suffrage buttons. The prizes were dolls in the dolls in the suffrage colors and the refreshments were also in these colors. One of the games was an election in which the antis won.

I can only assume that there was an error and that the dolls and refreshments were in anti-suffrage pink and white, right? And good heavens, why would girls need pencils?! Silly Ellen; only boys need to write!  Plus, buttons are like pins, which is jewelry and more girl-like.  Sheesh.