Friday, 10 December 2010

Untangling the ebirds

Early this morning I dreamed I found a bird in the cotton bag I was holding. Before I woke, I contemplated where and how best to release it.

It reminded me of an incident. A friend was walking through a vineyard when she came upon a bird (I think it was a long-tailed cuckoo) in a net, entangled almost to the point of strangulation. Her heart hammered as she began the urgent task of turning it this way and that, picking apart the fibres, following the threads, unhitching, unwinding — and the closer it came to freedom, the harder the bird fought with claws and beak (perhaps not a cuckoo; there was a fearsome beak). When she finally released it to the air, some vitality in her also broke loose for the first time.

Is it too great a stretch to compare publishing today with freeing the birds? It's helping me as I negotiate the pernickety back and forth, perfecting the formats for our first manuscript; Jason Darwin of meBooks is patiently sorting through my feedback and making adjustments. It's an image that serves as I work through marketing strategies, backlogged emails and complex signing-up rituals. I don't love these parts of the work but when I feel the life of the bird beating between my hands, I find the persistence I need.

Birds? They might be the writing, the stories — formed and ready for flight, but so many are caught and stymied in the current publishing climate where lists are being cut back and only the most marketable books are being sent forth. 

Each book-bird represents its writer's best impulse toward life. In digital publishing I see my own opportunity to unravel a few exceptional birds each year — via the steady, patient processes of Rosa Mira Books — and throw them up into their native air.

As I face the inevitable resistances and glitches, and pick them apart with patience and hope, it's possible I'm freeing more than just the books.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Author Dorothee Kocks writes:

Writers often daydream about their first publishing contract, and in the States, that dream involves a trip to New York, a ride up some swanky elevator, and a welcome into the community of real writers: no longer an apprentice. 

My moment came in my own foyer. A manila envelope with New Zealand stamps announced that the Rosa Mira Books contract had come and I tore it open, expecting a sheaf of papers to sign, date, return. I had places to go and did not expect to pause but then the papers were sheathed in a pale green sleeve, the color of spring. And inside, a fine ribbon wrapped the document and I could feel publisher Penelope Todd reaching across the miles to say: here you are.

Now I am being contacted by newspaper editors who’ve received a review copy, not via email but by post: in a box with Christine Buess’s lovely cover design and inside, petals from Pen’s garden. A slip of paper gives the online address to receive the book.

What astonishes me most about the ebook revolution is how deeply personal it is. One expects machine worlds to be cold and distant and yet the opposite has been true as The Glass Harmonica has journeyed toward publication. Of course part of this is due to Pen’s personality but that is my point: we are fully here, on the e-frontier. We meet each other not face to face but somehow intimately. Publishing for the last 100 years or so required layers of bureaucracy: from the writer through agents to editors and publishers, then marketing departments and production houses and distribution centers and pulp paper mills. Now small gardens are springing up.

As the first Rosa Mira author, I find myself linked hand to hand with a public relations campaign that is refreshingly not about bamboozling but about finding neighbors in the book world, people who like the same kinds of places. The whole process feels local even as it is so effortlessly global. Here in Utah, I just returned from a walk with my dog and we navigated icy sidewalks and watched a father help his daughter on her bike negotiate a crust of snow. In Dunedin, Pen switches on her camera during our phone call over Skype and the flood of summer bird song enters my study. Meanwhile, in Berlin, Germany, a book trailer seems in the offing as the music museum there houses one of the last surviving 18th century glass harmonicas.

The next step is for the intimate experience of reading to become electronic. I loathed the idea once. I love my paperbacks. I read in the bathtub. But now I have a reading device. I turn the page, and I am carried away. In the end, words are the technology and the magic together, and all else is just details. I hope to meet you here, on the even electronic plain. I'm at

(Photo by James Rendek)

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Changing dynamics

I started the day anxious. The old method of book launching seems less relevant all the time, but at least it was visible. Books on shelves. An ebook is not like a hard copy whose shelf life is immediately endangered without a great splash in the first crucial days or weeks. I went to Dan Blank for reassurance. And found it on the first page: 'How I learned to stop worrying and love the web'. Okay I'll never love the web like I love my garden or my bed, but I love the generous people I meet there, and I'm learning to trust the subversive new marketing ploy: sustainable chit-chat, leading to sustainable conversation, leading to the linking of like minds, the finding and sharing of books we love, and so on.

Today's list is too long to write here but it includes contact formatter: I sent off a Pages version of the finalised copy of The Glass Harmonica to Jason of meBooks. It was time to get professional formatting — Kindle conversion in particular was proving tricky and he's prompt, friendly and offers a seven-day turnaround.

Leaf. I have it now, set in a square and ready to apply to the RMB facebook Page. Check it out ... tomorrow, I reckon. That leads to further list items: link FB page to blog, Twitter etc.

Check out the good cents site where Tom is blog editor . . . thanks to The Distiller, we plan to exchange energies; he wants some copy advice (and I'll take any advice I'm offered) although what I see looks tight and enticing already.

There are 30 more items on the list. I've crossed off half. One of them is Yoga. I'll go and do a few stretches before dinner.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

On and on

Lists and lists. I have pages of them. Each day I fill the diary allotment with another, then shape up a new list next day with the leftovers. Crossing items off has never felt so satisfying. But it's dawning on me that I'm never going to be done with these lists. Rosa Mira is a long-term commitment and I'm well past the point of no-return. The world of digital publishing and social media is continually expanding. The number of seminars I can attend, websites explore, links follow, online tools utilise, and media networks pursue roughly equals the number of currants on our bushes this year. It's a bountiful season.

I think the secret route through this maze of possibilities is to do what looks like most fun. Fun is energising. Anxiety (fear of too-muchness) is enervating. Is that too simple a formula? I don't think so. I need to survive this. Better still, thrive.

I love the ebook RMB is soon to publish. I enjoy editing and exchange with writers. I like writing this blog. I'm warming to Twitter, and I look forward to my evening FB exchanges. I love meeting enthusiasts who cheer me on and share their own challenges and pleasures.

Knowing what fires me helps me discriminate. My lists look more enticing already.

And I'm not alone.

Did I say? January. Thanks, everyone, for your patience.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

A pause for breath

Setting up Rosa Mira Books has been such an adventure. The work and learning  of the last year have stretched and heartened me, flattened and firmed me up inwardly, given me nightmares and days of quiet exaltation. I've met and consulted and worked with exceptional, generous, encouraging people all the way. No one has told me I'm a fool for doing this. I keep finding in the web community fantastically open-handed people sharing what they've learned and giving practical advice.

I'd hoped to launch at the start of December.

Coral wrote the other week that she tells her publishing students that every publisher's middle name might be 'slippage'. That was strangely heartening if (as I contend) slippage is part and parcel of publishing and not necessarily of the publisher's personality.

For various reasons, most to do with human capacity vs hours available in the week, not to mention the Christmas/year's end/holiday change of gears, I'm delaying the launch of Rosa Mira and The Glass Harmonica until late January. By then our Slightly Peculiar Love Stories should be well into production, all nearly all wrinkles ironed out, and those involved rested, eager, savvy and ready to roll.

Thursday, 4 November 2010


Reaching the end of the manuscript — a proofread that was inevitably a copy-edit as well  — I felt like a piece of elastic released from its duty to hold the britches up. I sprang about, disconcerted and happy. Dorothee in Utah will make a last read-through then Christine across town will check the styling and create ePub and PDF files. Across the Tasman a Kindle-friendly version of the novel will be conjured up.

Meanwhile Eion in Dublin and Lorraine in Colorado are reading copies of The Glass Harmonica on Android and PC, in order to toss us a few choice comments to further entice our readers, and in Auckland and Salt Lake City, marketing strategies are being firmed up.  Today I was enticed to join Twitter. Twittering — the antithesis of my habitual self. But I will learn. Tomorrow I'll send a message.

All these things happen at the press of a button (or several). Hourly miracles.

I know I've tried to fix dates before but watch this one: December 2nd. Should be a good day.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Deep Water

We watched the doco of that name the other night — the Donald Crowhurst story: how he left port according to deadline but before he felt ready. How he sailed south with quaking heart. If he entered the southern ocean he would probably die. If he turned tail for home he faced financial ruin. Sad, sad, sad. But fascinating, too, to ponder what risks one is prepared to go on a limb for; what constitutes a risk, what a failure; and where is the point of no-return?

Helpful, too, for gaining perspective, No lives or livelihoods are at stake if Rosa Mira Books goes online before all doubts are quelled. However, we want the rigging sound, our crew confident, and all sailors to have a happy trip when they come aboard. We're running around checking the sheets, anchors and winches (okay, am about out of nautical terms here; you get the gist) and are casting a weather eye at this week's forecast . . .  We want everything just so — although the draft pages are looking sleek and lovely already. Hugh reckons it's his best design yet. I think he might be right.

 This week suddenly it seemed crucial to have an e-reader in order to test our manuscript. I needed a versatile device, so I went down to the Mac shop, stroked the iPad a few times and said, 'Okay.' On it I can download a zillion apps: Stanza, iBooks, GoodReading, Kobo, Kindle, B&N . . . (Best of all, the meowing cat piano app).

Meanwhile the little soft-covered, bendy e-reader is on the imagination's back burner. It'll turn up in due course. :)

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Take a look

It's possible that the final paragraph of The Glass Harmonica: A Sensualist's Tale has at last been tweaked to perfection, just in time for the stylist and the proofreader who advance like lawn-mower and garden roller upon the author and editor.

And look!

The cover image was hand-painted by Christine Buess of Longacre Press fame, designed, more or less, from a description of Henry's waistcoat with its pièce de résistance, the tomato, or pomme d'amour.

Dani Wright has cooked up a marketing plan that includes Rosa Mira going seriously online. Soon. The inevitable is imminent and I'm almost ready for it. We have some plans on the front cooker in the U.S. too. Kind of exciting.

Meanwhile, thanks to Helen Heath's weekend reading round-up I've found a couple of expansive articles on Why Readers Hate DRM (digital rights management) and The Future of Publishing Takes Shape on Faber's blog, The Thought Fox. Points pondered in the latter include the editorial process which I am pleased to state will be Rosa Mira's strong suit in an industry that has been forced to reduce its editing TLC in recent years.

It's possible the website will go live this week. You'll hear it first here.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Here we are in September

Sorry to keep you waiting, dear readers, but I'm back.  More fun if I turned up on screen wind-tousled, pink-cheeked and breathless, looking as if I'd been up to mischief, but really I'm flat-bummed and poker-faced from long editing hours. Nevertheless I am happy! Dorothee's novel The Glass Harmonica: A Sensualist's Tale is fabulous: heartfelt, moving, wise, and crackling with energy. My appreciation deepens with scrutiny. Phew. That's always a relief — to find a story dense with life, down through its layers. The 'cover' Christine painted is glorious (scare quotes because I reckon we need a new name for the icon that announces the ebook — any ideas?) and my mother is proof reading it. I love to think of her reviving her lifelong but under-used critical capacity; I guess I received the editing gene from her. And maybe the more sweeping, intuitive engagement with story from my dad.

I've asked Hugh if the site could please go live in October — my birthday present, perhaps. And the novel will be launched a month later. Soon I'll be able to apply myself to the Slightly Peculiar Love Stories and their patient authors. I'm thinking about a typographic 'cover' for that anthology. (Is that the term for a plain cover with slightly peculiar lettering on it?) Know anyone talented with text?

Meanwhile, droves of people are buying, or thinking of buying, or fervently resisting buying, devices on which to read ebooks. I still haven't decided which model I'll choose.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010


I was heartened by this article in Digital Book World, of particular interest to authors and digital publishers, discussing the new and flexible contract, and the 'revolutionary' idea that, in exchange for the author signing over a 'broad basket of rights', each contract would be renegotiated after three to five years. More power to authors. More fair sharing between author and publisher. I'm offering a two-year contract. Makes perfect sense when the market, platforms, and what's implied in those rights are so rapidly changing. We can see up to the next corner but not around it.

While I don't wish to promote one reading device over another (not until I found that perfect, palpable, bendy number), I can't help marvelling at this neat little beast, the Kindle 3, not yet in NZ, but it can be ordered via Amazon. That'd slip into a handbag no trouble. Okay, so I've just promoted a reading device. Which only makes sense, given what I'm doing here. Who wants to read an ebook on their PC?

 I'm not sure I'd want to see a plastic tablet in any of these reverent hands (not unless it wore a soft, indigo cover) but for a beautiful meditation on reading, please look at the images on Steve McCurry's blog.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Flying Shrapnel, no, I mean, Goods.

August is almost done and all the pieces of Rosa Mira Books are still swirling around me in a (mostly benign) cloud. I pull a few down each day and work on them. Now and then I complete one: this (next, next) draft of the contract; that letter towards finding out how much of a problem it is that eHarlequin have copyrighted and registered 'Mira'; editing this chapter of The (or Her?) Glass Harmonica; re-reading the short stories that have arrived so far, and sending letters to (half of — I'm getting there) the writers — including those letters that say no.

That's my least-liked job. I know about rejection letters. I've received plenty — the rude and raw; the empathetic and helpful — and sent plenty, I'm sorry to say one or two of the former, but I try to write only the latter these days. Every creator deserves respect — although not everything written fits with what a particular publisher means to publish.

However, beyond the traditional model, digital opportunities abound for those determined to put their work out there, from the personal blog or website, to the the all-comers' distribution platform such as Smashwords; sites like Naked Reader which consider manuscripts already polished and proof read, as well as backlisted books; and those sites where selection, editorial input and marketing are part of the deal: Carina Press, Online Originals, and Rosa Mira Books, to name three.

Now, last time I posted, questions were posed about the biggest challenge to any business: reaching the market. With so much still shaking down in the new publishing model, some of those questions can only be answered by trial and error. Beyond anecdote, it's not easy to find out who in NZ is buying reading devices — but we can look beyond our shores for trends. Twelve million iPads are being bought each month — by those at the young end of my target market, but its owners are reputedly eager to use it for 'everything' (and they grow older every day). Kindle's new version 3 is selling at half the price of the original, with Amazon predicting that at current rates, ebooks will outsell paperbacks within a year. I'm counting on those former paperback readers making up some of our readership. I'm watching the prices although no one can yet say definitively what readers are prepared to pay for exceptional ebooks, or who's going to read what on which device.

As for how Rosa Mira's books will be found, beyond search engine optimisation on the site, I believe it's my job to find readers for our particular flavour of ebooks, rather than the other way around, and I'm looking forward to the 'social networking' and learning adventure that promises.

DV, I'm in for the long haul, so if I don't know the answers yet, I'm living the questions until I do.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Brass Tacks

I've been getting down to them this week. Doing the final graft and craft on a contract that's clear, fair, and comprehensive enough for now (who knows what the digital realm will yet spring on us?). Combing back through the business plan. Checking out the benefits of 'sole trader' versus 'limited liability company' status. Visiting the Intellectual Property Office in my slippers (ah, business online). Remembering to breathe. At the end of such a rigorous and efficient week I can't wait to drop to my knees in the garden, or simply get back to some editing.

I've looked again at the new ereaders (about which Grace makes excellent comment after my last posting) — so smart and swift, so plastic and metal — and I've pondered the digital publishing guru's exhortation to get with it, 'enhance', embed media in every ebook text — for example photo albums, songs and newspaper clippings into the novel. Okay, I'm open to some of this: in a biography, excellent. In a travelogue, great.

But. When I read fiction, I don't want a photo of the protagonist. I don't want to see their bedroom furnishings. I seek escape, and quiet: my own imagination entering, inhabiting and making vivid the writer's world. It's to share this experience that I choose to find terrific work and publish it. And this is why I'll go on looking for a quiet, comfortable ereader, devoted to its owner's beloved books.

According to voters on the Digital Publishing Forum, 37% each believe that A) most people will read ebooks on a multi-purpose gadget and B) most will own two or more devices. I'm for the second device. When the little soft book-like reader appears, I'll sell it on the Rosa Mira website.

In this odyssey called 'starting a business', the days are long and the information relentless that begs to be assimilated and acted upon. The future-facing pragmatist in me grows muscles and discrimination and learns to out-manoeuvre despair, but the wishful thinker, the dreamer, the one who'd rather read or write in a quiet corner, is no less demanding. The two have to link arms, dreaming and acting, wishing and accepting what is. They need one another in order to stay on the road, deliver the goods, and to remember what fuels the journey.

Brass tacks? Probably the ones that hold the upholstery onto the chair. Old fashioned things for old fashioned chairs. Growing rare, but kind of lovely, gleaming, strong, and quiet.

Monday, 9 August 2010

How then shall we read?

I'm like most people older than, what, 20? 30? 45? who imagine they would rather read from a book any day than from a reading device. But what if that device closely resembled a book in texture, weight and palpability?

In spite of the fact that I'm intent on producing ebooks, I haven't warmed to any of the devices I've met so far, in life or (more largely) on screen. They seem a bit, well, forgive me, but, blokey. I mean designed by blokes. Unlike the men I know, they are hard, cold and rigid. If you caught them on the corner of the table they'd go clack.

I suspect that in a year or few, most of us will own more than one device on which to read ebooks. Prices will have plunged. One of those (come with me a moment on my small ereader fantasy) is the one we'll take with us to the beach, to the bath, to bed, to the sunny corner or the fireside — anywhere we wish to read undisturbed by incoming emails, skype bloops, or the flicker of the newest blog. It will come to be known as 'my book', and it will be just that, and 'my library'. A thousand books in one.

'My book' will be bendy; as light as a small paperback; of a size to be tucked into a handbag or jacket pocket. The cover (of a firm, fleshy texture) will be perfused with the cover of the novel/poetry volume/biography I am currently reading.  Alternately it will have an imperishable suede-like cover in, say, indigo or crimson.  When you catch 'my book' on the side of the table, it will go thugh.

What do you want, if we say that digital reading is an inevitability? What would be your device of choice? Connected or disconnected? Large or small, hard or soft, personal or impersonal?

If we dream strongly enough and talk longingly enough about the perfect reading device, about 'my book', someone will be compelled to go and create it. Won't they?

Now if it's given you an ache simply pondering the brave new world of ebooks, go and read Tim Jones's poignant little story, ironically online, on his blogsite of the same name, Books in the Trees.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

'Impenetrability! That's what I say.'

    'Would you tell me, please,' said Alice, 'what that means?'
    I didn't take to Alice in Wonderland or Through the Looking-Glass as a child. I found the humour too anarchic. However, I plunge in now, on any page and see that they might be perfect guidebooks for setting up an electronic business. Persistence, I think, is key, and trying to enjoy the way the ground shifts underfoot.
   Alice is asking Humpty Dumpty to give her a run-down on 'the meaning of the poem called "Jabberwocky".' She asks about 'brillig', 'slithy', 'toves'. . .
    And then "mome raths"? said Alice. 'I'm afraid I'm giving you a great deal of trouble.'

   I've tried not to give anyone a great deal of trouble but it's taken me a while to get my head around some of the most basic things. For those of you wondering: The ABC of the eBook.

1. Someone writes a story (it could be you), and sends it to Rosa Mira Books in a Word document.
2. After the usual to and fro, the edited document is converted into a file format or framework eg ePub or PDF (portable document format), page-designed, and given an eye-catching cover. Now it's an ebook.
3. The ebook is made available on the Rosa Mira website in at least two file formats so the customer can choose the one that suits their ereader. Delivery to the buyer will be 'simple, instant and foolproof' (web designer's memo to himself).
4. The ereader is the physical device, whether a PC, iPhone, Kindle, iPad, Kobo, Copia . . . the list is growing and refining itself weekly. A couple are even available in NZ!
5. However some ereaders need a further 'interpreter', called an application or app. Of these ereaders, some (eg Kindle and Kobo) have the app built in; others don't (in which case Rosa Mira will instruct the customer on how to download the one they need).

There. Simple and penetrable. But of course there's more to everything than meets the eye.

Monday, 26 July 2010

The mother called Necessity

On Sunday I attended a film workshop. I was struck by the apparent insecurity of the players in this 'industry'. The number of über-bosses whose approval must be gained for a given idea. The number of tricks to be employed in making a pitch. The variety of pitches to be tried, depending on the opportunity given (toe in the door; two floors in an elevator; the full five minutes). The warning that most of these guys (gals weren't mentioned) have ADHD so speak slowly (counter-intuitive, that one). I went away (with a few ideas but) wondering why everyone doesn't just stay home and make their own movies for Youtube instead.

I also talked with a fellow writer: months were ticking by and she hadn't heard back from the publishers who had her manuscripts. The publishers' lists were shrinking. What was she going to do if no one would take her work any more?

That recalled for me my own surprise last year, when Longacre was sold to Random who no longer required its Dunedin editors (or designer, office or production staff). What do we do when our work's not wanted by the big, market-driven publishing houses?

I said to my fellow writer that we could start doing things for ourselves — that this might be the message of the times. It's uncomfortable to contemplate. Starting from scratch at home. Rustling up our own resources. Figuring out a whole new lifestyle. And finding a way to put work out there.

But actually, the ways have been found and forged and they're open to anyone with an internet connection. They needn't imply a decline in quality. In the case of ebooks, we still have manuscript assessors, editors, proof readers, designers. This is democracy for writers — a multiple choice of outlets, a much greater share of the profits, a global market there for the visiting.

It's stretching and scary but it's also fun, cooperative, and more than a little energising. Not only in the writing but in production, too, we dance to our own tune.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Genesis Chapter Two

'Thus the heavens and the earth were finished . . .' Phew, God did a lot in a single chapter. I'm a slow coach. When the idea of publishing ebooks first occurred to me, I approached friend and colleague Carolyn McCurdie. She was immensely encouraging; heard me out, made sensible contributions; came with me to a digital conference in Christchurch. But nothing was quite fitting into place. It all seemed awkward and too hard.
    Carolyn went off to write a novel (which I'll be eager to read; her debut YA The Unquiet is delicately written and quietly powerful speculative fiction: 'There's only one planet that weaves into its spinning the wild thread of imagination. It touches everything we know.' ) And I went back to work, but keeping my antennae out, waiting for the time to ripen.
    It's certainly riper now, and I've taken July off to attend to editing, copy-writing, calling for stories, nutting out a contract and making lists. My brother, cartoonist and designer Hugh Todd in Sydney is creating the website.
    My greatest challenge will be marketing, especially to the US  where people actually own reading devices (now there's a topic for another day). 'Viral',  'social', 'personal', seem to be the buzzwords for the new methodology.
    I'm learning, I'm running to keep up, and mostly it's fun. I believe in the work I'm going to send out there.
    Some of you have tried and failed to send comments. I think I've fixed the problem so if you're with me still, please try again. Thanks!

Wednesday, 21 July 2010


It's two years since I woke one night, as clear-minded as I've ever been, and understood that I would begin in the coming years to publish, promote and sell ebooks. (One day I'll tell you the whole story.) Recently I came across the words of Russian poet and mystic Daniel Andreev that spoke of the kind of writing that draws me, into which I will put my energy, work that bears

          the mark of talent and at least one of the following: a sense of beauty, broad scope, profundity of thought, sharpness of insight, purity of heart, or a joyful spirit  alongside a keen awareness of the world's darker depths.

The website is under construction. The first manuscript is being edited: The Glass Harmonica: A Sensualist's Tale —  a joyous and lyrical novel set between Corsica, Paris, and New England in the late 18th century — by Dorothee Kocks of Utah. We're planning an October launch. I'm currently considering stories from NZ and abroad for the second title Slightly Peculiar Love Stories.

There, I've begun to talk about Rosa Mira Books. Please visit when you can, and let's discuss this burgeoning new world of digital publication. I'll talk about the challenges it brings to me. I'll throw out questions and be as transparent as I can about the steps in the process — often bewildering and sometimes lonely, until recently. Clarity has reappeared, allies are gathering, and now I'm throwing open the door.