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.