Poems After Midnight

This year, as part of Knopf’s annual Poem-a-Day celebration, we wanted to put together a short collection of poems and offer it up as a low-priced ebook. Deborah Garrison, the poetry editor at Knopf, came up with a fantastic theme (and title) — Poems After Midnight — and selected 13 amazing poems to showcase. The elegant cover was designed by Knopf art director Carol Carson.

Years back before my time, publishers probably would have printed this kind of thing up, made it into a beautiful little collectible. You don’t see much of this anymore, mainly because of cost. The cost to design, copy edit, print, and then distribute. The rise of digital really opens things up, making it more feasible to create projects like this. Of course there are still costs associated with producing an ebook — you still have to design a cover, format the text, and copy edit — but the more noticeable dollar figures associated with printing, distribution and inventory are not a part of the picture.

And I hope to see more of these types of digital projects. Shorter works, offbeat curation, collections and combinations of material that would never, ever get approved as a physical product.

Anyway, here’s the description of the Poems After Midnight ebook:
Most poets are or have been at one time or another members of what Mark Strand here calls “The Midnight Club”: they are insomniacs, or feel most productive in the middle of the night, or, if nothing else, are people whose work requires an openness to the dreams, visions, and scraps of inspired language that may drift across our path in the wee hours. In Poems After Midnight, drawn from Knopf’s Poem-a-Day program (the daily e-mails we’ve sent to our fans every April for the last dozen years or more), we’ve gathered some of the significant nocturnal entries by our poets. Here are poems of love and loss (J. D. McClatchy’s “Little Elegy,” Kevin Young’s “Chorale”), poems under the moon and in hotel rooms (Frank O’Hara’s “Avenue A,” Sharon Olds’s “Sleep Suite”), poems detailing urgent self-examinations and Jewish mourning rituals, or heralding the arrival of a visionary political statement like “They Feed They Lion,” a poem from the early 1970s by poet laureate Philip Levine. Each one carries us on a journey away from the distractions of daytime and into a realm of heightened understanding.

And here are the 13 poems featured:
“A Remedy for Insomnia” by Vera Pavlova
“Avenue A” by Frank O’Hara
‚ÄúSoul Keeping Company” by Lucie Brock-Broido
“Little Elegy” by J. D. McClatchy
“Sleep Suite” by Sharon Olds
“Self-portrait” by Edward Hirsch
“The Midnight Club” by Mark Strand
“They Feed They Lion” by Philip Levine
“After” by Franz Wright
“Chorale” by Kevin Young
“Greeter of Souls” by Deborah Digges
“Poem to be Read at 3 a.m.” by Donald Justice
“The House was Quiet and the World Was Calm” by Wallace Stevens

You can buy the ebook (for 99 cents) at the following online retailers:
iBookstore | BN.com | Amazon | More

The Emerging Marketplace for Eshorts

I’m bullish on eshorts. Here are some reasons why:

I think eshorts open up a whole new space in the still evolving digital marketplace for written content.

There’s a definite need and desire for both fiction and nonfiction that falls somewhere between 5K and 30K words in the ebook format on digital readers. For fiction: something beyond a short story and edging up to the length of a novella. For nonfiction: longer than a magazine article, but shorter than a full-length work. There’s something about this length that just makes sense on a digital reader.

Eshorts are a good opening for writers to publish their own work in the digital space. It’s a good place to explore all the things you’re going to need to know how to do: produce an epub file, understand the retail procedures, environment and opportunities, and market a digital-only product.

The eshort form is inspiring new, exciting companies to enter the publishing space, like the frequently mentioned Byliner and The Atavist.

It’s also inspiring non-publishers to set up publishing operations, such as NBC News and TED.

I personally do not think it’s hard to publish an ebook. But there is a learning curve. Like anything, the only way to get good at it is to do it, over and over and over again. If you are also writing the content of the books, that’s not so easy, because writing a full-length work takes a great deal of time. Eshorts make this proposition a bit simpler. They take less time to write, there is less copy to edit, and the marketplace is a bit narrower in scope. Publishing eshorts, in short, is just a less daunting proposition. It’s an excellent point of entry to the business of publishing.

Writers are never short on longform magazine ideas. But there are very few magazines publishing long-form journalism or short-form fiction these days, and the ones that do are some of the hardest places for a writer to get his or her work published. The eshort marketplace allows a writer to pursue his or her idea and publish it all on their own. And possibly make some decent money.

Let’s face it — sometimes nonficiton full-length published books are padded. The reason for this is because in order to justify a work’s publication as a book (or rather, all the costs associated with bringing the work to the marketplace), it had to hit a certain word count (at least over 50K words). The stretch is obvious, and sometimes painful for readers. The eshort marketplace solves this problem by creating a middle ground.

Eshorts open up possible new revenue streams for newspapers, magazines, and other content producing organizations.

For established authors who fall on the more prolific end of the spectrum, eshorts offer up an opportunity to put even more works into the marketplace. With or without their publisher.

Speed to the marketplace will be improved. Publishers can take well over a year to get a book into the marketplace. Eshorts can be published in less than a week.

Will eshorts help serialization makes a comeback? Haven’t seen anything yet, but certainly this an opportunity for writers/publishers to serialize a work through the eshort channels.

The three main retailers for digital content — Amazon, BN.com, and Apple’s iBookstore — all have solid merchandising programs for eshorts. Amazon leads the pack with its Kindles Singles program, BN has Nook Snaps, and iBookstore has Quick Reads.

And while it’s true that most ebook reading and purchasing is happening through the Kindle, Nook and iPhone/iPad, with purchases for content coming from the companies associated with those devices (Amazon, BN.com, Apple, respectively), it’s possible that producers of niche eshort content may be able to sell direct (if they forgo worrying about DRM).

Eshort pricing — usually falling somewhere between .99 cents and 2.99 — helps establish an overall ebook pricing structure that makes sense. The price of full-length ebooks is currently in flux and one of the key issues for the publishing industry right now. But if an eshort costs $2.99 (at the upper-end), well, then, a full-length ebook at least has to cost more than that. I mention this because some readers feel full-length ebooks should be priced that low. Thinking long term, whatever prices are now for full-length ebooks, they will eventually come down. But eshorts, by inhabiting the lower-end of the pricing spectrum, establish an appropriate bottom.

Digital Book World 2012 Publishing Innovation Awards and 7X20X21 Program

Matt Mullin announcing the winners of the 2012 Publishing Innovation Awards.

Ken Wohlrob of the Random House Publishing Group accepting the award for the Jay-Z/Decoded app, which won the transmedia category.

Ryan Chapman (looking very campaign-trailish), introducing the 7X20X21 speakers at Digital Book World 2012. Speakers included Rachel Fershleiser, Tumblr’s Literary Community Organizer; Ruth Liebmann, Director of Account Marketing at Random House; Emily Gould and Ruth Curry, Founders of Emily Books; and Ronny Golan, Founder and CEO of Bookpulse.

Rachel Fershleiser talks up Tumblr and books as part of the 7X20X21 series.

Ruth Liebmann, Director of Account Marketing at Random House, talks up independent bookstores and booksellers as part of the 7X20X21 series.

KnopfDoubleday.com’s Digital Page

We recently launched the Digital page on KnopfDoubleday.com. This page allows our publishing group to feature its enhanced ebooks, apps, and ebook collections. I’m really happy with how our page works, especially the way we’re able to showcase screenshots of what the actual ebooks or apps looks like. It was designed and built by the excellent design outfit Being Wicked, who redesigned the overall site last year. Currently featured in the top module is the enhanced ebook of How To Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu. I highly recommend checking out that book, either the ebook or the hardcover. It’s a really clever novel.

Seth Godin Plans to Self-Publish

This makes sense for an author like Seth Godin — he has a platform and a following, and he writes books with a very targetable audience. As Godin points out, he knows who his readers are. And with the rise of ebooks, which essentially removes the complexities and costs of distribution and inventory, the process of getting his books to his customers, though not simple by any means, is much more manageable and cost-effective.

Godin explains his decision here and in a MediaBistro interview. Jacket copy has a good post on Godin’s announcement, and the WSJ published this informative news story.