In-Store Print-On-Demand, Eli James called it 3 years ago


I haven't blogged on this site for over a year.  However, something I read today has temporarily brought me out of retirement.  It looks like book publishers has finally come up with a good idea to improve service to their customer base.  The idea is to offer some of their books in print-on-demand kiosks.  That way a store can offer thousands more titles without taking up more shelf space.

Check out the WSJ article:

As bookstores disappear across America, some small operators are pursuing a novel survival strategy: The bookless bookshelf.

Their vision was aided Thursday by HarperCollins Publishers Inc. which said it would make about 5,000 current paperbacks available to bookstores through On Demand Books LLC's Espresso Book Machine. The desk-sized device can custom print a book in just a few minutes. That means even if a physical copy is not in stock, it's still available almost immediately.
 This is brilliant!  Imagine, a bookstore can be smaller, and yet offer more books.  Shelf space can be limited to special editions or brand new books.  Meanwhile an entire back listing can be made available on demand.  When I heard this though, I thought it sounded familiar.  Like perhaps it had already been done.  After thinking about it for a few minutes, I remembered.  It hadn't been done before, Eli James, of the blog Novelr, predicted this over 3 years ago!
Now apply this to your business model. What if readers can choose to have their books printed in store? See the opportunities this presents to you? You no longer have limited shelf space – you can have a virtually limitless number of books available to customers in your computer system – and besides that you don’t have to – ick! – plastic wrap the books on show! Your store can now be customized to encourage browsing, reading, and imagine how much smaller it’ll be! Death to the big bookstore – overhead costs will kill you on one of those! And think beyond the retail front: your backend will be much more streamlined. No more freight costs, no more surplus stock (wasting paper!), no more burning petrol as you cart books from factory to shopping mall – whenever a new book comes out you just download a shell of it from your publisher’s network! Cheaper! More effective! Do you see it yet?
So, how did Eli predict this so far in advanced?  Is he visionary, or are book publishers just stupid?  I think the answer is both.  As it turns out, the technology has been available since 2009, but big publishers hadn't gotten behind the project initially.  As it turns out, the demise of Borders may have been the slap in the face that they need to change to realize they need to change their business model.

Kudos to Eli James for his vision. Kudos, also, to HarperCollins for being the first major publisher to get with the program - 3 years late, and sans a major book retailer is better than never, I suppose.

KristenAC The Maniac: A Review


KristenAC the Maniac is the rhyming title for the personal blog of the fictional character Kristen Addison Craemer. True to the title, Kristen is maintaining her electronic journal at the behest of her therapist. 

The blog started in January so it is fairly new.  Therefore it's hard to summarize the plot without summarizing everything.  Here is what I can say.  Kristen is a woman who's life is in transition.  Her current spot in life is untenable, even if she doesn't realize it yet.  She's hasn't faced her demons from a childhood of abuse and neglect, she can't pay for the apartment she's in, she's single while her friends are all starting to marry, and the 2 relatives she's closest with is her uncle, who is getting older, and her half sister, who is enjoying a childhood that Kristen missed out on, oh... and a cat about to die of old age.  I have a feeling the rest of the story is how Kristen deals with all of these impending disasters.

The story is presented as a standard blog fiction, that is, a single fictional character writing a blog.  The blog takes full advantage of it's format.  It has pictures with the posts, it has polls, it's got character & plot summaries, links to other sites, and a facebook fan page.  The only thing separating this from any other well put together blog is that the person writing it isn't real.

Posts are usually short to medium length.  Almost never exceeding 700+ words.  If a story or post exceeds that number of pages, it is usually broken up into several posts.  There is a post about every 3 to 4 days.

The posts are in real-time so one day for the reader is one day for the character.  However, sometimes it takes several posts to recall a past incident.

As far as age appropriateness, it's pretty clean so far.  I would say PG, even though the target audience is probably adults and older teenagers.

The best thing about this Blog Fiction is that Kristen, despite having a seemingly "normal" life, is an interesting character.  I can tell there is going to be a lot of conflict between Kristen and the people in her life.  This is because Kristen bottles up a lot of negative emotions.  She's Angry at her mother, she resents her younger  half-sister, she's guarded against threats at work, and seems a bit jealous of her friend that is getting married.  Best of all she's yet to acknowledge any of these negative emotions to anyone, let alone herself.

Some might slough off this blog as a blog fiction form of chick lit. To those that say that, I would first say, there's nothing wrong with Chick lit.  Second, I would say the themes and obstacles are slightly darker than what is normally seen in so called "Chick lit".

One thing that I really like is that it is like a real blog.  It's not just a book published on a blog, it's a blog.  The story is very interactive.  There have already been 2 polls that have had bearing on the story.  Also, the author has allowed commenters to affect the story.  Based on a comment, the author actually eliminated an option on one of her polls.  Also, the posts are written like a blogger would write: complete with entertaining rants and side notes.  Like this one:

"You can ride with us," said Jenna, grabbing on to the leftover with an irritating avidity. [Avidity, btw, means eagerness or greed:  great eagerness or enthusiasm for something.  You may have already known this, but I didn't.  I found the word in my thesarus today, and I fell in love with it.  OK, so back to my story.]
The author is also talented and dynamic enough to include references to (unexpected) recent events.

The blog fiction also incorporates all the traditional elements of good storytelling.  It didn't take long to immediately get Kristen into a problem.  The characters have some subtle characterization, for instance:  "Danielle keeps an earthquake kit in her car", Kristen has a gun, and Alana owns and knows how to install tire chains.

Finally, I have to say that I really like the prose.  It is well written with fun description sprinkled in.  Lines like this, "The climate surrounding this woman is arid, and twenty degrees cooler than the rest of the planet" are just fun to read.

The only think I don't like is that so often too much detail is given.  This usually happens whenever there are multiple posts about an event.  Kristen ends up going into excruciating detail about insignificant things.  I can find entire paragraphs that could be removed without affecting the story at all. 

For instance, the whole Easter Egg post was a bit much.  Nothing that happened really affected the story and could have been summarized with "we painted Easter eggs" and the plot wouldn't have suffered one iota. 

Another example was from the L.A.Fashion District series of posts.  In the first post there is a long description of everything that she's putting on to wear, but no where does anything she wear actually affect the story.  It is very annoying to read about something in great detail, only to find out that it has no bearing on the story.

I really like this blogfic.  I plan on continuing to read it until it's abandoned or the writer brings it to a sensible conclusion.  You'll notice that I listed very few cons about the story.  It's true, I can't find much wrong with it and it does a lot of thing really well.  However, the "too many details" sprinkled throughout the posts is real drag on an otherwise great blog fiction.  If it wasn't for that, I would've easily given this a 9.  Unfortunately, the extraneous details weigh it down so much that it starts distracting from the fun parts.

Being that I caught this blogfic when it was fairly new, I'm going to do something I haven't done before.  I'm going to give it '7' overall, but then circle back in a few months and maybe bump it up.  It'll depend entirely on whether or not if the author continues to inundate her readers with meaningless details.
Overall 7 out of 10

Who Is Going to Read the Slush Pile?


As the dead-tree publishers continue their descent into oblivion who is going to filter out the crap?  This is one of many points that author, Yuk Onna, was trying to make in a recent post explaining why she does not think a demise of the modern publishing industry is a good thing.  As much as I and others like to make fun of publishers for foisting the same old thing on us, they do have their uses.  Their use is that they maintain a minimum standard of quality for books that make it to the bookstore.  In other words, they filter out the crap.

By 'Crap', I don't mean stories that are trite or have characters that aren't "real".  By Crap I mean major, awful, blunders.  Things like:

  • The Story isn't finished and stops either mid chapter or even mid-sentence
  • Spelling and Grammar is so atrocious that it's hard to understand
  • Blatant Plagiarism(word-for-word) or even more suble versions like(same story with changed names & dates)
  • Doesn't match the story or description
  • Huge logic or story blunders, like a character's name gets changed half way through the story.
  • The story is missing either a beginning, middle, or end
We never see stories like this because they never make it out of the publishers' slush piles.  However, with things like Print-On-Demand(POD) and online publishing, you don't have that guarantee.  Nothing can stop a writer from pushing any old thing out via POD or online. 

So how can readers avoid the crap?  Readers can depend on publishers to filter out this crap because publishers have a financial incentive to do so.  Publishers only want to print good books that sell so they can make money off of them.  Books that misspell every other word and doesn't have an ending, aren't going to sell well.  If the major publishers go away, who is going to read the slush pile in their absence?

Do we need someone to read the slush pile?  Well, yes.  Readers don't want to sift through piles of crap to find something that is finished, legible, and resembles a story.  If readers have to sift through a pile of crap just to find a mediocre book, they're going to get frustrated and stop looking for good books altogether.

One thing a reader could do is check review sites.   My favorite is probably, WebFictionGuide.  However, WebFictionGuide can't possibly be expected to read every piece of crap that's produced and review it, can they?  Publishers do this because they have a financial incentive for finding the good stuff because they can profit off of it.  WebFictionGuide doesn't make money hardly any ad money for verifying that something isn't complete crap.  Also, online reviewers have it harder than a traditional book reviewer.  A traditional book reviewer only has to read books that have already met some minimum standards of the publisher.  In other words, the crap has already been eliminated and they only have to determine if it's a mediocre book or an instant classic.  Online reviewers have to do it all on their own.

So if we need something to filter out the crap, and online Review sites aren't the answer?  What is the answer?  Unfortunately, I don't have the answer.  In fact, I don't think anyone has the answer.  However it's something all web fiction authors should be thinking about.  Oh... and we need an answer before the publishers sue themselves out of existence.

Option A, A Stunning Lack of Creativity


I saw the movie "Clash of the Titans" this weekend.  It was okay, but it's one of the previews I saw before the movie that inspired this blog post.  I saw a preview for a movie where a pair of scientists try to create a human clone.  That's a story with a lot of possibilities.  Unfortunately, all it does is turn into the back story for a huge monster movie.  Really Hollywood?  Somebody tells you they have the ability to clone humans and unlock the secrets of life and genetic disease and all you can think to make is another generic horror-monster movie?  Really?  That's ALL you could think to do with that kind of premise?  It's what I call an "Option A" story.

In Improv, a group takes a suggestion(emotion, location, occupation, etc...) from the audience and immediately turns it into a scene.  One of my favorite Improv instructors once told me that there are 3 types of options for every suggestion.  Option 'A' is the obvious one - something so obvious that anybody could come up with.  Then there's option 'B' that provides enough of a twist that everyone will think you're clever.  Then, there's option 'C', something that's so creative that nobody but yourself could come up with it.  A good example would be, let's say someone shouts out "Gay Bar".  Option 'A' would be a scene in a gay bar where some dude is trying to pick up another dude.  You might get some laughs from the audience, but any idiot could come up with that scene.  Option 'B' might be something with a little bit of a twist.  Somebody who is just realizing they are gay goes to a gay bar for the first time.  Note that Option 'B' is just like option 'A', but has enough of a twist to be good.  Finally, option 'C' could be several barely related things.  For instance, what about a scene where a gay bar has just been burned down by a homophobic arsonist, and worse still, the police have little intention of investigating the crime?  As you can imagine, the instructor told us to "never choose option 'A', always try to come up with an option 'C', and only fall back on option 'B' if you have to".

I always remembered that because I thought that the same principal could be applied to fiction.  Movies and books that are trite are option 'A' stories.  A story that's been done so many times that an audience or reader can already guess the ending.  A good story has an option 'B' story.  It's enough of a hook that it can surprise, and yet satisfy the reader.  Then of course, a great movie or book would follow and option 'C' story.

I think all great movies and books are option 'C' type stories.  An example would be, let's say you want to make a movie about so called "Pro" Wrestling.  A couple ideas that I might call Option 'A' would be a movie following a new wrestler\actor that goes from new guy to "champ", but the new fame causes chaos in his personal life, and the older wrestlers resent the new guys popularity.  This is an old story that's been done to death, just change the job\sport\club.  An option 'B' might be story that starts with someone training to become a wrestler because it's their dream, but when they arrive they end up having to always play "the villain" and it's about his struggle to be rewritten as a "good guy".  Finally, an option 'C' story about a Wrestler might be... well... it's been done, and it was fantastic.  For those who never saw The Wrestler, it was a powerful movie about a wrestler well past his prime that must now face all the mistakes he made in his life.

Let's look at another example.  You have 2 scientists experimenting with the ability to create and manipulate life.  Option 'A' is to just do what Hollywood did and make it a typical horror-monster movie.  Option 'B' might be a small twist.  Something like they create a lab creature they become emotional attached to, but then they have to put it down because they screwed up the cloning and it's dying painfully.  Option 'C' might be well... Mary Shelly's Frankenstein.  They create a 'Monster' that's even more human than they are.  There's a reason Frankenstein is such a classic that's still read today.  It's an Option 'C' story that no one will ever be able to replicate.

So, if you're going to write a book, movie, or blog fiction, don't be like Hollywood.  Try to be like Mary Shelly and choose Option 'C', .  It could mean the difference between writing a forgettable story and a classic that's still read hundreds of years after you're gone.

From Blog to Blog Fiction


One of the problems of doing Blog Fiction is that inevitably, your blog starts with zero readers.  Why wouldn't after all?  If you create a fresh blog, naturally there's going to be no audience yet.  For most blogs to get popular they have to be around for a long time.  If you are writing a Blog Fiction with a planned ending, you may very well get very few readers until shortly before it ends - and what fun is that when you only get an audience at the end?  But what can you do, besides mass ad and marketing campaign when you first launch?

Well a blogger named Scott Carpenter over at Moving to Freedom came up with a brilliant solution.  He took his existing non-fiction blog and has (at least temporarily) turned it into a blog fiction.  That way he already has a built in readership.  So how did he do it?  Well, first of all, he announced a "guest" blogger would be joining soon.  Then he started posting as the fictional blogger.  His readers responded immediately.  They even started addressing their comments to the spider.  A brilliant, flawless transition.

The only problem with doing Blog Fiction this way, is that people may not realize right away that the new blogger is fictional.  Scott solved that problem by making the guest blogger a murderous spider.  An effective solution, but one not that's not necessarily repeatable for most writers.  I'm sure though that other writers can come up with some equally creative ways.

Bravo to Scott, and I hope he has a popular Blog Fiction run.

Getting Interactive with Your Readers


As I've probably said a hundred times, the coolest part of Blog Fiction is the interaction between reader and characters.  However, sometimes internet readers can be shy.  Sometimes they might read your blog, but they never leave a comment - even when you end your post with an open ended question.  Now, who knows why they don't leave a comment.  Maybe they don't want to bother getting a new account.  Maybe they really are shy.  Who knows?  So how would a writer try and ease them into leaving comments?

One thing many shy commenters are willing to do is express their opinion in a poll.  It's great, their easy to make(There are dozens - if not hundreds - of sites that offer to create custom polling widgets for you.), and easy to answer.  Do enough polling and maybe your shy readers will make the jump from poll answering to commenter.

So what kind of polls can you do of a Blog Fiction site?  Well, I would say there are plenty.  You can do polls of the site layout, polls of reader demographics, or do what the author of KristenAC the Maniac did.  Have your character do a poll and have the winning answer incorporated into your story.

When the character first started blogging, One of the first things KristenAC did was run a poll asking readers to vote on what kind of wedding dress Kristen's friend should wear on her upcoming wedding.  Kristen picked out a few with her friend, and then uploaded a picture of each to the website, created a poll, and then asked readers to vote.  I talked to the author and she told me that she really did have different paths planned depending on how the vote ended up.

I think the approach KristenAC's author took is a really great idea to get your readers feeling like they are actually part of the story.  I think other Blog Fiction writers should consider trying it.

Why announce your influences?


This is something I've seen a couple of times.  I'll find a new fiction site, and on the sidebar or in an "about" page it'll say something like "this story is about blah.  My writing is influenced by the early\late writings of some dude I really like and also a little bit of the early\late writings of some guy I also like."

What I don't get is why announce this sort of thing?  What piece of info is trying to be conveyed by this?  Just tell me what genre you're writing because chances are I probably haven't read whoever influences you and if I have it's probably only 1 example.  So, I'm really just asking, why announce your influences?

Another Blog Fiction Thesis in the Works


Once upon a time in 2005, a smart, forward-thinking individual known as Betsy Friedrich decided to write a term paper about Blog Fiction.  A year later she got approval to expand that term paper into a thesis.  She read numerous amounts of blog fiction and interviewed lots of writers.  A year later she delivered to the blogosophere the Torah of Blog Fiction, a pdf version of her thesis.  It described in detail trends, commonality, and the challenges of Blog Fiction.  The thesis had a big influence on my thinking of Blog Fiction.  Her "contained story" category of Blog Fiction is what I call a Blog Novel.

That was 3 years ago last month.  Considering that the thesis was probably finished before that, that means that the thesis is now going to 3.5 years old.  In Internet years, that's ancient.  Three and a half years might not sound ancient, but think this.  When the thesis was released, twitter was still in it's infancy and facebook had just started letting non-college students sign up for their site.  In other words, the thesis is starting to get old.  It references several sites that either no longer exist or have been abandoned.

Fortunately, another smart, forward-thinking individual has come to our rescue.  Emma Pooka is now doing research into Blog Fiction for her Doctorate.  She's even been kind enough to make her Research Proposal available.  I'll be looking forward to reading her thought and a promised Blog Fiction of her own.  You can read her blog now and hear her early thoughts now.


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