Mrs. G. has a Glock in her desk. Mr. S. has a six-shooter.

Any effort to recruit and train teachers as armed guards on school campuses is utterly outrageous.

I am a teacher. I personally have great experience with guns, and I respect their appeal and their power. I have completed hunter’s safety courses, and have been individually trained in how to carry, clean, and handle a variety of firearms. I would never under any circumstances carry a loaded gun onto a school campus.

No amount of training would prepare any teacher for carrying a deadly weapon into a room full of children or teenagers. Guns should not be allowed in a classroom. They should not be locked in a teacher’s desk. They should not be in the parking lot, locked in a teacher’s car. Period. If a tragic event took place on a school campus involving brass knuckles, you wouldn’t start passing them out to teachers. Likewise with lead pipes, chainsaws, knives or anything else that could be used as a dangerous weapon. Why on earth would giving guns to teachers ever cross anybody’s mind as a good idea?

Smoking is not allowed on school campuses. Alcohol is not allowed on school campuses. Offensive clothing is not allowed on school campuses, but now guns are up for debate? Guns in the hands of teachers? Really? Teaching is hands-down the most emotionally and intellectually demanding profession in the world. On a daily basis, teachers are entrusted with the physical, moral, and emotional well-being of our nation’s children. Now some pro-gun advocates want to arm them, effectively dumping the responsibility of life and death at the pull of a trigger in the hands of some of the most honorable, over-burdened, and under-appreciated people in the nation. Teachers are already playing the roles of guardians, mentors, coaches, confidants, surrogate parents, and counselors. Do we really want to add armed guard to their overwhelming duties?

Whether or not there should be trained, experienced, and properly licensed guards on school grounds is ultimately for the families of the students to decide. These people, should they exist in school communities at all, should not be the school’s teachers under any circumstance. The fact that this topic has become a serious debate is downright frightening. If you are a teacher and a pro-gun advocate and you believe that you have the right to be armed on a school campus, you should not be evaluating your rights as a gun-owner, you should instead be reevaluating your decision to be a teacher.

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Just a hole

It is just a hole. Just a hole. No different than any other he had dug in the past twelve years. Once he finishes, he will feel accomplished. He will wipe the sweat from his brow and peer into his finished task with a small but warm sense of satisfaction. Knowing his sweat and sore hands will reward him with this familiar feeling inspires a shy smile to creep across his face. He allows it to linger. He tries not to think about what it means to finish the job he has begun. It is just a hole. Just a hole. No different. Knowing the hole was for himself only just scratches at the recesses of his mind.

The day is beautiful, the earth soft and inviting, and he takes great pride in his work. Cherishing every sip from his canteen, he is sure not to persist while resting. He decided before he began that he would not pause his work out of fear, but only out of thirst. He wants his last job to be the same as every other job. He will finish digging the hole with the same love and attention to detail as he always has. He takes his time to make sure that the sides are perfectly perpendicular to the bottom and that no roots stick through. Everything must be flush. His attention to detail is flawless. The last seven loads of his collapsible shovel would only barely fill a pint glass.

Sitting now, on the edge of his own grave, with the toes of his boots only barely scraping the bottom, he thinks of Seattle and the day everything changed. For a brief moment fear grabs his skin and tightens it with an all too familiar cool sensation. His arm hair stands on end, and a shiver runs down his spine and legs only to stop dead where his boots clench the backs of this calves. His only response to the shiver is a slight yet strained tilting of the head. Suddenly he chuckles. Knowing now how everything has ended, he can’t help but laugh. Life is so predictable, but only in retrospect, he thinks to himself. “Gramps, you’ve always had it right.” He says coarsely in looking up.

Jim settles into his grave with an assertiveness that surprises him. He is more comfortable with what he is doing than he ever thought possible. Looking into the crowded canopy of the moss covered pines he holds his breath. The soft bristle of pine needles rolling over one another on the forest floor and the faint swish of boughs brushing against the sides of neighboring trees brings a fine sense of serenity to Jim’s ears. If we are blessed with the foresight or happenstance of knowing our end before its ending, it is not where we go once we die that defines us, but rather where we go to die. Jim had chosen the perfect spot. In what seems to be an intentionally delayed moment, the dry husk of a pine cone falls slowly toward Jim’s position in the hole. It wavers slightly in the light wind and lands just on the edge of the grave, bouncing down it comes to rest on Jim’s chest, sitting upright as if to say hello. Jim lets another smile creep up the side of his face. Staring into the bent thorns of the pine cone Jim entertains himself with the thought of lying in the hollowed out earth until God himself decides to bury him. Looking down towards his feet, he tries to calculate how many pine cones it would take. Feeling satisfied with his calculations he glances back up towards the canopy and starts to count all the browning cones he can see. After only a minute he realizes that there aren’t nearly enough to finish the job. Jim closes his eyes, takes a deep breath and holds it.

When he opens his eyes he looks straight up at the blue faded tarp dangling above his head. He figures he probably loaded it with at least two-hundred and fifty pounds of dirt and rocks – more than enough to hold a man his size down in a lying position. His hands are hot and sweaty and he remembers that he is still wearing his work gloves. Finger by finger he slowly removes his leather gloves and places them on his right thigh. Having his had on his leg reminds him of the rabbit skin bound manuscripts he wedged behind his knees before he settled into the grave. In an instant of panic he reaches down to feel the edge of the carefully wrapped collection of notes and letters, making sure they are still there. He exhales a soft sigh of relief the moment his hand finds the bundle. It is, after all, the real reason he is here.

His hand returns to his side and finds the stock of his .22 gauge rifle. Years ago the rifle belonged to his grandfather and had a standard single shot bolt action. Shortly after leaving Seattle he asked a friend of his retrofit it to accommodate a ten round cartridge. He hoped he wouldn’t need ten shots today but he was a man that prided himself in always being prepared. Jim raises the rifle from his side and props the barrel against the side of the grave. He then saws a small cup into the dirt to cradle the rifle. In supporting the butt of the gun against his collar bone he can look down the sight without raising his head off the ground. He knows he will struggle when the load of dirt comes crashing down on him, it is only natural, but he doesn’t want it to last any longer than necessary and he certainly doesn’t want to be able to sit up or claw his way to the surface. After all the hole is only three feet deep. He had loaded he heaviest of the rocks into the side of the tarp that hung directly over his chest and head just for this reason. Maybe, if he was lucky, the force would be enough to knock him unconscious and he wouldn’t have to worry about what came next.

Jim steadies the gun and takes careful aim down the sights. The yellow nylon rope is stressed from the weight of the tarp’s contents but he knows that the rope was five hundred pound test and he would need a direct shot in order to severe it entirely. He exhales slowly and squeezes the trigger just as his grandfather had taught him. A sharp report rings out and echoes amongst the trees. The recoil is enough to cause the butt of the gun to shift off of Jim’s collar bone and hit him in the chin. A blow he mistakes for the load of rocks and soil hitting him in the face. After a brief moment Jim breaths in, slowly relaxes his face and opens his eyes. He had only just grazed the rope. A few small threads of rope curl away from the rest and the nylon slowly stretches a few inches. Jim looks up and notices the tarp is just barely shifting. Its weight now slightly off center, a rock rolls across the top of the soil to the other side of the load and scrapes against the edge of the tarp. A faint twang vibrates off of the rope as another sliver gives lose and curls away.

Jim holds his breath in suspense, waiting for it all to be over but nothing more happens. The wind seems to hold its breath with him and in that moment Jim realizes that this is the most silent he has ever heard the forest. He doesn’t like it. It feels unnatural. He exhales loudly and hotly and he instantly becomes aware of the awkward crunched up face he had been holding. Embarrassed by the fact that he had cringed in such a ridiculous way he giggles nervously. Just as Jim’s giggling begins to fade, a pine cone comes drifting down from one of the pine trees blocked from his view by the tarp. Jim traces the cones’ movements carefully with his eyes and as if to cheer it on he contorts his mouth into an O shape as it approaches the ground. It bounces at a sharp angle off the root of a tree and rolls forward with just enough force to reach the precipice of Jim’s grave. He lets out a small “oh” as it tumbles over the edge and lands directly between his boots. He greets its landing with raucous laughter. The gun falls to his side as he grasps his stomach and snorts out bursts of amusement. Between gasps of air he manages to blurt out, “Only seven hundred and forty two to go” to the tops of the pines. The natural sounds of the forest that seemed so absent before answer him in force and his grave feels like just a hole again. 

Self-Publishing 2.0

Historically, self-publishing has been of little importance to the publishing industry. Editors and authors alike have regarded self-published works as amateurish and culturally insignificant, with few exceptions. Even today, with self-publishing on the rise, well known authors are not afraid to speak out against the practice. Only three months ago, bestselling thriller novelist Sue Grafton said in an interview with her local newspaper that self-publishing is “as good as admitting you’re too lazy to do the hard work”(1). Later in the interview she indicates that self-publishing is disrespectful to traditionally published authors and that self-published authors are wannabes. Luckily for the millions of motivated self-publishers out there, this mentality is slowly falling to the wayside.

Before the internet and electronic reading devices, an author who could not get a professional editor or publisher to vouch for their work, had little hope in creating success for themselves. Today, we find ourselves immersed in a very different literary climate and it has only been in the past couple years that the publishing industry as a whole has taken notice. In the past six months alone, big name publishing houses like Penguin and Simon & Schuester have indicated interest in the self-publishing boom by purchasing or starting vanity press imprints. Online retail giant, Amazon has made huge waves with its online self-publishing platform, CreateSpace, which allows authors to instantly publish their works to the Kindle. The book distributor giant, Ingram, has made similar efforts with is print on demand service, Lightning Source.

There are countless reasons why self-publishing is on the rise and the once antagonistic attitude surrounding the practice is beginning to fade. Among the greatest influences to this trend, are the advent of new electronic publishing platforms, the wider distributing and acceptance of electronic reading devices, and the widespread use of social media. These new technologies paired with the shortcomings and poor business strategies of the major players in the traditional publishing industry have inspired authors across the globe to reconsider the benefits of self-publishing. Many authors have decided they are better off taking sole responsibility for their work and publishing schedules. However, with the increasing prevalence of vanity publishers, print on demand, online retailers and other services catering to debut authors, the concept of a self-published work is becoming decidedly less clear.

By definition, a self-published author is a person who takes private responsibility for the reproduction, marketing, publicizing, and distributing of their own written words. Contrary to what is regularly advertised online and in magazines, nobody can self-publish for someone else. Authors can, however, hire individuals or companies to help with certain aspects of the publishing process. The practice of hiring professional help by authors is fundamentally different from traditional publishing. When an author hires outside assistance, they maintain creative control over their works, this is not the case in traditional publishing. Maintaining creative control is paramount to the practice of self-publishing. These hired experts can range from designers, copy-editors, proofreaders, and even ghost writers. Companies that offer these services, commonly advertise them as publishing packages. These companies are known as vanity or subsidy publishers, though they regularly claim to help authors self-publish, which is misleading. These publishing packages offer a set amount of help for a set amount of money, often compromising the author’s creative control. To truly be self-published, an author must foot all of the effort themselves, and the bill while maintaining creative control over their work. Despite the heavy amount of time and effort required by the author, self-publishing, whether true self-publishing or self-publishing with the aid of vanity presses, has gained new strength in the past couple years and shows very little indication of slowing down.

The publishing ecology today is astoundingly different than it was ten years ago, yet much of the traditional publishing industry has failed to recognize these changes, let alone act upon them. Dan Poynter is a self published author of over one-hundred books and a strong advocate for self-publishing. In his book, Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual Vol.2, he argues that traditional publishing houses are doomed to succumb to the digital era much like traditional television stations, radio stations, and music producers. He writes, “the major publishers will still be there, in a humbled, slimmed-down fashion, but they won’t matter nearly as much as they once did.” Mr. Poynter, like so many other advocates for self-publishing, believes that we have entered a new stage in the production and distribution of books. Just as amateur videos and music can be easily published online, up-voted or down-voted by internet users into either fame or digital purgatory, books are becoming a new digitally published phenomenon. The current movement away from traditional publishers and toward self-publishing is largely due to this online culture. As authors learn to use the internet and publishing software in new ways, the advantages of self-publishing become prevalent.

Web 2.0 is a phrase coined by O’ Reilly Media in 2004 to describe a shift in how the internet is used. Whereas Web 1.0 was largely based upon users posting information to the internet so that other users could view it, Web 2.0 describes a shift to an interactive web experience. This second generation of web-based services includes all social media and internet social networking sites (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.). Since around the year 2000 (see figure 1), Internet activity has shifted toward word, video and picture sharing sites as well as online collaborations and wikis. Online collaboration and sharing among users has skyrocketed in the last decade, redefining what the Internet is and how it is used by the world. With sites like Youtube and Flikr, it is obvious how Web 2.0 has changed the publishing and distribution of photographs and videos, but how it has impacted the distribution of writing, especially novel length writing, is still vague to most consumers. As of today, novels aren’t shared, approved or disapproved by the use of a button on the same scale as photographs and videos, but why not?

By now, most readers are aware of electronic reading devices. Many large book retailers and electronics manufacturers have an E-reader on the market today (Amazon’s Kindle, B&N’s Nook, Sony’s Reader), but these devices are not the only reason, or arguably even the primary reason, as to why books are taking giant leaps towards digital publishing and self-publishing. The nature of the web has had a profound impact on how the world interacts with the written word. Any book must go through at least four stages: creation, production, distribution, and promotion. It is no doubt that E-readers have revolutionized the distribution aspect of book publishing, but it is the nature of Web 2.0 that has revolutionized every other aspect of publishing. A novel can currently be created, edited, designed, produced, published, distributed, and promoted with nothing more than a laptop and an Internet connection.

Web 2.0 has revolutionized self-publishing much in the way Ebay revolutionized the garage sale. Before Web 2.0, few authors had the capital to finance their own projects or the means to market them to a national audience, let alone a global audience. Today, the social networking sites that are driving the new generation of Internet are making nearly all aspects of publishing very affordable and relatively simple. More and more debut authors are realizing that the combined powers of Web 2.0 and electronic readers offer them more exposure than any traditional publishing house ever would. Nearly every aspect of book publishing has been simplified and made mostly affordable by the nature of Web 2.0. This is where the true success of the self-publishing movement lies.

Dan Poynter explains the relationship between Web 2.0 and self-publishing as an advantageous marketing technique because it allows authors to, “put your ideas in your audience’s hands…without the mediation of a jaded, over-commercialized publishing industry” (20). For an author to directly market to his readers for free and without leaving the comfort of his desk is an advantage that traditional publishing simply does not offer. Try to convince one of the big traditional publishers to run a press release in your local newspaper and you are likely to be denied your request. On the other hand, if you are solely in charge of your books marketing and promotion, what is to stop you? Even if that blurb in your local paper only sells two additional books, that is two more books than you would have sold through publishing with a traditional publisher. Similarly, should you publish your book through a major traditional publisher, you may, if you are very lucky, get a review in a major newspaper like The New York Times. It all sounds glamorous until you realize, as Mr. Poynter discusses, that NYT readers are not looking for your book when picking up the morning paper. The New York Times‘ readership is not likely to be your book’s target audience, so why waste the money and effort to get your book reviewed by them?

Poynter explains his marketing and promotions technique for the self-publisher by using one of his own books as an example. He brags that when he sends a “new skydiving book to the fifty-four parachute magazines and newsletters around the world, all fifty-four review it. That is a hit rate of 100 percent” (109). Obviously, skydiving books cater to a niche audience, so why not market directly to that niche audience? The way the internet works today, it is not very labor intensive to promote anything. The power of word-of-mouth promotion has been so amplified by social media and the nature of Web 2.0 that authors have never been so well equipped to reach their audiences.

Much is to be said about the power of a global market paired with direct marketing in regards to self-publishing. If fact, this is one of the largest advantages self-publishing currently has over traditional publishing. The ability of self-publishers to successfully and directly market to several niche audiences across the globe will someday be crippling to traditional publishing. In October of 2004, Chris Anderson published a fascinating article on Wired.com called “The Long Tail.” Essentially, the phrase ‘the long tail’ describes the remarkably enormous market for media products deemed unprofitable by brick and mortar stores. This enormous market is easily tapped into by web-based companies. The widely known company, Netflix, has built an extremely successful business by catering to the consumers of so-called unprofitable movies. The long tail is essentially the shallow but endless pool of little known and lightly consumed titles. Anderson explains Netflix’s success in this way;

It doesn’t matter if the several thousand people who rent Doctor Who episodes each month are in one city or spread, one per town, across the country – the economics are the same to Netflix. It has, in short, broken the tyranny of physical space. What matters is not where customers are, or even how many of them are seeking a particular title, but only that some number of them exist, anywhere” (3).

Whereas a brick and mortar store could not afford the shelf space to stock a book, CD, or DVD that only sold one copy a year, online retailers have no problem doing so, in fact they are making a killing off of it. This business model of marketing directly to niche consumers has incalculable benefits for self-publishing authors. Because digital books have broken into the industry in a major way, authors can now find an audience anywhere. This is where E-readers show their true value. The more Kindles, Nooks, Sony Readers, Kobos, and Pocketbooks being used in the world, the more niche occupying consumers there are in the digital world for self-publishing authors to inexpensively and easily target.

In the spring of 2007, Michael Jenson wrote an article in The Journal of Electronic Publishing called “The Deep Niche,” in which he translates the advantages of Web 2.0 marketing and Anderson’s ‘Long Tail’ into business terms regarding electronic publishing. In his article, Jenson details how the breadth of audience members offered by the internet today fundamentally changes the publishing industry. He explains;

On any given day, there’s a huge number of men worldwide who for the first time in their lives are interested in Viagra, just as there is a minuscule percentage of the entire Web world who are interested in the aerodynamics of the Frisbee, just for this month. In an always-on broadband world of information abundance, that means that these people can explore these new interests instantly. This is the “deep niche”: the percentage of people who, on any given day, because of a passing fancy, or a new career, or a new experience, are interested in (and potentially willing to pay for) affordable high-quality content” (1).

These deep niche consumers are the driving force for many self-published authors. They represent a market that is currently ignored by most mainstream publishers similar to the way Blockbuster ignored DVD’s that failed to rent a certain number of copies a week. If traditional publishing houses do not want to suffer a fate similar to Blockbuster’s, they must start considering the ‘long tail’ and the ‘deep niche’ as legitimate markets. Jenson urges fellow publishers to view the Web 2.0 differently, “The deep niche… is something that publishers must acknowledge, and accommodate in our business plans, if we are to sustain ourselves. The Web is not merely a threat to publishers—it can also be the means to connect to the people we most want to reach: the interested reader” (3). This deep niche audience is a gold mine of consumers, it is simply a gold mine that is spread thinly across billions of people in hundreds of countries, making it a difficult target for traditional publishers of print books. Fortunately for self-publishers, the Web 2.0 paired with E-readers and online publishing platforms, makes it easy to consolidate these flecks of gold dust into a single revenue stream.

The most successful combination of online retail, electronic publishing and E-reader distribution is without a doubt Amazon’s Kindle paired with their subsidiary CreateSpace. The highly successful Kindle, and the CreateSpace publishing platform that Amazon has latched on to it, serve as a primary example for how E-reader’s have contributed to the self-publishing boom. Aside from the technological advantages, CreateSpace offers its authors up to 70% of royalties compared the the 8-12% that traditional publishers frequently offer. Amazon was among the first to capitalize on the benefits of catering to deep niche consumers. Today, Amazon reports that it is now selling more electronic books than print books. They first announced this sales fact back in 2011. The Washington Post reported in May of 2011, “The online retailer began selling electronic books for its Kindle in 2007. Since April 1, 2011, it has sold 105 Kindle books for every 100 print books, hardcover and paperback. And that figure excludes free Kindle books (1). This is a serious game changer. If the primary online retailer of books claims to be selling more e-books than print books, the publishing world had better listen. What this means for self-publishing is that the largest expense that has typically held self-publishing back, the printing and distribution of books, is dramatically decreasing in relevance to the success of a book. Books can now be sent straight to the consumer instantly and for free.

One of the biggest challenges of self-publishing is the fact that the author must front all the necessary funding for their books. This holds true whether they choose to do everything for themselves or hire others to help. As e-book sales continue to rise, online publishing platforms like Amazon’s CreateSpace will become increasingly available and wildly affordable. These services make your book instantly available to millions of E-reader owners, causing the expenses tied to publishing your own book to quickly disintegrate. But how big of an audience is this really? According to the PEW Internet and American Life Project, “The share of adults in the United States who own tablet computers nearly doubled from 10% to 19% between mid-December and early January and the same surge in growth also applied to e-book readers, which also jumped from 10% to 19% over the same time period” (1). These statistics are from the 2011 holiday season. Nearly one out of five American’s now own some type of electronic reading device. Just weeks ago Amazon claimed that the Kindle saw the best sales ever over the 2012 Thanksgiving weekend. Some reports claim that Kindle sales doubled again from last year. Pair these numbers with the fact that the nature of Web 2.0 allows you to directly market to billions of internet users, and self-publishing quickly becomes a mentionable enterprise. Should these sales trends hold, it won’t be long until E-readers follow the television and find their way into 99% of all American households. As promising as this sounds, self-publishing still isn’t making the wakes you would expect. Yes, there are some astounding success stories out there, but they do not represent the typical self-publishing experience.

Despite the growing markets and dropping expenses for self-publishing, authors still face a number of barricades between themselves and publishing success. A survey conducted earlier this year reports on more than one thousand self-published authors. Alison Flood, reporting for The Guardian, explains that the survey shows that half of self-published authors are making less than $500. The survey also shows that the average amount earned by self-published authors is about $10,000 dollars. However, this average income is largely skewed by the small percentage of top selling self-publishers who are making millions. The survey also made a few other surprising and interesting finds, Romance authors earned 170% more than their peers, while authors in other genres fared much worse: science-fiction writers earned 38% of the $10,000 average, fantasy writers 32%, and literary fiction authors just 20% of the $10,000 average” (1). This survey, conducted by the Taleist website, provides some fascinating insight into the ecology of the self-publishing realm. Perhaps the largest question that this survey raises is; what are the successful self-publishers doing right to see such great returns? Similarly, what are more than half of self-publishers doing wrong to make less than $500 on their title? The survey clearly shows that the topic or genre of the work can make an enormous difference to a book’s success. It turns out there are many other important factors. “Self-publishers who received help (paid or unpaid) with story editing, copy editing and proofreading made 13% more than the average; help with cover design upped earnings by a further 34%” (1). The survey also found that an overwhelming majority of the authors viewed themselves as successful and that more than half of them plan on self-publishing again. While many may view the fact that the top authors are making the majority of the money as a deterrent, these numbers are quite common in many industries. It is called the 80-20 rule or the Pareto rule, and it is explained in depth by Anderson in his article, “The Long Tail.” If this ratio of authors to income is a normal industry occurrence, then there must be something that top authors are doing better than the rest, and their success can not be attributed to the prestige of their publisher if they are self-publishing.

Don Poynter, the self-publishing guru and author of over a hundred books, suggests that if a self-published author fails to find success, it can be traced back to one of a few typical mistakes. Poor writing aside, the first and most obvious mistake made by many self-publishers is the lack of structured planning. Poynter states, “One of the largest pitfalls in small publishing is the lack of sufficient planning, especially the first time around” (138). For many self-published authors the process of publishing becomes a learn by trial-and-error experience. Perhaps this is why so many authors in the Taleist survey viewed themselves as successful and plan on releasing more books. Even if an author’s first book fails to sell, if that author learns a valuable lesson about how to optimize their publishing experience, that first book may be of value still, if only to the author. This learning experience has to be more valuable than a pile of rejection letters from traditional publishers. Poynter also attributes many failures to the fact that the author likely skipped one of the four major steps to publishing. He argues, “When a book fails to sell…it was written, manufactured, perhaps distributed – and then the author became distracted. Or the author lacked persistence and failed to follow through” (15). After all, not every author can be expected to understand the inter-workings of the industry. The findings of the Taleist survey only reinforces the fact the many self-publishers don’t have the understanding or the tools to carry out every single aspect of the publishing process by themselves. It is expected for authors who sought outside professional assistance to be met with more success in sales. A few truly self-published authors have been met with unbelievable success, and more often than not it is because they fully understand and utilize the benefits Web 2.0 offers to marketing and self-promotion.

Hugh Howey is one of these authors. Howey is a self-published science-fiction author whose Wool series have found tremendous success through Amazon’s publishing platform, CreateSpace. Howey’s books have regularly appeared on Amazon’s featured writers lists. Just earlier this fall, Howey discussed his books’ success with CNN’s John Sutter. Interestingly enough, Howey explains that he didn’t put much effort into his first book, assuming it wouldn’t sell anyway. He credits the self-publishing platform for his success, maintaining that his books likely would have never been published without it. In October of 2011, Howey’s sales started to explode. He explains his reaction to CNN, ““I was taking screenshots and posting them on Facebook,” he said of the moment when the books started appearing on Amazon’s top-100 lists… “I was kind of bewildered by the whole thing””(1). Today, Hugh Howey has a personal website that tracks his progress on all of his writing. He also posts to his website regularly, treating it more like a personal blog and medium for interaction with fans than a mere author biography page. Hugh Howey has embraced Web 2.0 as a personal marketing and promotions machine, and because of his constant upkeep, he is able to target deep niche consumers on a daily basis. In a recent post, Howey sums up his successes in publishing, “One year ago, I was shelving books, arranging displays, dusting a bookstore, and writing in the mornings and on my lunch breaks. Cut to a year later. Ridley Scott and Steve Zaillian option the film rights. 20 foreign countries pick up WOOL. Random House in the UK and Australia. #1 on Amazon. #11 on the New York Times list” (1). Could this level of success, or more importantly this speed of success have been accomplished through traditional publishing avenues? Traditional publishers take months upon months, sometimes even years, to reach a pub date. Whereas, self-publishers like Howey can analyze their personal markets and followings through their interactive websites and social media sites, constantly keep their readers informed on their progress (down to the word count), and then instantly publish and distribute.

Without a doubt all businesses and industries tied to the world of books should be watching the trends of self-publishing very carefully. Many are viewing this trend as a complete shift for the publishing industry all together. As Web 2.0 and self-publishing platforms grow stronger, more authors, bloggers, and writers are becoming aware of the faults in traditional publishing. Bernard Starr, a professor at CUNY and a contributing writer for Huffington Post, makes apparent the shortcomings of traditional publishers in his article, “The New Vanity Publishing: Traditional Publishing.” He writes, “Fact is that authors no longer need a publisher. And more and more writers are awakening to the realization that if you are not a high-profile author who can command large sales, a traditional publisher will do little for you beyond editing and printing your book” (1). This is grim news for debut authors. Many debut authors today find themselves in the middle of this dynamic shift in the publishing world. They currently have the choice of pursuing the traditional publishing route and facing countless rejection letters, or pursuing the self-publishing route and facing the lingering stigma of many established authors and editors.

The stigma that self-published works are of poor quality, and the products of lazy writers will doubtless continue to fade with time as the market is continually flooded with more electronic books and more self-published authors. After all, even self-published authors have access to professional assistance with their books as subsidy publishers and vanity publishers gain recognition as viable options. Starr suggests that traditional publishers risk losing their reputations as the guardians of great literature if they continue to heavily cater to big name authors and celebrities, effectively ignoring new voices and talents. He explains,

“Unless an author receives a hefty advance of $100,000 or more most publishers will do virtually no promotion, leaving it to authors to create and exploit their own platforms via social media and networking connections, workshops and webcasts. So when you go the traditional-publishing route, you may well find yourself self-publishing without the benefits of self-publishing” (2).

This is a reality that more and more authors are becoming aware of and considering when deciding on their methods of publishing. Hugh Howey, for example, with his tremendous success to support him, maintains that, “The stigma is gone… Publishers will pick up a self-published work if it does well. Readers are really just interested in good stories” (2). 

The Future of The Book

Perhaps I am dangerously optimistic, but I believe we are entering the book publishing industry at a very dynamic and historically significant time. The book is not dying and will never die. The changes that the digital age is bringing to book publishing is very possibly a blessing disguised as a threat. Yes, I think traditional print book publishing will shrink for a while but it does not scare me. Yes, I believe large companies will continue to merge and dominate the market for at least the next decade. Yes, I believe retail giants will continue to threaten the prosperity of independent booksellers. But I don’t believe these things will last forever or even for our lifetimes. People crave creativity. People need diversity to thrive and will seek it even under the worse of circumstances. Ultimately, it is the consumer who dictates the markets.

I believe that the ebook revolution has the potential of throwing the world into a period of enlightenment. I hope for and foresee increased literacy rates, wide spread and cheap access to information, and the honorable application of knowledge. The world is shrinking and it is because of advancements in communications. Literature is, and always has been, the most sacred form of communication. The fact that a teacher in Minnesota can publish a book that can be printed in Canada, read online by a mother in Hong Kong, and then translated for a student in Buenos Aires in a matter of hours is a phenomenon. It is also a phenomenon that will become increasingly prevalent as technology continues to advance. These are the types of miraculous trends I hope to see more of in the future of book publishing, trends that are only just now beginning to appear on most people’s radar. Self-publishing will explode. Equal access to information will prevail. Education will become less restricted. International borders will blur. Life will be good.

Or, my optimism is completely rooted in my personal philosophies regarding the unhindered access to and honorable application of knowledge, and I’m actually blind to the truth. Perhaps, in reality, the book publishing industry is doomed to crumple under economic pressures and quietly place creativity in a warehouse in a desert somewhere. Maybe independent booksellers and used bookstores will fade entirely into the past. Book publishers will wither and congregate under the single title “Not Amazon,” and Amazon itself will morph into an evil empire complete with drones. Textbooks will be issued through government sanctioned computer mainframes. Advertisements and videos will be embedded into the classics. Digital rights management will put traceable leashes on all literature and books will cease to be possessions. Your ability to read will be dictated by a “Terms of Agreement” contract. Your library will be repossessed if you break the rules and life will suck.

My Generation

The more I read about Generation Y, or as some call us, the Millennial Generation, the more I discover that we are regularly being defined by what we aren’t. We are not business savvy. We do not and have never struggled. We cannot advocate for ourselves unless there is an app for advocating. We are not organized, professional, or punctual. We certainly don’t give a rat’s ass about anything outside ourselves.  Essentially, we are nothing like the generations before us. We can’t cook. We can’t dress appropriately. We can’t buy anything without a co-signer unless it is the latest fashion or I-doodad. We can’t manage a house let alone a business. We can’t initiate social change. We can’t invest and we certainly can’t save. We are a generation defined by inability and exclusion. As a member of this generation I’d like to take a moment to define myself by explaining what I’m not.

I do not depend on my family or friends for financial support. I do not wear my pants below my waist. I have never hooted, hollered or whistled at a woman from a vehicle. I am not lazy. I do not wear T-shirts with cartoon characters on them. I do not care about the latest fashion trends and I certainly do not define friendship through the use of a button. I can not fix your computer. I am not unemployed and I haven’t been since I was fourteen years old. I don’t wear my baseball cap backwards nor do I leave the sticker on the flat bill. I do not break the law, nor have I ever received so much as a speeding ticket. I don’t text and drive because I am not that coordinated and because it is dangerous. I never bypass a person in need and I never post my needs online looking for sympathy. I have never sent my food back in a restaurant. I have never waited in line for a sale or the release of a new product. I do not expect the world to hand me a career or a comfortable life. I am not a racist or a bigot, and I do not hold any prejudices against any group of people. I am not a liar or a coward. I am not a scapegoat for the failings of previous generations. I am not disillusioned about the adversity my generation will face in the years to come. I am not misinformed or under-educated. I am not a product of any other time period and I am incapable of being such.

Worst case scenario insomniac

Eerie are the tendencies of a sleepless mind. I cannot focus beyond the length of my eyelashes but somehow I understand the placement of everything in my apartment. Every shadow tells a story about what I did earlier today. I seem regretfully decisive about my inability to sleep. Like, yeah, not going to happen tonight, so why bother. I roll over for the umpteenth time. Different shadows and more stories. Today was boring and routine. The predictability of today makes me crave chaos. I so often imagine tragedy while I lie pretending to sleep. I have imagined home invaders, meteors and earthquakes; flash floods, tornadoes and zombies; lightning strikes, volcano eruptions and structure fires. Played them all out in my mind. He would enter quietly unsure of the shadows I’ve studied every night for weeks. I would catch him off guard but never fast enough. They always get a shot off, I’m always injured but only enough to add to my heroism and my escape. I never die in these scenarios. But I’m always maimed, or forced to leave someone behind, hurt deeply so as to suffer but not perish. I jump out windows and hide in door frames, crawl into closets and turn household objects into weapons or tools. I stand in the street and stare at my possessions being destroyed along with the building. I never gasp or cry. I’m always ready somehow as if my inability to sleep has been preparing me for disaster. I’m almost expecting. Jumping before the lightning hits. Passing through a solid door frame the second the earthquake starts, already wearing my boots. This morning I woke up with a hammer in my hand. I don’t even know where I keep my toolbox.

Big Brother is Tweeting You

Cyber-bullying isn’t exactly a new topic of discussion among today’s tech-savvy youth, but what about cyber-threats to national security? Americans are not known for regularly censoring themselves online, but what if they knew that big brother is sifting through their tweets? The LA Times reports that there were, “more than 6.5 million Tweets during the third presidential debate Monday – and a few of them were death threats against President Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.” Apparently, when angry tweeters issue death threats it is the Secret Service’s solemn duty to tweet back with authority. While I do not want to downplay the Secret Service’s important duty of protecting the President and his family from legitimate threats, I cannot help but view angry, presidential debate fueled tweets as inconsequential. Quite frankly, I am scared as to the implications of government bodies regularly monitoring and acting upon information from social networking sites. According to the LA Times, the Secret Service has only been monitoring Twitter for about a year and does not have accounts on any other social media website. Still, every small encroachment on a society’s freedom of speech is occasion to be concerned. I understand that death threats are not protected under freedom of speech, but when the Secret Service issues an invitation for whistle blowing on a social media website, I grow cautious. Also, some of the tweets that are being targeted do not strike me as legitimate threats.

The article provides an example of one of these “life threatening” tweets:

“Last month, a 25-year-old Birmingham, Ala., man was arrested and charged with making threats against the president after an anonymous caller reported a Tweet that said, “Free speech? Really? Let’s test this! Let’s kill the      president!” according to court documents.”

Cruel, cruel irony. I guess his test failed. Publishing our thoughts online offers countless freedoms and exposure to a worldwide audience; unfortunately, it is easy to take advantage of these facts and have your words used against you by others, and now, by your own government.

 

http://www.latimes.com/business/technology/la-fi-tn-twitter-secret-service-threats-20121024,0,2856967.story?track=rss&utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

Whispercast

Amazon just announced its newest addition to the Kindle platform, Whispercast. Amazon’s webpage for the Whispercast tool explains how this new feature enables large groups of Kindle users like businesses or schools to centrally manage their Kindles. Since I am not a Kindle owner, I was a little bit surprised that Amazon didn’t already provide this capability, it seems so basic. Being able to manipulate hundreds or thousands of Kindles simultaneously could have profound effects on schools. The days of walking a class of students to the library so they can all check out a copy of the novel are over. With internet access in the student’s hands that can be password protected and have controls, (to block facebook, twitter, ect.) students may never need to go to the computer lab for research either. As a former teacher, I am very interested in these types of developments that are clearly aimed at schools. Amazon’s Whispercast webpage features a picture of young students all reading from their Kindle. Last week I inquired as to why these types of features can’t be made cheaper for the classroom, as this is where they can make the biggest differences. Few schools have the funding to purchase a $150 Kindle for every student. The expense of these technologies is likely to create an even larger gap along socioeconomic lines in our nation’s education. The price of these technologies concern me. Having tablets in classrooms brings up other concerns as well. I wonder if standard keyboarding and typing skills will disappear altogether because of touch screens. I’m curious if students will no longer learn out to navigate print encyclopedias, dictionaries, or reference books. School libraries are already suffering. I wonder if they will slowly morph into Kindle recharging centers instead.
http://toc.oreilly.com/2012/10/amazons-kindle-whispercast-service.html

https://whispercast.amazon.com/

“Immersion Reading” on the Kindle

It should come as no surprise to the world that Amazon is bringing forth new means of interacting with their Kindle products. To be honest, I normally skip over these articles because I don’t own a Kindle and could care less what they offer. On the other hand, I came across two articles today I’d like to discuss; one was about Amazon’s new “Immersion Reading” function on it’s Kindle, and the other was about a German E-book retailer named Txtr that is releasing a new e-reader for only $13.

Amazon’s new “Immersion Reading” function allows Kindle owners to read along on their Kindles while the stories are being professionally narrated on audio book. The Kindle will even highlight the text as it is being read aloud to you by the likes of Kenneth Branagh or Elijah Wood. Personally, this new function doesn’t strike me as a very fun or exciting way to experience a book, but it does strike me as one of the most valuable teaching tools for literacy to come about in ages. The word “immersion” itself conjures up thoughts about language acquisition and digital-age literacy skills. Sadly, the article doesn’t mention any plans to take this new technology into our primary and secondary education systems. It does, however, mention that this new function is only available on the newest and most expensive Kindle products, which isn’t surprising.

What is surprising to me is that another company, Txtr, is able to produce surprising numbers of basic E-readers and sell them for only $13. Txtr’s Beagle has no charger or cables, and can hold five books at a time, approximately how many books are taught in the average high school English class every year. At a time when our public education is floundering, a $13 E-reader seems to be a legitimate and viable option for taking literacy education digital. Perhaps I’m being wishful or just ignorant of the cost of technological developments, but why can’t we find a way to provide our schools with cheap E-readers that have the same “Immersion Reading” functionality as Amazon’s Kindle? In California only 3% of the English Language Learners are reading at a “Proficient” level. According to state tests, only 28% of our native English speakers are reading at the “Proficient” level. In a world wholly submerged in digitized entertainment, the only thing most of these kids don’t have access to in a digital format is books.

The cruel irony of the whole situation is that Amazon is providing 20 free E-books with the “Immersion Reading” function to owners of their new $159 Kindle Fire or Kindle HDs. And what books are they giving away for free? Just twenty classics that are studied in every single public high school in the nation, such as: Frankenstein, Huckleberry Finn, and Gulliver’s Travels.

Cheers.

Matt

 

http://www.beyond-black-friday.com/2012/10/09/more-audiobook-fun-from-amazon/

http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d11/tables/dt11_134.asp

http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/digital/devices/article/54256-txtr-unveils-reading-device-to-encourage-mobile-reading.html

Blogged to death

I am going to build off of my post from last week about libel and slander. With the lines between what is and is not socially acceptable to publish online being heavily blurred by the digital hurricane that is social media and the blogoshpere, it is sometimes difficult to step back and analyze the sometime serious repercussions of electronic publishing. Free access to information and freedom of the press are coveted rights in many nations but mere hopeful beacons on the horizon for much of the world. Historically, having free access to information has been a privilege granted to only the most wealthy and powerful of people. Electronic publishing is a serious game changer in this sense.

I am pleased to know that I live in a place where I can openly call a current or past leader an inarticulate buffoon without worrying about disappearing in the night, where satirical news like “The Onion” can exist peacefully. However, this is not the case for many people, and living in a privileged bubble sometimes causes us to forget that. We have all recently seen the dangerous power of a single controversial Youtube video. This is a monumental and historical clashing of culture and it was, many claim, initiated by open form electronic publishing. As Grant mentioned in his blog last week, governmental censorship in the digital age could be frightfully simple. On the other hand, it can be very difficult. Clashing cultures can no longer isolate themselves from one another in the way they could not so many years ago.

According to a report by Freedom House, a Washington advocacy group, the tiny nation of Estonia has the highest marks for internet freedom. This is fantastic for Estonia: however, the other side of the spectrum is gloomy. In nineteen of the forty-seven countries reported, bloggers and other online writers were “tortured, disappeared, beaten or brutally assaulted.”

19 out of 47! That’s 40%!!

Also, I think it is important to know that this isn’t only happening in far-off places. Mexican bloggers and internet journalists who write about organized crime are regularly targeted by the gangs they write about. Freedom of speech is taking on new meaning in an age where our voices can reach unforeseen distances.

http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/25/estonia-gets-highest-marks-for-…

 

cheers.

Matt