Indie bookstore shares their secret for success

While browsing through Publishers Weekly’s Opinion section, I happened upon Pete Mulvihill’s article, “How Bookstores Survive in the Age of Amazon.” The co-owner of Green Apple Books let us in on their secret for success, but stressed that we shouldn’t get hung up on numbers. This advice might seem counterintuitive for some business people, but I think he’s onto something.

According to Mulvihill, even successful stores could disappear for a number of reasons. He admits that one day indie bookstores might not be able to keep up with technology, yet he’s not pessimistic about the future.

Instead Mulvihill focuses on the present, on answering the needs of his local community, and on his love for his job – that’s what brings in the customers.

He writes, “‘It may not be a good living, but it’s a good life.’” This highlights that bookselling in today’s world is not a business done to accumulate fame and fortune. If you sell books, you should do it because you love it. It’s that consideration for books and people that will help booksellers meet customers’ needs.

I visited two independent bookstores in San Francisco this year: City Lights Booksellers and Publishers and Green Apple Books. After that experience, returning to my local Barnes & Noble was depressing.

Cristina E. Garcia standing next to the famous City Lights Books.

Cristina E. Garcia standing next to the famous City Lights Books.

Rather than focusing on books and having gizmos as an aside, my local B&N has a whole first floor dedicated to knickknacks, e-readers and toys with books as an afterthought. They thinned shelves and slowly phased out seating within the store to discourage patrons from staying. They even enacted a policy that prohibits potential buyers from sitting on the floor. Is it any surprise they’re becoming obsolete?

Rather than answering the needs of the local community, the B&N is focused on making money and cutting corners wherever they deem necessary. They think the answer lies in e-readers, but they’re only partially right.

If the company isn’t meeting consumers’ needs, consumers will opt for another bookseller. Even though B&N sells e-books, I go to Amazon because their e-books are cheaper and frankly I’m deeply upset with B&N’s customer service. And after the Bitch Magazine article I wrote about last week, now I’m looking for another e-book seller.

That said, where do you buy your books and why do you choose that particular bookseller?

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If Amazon is no good for self-publishing erotica writers, where should they go?

Photo Kindle 3 thoughts courtesy of Zhao !

Kindle 3 thoughts/ Zhao !

 

After reading “Lost in the Amazon: Are digital booksellers suppressing self-published erotica?” by Kate Larking in Bitch Magazine’s Fall 2014 issue, I don’t know if I want to keep buying Kindle Books from Amazon.

In case you haven’t read it, Larking reveals an invisible adult-only-type label that is attached to books when Indie authors are honest and label their books as erotica. Larking said that the label is also placed on books whose covers Amazon deems explicit or inappropriate. When the label is attached to a book, it effectively hides the book and a consumer would only be able to find the book if they search for the author or title specifically. This sharply decreases sales for the writers and has led to other problems.

The writers that want to work with Amazon write in a way to avoid getting labeled as adult-content only, tweaking the stories to meet vague guidelines, but Amazon sometimes still gives them the label. Other writers try using the romance genre as a loophole. This is problematic because it could expose a reader to content they weren’t interested in (e.g. a “hardcore” sex scene, when the usual lingo in romances is more “softcore” and vague.) It’s problematic if writers are including love scenes into their erotica when it might be nonsensical to do so, like in a BDSM story. It ruins the novel for the writer and the reader.

Other writers are moving to greener pastures, a place where they don’t have to mislabel their work to sell it.

As the owner of a Kindle, I don’t know what to do. Do I stay with the e-book dictatorship or move to another e-book market? Is the future e-book market in a Kobo? What would you suggest?

Americans haven’t ditched print books for e-books

I was ecstatic because I got to visit the famous Green Apple Books & Music store. It was actually featured in Publishers Weekly as the PW Bookstore of the Year in March. Needless to say I fangirled.

I was ecstatic because I got to visit the famous Green Apple Books & Music store. It was actually featured in Publishers Weekly as the PW Bookstore of the Year in March. Needless to say I fangirled.

Since visiting San Francisco last month and seeing bookstores that care for both patrons and wares, I’ve rediscovered my love for print books. In honor of the craft, I’ve been using electronic books, audiobooks and  print books. However, what are the preferences of other college-aged readers such as myself?

The question was prompted after I saw Teleread’s eye-catching infographic, “Keeping It Real.” The graphic illustrates “top reasons for choosing a real life, lo-fi, analogue, hardcopy book” over an e-book. Some reasons include the ability to feel it, handle it, share it or sell it. Some people even turn to print books so they can pose them. (“Pose them?” See book porn here and here.) However, the infographic results are based on a poll given to 1,000 “FatBrainers.”

According to Paul St. John Mackintosh, FatBrain is a “[United Kingdom] new-era second-hand book trading platform,” which means the results reflect a select UK audience, but what about general readers in the United States of America?

In a project titled “A Snapshot of Reading in America in 2013,” Kathryn Zickuhr and Lee Rainie interviewed 1,005 Americans ages 18 and older, in both English and Spanish, and found that U.S. readers have not abandoned print books for e-books.

In general, the vast majority that consume e-books and audiobooks also read print books, although only 9% said they consumed books in all three formats. From the adults interviewed, “only 5% said they read an e-book in the last year without also reading a print book.”

Zickuhr and Rainie found in general that 69% of American adults read at least one print book that year and 28% read at least one e-book that year. The rate for readers between ages 18 and 29 were higher, with 73% reading at least one print book that year and 37% reading at least one e-book that year. You can check the reading snapshot chart for more details on other age groups. In short, while e-books are gaining momentum, people have not abandoned print books.

What about you, dear reader? What is your preference? What influences your choice?

Invest in e-book covers

At some point in history, print books were transformed into the convenient electronic books we know today. The digital counterparts of books are formatted to read just like the print version. Most electronic readers let you “flip” pages, “highlight” passages, and browse through “book covers,” but what’s missing?

The experience changes depending on the device you use. You can read on your laptop with or without an application. If you don’t use an application, you’re most likely reading PDFs and the quality isn’t clear. If you use an application, like the Nook for PC or Kindle for PC, you have more assurance that the text will be clear and that you can manipulate it.

Reading software helps you interact with the e-book like a print book. It even helps you find things just by typing in a phrase. Apps changed the way I studied. However, I was still on the computer when I started reading e-books. I had to deal with a 15-inch screen of text. It wasn’t exactly the same as cuddling up with a book. Plus some of the book covers were so awful, they could deter the most dedicated reader from selecting that book.

BoringCover

Example of a boring book cover.

So you have an idea, the book covers were basically a block of color with basic text on them. While it accomplished the job of a book cover, giving you basic information, it didn’t make the product easy to digest.Then there are those books with generic pictures, as in completely different books using the same default picture, confusing the consumer. I found myself willing to spend money a little more money for decent looking book covers that had some sort of telling picture of what the story was about.

Usually, I scan covers for quick cues to tell me what the book is about. If I have 50 books with similar covers, it takes me longer to find a specific book. I feel e-book covers have not been invested in or developed as much as print book covers.

As a reader, I’m here to bring back the art of books and share notes on books in social media.

This post originally appeared on my Blogger.

Reflective Memo

To:               B. Lauren, Document Design

From:          C. Garcia, Bookish Cristina

Subject:     Reflective Memo

Date:           April 22, 2014

The purpose of this memo is to reflect on my work for Document Design by addressing how I achieved the course outcomes. The goal is to understand the process and mechanics of design so we can better utilize it in the future.

Summary

Throughout the Document Design course, there were four major assignments. We had to revise a document we use on a daily basis via Microsoft Word, design an infographic using InDesign, design a poster on Photoshop and remix one of the previous assignments to cater to another population through any program of our choice. During the entirety of the course, we were learning how to look at elements in documents and analyze their functions within different types of text. To better understand design, we were tasked with reading Robin Williams’ “The Non-Designer’s Design Book” and “Document Design: A Guide for Technical Communicators,” by Miles A. Kimball and Ann R. Hawkins to adopt a vocabulary we could use to talk about design; in addition, Professor Ben Lauren assigned to us various other readings to supplement our studies that broached topics such as copyright, agency and humanizing information. Professor Lauren taught us how to negotiate cultural and ethical considerations when designing documents.

As a production manager for a college newspaper, I found this course extremely helpful because it taught me how to describe and justify my decisions regarding design. It helped me analyze it farther than just “it looks weird.” Now when I look at a document, the first thing I think about are the PARC principles (proximity, alignment, repetition and contrast) and how they work on a document. From there, I recall the other readings and can make an informed decision when I revise a design. But most importantly, the class taught us how to create user-centered documents. A user-centered document is one whose design addresses the needs of the users at each stage of the design process. We learned how to test users unbiasedly. This is important because users, the people who will use the document, given the right questions, tell you exactly what they need so that they will use your document. If you don’t address this part of design, your design could fail because the user might not know how to use it or it might not be what the user needs.

This Document Design class was priceless because it gave me agency as a designer. I learned how to properly analyze designs and I became familiar with programs to help me create designs. I thought the class’ workshop format was a great idea because it simulated work outside of the classroom; sometimes we aren’t familiar with a program, but we’re expected to learn as we go. Even though I had an advantage with Adobe InDesign, I greatly struggled with Adobe Photoshop because the buttons wouldn’t work like those in InDesign and I actually had to restart a project 6 times before I got the hang of the program. Also, the workshop format kept me engaged. Usually, if a lecture goes on after a certain point, I start to drift, even if I take notes. This had me wrestle with the material and learn by doing. I just loved the class.

Discussion

Document Design was a godsend because it taught me how to look at a document and analyze it for its elements and how they work. I felt this was most clearly demonstrated during students’ presentations. My favorite presentation was a flyer one student brought in that looked very retro and was talking about sexual consent. There was a lot going on, but we started very simply: we noted the rectangle that held the ad, the triangles in the background, the woman in the middle and the two lines of text interestingly in two different typefaces. This came in handy during the assignments, because I used it to dissect already made documents to imitate the structure in my own documents.

For the first assignment, where I had to redesign a document I use daily on Microsoft Word, I chose to revise a list of guidelines for copy editors that we use at The Beacon. I took direct ideas from Williams’ book like the headline in a black box, and applied it to the document. Before reading the book, I honestly would not have known how I could make the list of sentences more attractive and it took me nine revisions to get it to the finished product, but I learned how to look for elements I could create and repeat. Also, I saw the power of different typefaces. Having read Williams’ book, I hesitated about using Courier New because it said it wasn’t appropriate for most cases, but I was gearing my document for journalism students; I recognized that the font held pathos in that it reminded the audience of previous times when things were written on typewriters. I also balanced the font by making the main typeface of the text Arial because that’s the default font that we work with at The Beacon.

During the course of the work, we read many things, but I felt there were a few vocabulary words that stuck out: ethos, logos, pathos, the PARC principles, agency, representation, user and stealing. These were words that most often floated in my head as I designed the assignments. Like an essay, I want to use the elements in just the right way to have ethos, logos and pathos. For instance, in the second assignment, the infographic, since it dealt with research, I made sure to include citations at the bottom for credibility of the material. However, according to Professor Lauren, I should have indicated what was taken from each source, so that is something I would remember to fix in the future were I ever to make another infographic. Looking back now, I understand more because I noticed in the newspaper, whenever we include a graph with information we took from a document, we cite where the information came from, not the whole graph.

Agency, representation and user work together. In order to give the user agency, or power, we have to design a document with the appropriate representations. For instance, at the beginning of the semester, I had to describe accelerating and chose a symbol that looked like Figure 1.

My initial reasoning had been to mimic the colors of the lights right before a race that go  from red to yellow to green. After no one understood and I thought about it, I realized it looked a lot like the pause button from a VCR or DVD machine; that, coupled with the fact that it had red and yellow, was sending mixed messages to the user. Figure 1 was an example of a bad representation, so the user could not use it and therefore could not achieve agency to use the document. However, it occurred to me later that a related symbol, that of the fast-forward button on the VCR/DVD machine would have been the perfect symbol because people know what it represents, they would have known to use it to accelerate.

My first attempt to depict "accelerate."

Figure 1: My first attempt to depict “accelerate.”

Figure 2: My umpteenth attempt to depict "accelerate."

Figure 2: My umpteenth attempt to depict “accelerate.”

Representations can get tricky when trying to cater to different audiences. For example, in assignment three and assignment four, I chose to redesign a book cover for Cervantes’ “Don Quijote.” Assignment three was geared towards twentysomethings and assignment four towards children ages 6-10. I wanted to depict the windmill scene in “Don Quijote” when he sees a giant that isn’t really there. First I chose to create my own image, so as to sidestep any copyright problems. The adult version was more abstract because the user group could grasp that the floating eye signify the giant that really wasn’t there. In the kid version I showed a hazy Cyclops giant monster behind the windmill to get their attention ; I figured it would make sense to them once they read it.

Since it was a book cover and writing space was limited – I didn’t want to load the cover with text – the only text I only included was the title, the byline and my logo, yet even minute differences in those three things completely changes the tone of the document. In the adult version, I used a sophisticated font, whereas in the kid version I used a playful font. In the adult version, I made the byline of the author a little bigger because the name is important and I excluded “by” because the adult would be more capable of discerning that it is the author. In contrast, in the kid version the font size was smaller for the byline because they won’t care about the writer and I included “by” because they might need that extra cue to recognize who the author is.

In all of our design work, we had to consult the texts provided by Professor Ben Lauren, however, we also had to consult potential users. As we’ve learned, the users tell us if the document works or not. Unfortunately, I was not able to test the kid’s book cover on the targeted audience, but I was able to speak to some mothers about it. One said that she thought a better picture would be of one of Don Quijote riding in the field. Her friend interjected that he would have liked to see more action, perhaps Don Quijote in the midst of charging the windmill, yet they were not the targeted audience so I didn’t change the content. However, because of another mother, I changed the location of the byline. Initially I had it in the adult cover within the tower and in the kid cover on the right of the tower, however, the mother pointed out that they would be looking down towards the title and to the left to flip the page, so I placed it on the bottom left corner so they wouldn’t have to search the page for it.

The biggest lesson is that the best thing you can do is revise. Make many drafts and eventually you’ll get enough feedback that will enable you to create a great document.

Recommendation

I highly recommend that potential and future designers take this class, because even with my experience in designing documents, I learned a lot. Not only is the vocabulary helpful, so is the practice. The best part is now I can take what I have learned and develop more documents on my own.

Letter of Intention

At the end of 12th grade, my English teacher, Mr. Escobar, had us write a letter to ourselves that he would have us read in the next 5 years. Recently, I received that letter and was reminded of who I was and how much I had changed. I’d like to do something similar, but in the form of a blog post.

Cristina,

This is your 24 year old counterpart speaking. I hope all is well. I’m writing to let you know what’s up in case you get lost along the way and need something to point you in the right direction.

At this point in time, you haven’t quite graduated, but you can’t stop thinking about the future. You have three classes left after spending 5 years in school, but it was worth it because you’re going to leave with 3 bachelor’s degrees and 2 certificates; additionally you’ve accumulated a wealth of knowledge working at The Beacon, FIU’s newspaper.

It’s imperative that you find an internship that will move you toward your dream editorial job at a book publisher. While any editorial job would be great, your dream is to work with a publisher that deals with your areas of interest: gender studies, South Asia, the Middle East, sociology and/or religion. Additionally, you want to write three to five books. Already you have ideas of a story based around a certain mosque.

You know you’ll have made it when you find yourself working in a quiet comfortable study filled with light and books. God willing, we can make it happen.

Best of luck,

Cristina