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THIS post was written before SPOKEN started. SPOKEN is a project I am doing with Eugene Soh, an experiment in which art, text, virtual reality and social media intersect. Learn about SPOKEN here.
To enter gallery.sg and experience SPOKEN, click here.
Here is the extremely short version: from 2002 until 2008 I was involved with a visionary virtual reality project that combined educational practices with gamemaking and multimedia. However, the spiritual captain of the project was part Disney, part Microsoft and part Sex Pistols. An unexpected death, treachery, incompetence, inexperience, bureaucratic boondoggles and more made my life “interesting”… I have pages of notes about the events and the spirit of the times. We were doing things like Youtube and Second Life before they started. The project was so close… and yet so far away. (Actually, now that mobile technology has settled down, I hope that the lessons and products of that experience can be revitalized. But that’s yet another story.)
In 2006, as a way of showcasing our technology, I entered a gamemaking hackathon. A theme was given on a Thursday morning and the next day at five the results were judged.The theme was something about healthy eating, I think. Working with my programmer in Hong Kong, we made a game in which the viewer learned about the calorie count of certain foods. The player competed with an AI character. It was fun to do.
However, what I remember most was a team that made an incredible flash game. I don’t remember if they won or not, but I do remember two guys on that team very well. George Parel and Eugene Soh were full of energy, knowledge and bursting with creative ideas.
They still are.
I’ve been lucky to work with George and Eugene on a few projects since then. In 2008 I finally had to put the educational gamemaking project on hold while I waited for a programmer and the mobile device situation to stabilize.I put more time into writing and art projects. George and Eugene (that dude from Singapore) however, have kept on doing remarkably creative things with IT, art, design and more.
Virtual reality may seem to be an artificial place, but the gallery Eugene has created fills me with memories and hope. I am honored and very thankful for I Ate Tiong Bahru to be on display in gallery.sg
Cheers, Eugene! Cheers, George!
This informal essay is my way of marking the end of a certain era in ebook history. It’s part snapshot, part reference materials, part journal.At the end of this post are notes about me, my experiences and my books.
Thanks to Doug Rolph for his insights on economics, Eric Hellman for his input and my dad for having taken care of our family by selling books.
το πνεύμα του Ιανού
After I finish writing eight books, I will begin marketing. Until then, I’ll probably study the ebook world less and hopefully do more writing, arting and engaging with Life. When it does comes time for me to contribute to the marketing conversation, I hope I have something to say. For now, I present the following notes, quotes and thoughts as a means of punctuating a phase in the development of ebooks as I have seen and experienced it.
This is an exciting time. The ebook delivery platforms are finally stable, self-publishing has proven to have great value and a number of services have recently appeared that shorten the distances between readers and authors. It seems to me that indie ebooks and ebook marketing are about to enter a new era.
This blog post makes little mention of traditional publishing. This is simply because, as much as I would like to enjoy the benefits of being a Big 5/6 author, that fruit is not now within my reach. I am however, considering joining the Author’s Guild.
Although I’ve done almost no marketing, I have studied the environments in which ebooks are created, presented, bought and sold. Some observations:
1. Except for uploading, nothing about ebooks is easy.
Writing is the anti-social social media, full of long, long hours of pressure-filled solitude. Assembling an error-free book is never simple. The social part, finding an audience, is an immense challenge. I respect all of the authors mentioned in this post for they have successfully met these challenges and more.
Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.
Based on my experiences, the work breakdown of an 88,000 word novel looks something like this: 1000 words a day (88 days) or, more likely, 500 words a day (176 days). Call it 200 days to prepare something for a proofreader. Two months for corrections, art, and ebook conversion. So, a book takes about 300 working days to finalize. About…
And then there are the thousands of actions needed to connect with readers… The title of Guy Kawasaki’s excellent book says it all: APE, meaning Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur
This document, by Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords, is a data-based analysis of the ebook market. Highly recommended, it covers topics important for newbies and veterans. It touches upon issues like word count, pricing, marketing and more. For instance, his research shows that the average bestseller on Smashwords is 100,000 words, and the average romance is 112,195 words. (There are more links to resources at the end of this post.)
Very few traditionally published authors became bestsellers; the same is true for ebook publishing. My goal is not to become a bestseller, but to connect with the largest possible community of people who enjoy the art of reading.
2. A great writer or a great marketer…
….or, the frustration of being caught between not doing enough writing and not doing enough marketing. A writer writes, a salesman sells.
Self-publishing does not equal self-marketing. Spending money wisely on promotion money means income and time to write. (See the links below)
Twitter, Goodreads, FB, LinkedIn and blogging? All have their advantages and disadvantages…
3. There are no independent, hugely successful ebook-only self-publishers.
Note: Two days after this post went up, I became aware of this great piece by Dana Beth Weinberg on Digital Book World. Thank you Jacqueline Church!
Amazon is huge, Apple is huge, Kobo and Smashwords are very big. Unless you are selling from your own website or the back of your car, you’re not truly independent.
OK, A bit of an attention grabber there…but the author’s need for a partnership with Amazon and ebook distributors is a dependence that cannot be overlooked. These “automatic partners” will always protect their interests first. They call the shots. Amazon is a business, not an author.
Amanda Hocking is a hugely successful author. At one point, the average daily sales figure of her self-published ebooks was 9000. Again: average DAILY book sales: nine thousand! Her success was based on hard work, technological first mover advantage and an indirect tie-in with Hollywood.
-the successful and pioneering integration of ebook readers into tablets and mobile as well as the launch of the Kindle (2007) and the iPad(2010)
-the large demographic of young women who bought readers and tablets
– the fact that, having written many books, Hocking could quickly provide a new and large market with a variety of new titles
– writing books about the paranormal when Hollywood is pushing the same cannot hurt. Twilight, the hugely successful series of movies about teen vampires began in 2008. Hocking’s first book, My Blood Approves, began selling in 2010.
E.L. James’ book phenomenon began in the fan fiction chat rooms for Twilight. The characters in Fifty Shades of Grey were originally the characters from Twilight. Could Master of the Universe, as her series was originally called, have achieved its success without an existing network of thousands of Twilight fans?
These two women made their mark upon society in two different ways. As shared, collective book-based experiences: WOW!
However, the writing is…”not terrible” or worse
I remember SF/F authors complaining (back in 2011) that their readers hadn’t switched to e-books yet, casting jealous eyes at the outsized romance audience. But as readers did move across, we saw people like David Dalglish and BV Larson breaking out, and the rest of “genre” fiction soon followed.
There are “indie success stories” about authors who “rode into town” on the backs of traditional publishing. Funded by Big 6 money these “indies” were advertised and publicized, sent on book tours and given things like business cards. Possibly, audiobooks were made. Hundreds, if not thousands, of their books were given away, many to reviewers.
As the ‘first mover’possibilities of the ebook market became clear and realistic, these authors, knighted by the Big 6 and armed with credibility and connections, rode onto a battlefield with little opposition… Undoubtedly hard work was involved, but to label them as indies brings to mind the quip about George Bush: “…was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.”
There certainly are “ebook only” indies connecting with many readers and enjoying sales. I just don’t know of any. (FOUND SOMEONE: LINDSAY BUROKER Please tell me about others!
them! Somewhat related to this, are there any “ebook only” awards?
Here, authors talk about their sales experiences.
4. The ebook world evolves to reward the reader; the prepared author benefits from this.
Fan fiction. Goodreads. Ebook readers on mobile phones. The mashup between big data and metadata. Entrepreneurs with vision who see ways to connect authors and readers in a new ways.
It is an exciting time.
Ebooks: Born to Click, Part 2 of 3
visit www.blacksteps.tv for parts 2 and 3 of this post, as well as information on art, books and ebooks
The backpacker walked in, ordered turmeric tea and began pulling books and pamphlets from her bag. Half an hour later, the blonde arrived in a motorcycle sidecar that looked exactly like a very big bottle of champagne. She caught the eye of the waiter the moment she stepped in. Neither she nor the backpacker recognized me.
Though seated at the same table, the two women ignored each other; the reading materials were like a wall. Finally, the backpacker cleared her throat and began to read from a pamphlet.
Trunyan is an ancient village in Bali, whose inhabitants call themselves “Bali Aga” or Old Balinese. In the center of the village is a temple called Puser Jagat, meaning ’The Navel of the Universe.’ The temple’s architecture is unlike any other on Bali. It stands under a massive banyan tree.
The backpacker is a freckled cherub with tattoos and a pierced nose. Calm and factual at first, now she slowly raises her hands like a wizard performing a spell.
When a villager passes away, the body is placed under the banyan tree. The tree emits an arboreal fragrance that masks the stench of death.
Her hands flutter back onto the table.”Lovely perfume Francesca.”
“It’s Krasnaya. Lovely of you to comment.” On the other side of the room the waiter holds up a carafe. Francesca nods. The waiter points to a red table cloth. Francesca shakes her head. He points at the crotch of his white apron. She smiles, then briefly glances at the backpacker. “I notice you still don’t use perfume,” Francesca pulls cigarettes and an ashtray from her purse, “nor deodorant.”
The waiter brings the wine, a glass and bruschetta: toasted slices of bread, basil, cubes of tomatoes and cloves of garlic. Francesca picks up her glass, the waiter pours and the backpacker reads again.
Once a sleepy village, Jimbaran lies on Bali’s southern peninsula. Its pristine sand beckons you for long walks along its coast. Or, enjoy dining at one of the beachside seafood restaurants. A reef provides protection from the wave action, allowing excellent swimming. Jimbaran is known for its spectacular sunsets.
“Speaking of sleepy villages, how’s Perth? Everything running smoothly at the orphanage? Oh wait, you volunteer here, in Bali. And the orphanage is in, is in… Denpasar? No, that isn’t correct is it? The orphanage is in Singaraja? No, that’s not right. Oh yes, I remember. The orphanage is near Ubud, in a jungle valley with a river. With a bar and a pool overlooking rice terraces.”
“We have a karaoke once a month in the dining hall. And it’s a pond, not a pool.”
Francesca refills her glass. Another passage is read, this time with the voice of a pirate.
In the 1830s Kuta was a bustling slave market and a base for a notorious variety of international lowlifes.
The backpacker again clears her throat and almost looks up.
Hippies and surfers began arriving in the 1960s. Kuta is now one of the busiest tourist areas in the world, a wonderland of sun, surf, hotels and bars.
Fran moves her glass over one of the books. “Eat Pay Leave. Your pirate voice might make it interesting.”
“Must you always emit such massive negativity? You’re like a… like an…Anti-Eat Pray Love Person! Why don’t you write your own book? Three years here, for sure you know everything about the real Bali.”
“The real Bali? The real Bali is a ten minute kechak dance during happy hour. Or the beach in Kuta. Makes me ill. Anti-Eat Pray Love Person? Me? No, no, no… I am the most positive person you’ll ever meet. Just ask your father.” She says this slowly, in between smoking and looking at her phone. The table has become a boxing ring with a vase of frangipanis and crisp linen napkins. One fighter starts tapping at Facebook, her opponent points at maps in a Lonely Planet guide book. Francesca finally looks up. “Gattopardo! Finally! I have you all to myself. Sit down!”
Gattopardo remains standing, smiling and serene. “Francesca! Amore! Beautiful to see you and your charming friend. Your invitation is very kind. But, sad to say, my morning delivery just arrived. Now I am a headache.” He looks at Francesca, slowly rubs his hands. “Amore, of course you know I would enjoy with you a bottle of wine. Or champagne. “
“Both.” Francesca leans back and runs her fingers through her hair. Her eyes are locked on Gattopardo. She is petite; when she extracted herself from the champagne sidecar, she did so with the grace of a ballerina. Francesca leans forward, looks directly into the eyes of the backpacker. “Gattopardo, am I a lush?”
Gattopardo gazes out at the rice fields. He looks over the golden umbrella above the small stone shrine in the parking lot. The bottom half is wrapped in a black and white checkered cloth; a saput poleng. Gattopardo looks at Francesca. “Amore, you are most certainly not a lush,” he says quietly.
Twenty minutes ago I experienced an epiphany because of Gattopardo.
He didn’t sing me an aria as I ate spaghetti; he hadn’t taught me a Sanskrit mantra. He didn’t read my palm. Gattopardo simply served me a plate of snakefruit pasta.
“Tagliarini al salak,” he said. The moment he placed it before me I began moving my nose through the delicate steam swirling above the glistening noodles. Like a magician, Gattopardo then reached into his chef’s jacket and produced a heart-shaped, reddish-brown leathery fruit.”A snakefruit, a salak.” He placed it on my table. “Bon appetito.”
Heavy yet soft, the pasta was a perfect balance of egg yolk and double zero wheat flour. Shavings of roasted almonds, the sweetness of mascarpone cheese and a whisper of seasoning. The crunchy snakefruit, delightfully sour, had been sliced very thinly—and frozen!
As I ate, I drifted.
I contemplated my hand’s relationship to the fork it held. I saw new colors when I looked outside. I went to the wheat fields of the place where I was born. I imagined what a salak tree looked like. The food was transformative. One moment I was in a happy credit card commercial, the next I was confronted with a huge, messy map of my destructive life. You are here.
“Join me,” Francesca purrs to Gattopardo, swirling her chest, running a finger along the stem of her glass. “Just one.”
“Amore, my heart says yes, my schedule says no.” Gattopardo pushes his glasses to the top of his nose. “But I promise we soon have a sweet time together. You have my word.”
One of the cute Japanese women sitting in the corner gets up and approaches my table. She’s smiling and holding a camera. I know she’s going to say something I’ve heard millions of times.
“Excuse me, Mr. Orgasm Donor, can I take a picture with you?”
Voila! The debut of a new dish, tagliarini al salak. The dish has yet to be actually created but was conceptualized by Chef Ezio Barbero, owner of the La Bruschetta restaurant in Sanur, Bali.
The above is an excerpt from Bali Wave Ghost will soon be published. Artist/writer Stephen Black has written several other books including the Singaporean cult classic I Ate Tiong Bahru.
This post refers to this website.
What is the Language of Dreamland?
Dreamland is the name of a popular surfing spot in Bali. Bali attracts surfers from all over the world… Question: What languages are spoken in Dreamland?
Twitter is the source for the data.Tweets containing the words ‘Dreamland’ and ‘wave’ were collected. Hitoshi Wada then wrote original programming to create this application as an answer to Stephen Black’s poetic question.
Please note that not all surfers in Dreamland use twitter and this project is not meant to be an accurate report.
Project Background and Future Plans
Hitoshi Wada and Stephen Black met at Hubud in Ubud on January 8, 2015. They decided to create a project combining art, creative writing and programming. Work began at 12:30 AM on January 11. The concept was defined and the majority of the work was finished nine hours later. A final polish occurred a few days later.
During the creative process, many ideas were generated. A future project will compare the tweets of Balinese/Indonesians with the tweets of people from other countries. The topic of garbage may be the first to be presented.
A freelance programmer, Hitoshi is now completing his masters at JAIST(Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology). He made this:
Artist/writer Stephen Black co-produced SPOKEN with Eugene Soh. SPOKEN is a virtual gallery/creative writing project. Stephen is now completing a novel called Bali Wave Ghost. www.blacksteps.tv
La Bruschetta Restaurant in Sanur.
Probably the best pizza in Asia.
Sanur Bagoes Guest House in Sanur
Short and longterm stays. sanur.bagoes @yahoo.com
I AM HAPPY TO SAY THAT THIS PROJECT IS EVOLVING AND THE FOLLOWING IS VERY SUBJECT TO CHANGE….I write this on December 31 at 7:15 PM… Wishing everyone a great 2015!
………….the original text follows:
Hello… thanks for your interest in Bali Wave BUTTERFLY Ghost. What we are doing, simply, is combining your artworks with my text. We will also publicize you in the book itself as well as on social media. You will get two books and can buy more at cost.
This is a collaboration, a mashup produced by Kupu Kupu Art Space and Book Merah. The text is a novella, a modified extract from my almost-finished novel called Bali Wave Ghost. As you may know, ‘Kupu Kupu’ is the Indonesian word for ‘butterfly’.We have not yet met a printer, but we hope to do a run of 2000 copies, full color. Size is not yet determined.
1. You are welcome to read the latest draft of Bali Wave Ghost. Just send me an email: bookmerah Simply, the story is about three characters: an American writer, a Russian woman and Bali itself. It does have romantic passages, but I am not sure if it is a love story. It is dark and humorous, but I am not sure if I would call it a comedy. It is full of info on Balinese food, culture and history, but it is not a travel guide.
2. I will do my best to get every submission into the book, but I cannot promise every submission will be submitted.
The first hurdle is technical quality. The image must be sharp and Photoshopped. Send the highest quality jpeg you possibly can. Label it with the title, your name and your email.PLEASE NOTE WE WILL LIKELY USE PORTRAIT FORMAT….
The second hurdle is time.The sooner you send it, the better your chances are.
To make the most of this experience, I hope you can read the draft and then find or create a work that resonates with what you have read.This slide show tells you more about Bali Wave Ghost.
The following passages are for inspiration. If you have a piece which is in tune with something on the list below, include the number with your email.
1. Bali Bombing
2. Kuta nightlife/streets
3. Kuta beach
4. Surfing a 200 foot wave
5. cheap hotel toom
6. construction site
7. one-eyed white dog
8. blonde surfer with a milkshake an a surfboard
9. Bintang beer
10. coconut shell drinks/coconuts
11. a bar/nightclub like Sky Garden
12 a million candles burning
13 “Cosmos power”
14. “The mind system is a victory.”
15. Desert Mantra
16. Wave Mantra
17. an infinity pool in Ubud/rice terraces
18 beautiful Ubud
19. “I am like swimming in the rain.”
20. Balinese grid system/11 dimensions
21. interior of a warung
23. gamelan orchestra/musicians/instruments
24. bubur cart
25. A pile of rocks
26. Street at night
There are many more scenes which I need to add.
ALSO, please link to your website or Flickr account or anywhere where I can see your images.You may have something which is related to something in the story but doesn’t appear in the list above.
The following is an opinionated and personal collection of links related to Bali.
Yoga en Tuscany, pourquoi pas?
www.balibuda.com Food. Jimbaran, Seminyak, Ubud, Sanur
Ganesh Bookstore Sanur, Kerobokan, Seminyak
Stephen Black Art Event at Le Mayeur Museum (May 3,4,5 2014)
Stephen Black Art Event at Le Mayeur Museum (May 3,4,5 2014)
To give you some background…
I’m a transnational artist/writer. Born and raised in the United States, I have lived in Japan, Hong Kong and Paris. Since 2002, my base has been Singapore. I am writing this from Bali. In the physical world, I am somewhat friendly, but am definitely not one who joins groups. I don’t really use social media.
To give you some background…
I Ate Tiong Bahru is a portrait, a lyrical documentary about a place I lived in Singapore.
IATB was self-funded. The cover is stark: just the four word title,written in black letters on a white background. The back cover is completely white. My name isn’t on it, there isn’t a photo of Tiong Bahru’s Art Deco buildings. I didn’t ask a famous person for a blurb. For the most part, The Straits Times and other Singaporean media organizations seem to be unaware of IATB.
To give you some background…
The day I “won all of the awards”, I hadn’t slept for about forty hours. I had arrived in Singapore at 9AM, which meant that I left Bali about 6AM, which meant that I was at the airport about 4 something, which meant that…
The bus stop incident is part of this. At the bus stop, I squeezed an uncooperative container of sunblock. The top shot off covering me with goo. Blobs of white sunscreen dried on my shirt and pants, most of them around my crotch.
My meal of laphet is part of this. After I dropped off my bags, I ran errands. I had to pick something up at Peninsula Plaza. In Peninsula is a food stall that serves the best laphet in Singapore. Laphet is tea leaf salad, a Burmese traditional food. I love it. I ate some, including the many little cloves of garlic. I
The unwanted books are part of this. A book shop (in Tiong Bahru, of all places) decided not to carry IATB. So I was carrying a bag full of my books that had been rejected.The plastic bag that the books were in was becoming frayed and holes were appearing.
And it began raining. I got very wet. I have forgotten to mention that my shoes needed to be replaced.
AND SUDDENLY I WAS AT AN ART OPENING. I had planned to go to the opening AFTER I’d had a nap, a shave and a shower. After I’d put on fresh clothes and bought new shoes. But, one of my errands took me very near the art space and so….
I went and I was welcomed. Not just welcomed, but treated like a celebrity! (I have never, ever wanted to be a celebrity, let me make that clear.) Attractive, intelligent women wanted to be photographed with me! Handsome, successful men looked me in the eye, shook my hand and listened to me! I was given wine and special curry puffs and a very good otah-otah!
This is what I mean by “winning awards!”
I am sharing this because the excitement was real. Genuine.I Ate Tiong Bahru, and the writing within it, had connected with people. Those people were interested in me not because of where I had gone to school, not because of my sexuality, not because of advertising or FB “likes”, not because I’d been endorsed by the media, not because I was in the right clique, not because we were in a slick art space or trendy book store etc. etc… My clothes and shoes were wet. The rain made my hair look like a mop. I resembled a homeless person(in more ways than I care to admit), but the words in my book had been perceived as having value. IATB was referred to as an “icon”!
The next day, I was at the Tiong Bahru market from 7AM to 2 PM. Then I was Booktique, from 3-7. Again, I was overwhelmed. A woman living in Tiong Bahru told me that she read the book to her son! And she wanted two more copies! I smiled and thanked her, but inside I was close to tears. Other people also came up to talk about their experiences with the book.
Another thing you should know I that I do not write to please the reader. I write to challenge the reader, albeit in a caring and thoughtful way. IATB is not” feel good nostalgia”.
So the weekend was unforgettable. No red carpets, none of the “friends” that always appear at openings and book launches, no reviews in influential media…just that indescribable feeling that occurs when a genuine, heartful connection has been made.
Sunday afternoon, Bali. Working on an extension of SPOKEN which appears on Wattpad. For that, I needed a link to a photo. So, for now, this is it. Soon this will be an essay on the challenges of promoting the phenomenon at www.gallery.sg
Have not yet rewritten the essay on the chaqllenges of self-promotion, but this just happened, which is related.