Search Results for: label/how to create a video blog

How to Produce a Homemade Author Video Blog

So you want to do your own video blog with little or no help, experience or budget? I found a way to combine common productivity programs from Apple, Cisco, and Microsoft to create an author video blog of my own. You probably won’t want to do it the same way I do, but I’ll bet this video gives you some ideas for you to figure out your own model.

Don’t Eat That Frog First

Eat that frog?

Eat that frog?

In his bestselling book, Eat That Frog, Brian Tracy tackles the issue of personal productivity with 21 ways to conquer procrastination, beginning with his classic breakfast recipe :

If the first thing you do when you wake up each morning is eat a live frog, nothing worse can happen the rest of the day!

If you’ve ever met Brian, read one of his books or heard him speak, you know what a disciplined, talented, savvy communicator – and person – he is. I have a lot of admiration for him. Better to listen to him than me! I’ve been known to procrastinate at times.

But I would humbly suggest that there are some days you will get more done by foregoing the frog for breakfast – it tastes nothing like chicken – and enjoying your Cheerios, oatmeal or bacon and eggs. [Read more…]

How Great Is Our God

How Great Is Our God developed and compiled by Mark Gilroy

Devotionals from every century and every tradition of the Christian faith.

The Only Book with Daily Readings from Every Tradition and Every Century of the Christian Church

In a pluralistic culture with competing beliefs and values, there is a desire to understand and return to the basics—the classic expressions of the Christian faith.

This 365-day devotional will introduce you to the minds and hearts of many of the most influential thinkers in church history. It is a journey through two millennium of riches—from the early church fathers through the Medieval thinkers and the great councils, and on into the Reformation, the Renaissance, and the birth of the modern mind.

It is indexed by author, by theme, and by century, and includes a reading plan if you want to work through the writings chronologically.

It is an elegant edition that looks great on the nightstand, the desktop, or the coffee table.

How Great Is Our God is one part historical tour, one part devotional, one part guide for living, and one part gift book. It will appeal to every Christian who wants to hear the hearts and discover the classic voices of Christianity through the ages.



Amazon: Hardcover | Kindle | Audio

Barnes & Noble: Hardcover | Nook | Audio

CBD: Hardcover | E-book




How the Irish Saved Civilization

How The Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill. Anchor Books.

In 406 A.D the Rhine River froze solid – and the barbarians crossed this temporary bridge to strike one of the final blows to a lazy, corrupt, and aging empire. When Alaric, king of the Visigoths, showed up at Rome’s gates in 410 A.D., the citizens still didn’t know the end was at hand. Unable to defend themselves – it was a lot of effort after all – they negotiated a “sack” to spare the city from bloodshed:

“So they kept their lives, most of them. But sooner or later they or their progeny lost almost everything else: titles, prosperity, way of life, learning: especially learning. A world in chaos is not a world in which books are copied and libraries are maintained. It is not the world where learned men have the leisure to become more learned.”

While working through Gibbons’ The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire for my nightstand reading, I realized I needed a shorter “boost” to keep going, so I decided to reread Thomas Cahill’s much heralded work that shows the disappearance of learning, scholarship, and culture from the European Continent from the fall of Rome to the rise of Charlemagne. All the great works of western civilization might have been lost were it not for the fact that as the Continent became illiterate, one small “unconquered people” at the edge of the Empire were just learning to read and write – with gusto. As peaceful Rome turned to chaos, chaotic Ireland grew more peaceful – the key word being more. Following the lead of their eclectic and passionately spiritual patron saint, St. Patrick, and his spiritual son, Columcille, they built centers of learning that not only drew visitors from the Continent, but sent a wave of missionaries that restored and returned the Greek, Roman, Christian and even “pagan” classic literature to Europe.

Just a fun note or two on Patrick. He was not actually Irish. He was a Briton – “almost Roman” – that was captured, enslaved and brutally mistreated by the Irish as a young boy. Following a vision from God – like King David he was a shepherd and solitude and deprivation turned his thoughts toward God – he escaped Ireland and received a seminary education. But his heart beat for Ireland. In one of history’s unique footnotes, he became the first missionary since the Apostolic Age.

Also, he didn’t drive snakes out of Ireland, but he did curb the Irish passion for violence. Curbing the Irish passions for hard drink and, um, ah, for a liberated sense of sexuality, perhaps didn’t go quite as well for Patrick. One of the reasons Patricus was so well received by his one-time tormentors was that he may have been the only man to stand up to the Irish of his century and say, “I am not afraid of you, I fear only God.” That they liked and respected.

I’m only one in a long line of many to recommend Cahill’s short, poetic, sometimes rambling, but always charming narrative that brings history to life.

How Healthy Is the Christian fiction Category?

Publishing professional and friend, Dan Balow, recently took a look at the Christian fiction category in his blog for the Steve Laube Agency. His analysis includes some counterintuitive insights for publishers and some very specific advice to retailers that I wanted to share here. (Since my novels are considered “tweeners” – somewhere between the Christian and general markets, I especially appreciated what he had to say.) Dan – thanks for permission to use the following!

Just how well is Christian fiction doing?

Last year, two Christian publishers downsized or suspended their fiction programs. Currently, some Christian publishers are nervous about fiction and in a wait-and-see mode before they attempt to expand it or try new things. Others are excited about growth potential in the category and are taking an aggressive stance toward it.

Similarly, some Christian retailers are doing quite well with fiction, others are lukewarm with it and some are not doing well at all.

The answer to the question, “Is Christian fiction thriving?” is no, but it is certainly interesting to explore the reason behind such widely diverse opinions on the subject of Christian fiction today.  How can one group see great potential and another see little or none?

Here is why I think Christian Fiction is causing some publisher and retailer confusion right now:

First and foremost, fiction is the segment of book publishing and retailing most affected by the sales of eBooks. In some cases, 50% or more of unit sales on a particular title can be digital.  Because eBooks are cheaper than printed editions, overall revenues to the publisher will decrease or remain flat, all the while readership increases. For a particular novel, digital sales might be 50% of the units and 20% of the revenue.

A new business model eventually emerges, but it takes time for publishers and retailers to adjust to new realities.

Retailers can easily recall how the decline in physical product sales were affected by music downloads (iTunes started in 2001), video download/streaming and audio book downloads. The migration to digital delivery in music, video and audio resulted in a corresponding drop in physical product sales at retail.  But knowing the cause doesn’t make it easier to handle.

The second major contributor to publisher and retail confusion about fiction is the relatively small number of titles published.  Even in good years, the total output of new Christian fictions titles by the main ECPA Christian publishers are not more than 250-300 annually.  (I am not counting the various Harlequin Love Inspired and Heartsong mass market lines which publish over 200 titles per year.)

According to R.R. Bowker data from a couple years ago, the entire U.S. publishing industry (not self-publishing) released over 250,000 new titles annually, of which about 40,000 are novels. There is no completely accurate data available on Christian publishers, but not long ago the total output of books from Christian publishers was around 10,000 new books annually. If Christian publishers followed the same ratios in fiction as the general market, there should be over 1,000 new novels each year, not 250-300.  Not every category growth problem is solved by doing more books, but in this case, I believe it has something to do with it.

Similarly at retail, when a category suffers a slowdown, reducing shelf-space for the category only hastens the decline.  The huge disparity between fiction in the general market retail and that in the Christian market would leave one to wonder whether some are giving up too early on it.

The final reason for confusion about fiction is there are a limited number of genres published by Christian publishers. For reasons that may or may not be obvious, Christian publishers cannot publish in as many genres as a general market publisher.  For instance, erotica will never be a category in Christian publishing, while it is a major category in the general market.

Combine these three things…eroding physical sales due to digital delivery, a small number of titles in relatively few categories  and maybe we can understand why it is rather confusing time in the Christian fiction category.

What can retailers do about it? (other than stocking current best-sellers and new titles)

  • Begin with the inventory. Carry the classic backlist.  Not just In His Steps or Pilgrim’s Progress but the authors who made the category successful over the last 30 years … Janette Oke, Frank Peretti, Jerry Jenkins/Tim LaHaye, Bodie and Brock Thoene, and Francine Rivers to name a few.
  •  Decide to add a new genre of fiction that heretofore you have not carried or promoted.  This is to grow your customer’s taste for a wider type of fiction.
  • Consider rearranging the fiction section by genre to help readers find new authors. Perhaps using a variation of the umbrella categories that the Christy Awards uses to separate the genres.
  • Encourage fiction reader groups among your customers. This will show how fiction can communicate spiritual truth in an effective manner.

Steve Laube, the founder and owner of the literary agency with whom I work, was a Christian retailer himself before getting into the publisher side of the equation over 20 years ago.  In 1989, his Berean Store in Phoenix, Arizona was named the CBA Store of the Year.  I asked him to give his perspective on how retailers can sell more fiction:

The key was that great story that got people telling their friends. Word-of-Mouth.  Second was a staff that was knowledgeable about the various fiction offerings. Hand-selling is still a critical piece of what makes the physical store a destination. Hand-selling is a form of word-of-mouth. For example, when Mrs. Sally came in the store each month and asked us, ‘What’s new?’ we could direct her to the latest and greatest because we knew the type of stories she liked and the type of stories that were on our shelves.  That principle has not changed over the years. I am always attracted to the part of any bookstore that has a ‘Staff Recommendations’ section. I find it fascinating to see what other people think is worthwhile to read.

Keep in mind, that if readers don’t find what they need in the Christian store, they will look elsewhere and personally, I’d rather they find a lot of great reads among titles from Christian publishers in Christian bookstores.

Q: How Accurate Are Bestseller Lists?

Q: How accurate are bestseller lists?

A: Not very.

But that doesn’t mean they aren’t important. They are great for publicity and will probably help generate more sales. Many people peruse the various lists to help them determine what to pick up next. They are fabulous for an author’s ego. Admit it, wouldn’t you like to have the tag New York Times Bestselling Author under your name every time you published a book? All it takes is once!

Why aren’t they accurate?

Book publishers don’t use a upc code on the back of their books. Why? There is an ancient custom that book retailers should be able to set their own prices. UPC codes include a price. So traditionally, publishers have used an ISBN number and code. A few use nothing at all. That means a whole new reporting system is needed to gather point-of-purchase data. The biggest collector of this data is Nielson’s BookScan system, which is modeled after the music industry’s SoundScan.

But not all retailers feed their data to BookScan and not all bestseller lists use BookScan anyway. The New York Times has the most prestigious list, which is based on several large chains, a number of independent booksellers, and select mass market accounts. USA Today and the Wall Street Journal employ similar methods of sampling, including judicious use of BookScan. Ditto Publisher’s Weekly. However, many large booksellers – like Sams and a number of other mass market retail chains, schools, Christian bookstores, rack jobbers, e-books, and high volume tabletop display marketers – don’t provide their data to BookScan. The largest Christian retail chain doesn’t even provide its data to the CBA (Christian Booksellers Association) bestseller list. One wouldn’t, of course, expect the lists to account for other ‘special markets’ including direct sales nor organizational and author purchases. The good news is that Amazon and Walmart sales are now included with BookScan – but several of the lists resisted using Amazon’s sales until the last few years.

What percentage of book sales are reflected on bestseller lists? No one knows for sure based on all the above reasons. I’ve heard estimates ranging from 30% to 60%. Anecdotally, one author friend has now sold three million copies of a single book. Of those, 100 thousand have sold in traditional book selling settings and the other 2.9 million have sold direct to consumer, business to business, or through back-of-room sales when he speaks. Those 2.9 million units have never been counted on a bestseller list.

Because bestseller lists do create positive publicity and sales momentum there are more than a few occasions when authors and publishers have attempted to manipulate their book’s placement on the lists. For example, back when it was harder to track single store sales, an author or agent might order the five or ten or twenty or thirty thousand copies of a new book needed for speaking engagements through a single bookstore to ‘force’ a book onto the list. I’m sure this has helped ongoing sales just for the fact that accounts would see the book show up on a list and order more store copies. But point-of-purchase data, at least within a chain, is now sophisticated enough to spot this as an anomaly, not a trend. The New York Times at least used to put a dagger symbol next to books that had large bulk orders. (Do they still do that?)

There is a publisher axiom that says you can get a book on any bestsellers list through marketing but in order for it to stay on the list it has to be a great book that generates word-of-mouth advertising. Longevity of a book on various bestseller lists is almost always an indicator that the book has real ‘legs’. Or, in the case of books that sell hundreds of thousands or even millions of units and never show up on a list, they either need to be great or the author needs to have a great platform for moving product.

So bestseller lists are important indicators of what’s happening in major swathes of the book selling environment but they have information gaps in that environment and don’t even attempt to measure what’s happening in special markets, so they can’t tell the whole story of which books sell most.

Bestselling Books of 2012

2012 was a good year to sell books as an author if your last name was James or Collins.

The January 4, 2012, online of edition of Publishers Weekly provided a chart with three bestseller lists, all dominated at the top by Fifty Shades of Grey (E.L. James) and The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins).

Bestselling Books of 2012
Nielsen Bookscan Top 20
Amazon Kindle Top 20
Amazon Print Top 20
1. Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James (Vintage)
1. Fifty Shades of Greyby E.L. James (Vintage)
1. Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James (Vintage)
2. Fifty Shades Darker by E.L. James (Vintage)
2. Fifty Shades Darkerby E.L. James (Vintage)
2. Fifty Shades Darker by E.L. James (Vintage)
3. Fifty Shades Freed by E.L. James (Vintage)
3. Fifty Shades Freed by E.L. James (Vintage)
3. Fifty Shades Freed by E.L. James (Vintage)
4. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)1
4. The Hunger Gamesby Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
4. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
5. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
5. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
5. StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath (Gallup Press)
6. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
6. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
6. Fifty Shades Trilogy Box Set by E.L. James (Vintage)
7. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel by Jeff Kinney (Amulet Books)
7. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (Crown)
7. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
8. No Easy Day by Mark Owen (Dutton)
8. The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
8. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
9. Killing Kennedy by Bill O’Reilly (Henry Holt)
9. Bared to You by Sylvia Day (Berkley)
9. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel by Jeff Kinney (Amulet Books)
10. Fifty Shades Trilogy Box Set by E.L. James (Vintage)
10. The Racketeer by John Grisham (Doubleday)
10. No Easy Day by Mark Owen (Dutton)
11. Killing Lincoln by Bill O’Reilly (Henry Holt)
11. Reflected in You by Sylvia Day (Berkley)
11. The Hunger Games Trilogy Box Set by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
12. Jesus Calling by Sarah Young (Thomas Nelson)
12. The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks (Grand Central)
12. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (Crown)
13. The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan (Hyperion)
13. Defending Jacob by William Landay (Delacorte)
13. The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan (Hyperion)
14. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (Crown)
14. War Brides by Helen Bryan (AmazonEncore)
14. The Official SAT Study Guide, 2nd Edition by the College Board (The College Board)
15. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)2
15. A Game of Thronesby George R.R. Martin (Bantam)
15. A Song of Fire and Ice, Books 1–4 by George R.R. Martin (Bantam)
16. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)3
16. The Innocent by David Baldacci (Grand Central)
16. Killing Kennedy by Bill O’Reilly (Henry Holt)
17. The Hunger Games Triology Box Set by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
17. No Easy Day by Mark Owen (Dutton)
17. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (Amer. Psychological Assn.)
18. The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling (Little, Brown)
18. A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin (Bantam)
18. Killing Lincoln by Bill O’Reilly (Henry Holt)
19. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever by Jeff Kinney (Amulet Books)
19. 11/22/63 by Stephen King (Scribner)
19. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (Random House)
20. The Racketeer by John Grisham (Doubleday)
20. The Help by Kathryn Stockett (Berkley)
20. Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander (Simon & Schuster)
Nielsen/BookScan (week ending Dec. 30, 2012)
Amazon Kindle (as of Dec. 31, 2012)
Amazon (as of Dec. 31, 2012)

How to Make March Madness Even Madder

a fun play-in tournament to make march madness even madder

On “Selection Sunday” each year, a committee appointed by the NCAA selects and seeds the top 64 Division I men’s basketball programs to play in their championship tournament. Oh, in case you missed it, there is an Opening Round that started in 2001 where two teams played for the final spot in the tournament. Starting in 2010 there were four play-in games, so 68 teams get selected for the tournament. The winner of each play-in game would go to one of the four regions, except this year, when two went to one region. Go figure.

What most of us think of as the first round is actually the second round. But on to my point of how to make March Madness even madder.

Even with 68 teams making the tournament, there is angst and gnashing of teeth and cries of “no fair” for those “bubble teams” that don’t make the tournament. No matter where you draw the line this would be the case, of course. (Note: Just because the top four NCAA DI college football teams play a mini tournament starting this year, don’t believe for a second that there won’t be impassioned cries of “unfair” from the next few teams in the final BCS rankings or whatever rankings they use.)

Why not let more teams in? I counted 160 teams with winning records this year. If each region gets a play-in team, that would be 96 teams playing tournaments in four regions – four 24 team tournaments.

Wouldn’t that take forever? Not necessarily. Pick four venues where you can have multiple courts, probably domed stadiums or convention centers. Monday afternoon would be the four games that got the tourney to a sweet 16. That evening – eight games on four courts. And yes, four teams would play two games the first day. That’s half a typical summer day for most players and less than they played in a day growing up on AAU tournaments.

Tuesday morning would be the four Elite 8 games. Tuesday evening would be the Final 4. Wednesday morning or afternoon would be the “championship” game in each region. The winning team would get on an airplane or a bus and head for their first round NCAA game. Nice guy that I am, I suggest giving them Thursday off and scheduling them for the Friday game.

Would anyone show up? You bet. I lived in Kansas City for years and would spend at least one day at Kemper Arena (“the hump in the dump”) to watch three or four NAIA games pitting small colleges in tournament action, many that I had never heard of. The games were great. (And yes, being Kansas City, barbecue was involved.)

Keep the tickets reasonably priced and give basketball junkies a chance to watch a couple games of basketball.

Would this hurt the NIT Tournament? (The what?) Probably. But playing for a chance to compete in the NCAAs actually makes it a much more meaningful tournament.

Incidentally, no #16 seed has beat a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament – though top seeds have fallen to low seeds – Weber State beat North Carolina, George Mason beat Connecticut, and a host of other powerhouses like Indiana, Arizona, UCLA, Syracuse, and others have lost first round games to low seeds.

Sound crazy? Undoubtedly it is. Maybe that’s why it would work so well with March Madness.

How Much Money Do Authors Make?

How much money do authors make?

With the number of author and reader friends I have, I thought a quick snapshot of how much money author’s make would be fun and enlightening.

The attached chart breaks down four types of author: aspiring; self-published; traditionally published; and hybrid (self-published and traditionally-published by design).

This chart is based on Dana Beth Weinberg’s of responses from five thousand authors to the Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest Author Survey. To read her comments on the data click here.

You Don’t Always Know What You Need Until You Get It

what do you need in your life right now?

I got invited to a men’s Bible study about four months ago. I didn’t know what I was missing.

You don’t always know what you need until you experience what you’re missing from your life. This point hit me straight in the heart recently.

Four months ago I got invited to start attending a men’s small group Bible Study on Wednesday mornings. How long is it, I asked. About 90 minutes, sometimes two hours. Hmmm. I’m a working man. Do I have that much time?

I’ve gone to church every week for my entire life. I taught teen and then young adult Sunday School for more than 20 years. I’m not a Bible scholar, but I do have a seminary degree, and what with working in Christian publishing most of my adult life … how do I say this without sounding like a jerk … I’ll just say it … I feel like I know the Bible pretty well without adding another study. I always have something to learn, but I often get that through reading or sermons. It’s always felt like enough. [Read more…]

How Many People Are Reading on eReader Devices?

according the Pew Institute 23% of adults have used an ereader now.
Where do you read books?

January 15, 2013 – According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 23% of adult readers have now read an ebook.

In a blog last year I noted that percentage as 12%. Recognizing that there are no comprehensive studies – and the numbers seemingly change dramatically on a month-to-month basis – that is a growth rate of almost 100% in the past year. During the same period, ebook sales in trade publishing have risen from 17% to 25% of all books sold. Almost half of all adult fiction is now being bought for consumption on eReader devices.

I remember the prophecies of the paperless office back in the early 90s. I’m still waiting.

But to state the obvious, the digital revolution in publishing – starting with daily news and now moving to long form content –  appears to be a relentless and unstoppable transformation in how we consume what we read.

The eReader is here to stay.

Where do you read your books?

Overheard and Observed in China: Part 3: Odds and Ends

Time to move on to topics I’m less ignorant on, but after one more quick glance at my pictures and journal from China, I thought I’d throw a few odds and ends for your consideration.

1. Just a few miles from Hong Kong, part of the same country but a full border crossing away, stands Shenzhen. A fishing port of 300 thousand, it was singled out by Deng Xiaoping in 1979 as China’s first Special Economic Zone. Since then, 30 billion (U.S.) has flowed into the city and the population has grown to more than 10 million residents–with commuters and “invisible” people” causing estimates to fluctuate up to as many as 15 million)–and still growing. It is the most densely populated area of China. And you thought overcrowding was a problem in your city?

2. The level of “deferentialism” extended to American and other foreign business visitors to China is almost overwhelming. It’s hard to carry your own briefcase from the car to the meeting area without a young lady who probably doesn’t weigh 90 pounds wanting to lug it for you. We all like to be treated with courtesy and respect–and much more so when we are in a new environment–but the amount of attention given to helping one with their every move can create feelings of guilt. I’m over the guilt, however, so I’m not complaining–just observing!

3. In Shanghai, I’m pretty sure there is a ratio of one billboard for every resident–and visitor. And maybe for each panda, too!

4. Speaking of billboards, I was surprised that most of the signage in Hong Kong depicted Western models. The rule of thumb in advertising is that you strive for cultural relevance. I do have one idea on why the city’s signage looked a lot like New York City’s. Since Brand America is still the icon of wealth and prosperity, ad agencies in Hong Kong have played the “aspirational” card to the hilt. Of course, if the U.S. dollar drops any further, there may be job openings for billboard hangers in the near future!

5. China has long been viewed as a homogeneous people, which has probably always been a myth. If you look a the under-20 fashion statements even on the Mainland, China is rapidly becoming a diverse country.

6. I had dinner at the Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong. A fleet of about 15 Rolls Royce Silver Shadows are arrayed in front to whisk guests to shopping and tourist destinations. I still haven’t figured out why my company’s travel manager didn’t book me there.

7. I talked to several business people there and in route who have a very strong non-financial motivation to doing business in China. It goes like this. China is not open to Christian missionary work. China is very open to Christian business men and women (and teachers). Once in China, there is plenty of freedom for religious expression (more so for foreigners but increasingly for the entire population as long as the topic isn’t Thailand or Tibet) combined with a keen interest in people from other countries, with America at or near the top of the list. Who knows how many “tent makers” are doing a good work in sharing their faith in China.

Q: How Is the Publishing Industry Impacted By a Struggling Economy?

Q: How is the publishing industry impacted by a struggling economy?

A: I can only answer on the basis of today, and on November 25, 2008 (*), the answer is that the publishing industry has indeed been impacted negatively and at least in equal measure to the overall economy!

Does a bad economy hurt book publishing?

Is book publishing recession proof?

The old axiom was that publishing was recession proof – especially religious publishing. Why? In the overall scheme of the economy (and people’s pocketbooks) books are a relatively inexpensive form of entertainment, best partaken at home, which saves gas and eat-out money. In the case of religious publishing, the prevailing wisdom has been that when the economy is good “people play” but when it’s bad “people pray!”

But in this ongoing subprime-crisis-automaker-melt-down-government-bail-out-required economic downturn in America, sales are not good for retailers or publishers. The list of retail chains reporting same-store declines is as long as the list of … well, uh, retail chains. The only reliable statistics available on the health of independent retailers is the number that are closing on a weekly basis. Iconic flagship book retailer, Barnes & Noble, reports glum 3rd quarter results and 4th quarter projections:

B&N Sales Sink; Sees Gloomy Holiday

by Jim Milliot — Publishers Weekly, 11/20/2008 6:19:00 AM

The news was about as bad as it could be from Barnes & Noble. For the third quarter ended November 1, total sales fell 4.4%, to $1.1 billion, with sales through its bookstores down by the same 4.4%. Same store sales fell 7.4%. Sales at Barnes & rose 2%, to $109 million. Moreover, the nation’s largest bookstore chain predicted that–based on the negative sales trend to date–same store sales in the fourth quarter will fall 6% to 9%. Earlier this month, B&N chairman Len Riggio warned employees in a memo that the company was bracing for a terrible holiday season.

Books-A-Million, which is strongest in the Bible Belt fared even worse.

BAM Comps Drop Nearly 10%

by Jim Milliot — Publishers Weekly, 11/21/2008 2:13:00 PM

The drumbeat of bad news from the nation’s bookstore chains continued Friday with Books-A-Million reporting that total revenue dropped 5.7% in the third quarter ended November 1, to $110.9 million. Comparable store sales tumbled 9.9%, the “weakest comparable store sales in many years,” said CEO Sandy Cochran. With the sales decline, BAM’s loss deepened to $2.2 million in the quarter compared to a loss of $555,000 in last year’s third period.

The sales decline was felt in most segments, Cochran said, with bargain books, gifts, and the teen categories among the few areas where business was up. A decline in customer traffic plus a cost conscious consumer where blamed for the poor results. BAM is focused on “controlling costs, managing inventory and preparing for the holiday season,” Cochran said.

While Cochran said the holiday publishing schedule is a good one, she sees few signs indicating that the difficult marketplace will shift anytime soon. For the first nine months of the year, revenue was down 4.8%, to $349.2 million, and the company had a loss of $635,000 compared to earnings of $4.6 million in the same period last year. Comp sales for the nine months were off 8.0%

Perhaps the most dramatic announcement came from the supply side of the industry with the news that literary giant Houghton Mifflin was putting a hold on acquisitions – akin to a fish saying that they might spend a year away from the water.

HMH Places “Temporary” Halt on Acquisitions

By Rachel Deahl — Publishers Weekly, 11/24/2008 12:54:00 PM

It’s been clear for months that it will be a not-so-merry holiday season for publishers, but at least one house has gone so far as to halt acquisitions. PW has learned that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has asked its editors to stop buying books.

Josef Blumenfeld, v-p of communications for HMH, confirmed that the publisher has “temporarily stopped acquiring manuscripts” across its trade and reference divisions. The directive was given verbally to a handful of executives and, according to Blumenfeld, is “not a permanent change.” Blumenfeld, who hedged on when the ban might be lifted, said that the right project could still go to the editorial review board. He also maintained that the the decision is less about taking drastic measures than conducting good business.

“In this case, it’s a symbol of doing things smarter; it’s not an indicator of the end of literature,” he said. “We have turned off the spigot, but we have a very robust pipeline.” The action by the highly leveraged HMH may also be as much about the company’s need to cut costs in a tight credit about the current economic slowdown.

What’s it mean for you as author or aspiring author?

If your heart is set on publishing with a traditional publishing house of note, the news isn’t great. My own company, Thomas Nelson, in anticipation of emerging economic woes, cut the number of titles being published almost in half as of March 2008. As a publisher I always find it more fun to do books than to not do books, but unquestionably, we were ahead of the curve.

If you are able to see publishing not just in terms of a paper and ink product with a particular logo or name on the spine – and are open to the array of self- and micro-publishing options available today – then this is just one more confirmation to go for it now rather than wait for your deal to sail in!

RIP Stan Musial: Just a Few of His Incredible Numbers

Stan Musial died at age 92 - he was married 71 years.

Hall of Fame baseball player Stan Musial died on Saturday, January 19, 2013, at age 92.

Just a few numbers to consider:

  • 22 seasons in the major leagues (1941-1963), all with Saint Louis
  • 3,630 hits – 4th all time
  • 1815 hits at home
  • 1815 hits on road
  • 3,026 games – 6th all time
  • 6,134 total bases – 2nd all time
  • 20 straight years as an all star
  • 3 NL MVPS
  • 3 World Series championships as a player
But perhaps the most impressive number and the true measure of his greatness.
71 years married to the same woman.
A tip of the hat and shout out to the legend known by his fans as “Stan the Man”!

Major League Baseball: “What I Learned About Competition from the Globetrotters”

In 2006 the Harlem Globetrotters got win number 22,000. From 1971 to 1985 they won 8,829 straight games. In 1948-49 they beat the NBA champion Minneapolis Lakers two years in a row, which was a major factor in integrating the NBA. But most of their wins have come against various “stooge” teams, most owned by Red Klotz: the Boston Shamrocks, New Jersey Reds, Baltimore Rockets, the Washington Generals, and the Atlantic City Seagulls were a few.

Legends like Meadow Lark Lemon, Curly Neal, and Sweetwater Clifton are from a long ago era – already past their prime when I saw them as a kid – but amazingly, the team founded by Abe Saperstein in 1926 is still touring and entertaining the world.

Yes, the Globetrotters have steadfastly claimed that their “exhibition” games were competitive, but everyone knows better. The games have been the backdrop for one of the most enduring and entertaining comedy sketches of all time.

Competition in sports assumes two persons or parties with similar levels of ability – and fair rules.

The NBA is contending with charges that the league encouraged referees to “affect” the outcomes of certain playoff games. Anyone who watched Game 6 of the 2002 playoff series between Los Angeles and Sacramento has not problem believing that to be true, though the greatest mystery of the game was probably Shaq hitting 75% of his free throws. And anyone who watched Jeff Van Gundy, now an ESPN-ABC announcer, explain that he didn’t mean what he said when he said that very thing as Coach of the Houston Rockets, knows how awkward that topic is for those with a vested interest in protecting a league that is supposedly competitive first and entertaining second. But I digress …

Returning to the subject of my previous blog, Major League Baseball, and as response to the defenders of this spectacular of beauty, grace, intelligence, and sportsmanship, I would simply say that the numbers don’t lie. The league lacks competitive balance due to the vast gulf between what clubs can afford to pay for talent. Unlike the NFL, the singularly healthy professional sports league in the United States, there is not a revenue sharing plan. That means owners and general managers don’t have to be skilled talent evaluators and traders to build a great team, but rather they simply outbid the have-nots to amass all-star teams on a single roster.

Sure, there are exceptions to the rule and low-payroll teams have a Cinderella year and the high pay-roll clubs have an off year (cough … New … cough … York … cough … Yankees …). But a quick scan of the 2008 payroll figures is a pretty good indicator of how this season will end.

  1. Yankees $209,081,579
  2. Tigers $138,685,197 (a surprise spender, up from 9th in ’07)
  3. Mets $138,293,378 $117,915,819 $20,377,559
  4. Red Sox $133,440,037
  5. White Sox $121,152,667
  6. Angels $119,216,333
  7. Cubs $118,595,833 (when you are cursed, does it matter how much you spend?)
  8. Dodgers $118,536,038
  9. Mariners $117,993,982
  10. Braves $102,424,018
  11. Cardinals $100,624,450
  12. Blue Jays $98,641,957
  13. Phillies $98,269,881
  14. Astros $88,930,415
  15. Brewers $81,004,167
  16. Indians $78,970,067
  17. Giants $76,904,500
  18. Reds $74,277,695
  19. Padres $73,677,617
  20. Rockies $68,655,500
  21. Rangers $68,239,551
  22. Orioles $67,196,248
  23. Diamondbacks $66,202,713
  24. Twins $62,182,767
  25. Royals $58,245,500
  26. Nationals $54,961,000
  27. Pirates $49,365,282
  28. A’s $47,967,126
  29. Rays $43,820,598
  30. Marlins $21,836,500

Certain Major League Baseball teams have discovered the Harlem Globetrotters model for success. Stack the talent and schedule the stooges.

Why I Bought the Kindle Instead of the iPad

Why I bought a black and white Kindle instead of an iPad.

Why I bought a black and white Kindle instead of an iPad.

I have been in the publishing industry for almost 30 years now. Everyone knows that electronic production and delivery will shape the future of the book publishing industry – and most suspect that the future is now. So that’s the main reason I finally bought an ebook reader – to be less technologically behind in the work that provides room and board for the family. If you’re going to consider yourself an active member of the “long form” publishing world, better at least be aware of the mechanics – or electronics – of the digital book experience, I figured.

The final nudge I needed to order the Kindle was an impending trip to China last month. Anticipating 18 hours in the air each way, I wanted to make sure I had plenty to read without packing a stowage trunk. Sure enough, the Kindle worked like a charm on that trip. I downloaded four or five books at New York’s JFK Airport, boarded the plane, ate dinner, watched a movie, and then fired up a book I’ve been wanting to read. I was sleeping like a baby in fifteen minutes. It felt like home! (And yes, I did finish the book and two others while flying back and forth over the Pacific Ocean.)

After I told an author friend why I bought the Kindle, she let me know she was more interested in why it took me so long.  Good question. Frankly, I’ve not been sold on buying an ebook reader in general, and the Kindle in particular, until recently. I do like the feel of paper and ink bound inside a paper or board cover – but that’s not what really held me back.

We all know that technological improvements take place so fast that version 2.0 of the newest gadget follows 1.0 by weeks, not months or years. I’m not a late adopter of new technology, but on the other hand, I don’t want to be the one purchasing 1.0 at twice the price of 2.0, which will undoubtedly have more features and less problems.

So I waited for multiple powerhouse companies to launch new readers and for three million of my good friends to buy the first two iterations of the Kindle before I jumped in on the third wave.

But then came the next question from my author friend: why the Kindle over the iPad? It is hard to beat Apple for sleek and cool and seamless usability. And the iPad was all over the news and just about to sell its one millionth unit within months of its release when I bought the Kindle.

So here are my reasons for buying the Kindle over the iPad. (Perhaps I’ll take up the question of why I chose it over the Sony Reader and Barnes & Noble Nook at a later time.)

1. I read books and there are approximately seven times more books available through Amazon’s Kindle Store than are available for the iPad. The gap will close but is still significant.

2.  The iPad costs three to four times more than the Kindle. I’m not saying the iPad isn’t worth it. It looks to me like the iPad is the future of laptop computing and style. Apple and others will come up with a next generation device that is a cross between the laptop and the iPad, which will replace what I use now. But I don’t need all the extra computing and bells and whistles that come with it. I’ve already got a MacBookPro. I just need a book reader. It isn’t lost on me that most people I see with the iPad on airplanes aren’t reading books, though to be fair, it looks like the magazine reading experience is much better than it would be with the Kindle. But the iPad users I see are more often watching a movie or playing a game, not reading a book. And as a confession, I get distracted easily enough in life. When I want to read a book, less is absolutely more.

3. The electronic type on the Kindle has now reached the same level of readability (and lack of eyestrain) as the paper and ink book. When I took the Kindle out of the box I assumed there was a protective plastic film with a picture of a tree covering my screen. The saturation level of electronic ink was so rich and brilliant that I was surprised to discover it was the actual screen. (I’m glad I didn’t give in to my impulse to grab a sharp object to lift an end of the “film” so I could remove it from the screen.)

4. The size of the Kindle is just about perfect for carrying in a briefcase or purse – though I wouldn’t know firsthand on the purse – and the iPad is just a little too large as an “extra” device. As mentioned above, I don’t think the Kindle can compete with the iPad on reading larger visual publications (and certainly not playing games or watching movies). And it’s not just due to the smaller size. The Kindle is strictly black on white. So if I was in a different area of publishing – like fashion media or nature photography – I would undoubtedly purchase the iPad.

5.  I also picked the Kindle because I can now use it to carry and read my own documents. This is not really a reason I picked it over the iPad because that is not and never has been a limitation for the Apple device. Let’s just say that Amazon fixed something that they got wrong in earlier editions of the Kindle. Because it is a proprietary device tied to the Amazon Store, it used to be if you wanted to read a non-commercial-book document on the Kindle, you had to figure out how to upload it to the store and buy it from yourself there. I know one of the Big Five publishers bought all their employees the Sony Reader for this very reason – there were no limits on putting your own material on your reading device. The publisher wanted associates to experience an ebook reader and distribute company material on it. That was too tough – and expensive – on the Kindle. Maybe a better of way of making this point is to say that Amazon removed a reason I had previously been resistant to buying their Kindle. I’m going to fly to Orlando later today. I want to review a manuscript I prepared for the meeting. Now all I do is convert it to a pdf and email it to my Kindle email address that they assigned to me when I bought the device. The document will be waiting for me on my Kindle in about a minute.

Those were my reasons for buying a Kindle. They may not work for you.

So who should buy the Kindle? Simple. Book readers. I don’t think it’s going to a good purchase for people who want to read books instead of playing games. If you want to play games or watch movies, the iPad is the much better choice. (Though rumor has it that Amazon will introduce full color Kindle in the not so distant future.)

The early book publishing industry statistics say that book readers buy and read more books once they have an e-reader. Why? There are no space-time limitations of having to drive to a brick and mortar establishment during open hours to pick up something that is on your mind right now. Just read a good review on your flight magazine? You can purchase the book in about 30 seconds once you land at O’Hare or Hartsfield, even if your connection is tight. (It should be noted that buying a book on a Kindle is not as pleasant as sipping a cup of coffee while strolling through rows of bookshelves at a bookstore – and will never replace that.)

As a final comment, Amazon offers a lot of public domain books for free at the Kindle Store. I was about to board a plane last week when suddenly a story from my childhood popped into my mind: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. I looked it up and found a free edition, which I immediately “bought.” It was waiting for me when I took my seat. I read the opening chapters and was flooded with a sense of nostalgia – right after I woke up from my nap.

Just like being at home!

NOTE: I revisited the topic of why I bought a simple Kindle e-reader in light of new research on eyestrain in a 2014 blog.

“The Necessary Compulsion of Exercise”

I will be riding my bike this Saturday with Lance Armstrong and other friends.

On Saturday morning I take off on my bicycle with a couple thousand of my closest friends – including Lance Armstrong and some of his Team RadioShack teammates – on the Harpeth River Ride. I am doing the 62-mile course with mixed emotions. (Not sure how far Lance is riding or how long we are going to hang together.)

On one hand I love riding my bike and I see the benefit – or more accurately the necessity – of riding to get in better shape (another way of saying, “I need to lose 20 pounds … again”). On the other hand, after a long winter hibernation and then an early spring surgery, I’m not in the best shape of my life, a condition that both motivates and discourages the obvious cure. So I know full well that not all of the 62 miles promise to be fun. In the short time I’ve had to get ready for this modest ride I’ve discovered that after riding about 25 miles the gentle rolling hills of Middle Tennessee, the hills are not always so gentle.

I was sifting through some excerpts from Albert Schweitzer’s Africa Notebooks and stumbled on this relevant observation the great missionary and humanitarian made as he conversed with the natives of Africa. They were curious as to the differences between themselves and the people of Europe where Schweitzer was born.

So I go on to tell them that in Europe people row for pleasure, a statement followed by uncontrollable laughter. … I don’t attempt to make clear to them what sport is. The conditions under which they live in so many ways compel them to use their physical forces and take exercise to a greater extent than they like, that they cannot understand at all how people can do so except under compulsion.

We may have a choice whether to exercise or not, but in our corner of the world where food is abundant and many of us ply a trade that is sedentary, it’s not surprising we put on jogging shoes or head to the gym or hop on a bike under a certain compulsion, too.

So will I ride for pleasure or compulsion on Saturday? I’m telling myself it is for pleasure. But halfway through I may not be able to fool myself any longer. As is so often the case in life, the answer is a definite and resounding, yes.

Convictions and Civility – How to Have Strong Beliefs and Get Along With Others

Convictions and Civility combine to create Communication.

How do you engage in disagreement?

Convictions and civility.

I wish I could take credit for what I called the 5 Cs of Engagement with my kids as they grew up. I wanted them to hold firmly to their beliefs (convictions) but do so in such a way that they could communicate effectively and get along well with others (civility).

I picked up the concept – and have probably butchered it to some degree – from Martin Marty’s hard-to-find little book, By Way of Response, published in 1981.

In today’s political landscape I am reminded that the 5 Cs of Engagement aren’t just a lesson to try to impart to my kids, but a reminder of what I need to season my interaction with in a world where many people don’t believe the same way I do. [Read more…]

Holidays Are for Games: 3 Recommendations

The online video gaming industry is huge and getting huger every year – almost as big as Hollywood and on a growth trajectory that will continue to cut into the TV audience for sports. But for all the realism and sophistication found in the new product launches and annual updates, video games lack something important that can still be found in playing old school board games: face-to-face human interaction and intimacy.

It’s almost Christmas. A lot of people will be off work with vacation time and a lot of families and friends will gather to celebrate and catch up. Tis the season when classic board games like Life, Trivial Pursuit, Monopoly. Clue, and Scrabble will be lifted down from top closet shelves and dusted off. Holidays are for games.

Here are three holiday game ideas that you might want to try or adapt with your friends and family members.

Settlers of Catan

Up to 6 can play.

1. Settlers of Catan. My soon to be son-in-law brought this to our family Christmas gathering last year and the award-winning game was an instant hit. Think of Risk on steroids without the cannons and destroyed troops. The board comes in about 30 pieces and can be set up different every time. Up to six can play. The goal is to get 10 ‘victory points’, which are gained by building roads, settlements, cities, and armies. Players have to accumulate wood, bricks, ore, sheep, and grain through strategically building settlements in the right spots – and through good old-fashioned barter with other players. Sounds complicated but it only takes 15 to 30 minutes to learn. There are game extensions in the Catan family that can take you on the ocean or to outer space or into particular historical epochs, like the Roman Empire.

2. Fast Scrabble. I like regular Scrabble just fine but if you want an interesting variation try ‘fast scrabble.’ All tiles are placed in the middle of the table face down. The first player turns over a tile. If it’s a one-letter word like ‘I’ or ‘A’ then the first player to call out the word gets to keep the tile, face up, in front of him or her. If it’s not a word, the tile remains with the person who turned it over as a free letter. The second player turns over a tile and again, whoever calls out a word, made from that letter or that letter and any other letters that are face up, gets all the tiles to make a new word. If ‘A’ came up first and then ‘M’ came up second, player three can call out ‘Am’ and keeps that word in front of him. If the third letter pulled up is ‘C’ then the first player can call ‘Cam’ and all letters come back to him or her. If the next letter is an ‘E’ then someone can yell ‘Came’ and the tiles are now all theirs. Once a word is formed the letters must stay intact and in that order but can switch to different players throughout the game. ‘Oven’ can become ‘Coven’ can become ‘Covens’ and so on. When all tiles have been turned over, each player adds up the points on their tiles that are formed into words and subtracts any letters that are sitting free. Loud. Fast. Fun.

3. Team Hybrid Game Night. One of our favorite activities during the holidays is a family and/or friend game night where we divide into teams and play a combination of popular games, a new one each round. This works best with four or five teams going four to five rounds. We like to use Trivial Pursuit (each team is asked every question on a single card per round and is awarded 10 to 20 points per correct answer), Pictionary (50 points for identifying the picture), Tabu (20 points per correct word), Outburst (10 points per correct word), Scene-It (all teams compete at once in an ‘All Play’), but you can come up with a myriad of other options, like Charades or Family Feud, by adapting your favorite games into the process. One of the nice things about the team approach is that you can enjoy competition but no one gets singled out as not being good at something like Trivial Pursuit. I like to do a final round where points are doubled and each team gets to choose which of the previous games played they want to try.

Whether you’re gearing up to drive to Grandma’s or are hosting a group of friends on Christmas afternoon, don’t get stuck in the rut of staring at the TV screen and missing out on the people around you. Games or no games, find ways to interact face-to-face.