In my work with nonfiction authors (and in my experience as a reader), I’m noticing that the function of nonfiction books is changing. From the perspective of a reader looking for expertise in solving a problem or in just gaining knowledge, there are so many information options out there now that – for me, at least – the nonfiction how-to book is beginning to take on a more discrete role than just an emblem of expertise.

Entrepreneurism is exploding right now. Many experts are not just writing books, but building businesses around their expertise, with full-service interactive websites, seminars, webinars, workbooks, and coaching opportunities. Experts/authors and readers have more direct contact with each other than ever before. Which is fantastic. But it also means the book is a relatively distant and static way for readers and authors to communicate. So what are readers looking for in a book?

Put simply, when a reader reads your book, it’s their first, small investment in establishing a relationship with you. I’ll put it personally: when I buy a how-to nonfiction book, it means I’ve seen it recommended by someone I trust (this could be an impersonal, trusted curation source or a personal friend). It means I’ve been to your website and I see that you really do have a depth of experience in the topic – and – this is key – you have a number of deeper-access offerings by which I can get more of your expertise. You have other, more personal ways to interact with you and keep the conversation and the learning going. The book is not the end (establishing your expertise) but the beginning (establishing a relationship). (It may seem ironic that we’re all craving relationships more and more now that our relationships are becoming more digitized, but it’s a very logical result. But that’s a topic for another post.)

Even more, I believe what readers want from books is some way of knowing that the author cares about them and about solving their real problems. And alth0ugh the book does function as a way for authors to build trust with their readers, the real proof of trustworthiness is accessibility.

The takeaway from this is that readers aren’t necessarily looking for the author/expert with the most impressive expertise, but simply expertise that meets certain standards of excellence. And perhaps the most important standard of excellence they’re looking for – the one that has the most weight – is service. Not just robotic or same-for-everyone service, but personal service. In other words, a relationship.

The book is often the first tangible investment in a business relationship a reader/prospect can make. Authors who understand this and have a clear path of accessibility and continuing the conversation beyond the book would certainly be more appealing to me than someone who has the highest awards in the field but remains aloof and self-satisfied in her own expertise.

Readers don’t just want the book anymore. They want the author.

Most of us remember the oft-quoted Edelman Trust Barometer’s 2006 finding that people trust “a person like me” the most. As a result, many businesses and marketers quickly began trying to act less like institutions and more like their customers’ friends or peers, particularly through social networking. Communicating more often and more casually became the goal. Businesses wanted their customers to see them as people like them, in order to trust them, and eventually to buy from them.

But I haven’t seen many implications drawn from this year‘s Edelman Trust Barometer finding that people now trust “an academic or expert” the most. Why the change? My guess, purely based on personal experience and discussions with friends, is that after several years of constant social networking, we’re talking to our online peers way too much about minutiae. With multiple Facebook updates, texts, and tweets daily from people we truly care about and have personal relationships with, we’re in fact drowning in a barrage of minutiae. And this is just from our real friends. To survive, we have to automatically delete all the “relevant” offers and content marketing from even the businesses we’ve opted in to, because we just don’t have time to sift through them.

In 2006, we were just discovering social networking and were craving personal connection – we trusted our peers more than anyone at that point, and certainly more than any faceless institution. But now in 2011, we seem to be craving the curation and discernment of experts, because after experiencing how little of import our peers actually have to say (if they’re talking constantly and we’re listening constantly), maybe experts aren’t as overrated as we thought.  Also, in my humble opinion, this current trend of tsunami-like e-mail marketing has taken advantage of customers’ trust. We opt-in to a mailing list of a business we’ve trusted in the past, and now this business fills our inboxes with multiple “relevant” offers or content per week – sometimes even per day. Even once a week is too often for businesses who offer products or services that I wouldn’t consider buying more than once per quarter. Trust erodes quickly in this kind of environment, because it indicates businesses either don’t know or don’t care about electronic information overload. They just shout louder or more often.

Here’s what I’d like to see happen: I’d like to see businesses act like the experts they are, instead of trying to “talk” to me multiple times a week through Facebook or Twitter or e-mail. What if a real person did this to you in order to be your friend? (Last year, unsolicited email became spam. But now even e-mail marketing lists we opt in to have become spam, because there are just too many. You may be thinking about your business all day every day, but your customers aren’t.) Being a credible, professional expert first is the only way we can develop the trust needed to become friends, and for me to trust more frequent communication from you. But it’s really OK if we only ever stay business partners and never become friends. Those relationships are valuable too.

Most people trying to find a trustworthy product or service provider go to the Internet to search for credible experts – when they need it. And these credible experts usually prove their credibility by putting their expertise front and center as professionals. Content marketing is right on the money if it’s organized by customer need and downloadable online, when customers need it and thus search for it. (I’d even pay for it, if it was from a trusted source and had discernible value in helping me make a good purchasing decision in an objective way. If businesses’ truly put their expertise in terms of customer needs, they could even become quite credible publishers. But that’s another post.) But if businesses’ expertise is split up into a myriad surface bits and sent to my inbox several times a week, it just becomes noise.

Businesses who behave like the calm professional experts that they are, allowing me to find them through search and a recommendation by a trusted and credible source, will get my business every time. And it might even be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

If you, like me, are weighing the pros and cons of the various e-readers out there, you may be wondering if the iPad might be the cost-effective choice (despite its $750 price tag for 3G). Every year brings a new development in web functionality and digital publishing, and no one has quite figured out yet which combination of features works best on which size gadget. Most of us have figured out that the smartphone is just too small for meaningful computing, yet the laptop, at times, is just too big. Many of us are thinking the tablet is the answer. But is now the right time to buy? If the e-reader function is at the top of your must-have list, I believe the answer is no – or at least, not yet.

I bought my Kindle several years ago – it’s not the latest generation, but it’s not the oldest either. But now that real industry standards for epub 3 are out, last week I bought the iPad 2, which supports epub 3 and thus enhanced e-books – something the Kindle can’t do. So far three authors have asked me to integrate enhanced features in their manuscripts and proposals, and since I also do book design, the iPad is unquestionably a game-changer. So the decision to buy was a simple business decision: required product research. But I was also personally interested in the iPad’s functionality as a multi-purpose computing tool – could it replace my laptop too? If it was a good e-reader, and it could let me edit on the run, it would be a considerable bargain.

Here are the pros and cons of each, as one avid cloud-computer and e-reader sees it:

Kindle

Pros:

  • Lightweight (easy to hold in one hand, just like a book)
  • Digital ink is easy on the eyes for long periods of reading
  • Page-turning is easy on the eyes (screen just refreshes instead of sliding, blurry, to the next page like the iPad)
  • Convenient one-hand reading (“next page” button is right where your hand is when holding it – no need to touch the screen)
  • Affordable price for an e-reader ($139 for wi-fi, or $114 if you don’t mind advertisements). More than pays for itself if you consider the saved space on your bookshelves, saved time in ordering, and saved money in e-versions. I buy a LOT of books.
  • Wi-fi vs. 3G: I like my 3G, but there was no wi-fi option when I bought mine. My husband has the wi-fi version, and it doesn’t seem to have slowed him down. Since Kindle is an exclusive e-reader, it’s not a huge inconvenience (for U.S. users, at least) to make sure to download books when you’re in range. You don’t need to be connected to read your books. So the even more affordable wi-fi version seems adequate.
  • Overall – a reader’s e-reader, great for reading standard books and curling up on the couch

Cons:

  • Does not have full Internet browser. So it can’t double as a phone (via skype), a computer, etc. This means it’s another gadget to carry that may duplicate perfectly adequate e-reading technology in your phone or laptop.
  • Does not have enhanced e-book capabilities. Epub 3 has just been released, so almost all publishers are working to take full advantage of its design capabilities. Video, enlarged graphics, and multiple links will be seamlessly integrated with the text, which means reading these books absolutely requires constant connection to the web. A touchscreen will almost certainly be the primary way to interface best with these books – or whatever they will be called. (“Enhanced e-book” is just too long a term to be used for much longer. This is definitely a new animal, but no one’s named it yet – we’re still just describing it, because it’s still being made.) Enter – the iPad.

iPad

Pros:

  • Enhanced e-book capabilities (for significance, see above)
  • Full Internet browser. This is the multifunctional gadget extraordinaire: if you save docs in the cloud it can double as a laptop (as long as you’re just primarily reading them); it syncs to iTunes so it doubles as an iPod, and if you need more screen space it can also double as a second monitor. For some it could function as both a laptop and a more convenient e-reader. The larger screen makes it much more user-friendly than a smartphone – but like a smartphone, it’s still primarily for e-mail, document viewing, and entertainment – until Office and Adobe CS go fully into the cloud.
  • Wi-fi vs. 3G – iPad has both versions, just like the Kindle does, but since there’s no point in buying the iPad if you don’t want to take advantage of its internet browser, the 3G is far more valuable to the iPad than the Kindle, which makes the price differential even greater (see below).
  • Overall, a convenient e-reader for early adopters – for those who prefer their e-reader as a side dish rather than the main course, and who were primarily looking for a larger smartphone screen. The iPad’s main course is convenient Internet access everywhere, taking full advantage of all the web has to offer (which is a lot). But it’s not everything:

Cons:

  • The PRICE – for 3G, which I think you would absolutely need if you depended on its internet features away from home, it runs upward of $750, compared to $139 or less for a Kindle wi-fi.
  • The weight – too heavy to hold for reading in one hand.
  • Backlit screen and motion-sickness-inducing page sliding is harder on the eyes (sliding applies to epub 2 designed books – which, granted, is the past industry standard, but most e-books available now are in this format). Disclaimer: few may be bothered by the blurring of the page when swiping to turn pages, but I read pretty quickly and very often, so this swiping adds up for me.

If you haven’t already deduced, after using the iPad for a little while, I still much prefer my Kindle for reading books. The iPad is just too heavy to hold like a book, and the touchscreen (although it allows for cool design features in epub 3 books like translucent pages that really look like they’re turning) means you have to keep moving your hand to turn the page. (The Kindle has a button right where your hand is when you’re holding the book, so you don’t even have to move your hand. Very easy one-hand reading.) As an e-reader, Kindle is just easier for me to use. I look at a backlit screen all day, so the digital ink is a relief.

Even though it’s beautifully designed, as an e-reader the iPad is too much like a computer, yet as a laptop, it’s too much like a smartphone – it’s too small (even with the add-on keyboard, which is awkwardly small). I need the full features of Microsoft Word to do my work, which isn’t available on the cloud yet. So I can’t say I’d personally recommend it, based on what I need a portable gadget to do.

Bottom line: an iPad is great for people who have limited e-reader needs and limited computing needs, and want the latest and greatest multifunctional gadget that can combine an e-reader and full internet access, where the Internet functionality is the main course and the e-reader’s an added bonus. It’s also a must-have for publishing professionals and designers, as it’s a game-changer right now. But if you’re a heavy e-reader user or a heavy laptop user, it isn’t quite good enough on either count. Also, the price is very high right now, while Kindle’s is pretty low – the differential is about $600. You can get away with the wi-fi Kindle if you’re careful to buy books when you’re in range, if it isn’t too inconvenient. Everyone’s investing in tablet technology right now, and even though Apple’s is the most impressive tablet to date, I don’t think the iPad has got it quite right yet – I’d wait until more workhorse computer programs have a fully functional cloud version for the general public (like Office and Adobe CS) so internet access is enough to do a full day’s work, or until more books are using the epub3 format (there are only a handful right now, and they’re not that helpful yet) – and you decide that’s a good thing. Amazon is working on its own tablet, which may just add features to its Kindle, or be a whole new animal. There was only a year-and-a-half between the first iPad and the iPad 2, so in a couple years, maybe a tablet will be the thing to buy.

But if you’re primarily looking for an e-reader for text-based books and you still need a full laptop, I’d say the iPad isn’t cost effective…yet. Stick with the Kindle for both affordability and functionality.

This post is second in a three-part series on book blogging. The first post on the real value of book bloggers for authors is here.

News alert: we are in the midst of an information glut. Most people, myself included, can access far more potentially paradigm-shattering information and entertainment than we could possibly consume. Please, please don’t add to the clutter of the literary marketplace. Before you send your book to a book blogger, first be sure your book makes a genuine contribution to the literary marketplace.

In other words, make sure your book is professionally published, not vanity published. Definitions vary, but I consider a vanity-published book to be just what it sounds like: a book published primarily to build up an author’s vanity and not primarily to share something of value with readers. Self-serving rather than other-serving. For example, if it’s always been your dream to be a published author, and you’re finding traditional publishers’ doors consistently closed to your manuscript, you may decide to self-publish. Shocked at how expensive it is to produce a book, you’ve skimped on editing and design to save money for the printer. Unfortunately what you now have in your hands is a vanity-published book that may delight your friends and family, but is simply not suitable for the general public. If your primary motivation is simply to wear the badge of “published author,” however precariously, then I’m afraid you’ll be publishing your book in vain. Literally. Readers’ time is too tight, and the literary marketplace too glutted, for you to successfully market an amateur book. Having a beautiful cover on poorly written content is just going to make time-starved readers angry.

Yet discerning a book’s quality is a complicated business. For example, the same could be said about another global creative endeavor: the world’s population. Experts tell us the world is overpopulated, yet we still continue to have babies. Genetic tests even give us the option of “editing out” imperfections. But few of us are even tempted by that option – we continue to have baby after imperfect baby. Why? Because the life principle is simply that strong. If your book truly lives within you, needing to be born, then no matter how overpopulated the literary marketplace may seem, there is room for your book. Again, why? Because if it’s alive, and it’s yours, you’re likely to have the internal motivation necessary to care for it. (This is not always true, but it is true very, very often.) You’ll be able to hear the hard truth about its imperfections, develop your craft, and stick with your manuscript until it’s truly ready to meet your readers. Just like parenting your child – you’ll want to know when things are going wrong because you love your child and want to do what it takes to help him or her thrive and eventually become independent.

And as hard as it is to tell these days when our kids are ready to leave the nest, how can we possibly know when our book’s ready? As an editor, I know when a book’s ready when it instantly transports me to another world, without the distraction of typos, uneven margins, or incomplete plot lines. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it does need to have an independent life of its own.

Fortunately this quality isn’t genetically determined. There is a process (that traditional publishers have followed for years, by the way) that helps ensure our books are mature enough to leave the nest of our personal computers and make a living out in the world. So if you have your published book in your hands and are now nervously wondering whether your manuscript is professionally published or published in vain, here are the crucial developmental steps of professional book publishing:

  1. Write, revise, rest, rewrite, and complete the manuscript in community with other writers. As a developmental editor and writing coach (and sometimes author therapist!), I know several writers who have made a breakthrough in their writing even after they thought their book proposal was complete. It’s worth leaving time for breakthroughs. Throw the calendar or self-created deadlines out the window. Just like there’s no rushing the birth of a child, there’s no rushing the birth of a book. It will come when it’s ready, but you have to provide the right supportive environment and be ready to catch it when it comes.
  2. Manuscript review. Once your manuscript is absolutely complete, get a manuscript review by a well-recommended and professional editor, ideally with a specialty in your field, to make sure you’re on target. (If you’re not sure where to find a trustworthy editor, check out the Editorial Freelancers Association at www.the-efa.org, a very reputable source where you can do a tailored search for a wide variety of editorial, design, and publishing consulting services.) Manuscript reviews should provide a list of general strengths and weaknesses, as well as a detailed list of writing recommendations with examples. Some even include a market analysis, so you know who your target audience is, what your competition is, and, most importantly, whether your book is different enough from what’s out there to be worth buying and reading. In my opinion, it is usually not cost effective to pay an editor to do extensive line-by-line editing for you, unless you are a bona fide publisher with upfront capital who believes so strongly in the concept of the book that it’s worth paying for extra editing to clean up poor writing. (Few trade publishers can even afford to do this anymore.) But if you don’t have the money, you’ve got to put forth the time in improving your craft if you’re going to reach your reader. There are already a lot of transformative, good books out there. Yours should be one of them!
  3. Copyediting. After you’ve incorporated any writing recommendations into your manuscript and you’ve again read it over and believe it is as good as it can possibly get, now it’s time to hire that professional fine-tooth comb: the copyeditor. Best to get an expert in Chicago Manual of Style, the trade publisher’s usual basic style guide. A good copyeditor will do at least two passes, leaving time for queries (questions to the author) and incorporating your responses.
  4. Professional book design. If you have a print version, hiring a professional typesetter with expertise in the industry standard for print publications (currently Adobe InDesign) is absolutely crucial. If you’re publishing online with a pdf (as long as it won’t be printed!), you can convert your Word document to a pdf free and instantly. If you hire a company to convert your manuscript to an e-book (whether for a flat fee or percentage of sales), make sure they allow time for you to review the final e-version with a full proofread and make corrections if needed.
  5. Proofreading. This can be done as another pass by your copyeditor after typesetting and before printing, or after final conversion if electronic. In my opinion, if you trust the editor’s quality, it’s wonderful if you can get the same person to do the copyediting and proofreading, because this person will already be familiar with your manuscript. But whether it’s your copyeditor or a separate proofreader, your manuscript needs one more careful read to get all the errors that everyone missed the first or second time, once it’s in its final form. New errors are often introduced in the book design phase – whether through document conversion errors or the designer’s misunderstanding of your intent.
  6. Review copies. Have a professionally formatted e-book version and the final print-ready pdf available to send out for review. Print copies usually aren’t necessary, but you want your electronic copy to look exactly as the print version would look. Sending review copies out too early, before those last typos or formatting issues are dealt with, can create a less-than-receptive first impression, even if your story is world-changing. If you’re self-publishing, there’s no need to put more obstacles in front of your reader than self-publishing inherently entails. (There are more armchair editors than you think who will become quickly frustrated at even a few obvious errors.)
  7. Printing. It’s very frustrating to go through all these steps meticulously and then find your printer has been sloppy – or doesn’t send a sample copy before the print run or the POD option goes live. Vet your printer as meticulously as your editor or designer.

Only if your book can compare equally well on all levels with a professionally published book should you send it to a book blogger. I don’t say this to discourage any author, but to encourage you: your book is worth your best investment, whether it’s time or money or both. Be absolutely sure this is the best work you can produce, and that you’ve hired a professional consultant at some stage of the process (ideally all) who can reassure you that the story comes through clearly and without distraction. Marketing even an excellent book takes a lot of time and effort – only if you know your book is truly transformative for your readers and is in its best form will you have the long-term stamina for intuitive and effective marketing. Readers know when an author is offering their book out of confidence and deep passion, or out of insecurity or desperation.

But here’s some more encouragement: even though writing and producing a professional book may feel like birthing a child for you, the reader’s investment is much, much less. Economically speaking, buying a book is not like buying a house, or even an airplane ticket – it’s just not a terribly high investment, and most book lovers are willing to take a chance for $10. (My bookshelves are filled with many such chances I’ve taken over the years.) So try not to let perfectionism paralyze you. No parent’s child will ever be perfect – yet we love them and invest in them no less (for little compensation, I might add). The fact is that they are alive, and they spark life in the world around them. That’s their value. So you don’t have to produce a bestseller or the newest installation in the English canon. You just want to know deep down that you’re sharing something of value that’s truly alive, that it’s been priced appropriately, and that it’s ready to stand on its own in the marketplace.

It’s happened: I finally got a Twitter account. And I’ve gotten my feet wet enough to publicly link my real persona to it: @splitseedmedia. (Yes, there’s a rebranding effort underway – more on that later.) I’m still trying to figure out how to use it well, so if I inadvertently break etiquette rules (particularly about following), I apologize – I’ll get it, I promise.

The first thing I noticed about Twitter was that it seems to draw people with lots of energy and passion about topics. Which is fantastic for independent publishing and authors connecting with readers. It also seems to encourage cross-contamination across industries, which is equally fantastic for innovation. Before really participating in Twitter, the huge amount of retweeting kind of turned me off – seemed like just another unnecessary duplication of content. Basically a duplication of RSS. But now that I’ve experienced it, even if retweeting is like RSS, I certainly prefer Twitter’s way. It’s social RSS – mostly internet content filtered through an interesting person – and it’s a lot more fun. I admit that I use RSS with good intention – and I’m even the one who added the RSS feed – but I somehow never get around to checking Google Reader often enough. In comparison, I want to check Twitter all the time – it’s that personal, real-time social filter. Another blogger noted this as well – I’ll get that link up as soon as I find it.

This makes me think that in the very near future, just like Twitter is beating out RSS, the best content delivery mechanisms are going to need some kind of social filter. Amazon will have a social filter so you only see recommendations by people in your network. Or Google search will only show links used by people in your network. Of course, ever since Facebook, people have been predicting this. It’s only now that I can really see how this is preferable – and more fun.

Using Twitter has also reminded me that even very interesting people are way overproducing Internet content – far more than can be properly digested. Until we can all tone it down a bit, we’re going to need a filter so we don’t miss what we really want to hear. And it’s a good reminder that in this medium, the conversation is every bit as important as the content.

Many people have felt the need to reassert the value of editors lately – granted, mostly editors themselves. Not only is the book publishing industry busy changing paradigms and laying off editors left and right, but media professionals find themselves expected to do their job with less money, maintain a blog, and keep a Twitter account on top of that. Amidst this exploding world of content (with less editors on the company payroll), it seems that one take is that professional writers should know their grammar, and if you find yourself in need of an editor constantly, hire a better writer. While those of us who are editors might bristle at that statement, I think it’s smart to reevaluate the value of an editor as new publishing paradigms & contexts are being established. Surely the value of an editor is greatly dependent on the context and medium. For example:

  1. Technical or scientific subjects. We can’t all be good at everything, and very often folks who have brilliant scientific and technical insights just aren’t writers. Partnering with a good editor is key to making sure these insights have their best effect.
  2. Long works, fiction or nonfiction. I’m working on a novel now, and I can tell you that the writing process, be it fiction or nonfiction, is a completely different animal than editing. In fact, although my grammar is almost always right on, that’s not why I will need an editor when I’m done. I need not just a fresh pair of eyes to see where I repeated myself several times over 300 pages (the writing brain simply should not keep up with such details when it’s writing), but someone with searing honesty who can tell me what parts to cut and what parts to expand – the things I never would have seen even if I reread it a thousand times. Producing a long work, even just the manuscript, requires a team.
  3. Newspaper or print magazine articles with tight deadlines. Here is where many noneditors want to define editing as superfluous, but I would still say that the reporter who has to get the content down fast and in a rhythm (which is how I did my best journalistic writing, early in my career – I had to write fast and all at once before that rhythm disappeared) shouldn’t have to make sure every comma’s in the right spot. Let them get on with their job and start the next story. Copyeditors need to be the moat around the substance of the piece. Or perhaps the knight in shining armor. Because when all the armchair grammarians see your piece the next day, they will focus on the mistakes and not the substance, and that’s what the letters to the editor will be about. And it’s too late to fix it.
  4. Blogs, online articles easily changed, and otherwise ephemeral content that is here today and gone tomorrow. At the risk of stating the obvious, I doubt an editing budget is necessary here, in that it should be enough for a good writer or separate pair of noneditor eyes to catch mistakes. Editing is still a necessary process, just like anyone would check their work before they shared it publicly in any context, but not one that would require solely designated staff. If something’s caught after it’s posted, it’s easily changed. Also, sometimes the BEST writing isn’t necessary for this context, particularly when its primary value is not literary longevity but the social network bolstered, the seed of a thought planted, the breaking news shared. But this primarily has to do with the easy changeability of the medium rather than the quality of content.
  5. An exception to #4 is marketing copy (often online) that has to earn its keep, where every reader missed is money lost. In the article link above, the author cited a study at IBM that showed edited web copy was 30% more effective than unedited – thus concluding that editors are vital in this context. But I have to respectfully disagree with the point of the author in this limited sense – if the marketing web copy isn’t as measurably effective, I’d say you do need a better copywriter. A marketing copywriter’s job is to come up with audience-catching copy. If there are just simple grammar errors that keep it from being effective, however, hopefully a good read from a fellow copywriter will catch those kinds of mistakes. But most good writers I know don’t make many of those, unless they’re over-rushed. That’s a different problem altogether, and hiring another specialized staffperson isn’t going to solve what is likely a core company problem. 

Bottom line: the more lasting value the writing project has (with the exception of web copy above, which I think is in its own category), the more you need an editor. No thoughtful editor truly believes she’s required in every context.

Two updates on the pursuit of sustainable communication through digital tools:

1. The folks at The Wealthy Freelancer did a fantastic job linking together freelancers from all over the world – at the same time – for the first annual International Freelancers’ Day. (Their eponymous book is equally fantastic – highly practical, energetic, and encouraging – and I strongly recommend it for any solo professional. Order it through their site and you get some great freebies.) Despite some technical difficulties at the beginning, Ed Gandia, Steve Slaunwhite, Pete Savage, and their team provided valuable free practical advice on developing and growing your solo business (i.e., the Freemium model that has been successful in media lately) and established themselves as the go-to advisors for freelancers, in my mind. Their content was mainly delivered by separate podcasts, scheduled at certain times (but archived so participants could access them for up to a month afterwards), which I thought was an ideal venue, particularly if presenters shuffled in their power point slides within the podcast. A great example of virtual communication at its best – professionals who persevered through technical difficulties (the tools don’t always work perfectly, no matter how far in advance we test them out), who provided several places for attendees to network in real-time (chat, Facebook page, blog) and stayed personally connected, and who provided lots of lasting resources for entrepreneurial empowerment. Bravo!

2. On the opposite end is the publishing industry’s current frenetic focus on the tool (e-readers, enhanced e-books, etc.) and not the content delivered. We’ve all been enamored with the cool new smart phones, iPads, and e-readers as different ways to receive our information and read our books. Yes, I still differentiate between the two experiences – reading books is still a particular, immersive experience for me, one that I can replicate on my Kindle but not so far on my Droid. [This has more to do with the length of books rather than the act of reading per se – I just need to settle in differently when the ideas presented are complicated enough to unfold slowly. Common sense, really.] 

Our friends at Digital Book World have been pointing this out, particularly through Guy LeCharles’ post On Digital Natives, Analog Marketing, and Branding. That said, I also have lots of patience for our friends in production – they need to master these tools, and they don’t need us breathing down their necks while they do so. More important, this current, frenetic focus on the surface tool in the publishing industry shouldn’t distract those of us who “produce content” (formerly known as writers and editors) – valuable content that lasts can only be produced by people who deeply experience tangible life, take lots of time to listen to and dwell deep in ideas, take risks to learn, and aren’t shy about speaking their mind, even when it’s not popular. That’s sustainable communication – words that last, ideas that live. If we don’t produce it, who will?