Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Depression and Anxiety in the Digital Age

I haven't been very good about keeping up my blog.  Life has a way of getting in the way.  I've been revising a manuscript I absolutely love that I have high hopes for; I went to DragonCon over Labor Day weekend, where the ever-awesome Delilah Dawson got me onto a panel discussing romance in YA (which veered heavily into non-heterosexual romance in YA...and a great member of the audience questioned the lack of inclusion of asexual characters in YA and books in general) and allowed me to do a short reading from The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley; I found out I'll be attending the Texas Library Association's Young Adult Round Table in April (which is AWESOME!); and I've been working on another project that's still under wraps but about which I can't wait to discuss.

So, lots of stuff.  Lots of amazing stuff.  

And yet, I've fallen into a funk.  I've talked about my history with depression but I don't often talk about how depression affects my present.  Usually, I can tell when depression is coming on.  It feels like the beginning of the flu.  Lethargy, malaise, a general sense of hopelessness.  And when that happens, I tend to hibernate.  I eat poorly, watch bad TV and movies, and ride it out.  A therapist gave me that advice when I was...oh 19 or so.  He told me to just accept that I was going to go through phases of depression, acknowledge them, know that they would pass, and ride them out.  For the most part, it works (for me...I qualify that because while I go through depressive episodes, I haven't gone through a major depressive episode in a long time...those are much different), but I've been wondering lately (as depression crouches in my brain) if my digital life isn't exacerbating the situation.

Take Five Stages for instance.  The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley comes out at the end of January.  I've gotten absolutely mind-boggling blurbs from Bruce Coville, Brent Hartinger, and Trish Doller.  The love they've shown my book is just beyond my comprehension.  The earliest Goodreads reviews have also been brilliant.  And yet, I refresh Goodreads 10, 20, 50 times daily, looking for more reviews.  Wondering why more people aren't talking about it.  I Google my name and the title an absurd amount of times.  Even though I warn other writers not to do these things, I do them anyway!  I know there's nothing I can do about it.  I've written the best book I could, I've got the best editorial staff, marketing, sales, and publicity team behind it, rooting hard for it to win.  The rest is up to readers.  And aside from physically shoving it into the hands of readers (which I did until I ran out of ARCs), what happens next is beyond my control.

Facebook allows me to connect with people and writers who live outside of my area...people I probably wouldn't get the opportunity to talk to otherwise.  But it also shoves their accomplishments in my face, reminding me of everything I haven't achieved.  I am genuinely happy for them—they're my friends, how could I not be?—and yet every starred review, every movie deal, every award is an irrational knife twisting in my gut.  

And it goes beyond the sort of professional jealousy we all feel but rarely admit.  Last week, I got involved in a heartbreaking conversation on Reddit about an LGBTQ float being excluded from a St. Patrick's day parade.  I don't even know why I got into the discussion, but I was assailed on all sides by people who believed that all members of the gay community are sexual deviants, hedonists who can't help whipping out their dicks and masturbating in public whenever they get together as a group.  By people who told me that homosexuality was equated with pedophilia. I was told I was a selfish human being for standing up for the LGBTQ community's right for self-expression.  I know those things aren't true.  It shouldn't have bothered me that somewhere, someone on the internet hated me.  

But it did.

The more time I spend on the Internet, the more I feel a kind of soulless disconnect from my actual life.  I begin to wonder if I'm really me or if I'm a collection of Likes and retweets and down-voted comments.  I begin to lose the joy of each and every minute as I obsessively reload my AT&T order page to see if my new iPhone has shipped yet.  

The more I connect with people on-line, the less connected I feel to the people in my own life.  The less I feel connected to myself.  

And I wonder, as the frequency of my depressive episodes increase, as doubt and anxiety become the houseguests who refuse to leave, whether these feelings are merely symptoms of my existing disease or whether they're partly the cause.  

If I had an answer, I wouldn't be writing this blog.  I've thought about cutting myself off from the Internet—blocking reddit and facebook and twitter and all those other dark digital caves in which we gather to watch shadows on the walls—but I'd miss my friends, the ones I only get to see on-line.  I'd miss connecting with readers, which is probably the very best part of the internet for me.  

I could become a hermit—block my internet and hide away from the world—but the internet isn't a passing fad.  It's not going to go away.  If anything, we're going to become more connected. Our world will become both bigger and more insular.  People will know more about us and yet they will know us less well.  

Like I said, if I had an answer, I wouldn't be writing this blog.  I suppose, at the end of it all, the best I can do is ride it out.  Wait for the next Twitter high, the next Goodreads fix.  

Or maybe I'll go for a run instead.  

Saturday, September 6, 2014

YA & Sexuality - Rewind

It's 2AM, and for some reason I've been going through my blog (all the way back to 2007) and reading the posts.  Blame it on insomnia.  Anyway, I cam across three posts that I wrote about YA & Sexuality back in 2010.

Deathday included a gay best friend and FML included a totally open and drama free gay couple, but with The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley, I've finally done what I set out to do.  I wrote a book featuring a gay main character in a story that's not about being gay.  I've written exactly the kind of book I needed to read when I was a teenager.  With Five Stages, I feel like I've written something that might have kept teenage me from wanting to kill himself.

So I thought I'd repost those three blogs here because they're just as relevant now than they were back then.

YA & Sexuality
Part 1 - Full Disclosure
Part 2 - Why This Matters
Part 3 - Do Something

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Readers Unite? WTF?!?

So that Amazon, huh?  What're you gonna do?

I woke up this morning to an email in my box from Amazon to its KDP authors.  I am not, in fact a KDP author.  I think I may have signed up for the KDP program at one time to see their self-publishing terms, but I have never actually published anything through them.  My books, however, are sold through Amazon.  Amazon is a distributor for my book from Simon & Schuster.

The gist of the email, which uses a quote taken out of context by George Orwell (a poor choice since it only serves to remind people of the Kindle-1984 debacle where Amazon deleted 1984 from a bunch of devices without asking) is really just more of the same.  Ebook prices should be lower, Hachette wants higher prices, World War II, something...something...something.

The email annoyed me.  Not because Amazon was trying to get its point out, but because they'd used my email address to send me their bullshit propaganda.  You can read the letter on their website.  In my opinion, it's a load of shit.  At the same time, I think the equally creepy advertisement taken out by 900 authors in the New York Times is also bullshit.

I'm not going to rehash the entire argument.  You can read about the Amazon letter here on the NYT website.  You can also read some balanced and well thought out responses from John Scalzi and Chuck Wendig.  On the page, there are links to pro-Amazon articles, and if Hugh Howey or JA Konrath post about the email, I'll edit this post to include links to them as well.

I actually only have a few things to say about this situation:

1.  I agree with Amazon that lower ebook prices would be nice.  Four years after its release, Deathday is still in print, but I'd love to sell more copies of it, and having the ability to drop the price to $4.99 or $3.99, even for a limited time, could help boost sales.  Lower ebook prices could increase sales so that total units sold makes up the difference in revenue from a lower price, but it's not as much a guarantee as Amazon would like people to believe.

2.  I disagree that Amazon should enforce an artificial price ceiling of $9.99.  That's the job of the free market.  In Amazon's letter, it makes sure to highlight the fact that Hachette, along with Apple and other publishers, were caught colluding on prices.  This is true.  However, raising book prices was a gamble.  Books are not a necessity.  You don't need them to survive.  And if the publishers had raised prices too high, people would have stopped buying them and the publishers would have had no choice but to bring prices down to something more reasonable.  That's how the free market works.  Companies charge for a product the amount they think they can get you to pay for it.  I can make iced tea at home for 50 cents, but I love Starbucks' iced tea and am willing to pay their insane prices.  If they priced their iced tea too high, I wouldn't buy it, others wouldn't buy it, and they'd lower the price.  I think Starbucks' prices are nuts, but I pay them, and I don't begrudge them their right to charge me the highest amount I'm willing to pay.

Amazon's attempt to create a price ceiling, however, attempts to side-step the free market approach by enforcing a maximum price for all ebooks.  Amazon's statistics may be correct that the sweet spot for ebooks is $9.99, but that's not going to hold true for all books.  I might not be willing to pay $12.99 for a debut I've never heard of, but just last night I spent $12.99 on the newest book in the Expanse series by James S.A. Corey (which is a brilliant space opera, by the way) because I wanted to read it immediately, and $12.99 was what I was willing to shell out for it.  Had it been $14.99, I probably wouldn't have bought it.  Amazon's price ceiling takes away a publisher's ability to determine the best price for each and every book, and that's not good.

One of the secrets of publishing is that the best selling books—the Snookie biography and Stephen King's latest and even Twilight—prop up the books that sell moderately well or not well at all.  Without the ability to maximize the profits of bestselling books, publishers would have less money to spend acquiring riskier books, and that would mean less variety for readers.  You know, I read once that Christoper Nolan had to agree to make Batman in order to be allowed to make Inception.  New, untested properties are a risk, and though Inception did well, there wasn't the same guarantee as with Batman.  That's how publishing is.  Publishing the sure things gives them the latitude to publish the riskier books.  

3.  Amazon doesn't give a single flying fuck about readers.  They care about customers.  Buying customers.  Another tidbit that's come from the fight is that Amazon wants a most favored nation clause from Hachette, ensuring that they always have the lowest prices.  This is the same thing that many people demonized Apple for requiring.  It's not illegal.  But Amazon wants to cap the maximum price of ebooks and also ensure that they can't be beat in a price war.  Why?  Because ebooks still only make up about 20-30% of the entire market.  That means there's still a metric shit ton of readers to convert to Kindle users.  Bringing the prices of ebooks down is how they intend to lure readers away from physical books.  And it's a smart strategy!  I won't deny that.  It worked for Apple.  They forced record companies to allow them to sell songs singly rather than forcing customers to buy the entire album, and they made the price point 99 cents.  Apple didn't give a fuck about music; they wanted to sell iPods.

But digital music was relatively new.  As the space matured, Apple was forced to allow music companies to raise prices.  The ebook market isn't exactly a mature market yet, but it's not new either.  And quite frankly, the publishing industry isn't floundering the way the music industry was when Apple came along.  Publishers are still posting profits.  People are still buying physical books.  Publishers don't need Amazon to come along and save them.  Amazon's actions may align with those of consumers who are generally predisposed to want lower prices, but Amazon is doing this to bolster its control of the ebook market, and not because it loves books or readers.

4.  Publishers don't give a flying fuck about readers.  Listen, I've got books published by S&S, and I love my editors, my publicists, the art designers.  I love the whole team of people there.  They're amazing, hard working people who love what they do.  But S&S, and the other traditional publishers are owned by media conglomerates whose sole job is to make money.  This fight they're having with Amazon is about protecting their interests.  It's not about authors, it's not about readers.  It's about corporate profits. If they wanted to get authors on their side, they'd change their boilerplate contracts to offer authors a higher percentage of ebook sales than they do now.  The individuals inside of those publishing houses may care about their authors, but those people have bosses, and their bosses have bosses, and if you aren't making them money, you're worthless to them.

5.  Though I disagree with Amazon's tactics and have made my feelings known by not purchasing from them since this whole mess began, there's nothing inherently wrong with what they're doing.  Bookstores frequently don't stock certain books.  B&N doesn't stock books published by Amazon, and indie bookstores with limited space frequently have to pick and choose which books to stock.  What Amazon is doing is shitty, but it's their right to do so.  If you agree, taking out ads in the NYTs is a stupid way to voice your opinion.  Corporations respond to one thing and one thing only:  $$$.  Tell them how you feel with your wallet.  I'm doing it with Amazon now and I did it with B&N when they fought with S&S.

6.  Amazon's KDP authors should be the most concerned by Amazon's demands.  I honestly don't understand why they're taking Amazon's side in this.  The biggest weapon in a self-published author's arsenal is the ability to control the price of their books and to undercut those of traditional publishers. If Amazon wins and sets a ceiling on the price of ebooks, KDP authors are going to have to price their books even lower to compete.  If I self-published my books, I'd be furious with Amazon for trying to narrow the price points of ebooks and cripple my ability to compete with traditionally published books on price.  I know there are a lot of fantastic, polished self-published books, but public perception is that traditionally published books are of higher quality (and I'm not going to argue whether the perception is true...there are shit traditional books and shit self-pubbed books).  Price has always been where self-published books ruled.  People are willing to overlook the perceived difference in quality because the price is so much lower.  It boggles my mind that Amazon KDP authors are fighting to allow Amazon take away their greatest advantage.

7.  I've said this before and I've said it again:  if traditional publishers want to keep the price of ebooks high (and I totally understand the economics of wanting to do so, even if I disagree with the rationale) they need to offer more value.  Extra chapters, author notes or interviews.  Blu-Rays offer extras, and ebooks should too.  They're easy to add and can help increase the value of ebooks.

8.  Publishers are missing a huge opportunity by fighting with Amazon.  If they don't like Amazon's terms, they should simply withdraw their books from Amazon and sell direct to readers.  The short-term consequences would be outweighed by the long-term benefits.  They need to invest in startups that compete with Amazon.  Ebooks aren't going away.  I don't think physical books will ever go away either, but ebooks are a thing, and publishers need to get behind it in a big way.  They've allowed Amazon to control their destiny, and now they're paying the price for it.  They need to pull up their britches, stop bitching, and do something about it.

9.  Finally, I just want to throw this out there about price:  My next book is out January 20, 2015.  Right now the MSRP is 17.99 but you can find it on Amazon and B&N for about $14.  The ebook version's MSRP $12.99.  You can get it for $11 at B&N, and $10 at Amazon.  Maybe you think that $10 for an ebook is too much, but I've spent approximately 2000 hours over four years writing, rewriting, and editing that book.  My agent and I worked on revisions for almost a year.  My editor and I worked on it for about a year.  A copyeditor tore it apart.  An team of designers created the brilliant cover, jacket, and inside designs.  Christine Larsen, a truly amazing artist, drew the Patient F comic that lives inside the book.  This isn't just a bunch of words, it's not simply bits and bytes.  It's thousands of hours of work.  It's missed time with my family and friends.  It's all the weight I gained and lost and gained again while working on it.  It's a little piece of my soul.  And hopefully, for readers, it will be a few hours they can escape into the world I created.  I don't think ten or twelve bucks is asking too much for that.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

On Diversity, and When to Shut Up and Listen

One of the things I love about the YA community is that they're fearless when it comes to calling attention to things that matter—things like diversity and bullying and the way we treat each other.  Having conversations about these things is important and necessary.  But sometimes it's more important to listen than to talk, and that's something I'm slowly coming to realize I haven't been doing enough of.

A few months ago, I read a blog post about non-minorities and their role in the conversation about diversity.  The gist of the post was that, while it's good that we're calling attention to these issues, non-minorities have a tendency to hijack the conversations.  Not out of malice, but because they feel like they have something worthwhile to add.  And that tendency ends up drowning out the voices of minorities.  I read the post a couple of times and—I'll admit—I didn't get it.  I was annoyed at the tone, which I felt was essentially saying that if you're not a minority you have no business discussing issues regarding minorities.  So, rather than listen, I spoke up.  My point was simply that any attention drawn to the issues minorities face is good, no matter whose responsible for drawing the attention.  As a gay man, yes it's annoying that so many gay, lesbian, and transgendered roles in Hollywood are given to straight actors, who then go on to win awards for their work, but the fact that they're drawing attention to the LGBTQ community is a good thing.

I exchanged comments with some people on that post, and I walked away feeling like I'd made my point.  Yet, here I am, months later, still thinking about it.  

I am an American white male who grew up in an upper middle class town.  I went to college, though I never graduated, and I live a comfortable middle class life.  When I write, I include diversity in my work.  I include diversity because I'm writing the world I see around me.  But am I doing more harm than good?  

Here's the thing:  I believe there's a huge difference between writing about a black character and writing about being black.  As a white male, I don't know the first thing about being black.  I didn't grow up in a black household, I didn't have many black friends growing up because there weren't many black families living in my town.  When I wrote the character of Shane in Deathday, I based him partly on a young man I worked with at The GAP when I was 16.  When I decided that Cassie in FML was going to be mixed race, I based her on a girl I very, very briefly dated in high school.  But neither of those characters deal with their otherness.  They are characters of color as seen through the lens of a white male character and as written by a white male author.  They don't speak at all to the challenges of growing up black or mixed race, and they shouldn't because I don't know the first thing about those issues.

For a while I labored under the false notion that being gay gave me insight into what it's like to be a minority.  And, in a very small way, it does.  I've been afraid of holding my partner's hand in public, I've felt the stares of people who thought I deserved to burn in hell.  I've worried about walking out of a gay club and being assaulted.  But at the end of the day, I can still pass as a white male.  When I walk into a store, no one instantly looks at me and flags me as a thief.  No one has to know that I'm gay unless I want them to, and that means that I don't have to worry about discrimination unless I want to.  Most minorities don't have that option.  I can wait to tell people I'm gay until they've gotten to know me as a person, whereas most people instantly judge a person of color immediately based on the color of their skin without bothering to understand them as a person first.  

I can write about being gay because I am gay.  I get it, I've been through it.  And I can write minority characters into my novels because South Florida has a huge Hispanic population and because I have Jewish friends and black friends and Asian friends.  But I can't write about being any of those things because I'm not Jewish or black or Hispanic.  Maybe, if I did a lot of research and talked to a lot of people, I could learn to write about what it means to be black, but why should I?

That's the point the original blogger was trying to make.  There are so many minority writers out there writing about what it's like to be them and to live their lives that adding my voice to their discussion needlessly draws attention away from theirs.  As writers, we should celebrate diversity by writing about the world we see around us.  But if we want to understand what diversity really means, we should look to those who really know rather than trying to add our voices to a discussion that we can't ever truly understand.

I wish I could find that blog post because I'd go back and tell her that I probably still don't fully understand all the points she was trying to make—hell, I'm probably still getting some of it wrong even now—but I'm ready to shut up and listen.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Thoughts About the Documentary Bridegroom

When we talk about equal rights for the GLBTQ community, I think it's often too easy to forget that we're talking about real people. Real human beings. Not abstracts, not ideas, but men and women who love each other.  People with histories stretched out behind them and lives still ahead of them.  

The documentary Bridegroom offers one of the best arguments I've ever seen in the fight for equality.  Most of the first half of Bridegroom tells the stories of Thomas Bridegroom and Shane Bitney Crone. Where they grew up, how they each came to terms with their sexuality, how they met, how they fell in love, and how they lived their life together.  The second half tells the story of what happened when Tom died in a tragic accident.  How Shane wasn't allowed to see Tom in the hospital during his last moments alive, how Tom's parents barred Shane from the funeral and threatened him with violence if he tried to attend, how Shane began to put his life back together.

The love that existed between Shane and Tom is really the only argument it presents, but it's the only one it needs.  

I didn't expect to be as affected by their story as I was, but their story could have been anyone's story. It could have been my own.  I can say with 100% certainty that if Matt was in the hospital and someone tried to keep me out, they'd have to arrest me and throw me in prison to keep me out of his room.  My heart broke into a million pieces watching Shane's video journals at the end.  

The thing is, I'm mostly preaching to the choir here.  If we're friends, if you're reading this because you know me or because you've read my books, then you're probably already a believer in marriage equality.  I hope, if you haven't seen Bridegroom, that you'll watch it (it's on Netflix!), but you're really not the people who need to watch it.  It's people who don't believe in GLBTQ equality who need to watch this film.  It's too easy to dismiss gay rights when all your fighting against is an idea.  But Tom and Shane aren't an abstract.  Their lives and their love were real.  I'm real. Matt's real.  All of the gays and lesbians past and future are real, and that's what people need to understand.  They're not fighting against an idea, they're fighting against us.

In the end, I don't think marches or court cases, though insanely important, are going to change the hearts and minds of people who think that being gay is a sin and that we don't deserve equal rights.  That kind of change is going to have to happen one person at a time.  And this documentary is a great place to start the conversation.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Transgender Thoughts

I just finished reading Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin and it's given
me a lot to think about.  Kuklin interviewed, followed and photographed six transgender teens over the course of four years.  She tells their stories through pictures, and allows them, more often than not, to tell their own stories in their own words.

As both a gay writer and a writer who writes about gay teens, transgender issues are an area I'm woefully ignorant of.  To my knowledge, I've never had any transgender friends.  The closest I've come are the people I knew who were involved in drag...though I suspect those have far less in common than I once believed.

Though I had my own body issues growing up—too skinny, too weak, big nose—I never felt uncomfortable with my gender.  Being male always felt natural to me.  I chafe at some of the societal expectations for my gender (never show emotion, don't cry openly, must love sports), but I've still found a place within my gender that's comfortable.  Even when I struggled to come to terms with being gay, I never questioned my gender.

The most difficult part of reading the transgender teen's stories was the conflicts they had with their parents.  Doctors who specialize in transgender issues seem to agree that beginning hormone treatments before the onset of puberty can help the teen "pass" as their true gender when they're an adult, and that it becomes more difficult once puberty has begun and they've stared to develop either masculine or feminine characteristics.  I really felt for those teens who wanted to badly to be seen on the outside as the gender they felt they were on the inside, but I also sympathized with their reluctant parents.  Every parent wants to do what's best for their child, and that includes making certain that they don't allow their children to make any permanent, life-altering choices without understanding all the ramifications.  The truth is, it's difficult to know anything for certain at 16.

Ultimately, the book opened my eyes to the spectrum of genders that exist, and to the problems transgender teens face.  I wish that society could get to a point that would allow teens (and adults!) who are questioning their gender to experiment without forcing them to make permanent choices until they're sure.  I wish we could stop being so hung up on gender expectations and focus on who people are inside rather than what they look like on the outside.

Lastly, I was really caught off guard by the strength of the teens Kuklin interviewed.  Reading their stories in their own words gives me hope for the future.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Thoughts About Publishing

Last week, I purchased 6 books.  The total at was $88 pre-tax, with free shipping, and I am not a member of B&N's discount club.  I haven't purchased anything from Amazon since mid-May, as a form of protest over the methods with which they're carrying on their fight with Hachette.  It's not the negotiations I'm against, it's their tactics, which harm authors.  On a lark, I logged into Amazon and added the same 6 books to my cart to see the price difference.  I wanted to see how much more I was spending by not shopping at Amazon.  As it turned out, the pre-tax price at Amazon was $101.  I also get free shipping there since I'm a Prime member.  The real kicker is that 2 of the 6 books had a 2-4 week lead time.

Amazon does some things that bother me.  Their Kindle T&C is frightening, and when I do purchase Kindle books, I immediately strip the DRM and store them on my computer to make sure that the books remain mine.  But they've also revolutionized on-line retail.  They've turned buying and shipping into freaking magic.  They've caused other retailers to severely scramble to up their game.  But I'm loathe to let any one retailer become so powerful.  It's never ever good when one company has too much power.

Look at the cable companies.  They've got near monopolies over TV and Internet, and Time Warner and Comcast rank dead last in customer satisfaction surveys.  They're the worst.  Amazon, has some of the absolute best customer service I've ever seen.  However, this tiff between Hachette and Amazon has proven to me that Amazon is willing to set aside its "customer first" mantra in order to chase higher revenues.  They're a company, and companies are in it to make money, so it's only customer first so long as it doesn't hurt their bottom line.

And I don't want to crap all over Amazon either.  When S&S (full disclosure, Simon Pulse, an imprint of S&S publishes my books) got into it with Barnes & Noble,  B&N severely limited the number of S&S books it ordered and stocked, and decreased S&S's visibility in their stores.  They abused their power as the only large brick and mortar retailer in the nation, and I "boycotted" them during that as well.

And let's not forget publishers either.  With the exception of Random House, the publishers pled guilty to price fixing e-books.  While I understood their logic in wanting to stabilize the ebook market, their methods were wrong, and they deserved to be punished.  The Big 5 have made huge mistakes when it comes to giving Amazon so much power, not being forward thinking about ebooks, and a host of other things.  While I often find Hugh Howey a little bit hyperbolic in terms of how he talks about traditional publishing, he makes a lot of valid points about their steadfast refusal to get with the times and in their treatment of authors.

I fear for the future of B&N.  Their megastore concept is unsustainable.  I fear what will happen if Amazon becomes the sole major retailer for books.  I worry about more publisher consolidation.

I'd really like to see some changes happen in the book space.  Barnes & Noble should give up their megastores and open smaller, more focused boutique stores.  In my hometown of Jupiter, there is no bookstore.  Period.  You have to drive thirty minutes north or twenty minutes south to a B&N.  The only indie bookstores are 90 minutes north or 2 hours south.  Jupiter is a pretty affluent town these days, and it's continuing to grow.  It certainly can't support a huge B&N, but a tightly focused store could do really well there.

B&N also needs to work on its online presence.  Ordering those six books was a bit of a pain.  I ordered them on Friday, but they're not shipping until today.  Amazon usually ships them the same day.  I'd also like to see them offer a format that would allow users to side load Nook books onto Kindle reading devices.  Sure, they'd have to give up DRM, but DRM is bullshit anyway.  Rather than fighting device and format wars (which Nook has lost), they should be fighting to put their books onto every single device possible.

Publishers, for their part, need to get way more competitive with ebook royalty and pricing.  Not just offering lower ebook pricing, but flexible ebook pricing.  They would also be well served by selling direct to customers in a big way.  They could offer authors higher royalties on books sold directly from the publisher, and create an experience tailored to the desires of readers.  When I go into a bookstore, I don't shop by publisher, but I do recognize that I buy more from some publishers than others.  Publishers and imprints shouldn't shy away from that type of branding, they should embrace it.  They should fight to stand out.  The imprint of S&S that I write for, Simon Pulse, is always great at publishing edgy teen fiction.  I know exactly what to expect when I buy a Simon Pulse book.

Publishers need to stop letting Amazon decide their fate, and do it themselves.  They need to experiment with offering ebooks bundled with regular books.  They need to offer content that you can only get through them.  They need to be willing to go where the readers are and be willing to innovate the hell out of books.

Publishers offer an experience that is hard to duplicate.  None of my books would be even half as good as they are if it wasn't for the input and guidance of my editors, copy editors, design team, and marketing folks.  But it's not good enough anymore.  Amazon is killing them, and they're allowing it.

Maybe publishers can't offer the same speed and convenience as Amazon, but they can innovate in other ways.  Imagine if I order a book from S&S.  It'll probably take 48 hours to ship and another 2-3 days to arrive.  Why not offer the ebook free so that I can get started reading it while I wait for the physical book?  I love physical books, so I won't ever go all digital, but if it's a book I really want to read, I'd be willing to begin it on my e-reader and finish it when the book arrives.  And that would definitely win me over as a customer.

As for Indies, I think they also need to specialize.  Books of Wonder in NYC is one of my favorite bookstores.  They only sell children's books, and they do it so well!  They bring in authors for signings and talks.  They're a great example of what indie bookstores can accomplish.  They need to become hubs of the community.  They need to look into POD devices so that they can offer indie books for print while you wait.  They need to partner with Google and other ebook retailers so that they can sell ebooks and earn money for it.

Often, in these discussions, I feel like it becomes Us vs Them.  Amazon vs Publishers, Indie vs Traditional Publishing.  But that's stupid.  We're all readers.  We all love books.  There doesn't have to be a winner, you don't have to pick a side.  This is an exciting time in publishing, and we're lucky to be living through it.