You’ve already beat them, why not join them?

An open letter to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.

Dear Jeff, or, if I may, el Jefe:

Friends tell me I’m foolish to offer this idea to you, gratis, but I’m thinking that in your wisdom—and all that data you’ve been collecting on us—you’ve already thought of this.

You need to open Amazon Indie Bookstore in a neighborhood near me. While it may seem weirdly anachronistic to you, immersed as you are in artificial intelligence and algorithms that I couldn’t possibly understand, it entirely makes sense.

This is what you do: Buy up some former big box retail warehouses that have been shuttered because of—how do I put this delicately?—Amazon. On the front end of these stores, you’d have an awesome bookstore that would actually sell the books that Amazon Publishing publishes (we both know that no one else seems to want them)—and on the back end, you’d have one of your “fulfillment centers”—more on that lovely euphemism in a moment—where you could get me and other Prime customers our merchandise pronto, like today. And stocking it should be no problem, since you’re already reading our minds.

Not far from me, there’s a Loehmann’s that is no longer. All that empty space, just waiting for the Amazon Book Store and fulfillment center. The shopping center is called Loehmann’s Plaza. Just think of it: Amazon Plaza. Don’t tell me you don’t like it. And surely you know that where I live, in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, we’re in the middle of one of the best read areas in the country. Seems to me you also own a newspaper or some such thing hereabouts. Just spitballing the synergies here.

And you really do need to humanize Amazon, el Jefe. Make it approachable. Maybe the bookstore itself would be a wash, but just think of people like me, a stone’s throw away, coming to pick up all that stuff I really don’t need, but could not pass up. You don’t need drones or UPS or FedEx. You’ve got us, already drones, already here, ready to buy and pick up.


And about that fulfillment center thing. Personally, I hate the term “wellness center.” Wellness is, well, all well and good, but I want fulfillment, and I’m not talking about packing up stuff and shipping it out—but you knew that.

A fulfillment center could be so much more. Think of it: In a fulfillment center everyone would be in the moment and in a Zen-like state of pure flow. Even saying fulfillment comes close to nirvana. Glass not just full but overflowing. Golden, heavenly light. Which seems not to be the case with many of your fulfillment center employees. That’s another story, but think about it. Bookstore near me. Real fulfillment.

NaNoWriMo Progress Report

Not much, really.

  • Nov. 1 — Totally blazed. Got off to a good start, if not a great, fantabulous one.
  • Nov. 2 — Totally blazed, and then lost it all.
  • Nov. 3 — Recovered/reconstituted the lost work on Nov. 2, add some decent stuff, but of course got behind.
  • Nov. 4 — Between yard work and Sandy-related cleanup, and getting my son where he needed to be, didn’t write a word.
  • Nov. 5 — It’s not like I don’t have anything else to do. So we shall see what happens.

Let’s see where this goes…

Welcome to National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo

For anyone who didn’t know, today marks the beginning of NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. The idea is to write 50.000 words during the month of November. My former professor and member of my personal pantheon of interesting minds, Roger Lathbury, did it a couple of years ago.

But what about this, then? To actually write 50,000 words in 30 days? Let’s break that down: it’s about 1700 words a day. Can I do it? Sure, I can write 1700 words a day.

In reality, I’ve probably written 5000 or more words in a day many times – but then likely spent the next several weeks marveling at where the heck that came from. Continue reading

Timing Is Everything

As my nifty little wireless Brother laser printer churns out pages behind me, in preparation for a video I’m making on making my own books (stay tuned), and the massive hurricane Sandy makes its way up the coast to turn off my power, knock down my neighbors’ trees, wreak celestial havoc, and generally maybe just eat the East Coast, I just wanted to get in a post on great new stuff from Poets & Writers magazine, where, back in the days when I was working in publishing, I once applied for a job, and which, also many years ago, ran a piece of mine on simultaneous submissions.

(For my money, P&W mag, even in the old days when I first subscribed to the magazine called Coda, has the most news writers can use. Some right thinking philanthropist needs to help P&W get their whole magazine on line, for electronic subscription. Seriously. P&W, how much would it cost?)

Talk about your serendipity. In the new edition, which arrived in my mailbox on Friday, there’s a substantial piece on independent publishing, featuring the family affairs that are Two Dollar Radio, Ig, and Small Beer Press, which publishes the awesome Elizabeth Hand. Continue reading

Things You Need to Be a Publisher

If you’re reading this, the answer is pretty simple. At the most basic, nothing you don’t already have—if you have content.

According to Bowker, the company that will be happy to sell you some ISBNs, nearly a quarter of a million books were published—self-published—last year. So you don’t need anything more than all those other publishers do. A computer, sufficient software to create the book block (all your content) and your cover, and an Internet connection. That’s it.

As I said in an earlier post, the barrier to entry is pretty darned low—so low that last, dying ant in my kitchen could drag a dog over it.

The one thing you won’t have that a “real” publisher will have is a sales force. Yes, Amazon  or whoever else will “stock” (virtually) your book, but it is highly unlikely that it will get into brick and mortar bookstores because you will have no leverage to make that happen.

So why would I want to do this? Good question. I’ll see if I can answer it one way or another. Stay tuned.

The Accidental Publisher

When I started looking for a job in publishing after moving to New York many years ago, the reason was simple. I wanted to know how it worked. It seemed a sensible thing for a writer (who at that time had written two unpublished novels and was working on a third) to know.

At that very early point in my literary career, my sole publishing “success” was a letter to the editor in Harper’s magazine. The letter, which I still have somewhere, was in response to a piece by Madison Smartt Bell (wow, Dragon Dictate got the correct spelling of his middle name) on “brat pack” fiction.

Continue reading

Got the Advance Reading Copies

Of TFAOAFGND, and I think they look pretty good. But so I’m reading the first page, and thinking this is a killer first page, and then get down a few grafs and see, crap, a freaking typo. But this is what advance copies are for, or one of the things.

It’s a curious thing, a physical copy of a book that is going to be an ebook — all the heft you’d expect from a book that will, when it is finally published have no heft.

a stack of Final Appearance advance reading copies

If you’re a reviewer or tastemaker, thought-leader, or just a general bon vivant (you must have evidence of status as bon vivant), shoot Margaret an email at and request a copy. You might get lucky.

A McGonigal Game for Books

If you have never heard of Jane McGonigal, or even if you have, check this out:


McGonigal’s concept of alternate reality games is actually pretty fascinating.

Not long ago, I had the idea (way less interesting than hers) that it’d be a very cool thing to do to see what would happen if someone created a fictional book of fiction and then try to generate buzz for it.

This sort of almost happened when Sex and the City, the movie, came out there was a mention of a book in it. It was nonfiction, but nonetheless. (Read about it in the Times here.) And but so the mention of this book in the movie “caused real-life people to storm to their real-life online bookstores in search of” it. And it jumped from pretty much nowhere to very high on the Amazon sales list.

That book had a mention in a major motion picture, but what I’m thinking of would be way lower key. People just start talking about it. The _____ would be this great book that had everything, suspense, romance, horror, maybe some recipes for people who like that kind of stuff.

It would seem to me that there would be a web site for the book, with a cover, and blurbs, but no actual content except for the blurbs. Maybe there would be a synopsis, but it’d be better if there were not.

Someone way smarter than me would have to think up a way of tracking interest, so maybe people could “buy” the book, but in such a way as not to hurt them (i.e., they wouldn’t get charged anything and wouldn’t have to give a credit card number—maybe just a notify me when this is available kind of thing).

Is Literature Fundamentally about Grief?

All the new thinking is about loss. In this it resembles all the old thinking. –fr. “Meditation at Lagunitas,” by Robert Hass

The idea has been percolating in my head for some time now that a serious component of most, if not all, literary fiction–and that may also include poetry–is fundamentally underlaid by grief.

If not the search for lost time, then the attempt to regain it, place some animal moment in amber and crystallize it.
I am only speaking for myself here, but I had one of those moments, not too long ago, where a revelation is visited upon you that makes your head snap back. For me, that revelation came in the form of a short story by my kindergarten best friend, Paul Witcover, that is nominally about the summer of his mother’s death, and then later a conversation with a wise lady who gently pointed out to me–when I protested I was not grieving yet, because my father hadn’t yet died (he has now)–that grief tends to surround us. That every path taken represents a lot of paths not taken, and that those paths left to go fallow can be the genesis of griefs large and small.  Continue reading