Category Archives: Books

Authorship, publishing, and the business of visibility

With the information barrage we face on a daily basis, everyone and their dog are competing for attention. Advertisers have always known that attention is worth big money. This is what they need media for: eyeballs. In today’s digital world, this is all the more truer with sophisticated consumer profiling from analytics.

While commanding attention is fleeting, aiming for visibility is more longer lasting. To be an authority on anything these days, you not only need expertise but relevancy, accessibility, and findability. This means search engine optimization. Boosted social media posts for maximum engagement potential. And as in the case of being an actual “author”, maybe a selfie update here and there, or at the very least a decent profile photo to appeal to likeability.

These are among the important takeaways I’ve had from attending the 2016 Frankfurt Publishers Training Program organized by the Taipei International Book Exhibition. It’s held right after the Chinese New Year holidays at the World Trade Center from across Taipei 101. Among the trends covered were internationalization, glocalization, and personalization.

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The concepts of attention and visibility were discussed in the lecture by Prof. Vincent Kaufmann of the St. Gallen University. He mapped the evolution of the book according to media spheres, or the environment that shapes an era such as dominant technologies and socio-cultural revolutions. The idea of the author also closely relates to these spheres – from scholars, celebrities, to digital influencers. Moreover, a critical look at the publishing industry would reveal that authorship isn’t confined to actual writers and creators, but is determined by market and network forces.

Prof. Kaufmann also said to treat books not just as a product but as a service. Categorizing the intent – such as whether to educate or to entertain, to advance knowledge or to offer a novelty gift item, and the like – is key to unlocking business potential. This is beyond “positioning” (which apparently originated from book-selling, as in on-shelf placement). Service is where publishers can extend opportunities for visibility and continued engagement beyond the page.

The sooner we understand the challenges of publishing in today’s generation, the easier it will be to deliver value. Some two years ago, I’m the prospective book buyer looking between shelves for any interesting book I could devote time for. Now as greenhorn publisher with three books out and a couple more on the pipeline soon, it’s only clearer to me that a cross-media strategy is the way to go.

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Reader’s block of a genre-switching writer

I spent hours in Taipei and Manila bookstores the past month, intending to buy a novel, something literary, a book that knows an essential truth. I scanned titles, read the blurbs, and customarily checked out the bestseller shelves. I saw new work by authors who were otherwise personal rock stars when I was younger: Murakami, Palahniuk, Coupland. Still unmoved. A short story collection by Munro and a tome by Campbell I feverishly looked for before had me closer to pulling out my wallet. I browsed contemporary Philippine titles on a weekend visit, but I still came home empty-handed.

Or not. Since I did buy something, but it’s title was “The Personal MBA”. I’m not sure if my younger self – brooding, existential fiction-reading Literature major – would have approved.

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What seems to be blocking my literary appetite? Changing interests, yes. And maybe coming to terms with the professional identity of a corporate scribe where I once romantically fashioned myself as a poet-reporter. Seeing good web analytics for what I’ve published in online and social media pumps me up the way acceptance notices did before. The translation is loose, but I’ve become what a Taiwanese colleague referred me as: a “content generator”. In a few days, I will turn 30. Hopefully I won’t have to “write 30” to the young word-drunk writer I once was. Maybe a book out there could reignite the spark.

Baby’s First Book: Simulacra and Social Construction in action

Simulacra, as Baudrillard tells us, “is a question of substituting the signs of the real for the real”. Baby’s First Book (Little Golden Books, 1955; 2007) alerts us on this with its cover illustration: a toddler is reading a book (within a book) that has the exact cover of the “original” printed book on our hands. How a book from the 1950s saw that many republishing to come into our present is beyond me. Plain sticky.

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The book also derives power from its very title: “Baby’s First Book”. No, this is your baby’s first book regardless if Baby Bunny got to you ahead. Inside its pages, we are introduced to the typical day of a child, starting with the ringing of an alarm clock. Get up early in the morning, fix the bed, go to the toilet and clean up. Do your thing until hunger for food marks the hours: make sure to eat healthy, but have room for treats at the end of day. Repeat ad infinitum.

The book is basically an initiation to daily life. Or at least the accepted version of it, with reality organized around the prescribed tasks of the day. Careful not to overstep your boundaries, and be content inside the four corners of the book where all is safe and sound. I’m the daddy and this is how my typical day goes by as well. Even if I keep the book away from my own baby, its pages will still unfold and coax our shared reality. The book ends with a paint set: a gift to the fictional baby who just turned one year old. So does it mean we’re permitted adventure, but only in our imagination?

Daddy Bunny’s free pass

The 7-month-old has been given a picture book titled Baby Bunny (Campbell, 2011). In the book, Baby Bunny is being taught by Mummy Bunny how to dig, nibble and jump. Baby Bunny is not identified as girl or boy, but the parental unit is of course female. Duh, when did guys ever care about babies? Or bunnies, except perhaps the Playboy kind? Especially after a published study correlated involved fathers with having smaller balls, maybe dads with bigger egos just won’t give a damn anymore. When it sounds to be such a disincentive being a family man, why should men even learn how to change nappies?

It’s all the more reason that dads should have space in multicultural, gender-neutral picture books to deconstruct the image of the distant/absent father. The blurb’s claim of a “simple, reassuring story” casts women to the role of devoted motherhood. It seems trivial to comment on a picture book when sexism the world over gets women belittled, abused, and raped (in more ways than one). But by erasing fathers from the metanarrative of parenthood, and with unavailing science supporting this idea, the burden of raising kids (probably the hardest task in the world) falls squarely on the woman alone. And then when the family falls short of anything but ideal, the blaming and shaming are solely hers as well to own.

If I have to teach the baby one thing, it’s to demand for equality. Along with, and even if it has, the associated inconveniences.

P.S. If books are edible, could we choke on words?

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