Democratization Can Be Dark… And Other Lessons from WordCamp US

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Among other things, I am a blogger. This thing that you’re reading right now is in fact a blog post…on a real-life blog! Mind blown, right?

To create this mind-blowing blog, I use WordPress, free and easy-to-use software that powers about a quarter of the websites online. WordPress has a great community that gets together all over the world. Last year, I attended and wrote about their first annual U.S. conference, WordCamp US, in my hometown of Philadelphia. WordCamp US was back in Philly this year, attracting about 1,800 attendees and a gang of dinosaurs to the party.

#WCUS Party Crasher Rex
#WCUS Party Crasher Rex at the wordcamp after party

WordCamp was a blast, obviously. I only got to attend the second day (Day 1 was Friday and would have interfered with my day job), but I listened to a few great talks.

Dennis Hong did a hilarious and yet scary (hil-scare-ious?) talk on the dark side of democratization. The idea is that while the internet has enabled anyone to publish, this may not always be a good thing. The sheer amount of content now produced promotes skimming over thoughtful reading, he said. Also, thoughtful, well-reasoned analysis often loses out to cat pictures and emotion-based pieces that get us all riled up — and may not even be true.

While there are no easy answers, Dennis had some advice to make the internet a more friendly place. When something online angers you, take a deep breath before you share it to your friends. Be stoic like Yoda, he said, and decide if it’s worth sharing — because all you’re doing is helping the video go viral. If someone is being ridiculous online, don’t engage in a shouting match. It’s better to be patient, empathetic and take the conversation offline. If you’re creating content, it’s okay to grab a reader’s attention with a flashy headline, but make sure the content that follows is thoughtful and accurate. You can read more about all this on Dennis’s website.

I also learned a bunch of interesting facts from Maile Ohye from Google. Did you know that 65% of India — or about 864 million people — are not yet online? That’s a lot of people still to join the internet! Not only that, but 60% of the world’s traffic is still 2G. It’s important to keep these facts in mind when building a website, Maile said. Also, here’s something to look forward to next year — she said Google will be demoting mobile website that display pop-up ads blocking your view of the content! Woo! Those sites are way annoying!

Which brings me to another fun fact from Maile — 53% of visitors abandon mobile sites that take more than three seconds to load. Sounds a little impatient, but thinking about my own behavior I probably do this as well. I guess with all that democratization of content, we just don’t have time to wait around.

For more possible dark directions for society, read my novels We, The Watched and Divided We Fall.

Readers seek great books, not big publishers: Bibliocrunch CEO Miral Sattar

Indie authors can’t do it alone. Believe me, I’ve tried. What I’ve learned over the course of writing, self-publishing and marketing three novels is that it pays to get help.

Over the last year, I’ve featured several tech companies and indie book promotion websites that aim to put indie authors on a level playing field with the traditionally published. These include Reedsy, The Fussy Librarian, NoiseTrade and Story Cartel.

Miral Sattar, Bibliocrunch CEO

Today I’d like to feature Bibliocrunch, a company that’s actually been in the indie publishing game since 2011. The service connects authors to freelancers for editing, marketing, graphic design and much more. The site also hosts book giveaways and provides useful advice about indie publishing. Check out my profile on Bibliocrunch as an example.

I spoke with founder and CEO Miral Sattar about what Bibliocrunch hopes to accomplish and where she sees the publishing industry headed. Miral leads a team of seven based in New York City.

Adam: What problem is Bibliocrunch trying to solve?

Miral: Giving authors access to tools resources to publish the best book possible. We have a vetted marketplace that connects authors and publishers with vetted publishing professionals. But we also have our series which is growing very popular.

Adam: Today’s authors can self-publish a book all by themselves if they want to. Why is it important that authors pay for freelance help, and how big of an investment does that need to be?

Miral: If someone is paying for your book, then you need to make sure that it is in the best state possible. You need an eye-catching cover, a well-edited book that’s error-free, and readable on all devices and formats.

The investment varies. You can publish a quality book on a budget or pay what a typical publisher would pay for one of their authors. I have written articles on both. It’s different for each book.

Read Miral's articles on this subject!
How to Self-Publish Your Book on a Budget
The Real Costs of Self-Publishing a Book

Adam: The publishing industry is in a state of flux right now. Where do you think it’s going, and how well will self-published authors fare against industry published authors?

Miral: I don’t think this is a relevant question. I think it’s more important that traditional publishers start offering more to their authors. Right now, 40% of the books on Amazon’s best-seller list are self-published. People usually don’t care whether a book is self-published. They want a great read. If they love the book, they will recommend it to their friends.

Adam: What was your background before starting this company, and what led you from there to here?

Miral: I’m an engineer and writer by background. I went to both graduate (NYU) and undergrad (Columbia) in the city. I had been working at TIME Magazine for several years, leading a lot of the editorial product development. I was also finishing up my Masters at NYU at the same time.

In 2011, I noticed that people were publishing books based on breaking news events and selling tons of books. The people who were publishing were not professionals, and they were doing it through Amazon. So I went back to the higher-ups at TIME and pitched my project: publish books based on breaking news events. We had the best writers from all over the world between TIME, Fortune, People, etc. But like any big corporation, they were slow to approve and execute.

I ended up leaving and starting my own company, Bibliocrunch, several months later. We launched as a tools platforms where authors and publishers could write and convert their books in the cloud. However, we kept getting requests from authors asking if our platform could convert PDF files into eBooks, or design covers. We referred so many people that we made a marketplace out of it.

Adam: How many customers do you have?

Miral: We have about 20,000 authors and 1,500 vetted freelancers who provide services to authors and publishers.

Adam: What is the most popular service authors seek freelance help with?

Miral: I’d say editing and then cover design.

Bibliocrunch offers a variety of paid VIP services to authors.
Bibliocrunch offers a variety of paid VIP services to authors.

Adam:  Do you typically get authors who are looking to self-publish, or are they polishing things up with the intention of querying a big publisher?

Miral: We get all types of authors, though the majority of our authors are self-published. We also have publishers who have hired freelancers because they don’t have the budgets to keep qualified folks in-house. Each author is different, so we tell them the first thing they should do is define their goals.

Adam: Do you have minimum qualifications for the freelancers? Must they have professional experience in the publishing industry?

Miral: Absolutely. We check to see if they already are a member of a pre-existing organization, their LinkedIn profiles, their testimonials,  works samples, and website.

Adam: Have you had any major success stories so far?

Miral: We’ve had a few authors hit the top 10 on Amazon. Most recently, Howard Kaplan, author of The Damascus Cover, bumped James Paterson and Patricia Cornwell one week.

Bibliocrunch offers a free 4-book box set of books to help indie authors. Click the image for more details.

Adam: What do you believe is your competitive advantage to other companies offering similar services?

Miral: I think we’ll see the rise of marketplaces in 2016. Almost everyone has one now which is great! Blurb, Publishers Weekly, Publishers Lunch, just to name a few.

We have a VIP Service that guides authors through the self-publishing process with a real person on the phone. We also have our author training courses, which come with tools, templates, blog posts and guides. Our most popular course is our marketing intensive.

Adam: What’s coming next for Bibliocrunch? What can you tell me about any plans to further expand or enhance your services?

Miral: We’re expanding our series to include children’s books and also launching a few children’s book initiatives later this year.

Adam: Besides Bibliocrunch, what other innovative companies helping indie authors do you like?

Miral: I love Wattpad and BookBub and recommend both to all our authors. Wattpad is great if you’re good at social media and have a fantasy type novel. BookBub is a great way to kickstart sales if you get accepted.

Thanks so much to Miral Sattar for the Interview! Miral also contributed a new year’s prediction for my article on indie publishing in 2016! For more on innovative indie publishing companies, check out my interviews with ReedsyStory Cartel, NoiseTrade and The Fussy Librarian.

Want to be featured or suggest an innovative indie publishing company? Contact me.

Indie author’s guide to adapting your novel into a screenplay

Film for a movie

I love films. I write novels. So I’ve always wanted to give screenwriting a go.

I began by reading some great books, including Save The Cat by Blake Snyder and The Screenwriter’s Bible by David Trottier. I soon plan to continue the learning process at the end of February through a free online course via Futurelearn and the University of East Anglia.

There’s nothing like hands-on experience, though, so while learning I figured I’d dive right in. I purchased Final Draft, which is the screenwriting software used by most of the pros.

As an author, I guess I have a small advantage jumping right into screenwriting. I’ve often been told that my writing style in novels and short stories is cinematic. I think this is because I tend to keep scenery descriptions short — just long enough to evoke an image — and then jump into action and dialog.

However, screenwriting is still a different language to writing a novel, with its own syntax, vocabulary and even indentation styles! I knew going in that the hardest part would be learning the actual style and formatting for screenplay.

Screenwriting software like Final Draft helps, of course, since it automatically keeps indentations correct and guesses when you’re writing dialog or a scene heading. But there’s still a lot it won’t automatically do for you, from things as basic as capitalizing a character’s name the first time he appears, to more complex questions like the proper style for a quick series of flashbacks. If you couldn’t spell, you wouldn’t rely on auto-correct, right? It’s much the same here — you still need to have some knowledge to be sure the software is doing the right thing.

So that I could focus on getting the format right, I decided not to spend a lot of time creating a new story from scratch for my first screenwriting effort. Instead, I chose to adapt my first novel, We, The Watched.

Cover for We, The Watched by Adam Bender

We, The Watched follows an amnesiac who wakes up in a dystopia. Told from a first-person present perspective, the story places the reader in the shoes of Seven as he struggles to go unnoticed in a surveillance society and discover his true identity.

It seemed like an easy one to turn into a screenplay. The way I figured it, I could basically just move the book over scene by scene. I imagined fuzzy shots through the lenses of surveillance cameras and exciting gun fights between the Underground rebels and the government police force known as the Guard.

However, when I started thinking about the movie in a traditional three-act structure, I immediately found pacing problems in my story. They were scenes that I maybe got away with in the novel, but now seemed extraneous when I was trying to cram the book into a two-hour film. In a screenplay, each page represents about one minute of screen time. So while novels can be anywhere from 200 to 1000 pages, a spec screenplay has got to be about 100 to 120. And you’re not writing with paragraphs that fill the page with text. Thanks to all the indents, loose line spacing and Courier New 12-point, there’s actually quite a bit of white space on each page!

Rather than freak out about all this, however, I looked at the project as a fun puzzle … and an opportunity! We, The Watched was my first novel, and while I am proud of it, there are things about writing stories now that I did not know then. So it was actually great fun to analyze each scene and pull out only the most essential details and dialog.

I ended cutting a few scenes and even a few minor characters (sorry, Eric). I also massaged the logic of a few bits, like how the hero meets the Underground for the first time. It wasn’t all cuts and edits. I added a few bits between characters to add more tension and amplify character emotions.

Another challenge was that I didn’t want to use voice-over narration, even though the novel is told in first-person present tense. I had to think of ways to convey the hero’s emotions through his expressions, actions and dialog. While inner monologue can totally work in a book, it can come off as a bit lazy in such a visual medium as film. This proved not to be an impossible task; I just had to be creative — which is the whole point, right?

While I ended up having quite a bit of fun every time I sat down to write, I must admit that I had trouble keeping on track. For most of this time, I was simultaneously writing a novel (also coming soon!) and working full-time as a journalist. I’d given myself a loose “finish by end of 2015” deadline, but I discovered this wasn’t great motivation for most of 2015.

What ended up really helping was finding a competition in which to enter the script. It was December when I learned about a “first ten pages” contest. The script was mostly done, but I hadn’t spent much time reading through it to work out the kinks. When I heard about the competition, I thought to myself, “Hey, I can definitely spend time polishing up the first ten pages of my script!”

Lo and behold, just focusing on tidying up the beginning motivated me to get the rest of the screenplay in order, too. You know what? I have no idea how well I’ll do in this competition, but it doesn’t really matter. Having a formal deadline gave me the encouragement I needed to finish.

Well, anyway, thanks for reading my ramblings! Happy to answer any questions in the comments below, and I hope to share the screenplay (and hopefully one day a movie!) with you soon!

 Get We, The Watched (e-book) for free!

Book publishing to be ‘more mainstream than ever’ in 2016?

Indie publishing gurus gaze into their crystal balls.

Happy new year, everyone! As the proud indie author of two self-published books, I thought it’d be fun to see what people closely involved in supporting and promoting indie publishing predict for book publishing industry in 2016.

Here’s what they had to say!

Emmanual Nataf, co-founder of Reedsy

Photo of Reedsy co-founder Emmanuel Nataf

“Most forms of publishing have dramatically changed in the past few years: it’s become incredibly easy to publish photos (Instagram), song tracks (Soundcloud), videos (YouTube), blog posts (WordPress), etc. In 2016, it’s book publishing that will become more mainstream than ever. Through books, more people will express who they are and communicate their vision of the world with others. With 2016 set to break all records with hundreds of thousands of titles pushed to the market, authors need to have a clear idea of what they can expect from publishing a book. In most cases, it will be a gratifying and enriching experience; but only those willing to work hard will find it lucrative.”

Jeffrey Bruner, founder of The Fussy LibrarianJeffrey Bruner, founder of The Fussy Librarian

“I predict that Barnes & Noble’s eBook division will either be sold or auctioned off through bankruptcy proceedings and acquired by a tech startup that will reinvigorate B&N’s website and database and create a little more competition for Amazon.”

Miral Sattar, CEO of Bibliocrunch

miral-sattar_headshot“Now that there are more and more quality books being published a day, largely due to self-publishing, you’ll see a rise of companies that provide marketing tools or services to help the best ones reach the top and get discovered.”


Meanwhile, Smashwords founder Mark Coker wrote an excellent post on his own 2016 predictions. I’ve quoted a few of his predictions below, but definitely read the full article!

Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords

Photo of Mark Coker, Smashwords

  1. Indie eBook authors will gain market share at expense of large publishers”
  2. “The overall market for ebooks will shrink in dollar terms, but unit volume will increase”
  3. Kindle Unlimited will gut single-copy sales and drive greater eBook commoditization”
  4. Print will remain steady, though those sales are the sole domain for authors of traditional publishers”
  5. Wattpad will be acquired

What are your predictions for 2016? Sound off in the comments below!

Reedsy pushes for better indie books through collaboration

Reedsy co-founder Emmanuel Nataf talks about the future of indie publishing.

Credit: Reedsy
Credit: Reedsy

Just because I’m an indie author doesn’t mean I can’t get good help with editing and book design.

I recently signed up for Reedsy, an innovative web platform that helps indie authors find freelance publishing assistance. A few days ago, I signed ex-DC Comics editor Rachel Gluckstern to edit my upcoming novel, The Wanderer and the New West. It’s an exciting collaboration that was made possible by Reedsy.

Also read:
Line between traditional, indie publishing nearly gone: The Fussy Librarian
How indie authors can break through the noise with NoiseTrade
How to find readers and get book reviews with Story Cartel

Reedsy was founded in London during the summer of 2014 by Emmanuel Nataf, Matthew Cobb, Ricardo Fayet and Vincent Durand. For the first year, the co-founders worked on Reedsy as a side project on nights and weekends, but it became a full-time job after the startup was accepted into Seedcamp, a London-based startup accelerator. Soon after, the tech startup raised cash from angel investors including Ben Yoskovitz, the bestselling author of Lean Analytics. Today, Reedsy is a team of seven that operates out of a co-working space in the Shoreditch neighborhood of London.

I spoke with co-founder Emmanuel Nataf about what Reedsy hopes to accomplish and where it sees the publishing industry headed. You can read the full interview below.

Adam: What problem were you trying to solve when you created Reedsy?

Emmanuel: We were seeing two major publishing trends converging. On the one hand, more and more authors were self-­publishing, as they could easily reach an audience through digital distribution (460,000 titles were self-­published in the US in 2014 according to Bowker). On the other hand, more and more top publishing professionals have left traditional houses in the past few years and have gone freelance, available to work with both traditional and self-published authors.

At the time, we were seeing too many low­-quality books being pushed to the Kindle Store. It was clear that self-­publishing was not yet a viable alternative to the traditional route. Quality can only be achieved with an investment in editorial, design and marketing services, something that self-­published authors did not have access to. They needed a single, trusted and quality source of people that they could collaborate with.

It’s from this frustration that we decided to create Reedsy, a curated marketplace for the
publishing industry.

More recently, we started to work with traditional publishers as well. They have been impressed
with the level of quality Reedsy professionals can provide, and love the way our collaborative
tools streamline their workflows.

Adam: Today, authors can self­-publish a book all by themselves if they want to. Why is it
important that authors pay for freelance help, and how big of an investment does that
need to be?

Emmanuel: The production process of a book doesn’t stop after the writing phase ­– it starts there. Self-­publishing authors can certainly release new titles much faster than “Big 5” authors but they can’t skip editing, design or marketing if they want to have any chance of being successful. In fact, to stand out from the crowd, they need to publish a high-quality product and have a solid plan to commercialize it. This takes time and requires experience. This is where Reedsy professionals can help.

We are planning on open-­sourcing our data so authors can get a better idea of the cost of self-publishing. However, for an 80,000 ­word book that needs editing, design and marketing help, you will need at least $2,000. Most spend $5,000 or more if they want to work with award-winning professionals and want to design an aggressive marketing plan.

Adam: The publishing industry is in a state of flux right now. Where do you think it’s going, and
how well will self-­published authors fare against industry published authors?

Emmanuel: The whole value chain is evolving so much that I’m not sure how long the self­publishing/traditional publishing antagonism will remain.

For instance, we recently helped PFD Literary Agents set up their own digital imprint where they give a very interesting 50/50 deal to authors. The emergence of more digital imprints is something that we follow closely. What we believe, though, is that the production of high-quality books can be commoditized through a service like Reedsy, and that publishers should only do what they do best: curate content, offer physical distribution and negotiate foreign rights.

Credit: Reedsy
Credit: Reedsy

Adam: How many freelancers and how many authors do you have on Reedsy?

Emmanuel: About 6,000 authors have joined Reedsy so far and we have selected 300+ professionals out of 7,000 applications.

Adam: What is the most popular service authors are looking for when they join Reedsy?

Emmanuel: Self­-publishing authors are mainly looking for editing services when they come to Reedsy. We would love to see self-­publishing authors invest more into their book covers though: too many of them still underestimate the incredible impact a beautiful cover can have for their book sales.

We see mix of authors looking to self-­publish and authors looking to polish their manuscript before submitting to agents or publishers, which is why we recently added a “query letter review” service to our marketplace. Eventually, we want Reedsy to become the backbone of the industry, providing high­-quality services to all authors or publishers.

Adam: Do you have any minimum qualifications for freelancers? Is it required they have
experience in the publishing industry?

Emmanuel:  Yes! Our team receives hundreds of applications every week and only selects a handful of professionals. The objective is to provide the highest level of quality to authors and publishers. This is why people often describe Reedsy as a “curated” marketplace. We require a strong experience working at top publishers or with bestselling authors and a portfolio of at least 10 books. We also ask them to connect their social networks to Reedsy so we can verify their online identity.

Adam: How does Reedsy make money? Is it purely commission-­based?

Emmanuel: Our fees are shared between professionals and clients who both pay a 10 percent commission on every transaction. This allows us to develop our product, curate our network, and offer customer support with a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee.

Adam: Besides Reedsy, what other innovative companies are helping indie authors right now?

Emmanuel: Crowdfunding platforms are a good complement to Reedsy. For instance, Reedsy authors often use Publishizer or Kickstarter to raise funds to pay for our services. We are also pretty excited to see what Find My Audience is going to release in the coming months to help authors locate and engage with a highly qualified audience.

Adam: What’s coming next for Reedsy? What can you tell me about any plans to further expand
or enhance your services?

Emmanuel: Many things! First, we will be adding more services to our marketplace in the coming months: marketing, ghostwriting and translation will be progressively rolled out. Then, we will be adding dedicated publisher accounts to allow publishers to manage entire teams and projects through Reedsy. Last but not least, we will be releasing our collaborative book editor to allow any author to work collaboratively on their books and get properly formatted EPUB and PDF files instantly.

Thanks so much to Emmanuel Nataf for the Interview! For more on innovative indie publishing companies, check out my interviews with Story Cartel, NoiseTrade and The Fussy Librarian.