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Jason Allen Ashlock


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Jason Allen Ashlock


Entrepreneurship and experimentation at the intersection of traditional publishing, digital product design, and savvy authorship.

Essential Reading

Essential Reading


Let’s grow up in this business together.

MS: That story reminds me of what Michael Crichton told Lynn Nesbit when he chose her as his agent. He said, “Let’s grow up in the business together.”
SG: Yes! Jonathan and I are very close in age—he’s exactly six months older than I. We really did grow up together. I remember sitting with him and Jonathan Galassi at our table at the National Book Awards the year The Corrections had been nominated. Before the prize was announced, someone had let it be known that Jonathan had won, and we just sat and looked at each other, beaming. It felt beautiful. Jonathan Galassi had been quite new at Farrar, Straus, after he had been fired from Random House, so Jonathan Franzen was an early success of his as well.

Michael Szczerban interviews Susan Golomb in this month’s P&W.

A filter. A tool. A trend. A truth. And a question.

My picks for this week’s essential reads. (NB: this went out today to email subscribers. If you’d like to sign up, I’ll send them to you too. Only a couple of times a month. See sign-up at top of page.)

A filter.
My favorite new discovery, Delancey Place, a daily excerpt + commentary. Low on predetermination. High on serendipity.

A tool.
DotEPUB, a surprisingly tidy plug-in that transform web pages into epubs. For the extra-long reads you want to capture. (Try it with Michael Szczerban’s interview with Susan Golomb)

A trend.
As publishers (read: labels) spend less on marketing, concert bookers (read: agents) ramp up services. (Can’t wait to see a WSJ article boasting same of lit agents.) 

A truth.
In the battle of ebooks vs print books, the new Harris poll suggests we’ve reached armistice. Print holds strong, ebooks pervade, and our hybrid reality emerges.

A question.
What makes a writer’s voice distinctive, recognizable? Julia Quinn considers. And you? Which author’s work would you recognize anywhere — even without a byline?  

There is no theme

My favorite recent discovery is a website / daily email service called Delancey Place. Nothing fancy, just a daily excerpt from a stimulating book, with brief commentary by the editor. I talk often about “filter failure” (he nods to Rushkoff) with colleagues—about the need for better services to give us what we need or desire. DelanceyPlace is a good example of the kind of service that filters serendipity. “There is no theme,” they say. And that’s why it’s wonderful.


With a reported average of 14 books, those favoring e-books purchased roughly twice as many books as those preferring hard copies…

However, in terms of overall users, the hard copy format is still king. Nearly half of Americans say they only read hard copy books, with an additional 16% saying they read more hard copy books than e-books. Seventeen percent (17%) read about the same number of hard copy and e-format books, while 6% read exclusively in the electronic format.


-Latest Harris poll confirms that in the battle of print vs digital, well, there may not be a battle at all. Peaceful coexistence, anyone?  

"It doesn’t do any good to be talking, as an author or publisher, about the obstacles. There are better uses of energy, I think. Yes, we can all feel helpless and wary in this industry sometimes, but it’s better, as a publisher, to look at the ways in which e-books and Twitter and so on can help us reach new readers, rather than treating social media as an enemy to literature."

-Fiona McRae, interviewed in Guernica.

"You won’t find a lot of cheerleading for the frontlist, for which I’m sorry to the publishing industry."

-Sarah McNally’s buried gem in Kachka profile of McNally Jackson and 5 other NY indies, each in various stages of surviving and thriving. This week in NYMag.

"For the past year, Vatican officials have worked closely with experts at Japanese IT firm NTT DATA Corp. to test special scanners designed to handle particularly delicate documents. […] With the test phase finished, about 50 Italian and Japanese operators will soon begin the process of digitizing the first batch of 3,000 manuscripts under the watchful eye of Vatican librarians. That process, which will take place entirely inside the library, is expected to take four years. All of the manuscripts, including the most delicate ones, will eventually be scanned, and viewers will be able to examine them from a variety of angles."

-This is exciting — not only for the former version of myself that was a graduate student in religion. When this is complete, one of the most important collections in the world will finally be free and accessible to the public. Read the full story in this weekend’s WSJ.

"This is not a new game. We’ve had 70 years of digital, 40 years of e-books, 30 years of the Internet, 25 years of the web, 10 years of Facebook, and the iPhone is 7 years old. This is not new technology. We should be horrified at how slow we are to adapt to something that has been changing the world for seven decades."

-Head of partnership development at the BBC Archives Bill Thompson kicking off the London Book Fair.

Future of Fiction in Two Excerpts

1. “In a preliminary assessment of deals reported for six-figures and higher, 2014 is running slightly ahead of the same period a year ago — entirely because of a big gain in big money fiction sales: We have recorded 17 major deals for fiction over the past 5 weeks, compared to 10 major deals in the same period a year ago.” [Cader talking Pre-London dealmaking in PubLunch}

2. “the writing of fiction… is social, informal and intimate, with the results not only consumed but often composed on the fly. Wattpad is a leader in this new storytelling environment, with more than two million writers producing 100,000 pieces of material a day for 20 million readers on an intricate international social network. […] The writers — who are not paid for their work, as on any social network — put up stories, recast them, abandon them and delete them on whims, in the process making more traditional e-books look as eternal as a Knopf hardcover. This is writing reimagined for a mobile world, where attention is fragmentary.” [Source: Streitfeld talking Wattpad’s growth in NYTimes]

Top 10 Publishing Insiders (& Outsiders) to Follow Online

This month’s Writers Digest is particularly useful, I think. An outstanding piece by Chuck Wendig on the long game of indie publishing. A really useful primer on the ebook market from Jeremy Greenfield. And a fun Top 10 list of publishing people-resources. The last feature, compiled by Jane Friedman, is a brilliant entry point for anyone looking to engage in relevant and stimulating conversation about the shifting state of affairs in book publishing today. For $3, this issue is an exceptional bargain. Buy it here

Dead Books

The 11th Annual Report lists the most searched-for out-of-print books. I recognize very few of the books, but the titles alone are entertaining. My favorites: #11, #25, #72, #91. 

Most of the books published over the course of history are out of print today. For hundreds of years the lifecycle for the vast majority of books has been the same: a book is written, it is published, many people buy and enjoy it, the book begins to fall out of favor and then publishers stop printing copies and the book falls out of print. This happens to exceptional books, average books and books that perhaps should never have seen the light of day in the first place. This lifecycle remained the same from the days Gutenberg walked the earth until the very recent past; a book being out of print meant it was a dead book. Once a book was dead the only way you were going to read a copy was to find someone to lend, give or sell it to you, or convince a publisher that issuing a new pressing was going to be financially viable.

In recent years, however, two technologies changed the landscape for out of print books, and created major debate among readers in the process. Print on Demand Books (POD) and Electronic Books (ebooks) have forced us to ask two questions
 1) Are these technologies helping book lovers?
 2) Does out of print exist in 2014 anyway?


People in each of TM&T see each other in terms of their own preoccupations, rather than looking at the real drivers in a quite different industry:

—- Media companies look at tech and telecoms and say “well, they’re just a channel for our stuff”

—- Telcos look at tech and media and say “they’re using our networks so we should control everything”

—- Tech companies look at media and telecoms and say “a little disruptive technology would change everything”

So, rather like the blind men examining an elephant…. A repeated failing of tech companies is to look at media and telecoms, see some tech, and think it’s the key point of leverage in those markets. Mobile networks and TV do look like tech should be a crucial lever, but that isn’t necessarily so.

The problem is, this sort of ignorance and misunderstanding is often how we get true disruption - people are so ignorant that they don’t know something can’t be done and won’t work, so they go and do it, and it works.


Eisler vs Gottlieb + the rhetoric of the new publishing economy

Independent author Barry Eisler and Trident chairman Robert Gottlieb spar at The Bookseller.

For some, this may seem tired territory, but to me, the two radically different worldviews reflected in this back-and-forth represent the point of departure for trade publishing’s rapidly bifurcating future. 

Last week’s Digital Book World conference was as stimulating an event as one could ask for, with many different perspectives represented, and a remarkable array of tools and trends unpacked. But for the most part, the event choose not to tackle the world outside establishment publishing, which is exploding in ways the establishment cannot fully name or measure, and fragmenting in ways that resist any kind of mapping with the tools we’ve been using. (DBW’s programming was done excellently, of course: for paying attendees looking for programming that equipped and informed them, they found it. You can’t program for those not in the room.) 

But this conversation (if it can be called that, as Gottlieb seems not to be fully engaging most of Eisler’s points) helpfully illuminates the parallel world that spins alongside the establishment conversations. And for that, it’s worth reading and remembering.