Now It’s the Oaks

Most folks “from away” think of a New England autumn as the relatively short stretch of time when our trees reveal the colors they’ve been hiding behind their chlorophyll since spring.
Red oak leaves in sun

But the first signs of autumn—or at least the change in seasons—actually begin in early August when the leaves on certain trees begin to take on a yellowish cast.

And then, of course, there’s the August version of solidago (goldenrod) that blooms along the river behind our house.

The first trees to turn on their fall foliage are the birches. Then it’s maples and ashes and the incredible staghorn sumac.
Red:green oak leaves in sun for web

The last to take their star turns are the oaks and beeches.

Usually, our oaks turn from green to a rich coppery brown with not a lot of other colors in between. But in this magical fall, they are revealing the depths of their redness.

There was frost on my car’s windshield this morning when I walked to the end of the driveway to get our newspaper. (Yep, still enjoy my wood pulp and ink with breakfast.) And the predictions are rain for the rest of the week, by the end of which we probably won’t have much left on the trees.

Yellow to brown beech leaves for web

But it’s OK because for this lifelong New Englander, this is truly one of the best falls ever.

The Morning Walk

Autumn 2014 is going to go down in Vermont’s weather history one of the best so far this century.

Cathedral of trees
Cathedral of trees

The weather has held, staying (sometimes too) warm. We haven’t had any major storms to shake the leaves from the trees.

And the color—gasp! Just phenomenal.

Just wanted to share part of the trail that we maintain along the White River that we reopened this year. We had to let it go after Hurricane Irene because there were just too many other things to attend to.

And we missed our tree cathedral, a lot.

There’s still one last part of the path that stretches down to a rocky hook that we call the North Point that remains closed. It’s where the main debris pile of trees, building parts, and other detritus built up during the storm.

It started off twelve feet high but through composting and time, it’s now “only” six feet high, and the local flora and fauna are doing their best to recycle it. (It’s quite the bird sanctuary.) But it remains impenetrable to two-footed mammals for now.

Still, having the path back this summer was so, so good.

Print versus eBooks

I’ve recently been reconnecting with some friends from high school on FaceBook, a benefit from social media that I never expected. (I was dragged kicking and screaming onto FaceBook because it’s ONE MORE THING I have to attend to so this is truly a plus.)
FreePile for web
This morning, one of these oh-so-pleasant reconnections was applauding the fact that print books are still outpacing electronic books in the overall sales of books. Personally, I don’t think books-on-paper were ever in any danger of disappearing.

If you remember back to the thrilling days of yesteryear (2010–2013), the media were full of stories about the meteoric rise of ebook sales. There were thunderous predictions of how the ebook would swamp print sales. Paper-and-ink were out! In with the digital!

We haven’t heard any of those stories lately, have we? Somehow, the flattening out of ebook sales and the non-death of print are just not as interesting.

Now I watch the publishing industry pretty closely, both because I’m a writer and because I own a book production company, Full Circle Press, so I have to understand the latest trends in order to advise my clients intelligently.

Or at least try to.

So for those of you who may be interested, here’s the full scoop.

Of all book sales in the U.S., approximately 30 percent of them are now ebooks, and that figure’s been holding steady for about a year and a half.

Genre fiction—fantasy, sic-fi, mystery, thrillers, romance—account for more ebook sales than all other categories combined.

Even though there are lots of non-fiction and children’s titles available electronically, the sales of these types of books are still relatively low as a percentage of all ebook sales. And books that are image-heavy (art books, how-to books, cookbooks) sell even less in the ebook format.

Now there’s a third media format for books that needs to be part of this discussion—audiobooks.

Even though the media is not shouting about this from the rooftops, you might be interested to know that the sales of audiobooks is growing rapidly. There are now online service companies that help independently publishing authors convert their books to the spoken word.

That is what is feeding this trend because traditional book publishing companies (the Random Houses of this world) are once again lagging behind when it comes to keeping up with reader preferences. (They were so late to the party on the ebook front, they almost didn’t show up.)

Books-on-paper as we know them—pages cut to the same size held together by a cover of some sort, a format called a codex—came into being somewhere around the 3rd century. That’s a longterm relationship if I’ve ever seen one.

That’s why I don’t think anything will ever replace ink-on-paper books. We like them too much.

To me, ebooks and audiobooks are just another choice for readers, not a replacement for the original.

Read any good books lately?

The Generosity of Quilters

The Parkinson’s Comfort Project attends conferences every year to talk about what we do and to distribute quilts. On Monday, we’ll be at the Grappone Center in Concord, NH at a conference put together by Diane Church of the Parkinson’s Center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

Olivia was one of the recipients who smiled all day. Her quilt was made by Joanne Shapp.
Olivia was one of the recipients who smiled all day. Her quilt was made by Joanne Shapp.

I have four totes full of the most gorgeous quilts to give away to people on a Parkinson’s journey. I know they will bring smiles to the faces of those who bring them home.

Quilt by Sarah Monego
Quilt by Sarah Monego

Within the quilting community, the generosity of those who love to play with fabric is well known. Every guild I know of has a community service committee that makes and gives these magical gifts to those in need. And many guilds and individual quilters adopt programs such as the Parkinson’s Comfort Project or Quilts of Valor as recipients of their creations.

Quilt by Ellie Leach
Quilt by Ellie Leach

But too many people outside the quilting community are unaware of this giving. So I wanted to take this space to give you just a wee sample of the 34 quilts that will find new homes on Monday. The first one was made by Sarah Monego of Thetford, Vermont. The second is by Ellie Leach of Wells River, Vermont. And the third is by Nancy Graham of Newport, NH.
2014-072: Nancy Graham 2 for web
And the turquoise and yellow creation wrapped around the shoulders of a recipient at the spring Parkinson’s conference was made by Joanne Shapp of Pomfret, Vermont.

My heart just overflows with gratitude.

Citizen Publishing

I attended a lecture about Sherlock Holmes at the Howe Library last night and sat next to another writer. Before the lecture began, we got to talking about Amazon and its fractious relationship with traditional publishing companies.

American Patchwork—edited by Sonja Hakala
American Patchwork, published by St. Martin’s Press

I get questions about this subject whenever I do a publishing workshop and my attitude can be (mostly) summed up by Shakespeare: “A plague on both their houses.”

But that’s too simple a perspective on what’s essentially an argument about the future of book publishing. So here’s a more thoughtful response to my fellow Sherlock fan.

Even though I shudder metaphorically whenever I count up the years that I’ve spent in publishing, I’m glad I started when I did—on the eve of the digital printing/digital book selling revolution. Because of that, I’ve had the opportunity to watch history being made.

The book publishing industry traces its roots right back to Johannes Gutenberg. I often point out to students that Gutenberg’s revolutionary inventions did two things simultaneously—they freed books and the ideas within their pages from the tyranny of scarcity while taking away the rights of writers to control their own work because of the cost of the mass production that his inventions created.

Cover for the new edition of The Road Unsalted
The Road Unsalted published by Full Circle Press LLC, a company founded by author Sonja Hakala

In 1995 when the first American self-publishing company raised its head—we’re talking iUniverse here—every sage in the business nodded and said (rightly, as it turned out) that this was simply vanity publishing with new technology.

But iUniverse represented a potent idea—that a writer, any writer, could once again afford to print her or his own books. That’s one copy at a time over and over and over again. No limit.

In any discussion of book publishing, it is important to remember that the true origin of the industry is printing—not best seller lists or editorial control or cover creation or marketing. Publishing exists because Gutenberg’s inventions pushed the manufacturing of books beyond the reach of most people.

Digital printing pushed it back.

Also in 1995, a man named Jeff Bezos decided to use this new thing called the internet to sell books online.

If you were around and cognizant then, you will remember the laughter that greeted this new company called Amazon. But this innovation democratized bookselling, giving authors direct access to their readers in a way that’s never been done before.

Independently publishing authors, like myself, needed both of these innovations to be freed from traditional publishing’s feudal system.

My first three books (of which American Patchwork was the first) were published with traditional publishers. Based on my experience as a marketer, editor and book designer with traditional publishers around the country, I can honestly tell you that my author experience with St. Martin’s and Wiley was all right.

But unlike most new authors, I entered into my contracts without any expectations of author tours or editorial attention or marketing dollars. I knew there wouldn’t be any because traditional publishers don’t do those things for 95% of their authors.

Let’s say I was not disappointed.

After my third book was released, I decided to independently publish all of my future work and started my own company, Full Circle Press LLC, to do just that. My novel, The Road Unsalted, is one of my independently published books.

This is a long way around to say that I find the escalating fight between traditional publishing and Amazon sad and infuriating. Personally, I think that the big five publishing companies are really fighting for the preservation of a system that maintains the second class status of writers.

I predict that they will eventually lose the control they are struggling so hard to maintain because too many writers now understand they have a choice.

There are a few traditional publishers out there—Interweave being one—that treat their authors as full publishing partners. When all this dust settles, companies that adopt this business model will be the winners.

Does this mean I trust Amazon to keep its distribution doors open and financially accessible to all authors forever?

Are you kidding? Only a fool trusts what a large corporation will do in the future.

But right now, I believe Amazon has made the stronger argument to the people who produce the raw product on which this entire industry is based—writers.

There are a lot of articulate voices being raised on this issue. Here are three recommendations if you want to know more.

Writer Beware is a blog dedicated to rooting out the many scams in the book publishing world. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox: Writer Beware

Hugh Howey is one of the best-selling indie authors and he does an absolutely incredible job keeping a spotlight of truth on the industry, including a public compilation of author earnings FOR THE FIRST TIME IN PUBLISHING HISTORY. Here’s a particularly good post: Give Customers What They Want.

And David Gaughran is another indie author, very successful, who applies his sharp business eye to the publishing biz. Here’s a post that’s well worth the read: Publishing Is Rotten to the Core.

If You Go Out in the Woods Today…

…you’ll probably get to see one of my favorite plants, Indian (or wild) cucumber.

Indian cucumber
Indian cucumber

I never noticed them before we moved to the shores of the White River and opened a trail that meanders along the water.

These spiny babies grow to about the size of the palm of your hand and when the seeds are ready, the moisture inside pops the bottom open so the plant can drop six to eight watermelon-shaped seeds to the ground.

We grew them up the front of the house one year and were fascinated by the springs they use to fasten themselves to their preferred climbing surface. If you look carefully, you can see one of them coiled below the seed pod.

When the wind blows, the whole vine structure flexes with the breeze.

Somehow when I get to observe plants close up, I feel like humans are so far behind. How long did it take us to catch up with this idea?