December 9, 2010

The view from here looks grand

By Patti Thorn, BlueInk Managing Partner

We are gloriously, happily, finally live!

I know. I know. We’re not the first to launch a website.

But the emotion still seems like how I imagine those who built the Eiffel Tower must have felt when they put that last steel girder in place: Ah! Finally, time to relax for a minute and survey the view!

It’s a grand view, indeed – one that started with a simple conversation about the publishing world, all about how the traditional ways were crumbling as editors at New York publishing houses lost their jobs and companies struggled to navigate the challenges of the new digital world. About how self publishing was exploding. And about how readers were caught in the middle of all this: how were they to know what books were worth their time in this new anything-goes reality? In the traditional publishing world, readers get guidance from reviews in mainstream publications. But self publishers are left out in the cold when it comes to reviews, and that means readers are, too.

I knew this better than most. For 12 years, as books editor at the Rocky Mountain News, I was the person self publishers called, asking for reviews. I was also the unfortunate one whose task was to tell them that, sorry, we don’t review self-published books. (Before you go pounding out an angry email, whoa there. I can explain – but it will take more than a few sentences in parentheses. I promise to address that issue in another blog entry. Honest.)

I often felt terrible about delivering this bad news. Authors constantly voiced their frustrations: they had spent thousands of dollars getting their books in print – but without a review or some kind of exposure in the newspaper, how would they find readers? The experience left me thinking of the great need for some kind of filtering process, a way these many self-published books could get critical appraisal.

Meanwhile, my partner and BlueInk cofounder Patty Moosbrugger was still well ensconced in the publishing world. A successful book agent, she had built her own business from scratch and was now enjoying the fruits of her labors, with a roster of respected authors relying on her advocacy and guidance. Even so, she was beginning to see the advantages some authors had in self publishing their books. With the traditional publishing world in its current state of flux, sometimes authors were better off producing their own books, working like crazy at marketing them, and taking the lion’s share of the profits.

The discussion led to brainstorming, which led to a simple idea: why not create a forum in which self-published authors have access to credible, honest, objective book reviews?

Did I say simple? That’s like saying the Eiffel Tower is no more complicated than a Tinker Toy.

Actually, it’s taken nine months of serious thought and debate to crystallize our purpose. We’ve conferred with librarians, agents and booksellers about what they look for in self-published books. We’ve talked to self-publishing authors and attended self-publishing conferences, asking questions and trying to discern the best ways to serve this diverse group.

We’ve torn our hair out devising business plans and budgets. We’ve learned more about web development than we ever wanted to (don’t ask). (Here’s one interesting thing we learned: what we call “air” in the newspaper world – meaning the white space around the text and photos — is called “oxygen” in the web world. Who says those Gen Yers weren’t paying attention in school?)

And we’ve had plenty of heated discussions along the way. Just coming up with a name for our company took hours and hours of debate. I, for one, am still mourning my discarded favorite, “NewBigFish.com.” (Ok, I’m willing to admit that maybe it wasn’t such a good sign that every time one of us brought it up for discussion, we forgot the order of the words: BigNewFish? NewFishWhatAgain? And when I told my 20something daughter my idea, she looked at me as if I’d swallowed big fish – and then spat it out at her feet.) There were many days we had to take a deep breath and remind ourselves of our larger goals.

Which is what has kept us going. We launch our new venture filled with excitement and hope that we can be part of the future of publishing.  We have a grand vision: that not only can we help individual authors by providing them with honest reviews they can use in their marketing materials, but that we can help readers, too. The self-publishing world is huge and growing like mad. It is filled with amazing material – and, yes, not-so-amazing, material. How can readers know what is worth their attention?

We hope to be the answer to that question. Over time, we hope that when readers are presented with a self-published book, the first thing they’ll ask is “Did BlueInk like it?” Or “What did BlueInk say?” We hope readers looking for new material will routinely search our Notable Reviews with anticipation, just as they might have opened up The Saturday Evening News to read its featured fiction piece in the heydey of print.

We hope, in short, that as e-books and iPads and the myriad other technical innovations evolve, we become the filter by which the best written work is recognized, no matter the format.

In this blog, I’ll be talking about our progress; the contrasts I see between the old world (newspapers and print books) vs. the new world (online publications and e-books); developments in the self-publishing world and anything else that seems interesting. Join the conversation, if you feel so moved. Or just check in now and then and browse what’s being said.

It’s great to be here on the precipice of this new world. And it’s especially gratifying, after so many months of planning, to push this little “Blue” bird out of the nest. Let us know what you think of our site when you get a minute.

Meanwhile, all this talk about our long view is making me a little dizzy. Time to get back on the ground and take things one step at a time. I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to announce that step one is finally a fait accompli: We’re live!

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