Seth Godin’s eBooks

Seth Godin is a smart guy. He’s also creative, and I like the way he comes up with new ways to do old things. For the past year he’s been working on the Domino Project, an experimental publishing imprint that distributes mainly through Amazon and tinkers with a lot of different methods for pricing and promotion (including publishing “sponsored” books), just to see what would happen. Recently, Seth decided to wrap up the project, and wrote a post summing up some lessons learned (http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2011/11/the-last-hardcover.html). It’s quite an interesting read, but I found this little gem to be most intriguing:

Sponsored ebooks are economically irresistible to readers, to sponsors and to authors. I’m proud to have pioneered this, and I think it’s a trend worth pursuing. The value transfer to the reader is fabulous (hey, a great book, for free), and the sponsor gets to share in some of that appreciation. The author gets a guaranteed payday as well as the privilege of reaching ten or a hundred times as many readers.

I’ve talked about this kind of thing before in my post, “Ads: The Future of eBooks?”. In that post, I talked ad-supported books, but Seth has an even better idea with “sponsored” books, with one company giving a “brought to you by” message, and that’s it. Just tolerate that one sponsorship message, and your book is free. The sponsor pays the author directly. Not a bad idea, but one that could certainly lend itself to becoming a tool only for the few lucky top names in the biz with the pull to attract such a deal. For the rest of us, the ad-supported model used by blogs may be the answer. Regardless, Seth has a lot of cool ideas on the topic of eBooks and digital publishing, and if you’re not following his blog, I highly recommend it.

Our Music is Meaningless

I submit to you this: a brief rant about the sorry state of modern popular music.

Yes, I know. This isn’t new. People have been ranting about the decline of music ever since the autotune made its way into just about every damn song on the radio. But I’m not talking about the musical quality of the industry today. In fact, I’d say from a production standpoint, music is about the same as it’s been for the past 30 years. A good hook is still important, and dance music is still as much of a moneymaker as it always was. It’s not hard to find a beautiful piano melody or a rousing orchestra in today’s songs, and the phat beats are still around.

The problem I have is not with the melodies. It’s the lyrics. Our lyrics mean nothing. Our songs do not sing the body electric. The words from our bards are shallow and selfish. No one on the radio or on TV is singing anything that matters.

Take for example, the hot songs out right now. There’s Rihanna’s “We Found Love”, which is a great tune but the lyrics are…well…crap. #2 on the Billboard Chart is “Sexy and I Know It”, which is most notable for being a song by a band called LMFAO (a prime example of how far we’ve fallen). Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fun song, but completely meaningless.

The only recently-released songs in the Billboard Top 20 that I’d say actually have lyrical value are Adele’s “Someone Like You” and Bruno Mars’ “It Will Rain”. They’re both poetic, but they’re love songs, and as much as we all love to sing about love lost or unrequited, it’s not a profound topic.

There are no songs about social change. There are no songs about maturing. There are no songs about learning a life lesson. Hip-hop used to mean something. It used to have a social slant with clever lyrics designed to get people to think about what they were doing and where they were going. Gone are the days of De La Soul and Arrested Development. Say hello to Lil’ Jon and Drake.

Alternative rock used to be profound. Nirvana changed the game. Pearl Jam was the voice of a generation trying to reconcile suburbia with rebellion and a world at constant war. Where are our anti-war songs now?

Of course, I’m sure many of you are thinking that these kinds songs do exist, they’re just not in the mainstream. It’s all indie. And you’re absolutely right, and that’s my point. In the past it wasn’t hard to find meaningful tunes around. They may not have been Billboard Top 20 material, but they were around, the big labels supported them, and they got radio and video play (the only reason I discovered Arrested Development was VH1 played them constantly back in the day). Now, there’s no social message to be found in the mass media.

And the saddest part of all? Bands that used to have a message are now completely and utterly moronic. The Black Eyed Peas broke out into the mainstream with “Where Is the Love?”, a meaningful song with an equally meaningful video that posed the question, “What’s wrong with the world?”. Now, B.E.P. writes the stupidest songs in the world, sugar-coated with some well-crafted beats. But, for a moment, let’s take a walk down memory lane, and remember the good old days when mainstream artists still produced art. It wasn’t that long ago

Writing is a Skill. Learn it.

“Must have excellent written communication skills.” You see this all the time in job posts, but what does it really mean? Do people really even care about writing skills anymore?

The answer is yes.

All of us are presented with moments when we must communicate our ideas in written form. It may be an admissions essay, or a cover letter for your resume, or a complaint to your landlord, an explanation to a co-worker, a sales pitch for a new client, or a letter to your boss justifying your reasons for a raise. You will have to write, and oftentimes what you write will affect the chances of you getting what you want, so you might as well learn how to be good at it.

Yes, you have to learn how to write. For some reason, many people seem baffled by this idea. “I’ve been writing all my life,” they say. “It can’t be that hard.” These are the same people that fill literary agent inboxes with horrible novels and are outraged when they get rejected.

To those people, I ask a simple question — can you talk? I’m sure you can. But does being able to talk automatically mean you can sing? Of course not. You have to learn how to sing. You have to practice. Even if you have an innate talent for it, that only gets you so far. You still have to learn the art of singing if you want to move people’s emotions with your voice.

The same is true for writing.

With a little research and practice you can dramatically improve your skill at communicating with the written word. You can learn to evoke sympathy, bring people to tears, or stoke the fires of anger with your words. You can learn how to transport your thoughts into someone else’s mind with nothing but letters. Writing is the closest thing we have to telepathy.

But, like all skills, writing demands a sacrifice. Learning to write well is a chore. It takes work and research, and one can get lost in the vast sea of “How to Write” books out there (it has long been said that the best way to make money at writing is to write a book about writing). But the most important thing you’ll ever learn about writing is this:

All writing — all writing — is storytelling.

When you read a blog, you’re reading a story about one person’s experience. When you read a news article, you’re reading a story of real events and people. When you read a product description, you’re reading a manufactured story a marketing team wants to tell you. Even as you read this post, what you’re reading are tiny stories about types of people and events and situations you can relate to as part of my efforts to convince you to do something. Learn how to tell good stories, and people will want to listen to what you say. That is influence. That is power.

So, where to begin? First, write and write often. Get a blog. Sign up for a free blog Blogger or Tumblr or LiveJournal and just write. Blog every day if you can. You can tell others about your blog, or not. It doesn’t really matter, because all you have to do is write. Write about whatever you like — food, poetry, politics, cats. Whatever. Just remember that your goal is to write compelling stories about your topic. Stories have characters, and settings, and a firm beginning, middle and end. Your writing should have all of these.

While you’re doing your writing, read. All good writers must be good readers. I’m sure you’ve read stories before, but when you read as a writer, stories take on new meaning. You dissect and analyze the style and technique of the author. You see things from a different perspective. For example, as a reader I enjoyed the Harry Potter books, but it wasn’t until I became a writer and took a more technical look at the books that I truly appreciated J.K. Rowling’s skill (the Invisibility Cloak is a brilliant plot device).

You should also read some books and articles in that aforementioned sea of “How to Write” material. I personally advocate Sol Stein’s Stein On Writing. The Internet also has a wealth of great material for learning how to write, and I particularly like this timeless article on Persuasive Writing, which is the most useful type of writing for the average person.

And when you’ve done all that writing and reading, go back and look at what you wrote earlier. Do you see the flaws? Has the practice and research changed your ideas of what “good” writing is? If so, take note of what you’ve learned, apply it, and keep writing and reading. If not, keep writing and reading. Remember you’re working on a skill here and, as required with any type of craft, mastery takes time. But stay committed, and I guarantee that new perspectives and opportunities will open up to you because of your new ability to move hearts and minds with your words.