How I Sold My Book by Giving It Away

Today we're featuring a piece by Seth Harwood, an innovative crime fiction writer who has used the tools of Web 2.0 to launch his writing career. Below, he gives you an inside look at how he went from podcasting his books to landing a book deal with Random House. If you want to learn more about how writers will increasingly build their careers, be sure to give this a read. Take it away Seth...

Before it ever hit print, my debut novel JACK WAKES UP was a free serialized audiobook.  And giving my crime fiction away for free turned out to be the key to becoming a published author—that last piece of the puzzle that eludes so many aspiring writers. 

How did it work? Well, I got my MFA from a prestigious writers’ workshop.  I got a dozen stories placed in literary journals.  In short, I was doing all the things “they” (the literary establishment) tell you you have to do in order to become a successful author.  And it wasn’t working.  Agents were saying nice things about my crime fiction, but weren’t willing to take me on as a client.  Eventually I started looking for another way to drive my own career and put my work in front of people. Having had a little success with a published story online—my friends could read it and I was hearing from strangers who liked it, two things that had never happened with the dozen stories I’d slaved to publish in literary journals—I could see that the web was the way to do this. But I couldn’t imagine anyone reading a novel online, or even on his or her computer. I did have an iPod though, and didn’t I listen to it all the time in the car and at the gym? Wasn’t I taking out books on CD from my local library for my drive to work? Sure I was. So when a friend showed me how he’d been using his iPod and a thing called podcasting to get free audiobooks from an unknown author named Scott Sigler, I knew I had to figure out how this was done.

Turns out that making MP3 files costs nothing. Distributing them costs me less than $10 a month, no matter how many episodes go out. Each week, I release a free episode—usually a couple of chapters—to thousands of subscribers. You can think of this as a throwback to two old forms of crime distribution: either the pulp magazines or the old-time radio plays that introduced detective adventures to early listeners on the radio. (more…)

How Do You Use Open Courses?

I was asked by a newspaper reporter today how people, like you, are using open university courses (such as those found in our collection of Free Courses). And the truth is, I'm not always sure. So I figured, why not put the question out there and ask you. Here it goes: How are you using these courses? Are you listening to (or watching) these courses purely for personal enrichment? Or are you spending time with these courses for professional reasons? Are you trying to boost your resume/career with these courses? Also, during this recession, are these courses suddenly more attractive? Or were they attractive to you all along? Lastly, what topics do you generally tend to focus on? History? Literature? Computer Science? Physics?

Ok, folks, give a hand and let me know your thoughts. Please feel free to write your thoughts in the comments below, or write us at mail [at]

Blogs & Podcasts for the Financial Crisis

There's no doubt about it. We're living in interesting times, as the Chinese curse goes, and they won't be going away any time soon. Most of us can't afford to ignore what's happening here. So, below, I have highlighted a number of blogs and podcasts that help make intelligent sense of this economic debacle. Here they go...

  • Planet Money: NPR is doing a great job of covering the unwinding global economy. The Planet Money blog is a good read, and it includes an essential reading list. But the accompanying podcast is one that I follow regularly. It's a must. And it's generally entertaining. You can access it here:  iTunesRss Feed - Web Site. (Note: the last episode is not the best example of what it's usually about.)
  • EconoTalk: EconTalk was voted "Best Podcast" in the 2008 Weblog Awards. Hosted by Russ Roberts (out of George Mason University), the show "features one-on-one discussions with an eclectic mix of authors, professors, Nobel Laureates, entrepreneurs, leaders of charities and businesses, and people on the street." You can access the show via the following channels: iTunes - RSS Feed - Web Site.
  • The Baseline Scenario: Dedicated to "explaining some of the key issues in the global economy and developing concrete policy proposals," The Baseline Scenario is written, among others, by Simon Johnson, former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, who is now a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Although relatively young, the blog has received a fair amount of acclaim as the financial crisis has unfolded. You may want to particularly check out their collection of content called Financial Crisis for Beginners.
  • Realtime Economic Issues Watch:  Here, senior fellows of the Peterson Institute for International Economics (a think tank based in Washington) "discuss and debate their responses to global economic and financial developments as they occur each day and offer insights that others might overlook."  You will find some of the folks from the Peterson Institute also appearing on the podcasts and blogs mentioned elsewhere on this list. Find the RSS feed here.
  • Economists' Forum: Run by the Financial Times (UK), this blog brings together a large number of economists who offer a running commentary on the state of the fragile economy. The Wall Street Journal has its own real time blog here.
  • NewsHour with Jim Lehrer: The PBS nightly news program almost always includes an informative segment dedicated to the financial news of the day. The coverage, which typically includes interviews with experts, is excellent. You can download the podcast here: iTunes - Feed - Web Site
  • The Becker-Posner Blog: While not updated as frequently as Krugman’s blog, The Becker-Posner blog is a great place to read the thoughts of two Nobel prize winning economists (Gary Decker and Richard Posner) discuss the current economic crisis. Thanks Bryce for the tip.
  • This American Life: One of NPR's beloved programs has offered some excellent coverage of the financial crisis. It started with a show called The Giant Pool of Money (May 2008), and it has since included a program called Another Frightening Show about the Economy (November 2008). Now there is a new one called Bad Bank, which explains what's really happening in the trainwrecks that are banks. These programs were put together partly by members of the Planet Money podcast mentioned above.

Are we missing something good? Please let us know in the comments below...

The Educational Audio & Video Library

Every now and then, we like to remind those who subscribe to Open Culture via rss feed or email that our site hosts large collections of cultural and educational media. In total, these collections offer thousands of hours of enriching audio and video, and it's all free. You can download most all of it straight to your computer, mp3 player or smartphone. To access these materials, simply bookmark this page, or visit our site. And if you would like to forward these resources to friends, or mention them on your own web site, we would certainly appreciate it.


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Top 10 Blog Posts of 2008

Here they go, the most popular posts of 2008:

10. Free Stanford Computer Science & Engineering Courses Now Online

9.) The Old Man and the Sea Animated

8.) Teaching on YouTube

7.) Turn Your iPod into a Travel Guide: 20 Travel Podcasts

7.) Listening to Famous Poets Reading Their Own Work

6. This American Life Demystifies the Housing/Credit Crisis

5.) Understanding Modern Physics: Download Leonard Susskind Video Lectures

4.) Yale Open Courses: The New Lineup

3.) George Orwell’s 1984: Download Free Audio Book Version

Also, James Joyce’s Ulysses: A Free Audiobook

2.) Top Five Collections of Free University Courses

1.) Intelligent Life at YouTube: 80 Educational Video Collections


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70 Signs of Intelligent Life at YouTube

Smart video collections keep appearing on YouTube. But rather antithetical to the ethos of its parent company (Google), YouTube unfortunately makes these collections difficult to find. So we've decided to do the job for them. These enriching/educational videos come from media outlets, cultural institutions, universities and non-profits. There are about 70 collections in total, and the list will grow over time. If we're missing anything good, feel free to let us know, and we'll happily add them. You can find the complete list below the jump.

Also, feel free to check out our YouTube playlist.


  • @GoogleTalks
    • Google has lots of famous visitors speaking at its headquarters, and they're all recorded and neatly presented here.
  • Al Jazeera English
    • The Middle Eastern news service, which has generated its share of controversy, now airs broadcasts in English and presents them here.
  • Amnesty International
    • The leading human rights organization brings you various videos outlining human rights concerns across the globe, and the work they're doing to improve conditions.
  • BBC
    • A series of videos promoting programs coming out of Britain's main media outlet. Unfortunately many of these videos are short and not entirely substantive. A missed opportunity.
  • BBC Worldwide
    • Ditto.
  • Big Think
    • This collection brings you videos featuring some of today's leading thinkers, movers and shakers.
  • BoingBoingTV
    • These videos are brought to you by the makers of the very popular BoingBoing blog.
  • Brooklyn Museum
    • A fairly rich lineup of videos exploring the collections at Brooklyn's main art museum.
  • Charlie Rose
    • PBS interviewer Charlie Rose presents segments of his nightly interviews.
  • Citizen Tube
    • YouTube's own channel presents videos dealing with the American political process and the 2008 election.
  • Computer History Museum
    • A good number of videos that delve into computers, networking, and semiconductors.
  • Council on Foreign Relations
    • A resource designed to provide insight into the complex international issues challenging policymakers and citizens alike. (more…)

10 New iPhone Apps for the Thinking Person

In advance of tomorrow's release of the new 3G iPhone, Apple has launched its new App Store on iTunes, which features new tools that will immediately make the iPhone (and iPod Touch) a more versatile -- and, in some cases, enlightening -- device. Below, we have highlighted ten apps worth exploring if you're hungry for enriching information. 9 of the 10 are free. (Please note: To access the App Store, you will need to download the latest version of iTunes (here) and also the new iPhone 2.0 firmware, which has yet to be officially released -- although you can find an unofficial release and directions on how to install it here. The official release should be coming any time now.)

1.) The New York Times: Thanks to this app, you can read "All the News That's Fit to Print" on your iPhone. It lets you customize the news you read, and also read articles offline.

2.) AOL Radio: One downside to the first generation iPhone is that it didn't allow you to access internet radio. This app helps to change some of that. It gives you access to 150 CBS radio stations across the US, including some key news stations.

3.) Mandarin Audio Phrasebook: Lonely Planet, the publisher of fine travel guides, has produced a free Mandarin audio phrasebook, which includes 630 commonly used phrases. Via the iPhone you can hear how the phrases are spoken (and also see how they are phonetically written). For $9.99, you can purchase phrasebooks in nine other languages, including Spanish, French, Japanese, Italian, Thai, Vietnamese and Czech. See full collection here.

4.) Truveo Video Search: The Wall Street Journal calls Truveo the "best web-wide video-search engine." And now, with this Truveo app, you can use the iPhone to find videos from across the web, and, regardless of their format, play them all in one application. This sounds like a great addition, especially since many videos weren't playable on 1st generation iPhones.

5.) NetNewsWire: With this app, you can add an RSS reader to the iPhone, allowing you to read RSS feeds in a neat and clean way. It also lets you "clip" articles that you like and read them later. Don't forget to sign up for our feed, and you can always add more cultural feeds by perusing our list of 100 Culture Blogs.

6.) Google Mobile App: Let's face it. In today's information world, Google is a must-have. And so it's nice to have an app that makes Google and its many functionalities completely iPhone friendly.

7.) AppEngines E-Books: For 99 cents, you can download a classic e-book to your iPhone, and read it in a quite legible format. In this collection, you will find Crime and Punishment, Pride and Prejudice, Dickens' Great Expectations, and about 40 other e-books.

8.) Talking Spanish Phrasebook: Too busy to learn a new language? Then you're in luck. This app will do the talking for you. It takes basic phrases in English and then converts them into spoken Spanish. There are also free versions in French, German, and Italian.

9.) Epocrates: This free app turns your iPhone into a comprehensive drug database. Very handy for the medical community.

10.) NearPics: If you're traveling, and if you want to discover great places nearby, this app lets you discover pictures that have been taken in the vicinity. The app offers a way to discover intriguing places (or things) that normally fly below the radar. Also, this other app lets you put Flickr on your iPhone. More ways to satisfy your inner photographer.

Related Content:

10 Ways to Make Your iPod a Better Learning Gadget

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