Table of Contents
- Writer’s Digest Conference: Who is Pitching Whom?
- Thin Reads, Widening
- Predictions: They Don’t Travel Well
- Showrooming and Showboating
- Last Gas: The Competition is Not All Video Games
I’ll get the sad part out of the way first: At the well-run, much-enjoyed Writer’s Digest Conference East this weekend in New York City, one of the nearly 500 attendees got into the aisle, waited patiently to reach a Q&A microphone, and then asked the speaker: “What happened to Borders?”
I’ve looked it up so you don’t have to: The last Borders stores closed on September 18, 2011. The bankruptcy filing was in February 2011. Close to 20,000 employees lost their jobs in that nightmare. This question was lobbed at the stage on April 6, 2013.
If you dare talk about the amateur invasion of the author corps, you’re going to take a lot of heat. And I understand perfectly well that people who haven’t been around the block feel better if we all act as if they have. But pretending that we’re all professionals on this bus doesn’t make it true.
Mind you, there were plenty of intelligent, well-informed, working and publishing professionals at WDCE. Probably the majority of the attendees, in fact (not to mention more than 200 at the associated screenwriting conference). Everyone’s learning, and that’s fine. But there’s nothing like Writer’s Digest’s flagship US commercially produced writing conference each year to make you realize that we are not hallucinating a few free-range jacklegs on the hoof.
Next time I stand in a line this long for coffee I’m going to say, “What is this, a god damn writer’s conference or something?!” #WDCE
— Kevin Klein (@kkwrites) April 7, 2013
I’ll tell you why this matters so much at such a successful conference as the one just concluded by Gary Lynch, Stacie Berger, Phil Sexton, Abby Davis, Beth Mauro, Jessica Strawser, Zac Petit, Chuck Sambuchino, Beth Dean, Taylor Jacobs and their team.
The need for good, strong writer-conference programming probably has never been greater in publishing, not least because there are so many people trying to write without the kind of professional preparation they need. Conferences, even with the occasional outdated question about a huge event in bookselling, can serve the community by helping, as this one does, to search out standards for best practice and performance.
If you’re one of our newly motivated friends who’s coming up to speed on the business, I hope you’ll get thee to a conference, go. It can help you spot those blanks we all have in our experience before getting all up in agents’ faces for the big Pitch Slam that Sambuchino & Co. are getting really good at producing.
This year’s was the best-looking, most breathable Pitch Slam yet. By halving the crowd of authors as was done in Los Angeles in October (writers get three minutes with each agent they pitch) and by opening extra rooms and taking advantage of the Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers’ brightly lit renovation, the Writer’s Digestives were able to stage not only their own annual Pitch Slam but also a simultaneous, matching exercise for their parallel production, Screenwriters World Conference East.
— madonna kilpatrick (@ask0madonna) April 7, 2013
Two major and evolving issues, however, heaved quickly into view, defining the 2013 state-of-the-author as sharply as the Hudson and East River frame Manhattan. Those two issues:
- Self-publishing vs. traditional publishing.
- The position of the literary agent.
Writer’s Digest put together a pre-conference-day line of sessions as a self-publishing-focused conference for Friday (April 5). The move is perfectly aligned, of course, with the new emphasis on authors and self-publishing being programmed at London Book Fair for next week.
(There’s more about that in the first section of Writing on the Ether, “They’re Letting the Authors In!”)
Clearly, there’s the opportunity that self-publishing opens for start-ups in “author services.” Exhibitors and sponsors, including Kristen McLean’s newly launched service-of-services WriterCube Book Marketing Database, as well as Pubit!, Draft2Digital, Wattpad, the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA), American Writers & Artists Inc. and BiblioCrunch, — were on board to offer demos to the writers. Some of their key people spoke in various sessions of the conference’s programs, as well.
By in drawing a crowd to this early focus at Writer’s Digest, however, the conference saw in higher relief than usual (and this was a good thing) the associated and tricky spot in which agents find themselves. What became apparent is this, and I’ll give it to you in two more points, how symmetrical of me, no?
- Agents, themselves, may be as divided on who and what they are as opinions about them.
- Agents need to handle their transition more forcefully, at least from the standpoint of authors.
There is a small, visible non-aligned group of agents whose response to the bucking bronco of today’s author career seems to be ahead of most others’. I say “seems” because the natural elevation and spotlight that media coverage puts on such issues can produce enough glare that we may not see some of the others who quietly are finding new paths, too.
Certainly the figure on the bridge of the Good Ship Nouvel-Agent is Kristin Nelson of her own Nelson Agency in Denver. Like another Colorado-based agent (it’s in the water), Books & Such‘s Rachelle Gardner, Nelson not only is about new routes to productivity and profit for authors but also about visibly, transparently exploring a new vocabulary and role for the agent.
Another leadership agency in this regard, of couse, is Jason Allen Ashlock and Adam Chromy‘s Movable Type Management (MTM) in New York. Ether readers are familiar with Ashlock’s concept of “radical advocacy” for clients and The Rogue Reader self-publishing author collective associated with MTM.
A newly heard voice joined the ensemble on Saturday at the conference when agent April Eberhardt (April Eberhardt Literary) spoke in a session she titled “The New Era of Publishing: An Agent’s Perspective on Going The Indie Route.”
The California-based Eberhardt, who calls herself a “literary change agent,” had her best moments in Q&A, following a balanced look at pros and cons of self-publishing, traditional publishing, and hybrid approaches. Most agents, Eberhardt told the audience, still are “invested in the traditional” industry operations. And having had a really good conversation with Eberhardt at another conference, I think I can safely say she’d agree there may be as many variations and shadings of that view as there are agents.
A few lines from her comments: Rather than see you work with a major publisher, selling your rights and having little control or marketing budget to speak of, Eberhardt said she prefers to work with small independent publishers, one of which “has a five-year marketing plan, although no advance” for an author.
The big publishers are trying to emulate self-published authors…traditional publishing is flailing—notice I didn’t say “failing.”
She spoke of “working hard on a way to figure out how to help authors outsource some of the marketing.”
Her biggest message was quality. “Edit, edit, edit: it is a really good investment to hire a developmental editor to help shape your book…I’m putting together a quality board. I want to make the tide rise. I sound like God, don’t I?”
She warned, “You have to sell thousands of copies to move from self-publishing to traditional. The threshhold is rising.”
Easily the star agent of the conference was Nelson. And in a timely dovetail to the self-publishing conundrum facing authors, her high-profile client, Wool author Hugh Howey, had just published his much-debated Salon piece, Hugh Howey: Self-publishing is the future — and great for writers.
In her own pre-conference write, Nelson had made the point that Howey is not, necessarily, a torch-carrier for self-publishing. In Indie & Agent Partners: Thought 1, she’s writing of how both she and Howey wanted publishers to hear from “reasonable, personable, forward thinking” agents and authors. She arranged for him to meet with publishers in New York:
He was not, and has never been, anti-traditional publisher. In fact, he’s fairly pro-publisher. But a partnership has to make sense and there is a lot of stuff from traditional publishing that doesn’t make sense.
But partly through the emphasis in his Salon piece and by dint of its headline — which he has since pointed out was provided by the editors, not by him — everyone was rolling into the conference with an idea of Howey as a new symbol of self-publishing-against-traditional-publishing.
Author Chuck Wendig, another speaker at the conference, had richly and respectfully volleyed with Howey. As much as Wendig loves his deep scatological lexicon—bottomless, it seems — he’s a formidable advocate of respect and anti-hysteria between self- and traditional-publishers, and he proved it again in Self-Publishing is the Blah Blah Blah and Floo-Dee-Doo and Poop Noise:
Hugh Howey wrote a thing at Salon…a fascinating mix of artistic wisdom and business fantasy where anecdotal evidence once more becomes artisanal data and we are told that because you can meet 100 very successful self-published authors that is now officially the way to go and oh, by the way, it’s totally the future of all publishing ever. I distrust fortune-tellers, to be honest.
Quickly after that:
Here’s the thing: Howey’s by all reports a very nice guy. And obviously smart as hell. And more than a little lucky. His article is well-written and buried in there is a strong cry to bolster craft and for you, the writer, to write first and foremost for the love of writing.
A hybrid author, as Howey is, Wendig offered an anecdote of a kind you don’t hear frequently: he wrote that his last two years’ traditionally generated revenue had “well-eclipsed anything I made in self-publishing.” And he ended up in the kind of delirious heap he’s so good at:
No one way exists! Try lots of shit! Leverage one thing against another thing! Don’t join cults! Self-publishing isn’t The Future, it’s One Possible Future! Educate and inspire instead of segregating and pointing fingers! Beware easy answers! This isn’t a war! Nobody has to win! Write your ass off! Art harder! Exclamation points! Words! Nap!
Soon Howey was in Wendig’s comments:
I found myself nodding and agreeing with your entire rebuttal…The point of the story isn’t that everyone should self-publish. The point is that for all the coverage the outliers get, it’s the midlist authors who are really the story of self-publishing. It’s the people who would never get published otherwise and are now making hundreds or thousands of dollars a month.
No matter what direction you chose, try to avoid cult-like belief and mentalities, you’ll be okay. Follow data. Avoid anecdotes. Work on being a better writer.
I hope many authors have looked in on the exchange and thought again about this deep divide that seems to keep yawning open between self-publishing and traditionally publishing interests. I think we need to worry more about the agents than the authors at this point. And Nelson went to the mat on a Sunday morning panel to point out to anyone with a mind open enough to hear her that what a traditional publisher can do when genuinely committed to a book is “unbelievable.”
To play the devil’s advocate, I’ve yet to see a book go to international bestseller without a traditional publisher.
Kristin Nelson: spend more time on the craft of writing and platform development, than reaching out to agents. #wdce
— Dan Blank (@DanBlank) April 5, 2013
Talking of the commitment of Random House in London, which has published Howey’s first Wool Omnibus in print, she said the company’s people were “almost evangelical” about promoting the book, and that this is how something that charts high in the States “can also go to Number One in Norway.”
Here, then, was and is a marvelous quandary facing authors, yes, but facing agents maybe even more quickly.
Gr8 info from lit agent Kristin Nelson about indie publishing. Readers, not trad pubs, r being empowered 2 become the new gatekeepers #wdce
— Bob Slate (@skoopsl8) April 5, 2013
You might think of Nelson as the agent who has been able to shape and amplify and enhance so richly the work of Hugh Howey, a longtime self-publishing author. And she is certainly that.
But she is also the agent telling you that there are circumstances and occasions in which a traditional publisher’s capabilities are unmatched. The realities are always more nuanced than some folks realize.
In his typically dour Times op-ed piece, The Slow Death of the American Author, the Author’s Guild‘s Scott Turow decries “how the global electronic marketplace is rapidly depleting authors’ income streams. It seems almost every player — publishers, search engines, libraries, pirates and even some scholars — is vying for position at authors’ expense.”
A challenged copyright arena may well be a forum in which enlightened agents could be of special value to authors. Who wants to walk into that without an experienced partner?
No, Scott Turow, copyright is not killing American authors dlvr.it/3C3xvj
— paidContent (@paidContent) April 8, 2013
I’d like to hear more agents step forward and speak as candidly and forthrightly as Nelson, Eberhardt, Ashlock, and Gardner have done.
— Dominique Raccah (@draccah) April 8, 2013
An interesting point: Some 55 agents were signed up to hear pitches at Writer’s Digest on Saturday (with another 40 or so agencies and/or production firms taking pitches on the Screenwriters World side, just as a point of information).
- Eberhardt didn’t take pitches.
- Nelson opted to hear the morning session of Pitch Slam but arranged in advance with conference organizers not to take pitches at the second, afternoon session.
- Ashlock and his agency did not take part in the conference this time, although he has done so at times in the past.
- Gardner was not at the conference.
We don’t want to jump to any conclusions about the participation level of several agents whose approaches, while each is singular, are all “facing outward,” if you will. For all we know, these are mere scheduling conflicts. But it’s striking that these agents, in particular, didn’t fully engage. It may (that’s may, as in may not, too) indicate that something of the old-days’ pitch just isn’t germane to them now.
From James Scott Bell’s wry and wise opening keynote to Tayari Jones‘ heartfelt closer, the conference gave authors a weekend of stability in an industry that feels anything but stable on most other days. That’s no mean feat.
And the real message may lie at the heart of the event, the Pitch Slam, a feature of something that’s in radical debate these days: the author’s relationship with a literary agent.
I don’t think I need to get into details here, but I just accidentally hit a guy in the face while enthusiastically hailing a cab.
— Ginger Clark (@Ginger_Clark) April 5, 2013
Thin Reads, a website devoted to e-singles, launched Monday. The site offers reviews and author interviews, bestseller lists drawn from Amazon and a database of titles. The site was launched by Howard Polskin, who was previously the EVP of communications and events for the Association of Magazine Media (formerly the Magazine Publishers’ Association).
In her write at paidContent, Thin Reads, an online guide to e-singles, launches, Laura Hazard Owen will no doubt warm the heart of Writer’s Digest Conference keynote speaker James Scott Bell — who in New York City mentioned the usefulness to a hybrid author of what he calls “novelettes” and defines as “short novellas.” Novellatini can’t be far behind.
But as both traditionally publishing and self-publishing authors explore a kind of satellite-publication effect — surrounding a major book with shorter-read e-single content — Howard Polskin’s Thin Reads index to such content is an encouragement.
Owen includes some interesting stats on these lesser-known “little books” in her write-up. For example:
54% of all e-singles available in the database are listed as Original, which means they were created especially as short works of nonfiction or fiction intended to be read on an electronic platform for its original release.
What might be termed unoriginal, in this sense, in other words, is a major newspaper’s extensive coverage of a story or theme which might be repackaged and sold later as an e-single.
31% of e-singles in the database are fiction. 69% are nonfiction.
Lots of room for more fiction there. A good thing to be pecking on while waiting in lines to pitch agents.
The good news: Thin Reads is a free site.
Polskin doesn’t plan to monetize the site for now, and said he’s providing it as a service to readers.
Want to know how dumb I was at like 5-6? I thought if I could get inside a giant soap bubble I would float away or something.
— Dan Krokos (@DanKrokos) April 4, 2013
The price war that many in the industry anticipated never really materialized beyond skirmishes around a handful of top-selling titles.
Who predicted what and how right or wrong they were isn’t material now.
Right. And, in fact, Greenfield points out that Forrester’s James McQuivey probably foresaw things a bit more accurately than the “this means war” people when the Department of Justice’s legal action against five of the Big then-Six publishers resulted in a rollback of agency pricing. Greenfield writes:
Forrester analyst James McQuivey told us in April 2012 that he anticipated Amazon and others lowering prieces “slowly” and “strategically.”
Amazon has begun discounting Macmillan ebooks. Penguin’s prices still listed as “set by publisher” bit.ly/Y8fij0
— Melville House (@melvillehouse) April 8, 2013
And, as it has turned out, the bar-coded frenzy never quite arrived. Most women and children have survived, and only a few strong men were seen crying behind the library stacks. But oh, what a lovely war it was going to be, right? That’s why I’m just doing a friendly “not so fast” to our good colleague Greenfield as he writes:
But who predicted what and how right or wrong they were isn’t material now.
Yes it is. It is material. Predictions of apocalyptic publishing scenarios are the bane of this digital do-si-do in publishing. People whose opinions no one requested are on all sides, heaving their most despairing visions at us, day after day, post after post, list-serv blast after show-off reply.
And it’s getting really old. Really old. Really old.
One is very tired of being jerked around by the Chicken Littles of the industry! the industry!, isn’t one? Well of course one is.
The alarmists need to sit down. They know exactly who they are. Here’s Greenfield again:
What matters now is what happens next.
That is right. That is true. That is correct. And the way to find out what happens next is to watch it occur. Not to make your most hellacious guess and toss it out there to worry and confuse everyone. (Merriam-Webster gives me “hellacious,” I’ll save you the trouble.)
— cedric naux (@cnaux) April 4, 2013
Believe me, if you’re one of the authors who was first thrilled to be published by Simon&Schuster, only to be horrified to discover that Barnes & Noble won’t carry your book because it’s on the outs with S&S? Things are bad enough. (See our next item.)
Nobody needs old hands or young Turks jerking them around. Reality is biting plenty. Greenfield goes on, amid the MacMillan discounting news, to write:
As consumers get used to paying less and less, will front-list best-sellers find it harder to gain purchase at $14.99? Will self-published and mid-list ebooks priced at $4.99 and $5.99 start seeing competition from front-list titles? Will prices go down across the board as a result? We’ll see.
That’s a tone we can live with. Questions. Not answers. Because he has no answers. Does Greenfield look like a soothsayer to you? Okay, maybe a little, but he doesn’t know and he knows he doesn’t know. He didn’t say we’ll never see another $15 Shirtless Man Kissing Beautiful Women again, did he? No. He said we’ll see. And we will.
And we’ll remember who got us all jacked up for nothing, too.
Between kickstarter and Kindle, independent publishers will actually have to start doing stuff to keep authors. I recommend copy-editing.
— Nick Mamatas (@NMamatas) April 4, 2013
I’ve yet to see a physical bookstore that made it easy to look up information about the professional and popular assessment of a book, something Amazon does reasonably well. Certainly there are plenty of tablets in any store trying to sell you a Nook, but they’re not integrated with the (book) browsing experience.
No sooner had I mentioned in Writing on the Ether/Reading on the Ether author M.J. Rose’s useful list of Simon & Schuster books that the publisher’s contretemps with Barnes & Noble is keeping out of the retailer’s brick-and-mortar stores, than Brian O’Leary posted Showrooming Books: Adapting to the Ways People Shop.
Among our best colleagues, O’Leary works in “both publishing worlds”—books and periodicals, a distinction I have a bit more on in today’s Last Gas.
And here, he turns his attention to the well-known problem that B&N is facing along with independent bookstores. As he writes:
B&N is said to be looking to increase the revenue it receives from publishers for “showrooming” books; Simon & Schuster feels the proposed terms are too onerous.
The more people browse “in real life” and then shop online, the harder it is for the terrestrial emporium to succeed.
What’s interesting is how quickly O’Leary points to a couple of logical approaches I’d love to see B&N and other stores try. Like so many things in publishing’s struggle with digital, though, they’d require an attitude adjustment to attempt:
There are ways that BN could make price comparisons a feature, not a bug. Rather than use corporate resources to keep up with Amazon (or others) on price, BN could introduce an in-store search function with an “instant coupon.” Doing so could give BN the ability to keep the price-sensitive customer without discounting the entire store.
— Sarah Pekkanen (@sarahpekkanen) April 5, 2013
Building on the work of Michael LeBeau of Weld Media, O’Leary is saying that the customer standing in the store is worth two flitting around online. And if you put that “instant coupon” into the hand of the one in the bush, that customer just might stick around and buy the book right there in the store. Why fly to Seattle to get it more cheaply online when the physical store has just made it cheaper on-site?
Something similar could be built for inventory. Let customers tell you (easily) “I searched for this book and had to leave without it.” Collect enough of those alerts and your store managers and book buyers become smarter, too.
Of course, the current and apparently dire negotiations either going forward or breaking down may have a lot of showboating involved. I’m given to understand that S&S’ contract is the first of the majors’ agreements with the very troubled B&N. So precedent will be set in terms of what the retailer can charge for any shelf space it has left for books, back behind the bath towels with Dickens’ face on them.
And, as O’Leary writes:
This isn’t to say that B&N doesn’t need better terms, or that publishers shouldn’t be thinking of ways to sustain a retail presence.
— maureenjohnson (@maureenjohnson) March 25, 2013
We all have to be careful on this story, as O’Leary is doing, to note that these discussions between retailer and publisher are proprietary and few details are known.
What we can know with certainty is that authors and readers are being hurt, through no fault of their own, in protracted discussions that, sources say, aren’t really going at all well. And as O’Leary adds:
Terms alone won’t stop showrooming, and they are unlikely to stem the tide for very long. We have to adapt to the ways that people shop.
It’s official; people finished with the holidays/spring break and realized the London Book Fair is almost here.
— PublishersLunch (@PublishersLunch) April 4, 2013
If you have a publishing conference in the offing, let me know about it via my contact page, and I’ll be happy to consider including it in my site’s listing and in columns as I have the chance. Here’s a look at conferences coming in the near term. Please note that a listing here is not my endorsement of a conference or other event, but an informational inclusion. Amazingly, there are still some conferences I haven’t seen in action yet.
April 14 London Digital Minds Conference at the QEII Conference Center: Author Neil Gaiman gives the keynote address in this fifth year of the Digital Minds program. Also: Richard Nash, Safari’s Pablo Defendini, Osprey’s Rebecca Smart, Dosdoce’s Javier Celaya, Valobox’s Anna Lewis, Perseus’ Rick Joyce, Penguin’s Molly Barton and Eric Huang, Poetica’s Blaine Cook, and more. (Hashtag: #DigiConf13. Epilogger here.) Live-tweet coverage from this conference.
April 15-17 London Book Fair at Earls Court. “The London Book Fair encompasses the broad spectrum of the publishing industry and is the global market place and leading business-2-business exhibition for rights negotiation and the sales and distribution of content across print, audio, TV, film and digital channels.” (Hashtag: #LBF13. Epilogger here.) Live-tweet coverage from this book fair.
April 17 New York City paidContent Live: Riding the Transformation of the Media Industry: Brisk and bracing, last year’s paidContent Live conference was efficient, engaging, and enlightening, not least for the chance to see many of the talented journalists of Om Malik’s GigaOM/paidContent team work onstage — Laura Hazard Owen, Mathew Ingram, Jeff John Roberts, Robert Andrews, Ernie Sander, et al. Among speakers listed for this year’s busy day: Jonah Peretti, Jason Pontin, Chris Mohney, Erik Martin, David Karp, Mark Johnson, Aria Haghighi, Matt Galligan, Rachel Chou, Lewis D’Vorkin, John Borthwick, Andrew Sullivan, Jon Steinberg, Alan Rusbridger, Evan Ratliff, and, of course, Dominique Raccah and Michael Tamblyn. (Hashtag: #pclive) Live-tweet coverage from this conference.
May 2-5 Oxford, Mississippi Oxford Creative Nonfiction Writers Conference & Workshops: Susan Cushman follows her Memphis Creative Nonfiction confab with this year’s gathering at the shrine. Among faculty members: Neil White, Leigh Feldman, Lee Gutkind, Dinty W. Moore, Beth Ann Fennelly, Bob Guccione Jr. and Lee Martin. Pre-conference workshops or just the creature itself, your choice.
May 3-5 Boston The Muse & the Marketplace 2013 is a production of Eve Bridburg’s fast-rising non-profit Grub Street program. Its material tells us that organizers plan more than “110 craft and publishing sessions led by top-notch authors, editors, agents and publicists from around the country. The Manuscript Mart, the very popular and effective one-on-one manuscript reviews with agents and editors, will also span three days. We expect nearly 800 writers and publishing professionals to attend, while maintaining the conference’s wonderfully intimate, ‘grubby’ energy that we love.” (Hashtag: #Muse2013) Live-tweet coverage from this conference.
May 28 New York City: Reaching Readers: Book Marketing Conference 2013 is a production of our Ether-eal host here, Publishing Perspectives and the Frankfurt Academy. An early-bird rate of $365 runs to April 15. After that, regular price is $415 for the day that features expert commentary from folks including Ketchum’s Nancy Martira, Scholastic’s Morgan Baden, Wiley’s Jeanenne Ray, Edelman’s Steve Rubel, and many more.
May 29-June 1 New York City BookExpo America (BEA): “BEA continues to evolve each year by adding new and exciting features to keep pace with the industry and in direct response to customer feedback to ensure you get the best return on investment by participating in North America’s premier publishing event.”
May 29 New York City: Publishers Launch BEA is May’s installment of the series of daylong conferences programmed by Mike Shatzkin of Idea Logical and Michael Cader of Publishers Lunch. Speakers on tap so far include agent Brian DeFiore, Enders Analysis’ Benedict Evans, Trident Media’s Robert Gottlieb, Aerbook’s Ron Martinez, consultant Peter McCarthy, Hachette’s Ken Michaels, and more.
May 29 New York City BEA Bloggers Conference at BookExpo America (BEA): “Attend BEA Bloggers Conference to learn, be inspired, and connect with book bloggers, authors, and publishing industry professionals. You will benefit from a jam-packed day of education, extreme networking, and the passion and fun that surrounds book blogging. Session topics include: blogging in today’s world, critical reviews, making money with your blog, creating community, and how publishers and bloggers work together.”
June 1 New York City uPublishU at BEA: “Are you ready to take the leap and transform your manuscript to a published book and/or ebook? Aspiring writers and authors will learn from industry experts tips and tactics and all about the tools and technology to help them self-publish a print book or an ebook.”
June 27-29 Jackson Hole, Wyoming: Jackson Hole Writers Conference: “Each year distinguished speakers, editors and agents join our resident faculty to deliver a weekend of active and engaging dialogue, collaboration and the opportunity for all of us to raise the stakes on our work.Manuscript critiques are an important part of our conference, providing a way for you to discuss your work one-on-one with experienced writers, editors and agents.” The program also features a pre-conference writing workshop.
— DonLinn (@DonLinn) April 8, 2013
You remember when they told everybody, “Platform for your life!” But they didn’t really mean everybody. They only meant some of “everybody.” They only meant the nonfiction “everybody.” Not the fiction “everybody.”
It took a couple of years for a clearer understanding of this to work its way through the far-flung world of author education.
And still, of course, nothing is hard-and-fast. If you’re writing fiction and it has a strong genre audience, platforming efforts may pay off handsomely. And, conversely, there may be some cases in which a nonfiction writer won’t benefit from platforming, after all. Nothing is easy.
As confusion reigned, the imprecise application of “Platform for your life!” was probably beneficial to some “teachers” of platforming. Obfuscation might build a wider paying audience for instruction, right? Framed in the murk of an industry trying to find its way, many things sound plausible, and the call to “Platform, damn it, platform faster!” has seized and structured many folks’ career pathways for some time now.
Took so many notes I couldn’t tweet during that last session. Oops! #WDCE
— Justice (@erinmjustice) April 7, 2013
But here’s another such how-we-talk-about-it trick. And this one may be less a feature of “gurus” come-hithering the hunkered masses yearning to be published, and more a factor of sheer terminology traditions.
I’ll give it to you simply: One guy might tell you, “Oh, I’m in publishing,” and mean books. The woman next to him might say, “Oh, I’m in publishing, too,” and mean magazines. (Person No. 3 over there is publishing music, too, and I’m not even going there.) This term publishing. Means many things.
And writers of the booky persuasion tend to miss this. Have you ever read a story or blog post that was going on and on about “publishing,” only to discover late in game that it was about magazine publishing, not book publishing?
What’s important is that books people not write off “publishing” from the world of periodicals. And Paul Armstrong’s guest post at paidContent, Flipboard is a giant iceberg lurking in the path of the media. Armstrong writes:
When Flipboard recently announced it was opening up its platform to enable users to create their own magazines, I was surprised by the low-key reaction by the publishing industry. It wasn’t a particularly busy news day but still there was a fairly neutral vibe throughout the coverage — as if it was of no particular consequence. Yet after I plowed through what little there was, visions of icebergs began forming in my brain. The publishing industry should have no doubts that big trouble is lurking directly in its path.
Creating “pop stars” from ground zero — How to top the charts with no manager, agent, or PR firm: bit.ly/16vl7fV
— Tim Ferriss (@tferriss) April 3, 2013
The digital dynamic — an energy of distribution, remember — tends to make us think of film, television, videos, music, and gaming as major and increasingly alluring competition to books (whether ebook or print). What we tend to forget at times is that the digital disruption comes at the book world with new literary distractions, as well. And Flipboard’s new cobble-together-your-own-magazine effort, Armstrong is right, prophesies all manner of content-creation functionality to come.
True, full-featured content creation capabilities are doubtless coming to Flipboard. How aggressive Flipboard moves in that area will be interesting, as the company obviously has to be careful about biting the hand that feeds it. (In fact several publishers have already pulled back from the partnerships, choosing instead to focus on their own apps).
I say we can think of the e-singles phenomenon represented by Thin Reads as “ours,” a member of the bookier-than-not delegationin publishing. (See the item above about Thin Reads’ new guide to e-singles.) But magazines and journals, like newspapers, all are part of endeavors that refer to themselves as “publishing.” And as they become more digitally sophisticated—and in some cases access the Ether much more easily than the lumbering book industry has done—they are your competition, too. Armstrong imagines “tens of millions of people” starting to create their own quickly arrayed content for each other and writes:
We have a glimpse of a possible future and it’s both beautiful and terrifying.
If there’s one thing Big Sur needs more of it’s monkeys.
— Craig Mod (@craigmod) April 4, 2013
Porter Anderson is a Fellow with the National Critics Institute, a 32-year journalist with several newspapers and three networks of CNN, as well as a producer posted to the Rome headquarters of the United Nations’ World Food Programme. This column, Ether for Authors, appears here at Publishing Perspectives on Mondays. Anderson’s Writing on the Ether is read Thursdays at JaneFriedman.com and he is a regular contributor to WriterUnboxed.com. More about him is at PorterAnderson.com.
Writer’s Digest Conference photos: Porter Anderson