Hi Opens to the Public: Writing for Moderns

In News by Porter Anderson

Photo: Luis Mendo

Photo: Luis Mendo

Table of Contents

  1. Our Live #EtherIssue Chat is Wednesday
  2. Hi Opens to the Public: Writing for Moderns
  3. Maybe We’re Not So Good at Branding?
  4. Last Week’s Topic: Self-Publishing, Self-Lowballing?

Our Live #EtherIssue Chat is Wednesday

Publishing Perspectives Editor in Chief Edward Nawotka and I will host a live Twitter chat on this week’s Ether topic(s) at 11 a.m. ET / 8 a.m. PT—and that’s 3 p.m. London GMT, not our usual 4 p.m. Why? Because for three weeks, the States is only four hours behind London, as we’ve already shifted to Daylight Saving Time. Much of Europe will make the change to DST on this coming Sunday (March 30).

We’ll use the hashtag #EtherIssue as we do weekly. Join us and watch for @PubPerspectives and @Porter_Anderson on Twitter.

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Hi Opens to the Public: Writing for Moderns

By Porter Anderson



No, Hi.

I know, I said hello.

No, I’m using Hi.

You used what to get high?

No, Hi like hey.

You’re high on hay?

Craig Mod

Craig Mod

If you can get through that Who’s On First conversation, you might be able to inform your buddies that Craig Mod’s frequently gorgeous and always interesting online initiative called Hi is rolling out to the public today.

We first told you about Hi in July here at Publishing Perspectives in Saying “Hi” and MIX-ing It Up: A Narrated World. The service then was entering beta.

At the time, Mod’s discussion of his idea and intent sometimes used the phrase “narrative mapping,” something that has taken on actionable reality in the intervening months. The idea is that people all over the world offer imagery and text from someplace on Earth.

From "Hi: Narrative Mapping the World" by Craig Mod | Medium

From “Hi: Narrative Mapping the World” by Craig Mod | Medium

Over some eight months of beta Hi-ing, a lot of entries have hied themselves onto the Hi site.

The language co-founder Mod is using to talk about it has moved a bit, too, in efforts to describe and explain a writing and publishing platform for a world full of mobile phones and shutterbugs eager to share.

Today, the conversation is about…pancakes.

One of the many reasons I like Mod is that in a new launch-day essay on the product he shared with me in advance, he feels your pain, writing:

No, but what is Hi? We hear you cry in frustration.

He has an answer for  you in that essay: Full Stack Writing (and Publishing): Welcome to Hi.

"Delicious, Literary Pancakes," an illustration by Hi member and illustrator Luis Mendo

“Delicious, Literary Pancakes,” an illustration by Hi member and illustrator Luis Mendo

Mod writes:

Hi is what we call a “full stack” writing and publishing platform. Just what is a writing stack? Capture. Write. Publish. is our summary of it, but it really breaks down into five parts:

  • Sudden inspiration!
  • instant capture
  • draft
  • publish
  • conversation

And as astute as Mod’s assessment is, you get this if you look at a Hi entry.
Conor MacNeill in Svensby, Norway, on Hi
Isn’t that beautiful? This is Conor MacNeill, a Hi member, on March 4 at Svensby, Norway (the site will map it for you). MacNeill has written a bit about how the shot came about. Other members have registered their reactions. And you’re done. As a fellow member, you can interact with MacNeill’s work, and offer your own. That’s Hi.

As I write this, Hi is logging “676,094 words in 1,810 cities.”

Show you another. (I love these things.)

Craig Mod in Nachikatsuura, Japan

That one is by Mod, himself, in Japan, at Nachikatsuura. His brief write is lovely, a quiet meditation on “needs” that aren’t really needed but are met. And he’s done. My own cut of this, by the way, can’t do the site justice. The layout is broad and wide. Medium-esque.

And I’d like to commend Hi to you, give it a look. (Note that the URL is hi.co and the Twitter handle is @SayHi)

Mod is nothing if not a thinker and a keen observer of his own thought. In notifying me that the site would open to the public today, he referenced one of his own essays from November 2010, Storytelling 2.0: The digital death of the author:

The biggest change is not in the form stories take but in the writing process. Digital media changes books by changing the nature of authorship. Stories no longer have to arrive fully actualized. On the simplest level, books can be pushed to e-readers in a Dickensian chapter-by-chapter format. Beyond that, authorship becomes a collaboration between writers and readers. Readers can edit and update stories, either passively in comments on blogs or actively via wiki-style interfaces. Authors can gauge reader interest as the story unfolds and decide whether certain narrative threads are worth exploring.

Hi is arriving some three-and-a-half years after that article’s publication, he says to me now, as “just one example of a holistic system for writing things smaller than a book but larger than a tweet in the post-artifact age.”

From Craig Mod, "Post-Artifact Books and Publishing."

From Craig Mod, “Post-Artifact Books and Publishing.”

He’s recalling his own “Post-Artifact Books and Publishing” essay there.

In the 2010 article, we also find his understanding that we’re not necessarily talking Earth-shattering upheavals in cultural process here:

The impact on storytelling is subtle. It may not change the writing’s core ethos…What does change, however, is the very process of creation: the movement from idea to text to reader.

If anything, I like how ready Mod is to talk about what Hi isn’t.

In his new essay from Tokyo, he writes:

Does this full stack of publishing pancakes work for all types of writing? Of course not. Certain writing doesn’t benefit from an everything-public, community-everywhere stack like that of Hi. In fact, certain writing can only be accomplished off the stack. Which is to say there is a meditative quality that presents itself when you move away from an environment like ours.

But! Many types of writing benefit from, and thrive, within Hi’s full stack.

And he’s great at talking about ways certain types of writing can flourish in this system. To condense his new essay to a few essential points, there’s an intimacy with your audience that comes of Hi’s feeling “less like using a set of tools and more like having an extended conversation.” Skilled users of several social-media platforms can understand quickly what he means. When you post a “sketch,” as an entry is called, the community members can ask you to elaborate. Once you’ve posted what’s considered a “finished story,” you get everyone’s thanks.

“It may not sound like much,” Mod writes, “but those two, simple actions create a powerful feedback loop predicated on guidance and optimism.” He goes on to mention the advantages of real-time interaction, the importance of place (registered by the system, complete with weather at the time you filed); and he talks of feedback loops as subscribers are notified of community members’ engagement with the system.

All good. All interesting. Again, I recommend you check out Hi.

I almost hesitate, in fact, to take this Hi point a step further.

But I think we need to widen the topic of such new initiatives in the aggregate, in the stack-high, Hi-wide field of writing/reading/publishing ventures. On toward our #EtherIssue chat Wednesday. Read a bit more.

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“The statues around Reykjavik are depressing, simple, gorgeous, inspiring,” writes Hi member Colin Wright, one of the more prolific writers on the site.

Maybe We’re Not So Good at Branding?

I have a lot of respect for the gentle tinkering, tweaking, and adjusting that Mod and his cohorts have done over the beta months with Hi. But simply as a case in point, consider that it’s an extremely interesting new offering in the world of creative expression with a name that can be comically tricky to put over—and which sounds more like a breakfast cereal than a global narrative-mapping site.

Hi’s logo is in the shape of a puzzle piece, which could make good sense in putting together pieces of the planetary map the site can generate. And yet we’re talking pancakes. Stacks of them. “Full-stack writing.” Hi. Hey.

Hej, let’s look at the trend here in this era of startups.

The all-in-one concept these days is almost as pervasive as the cute names.

InkSharesI’ve been contacted by a startup I’m looking forward to knowing more about called Inkshares, based in San Francisco. It’s quite a bit like the UK’s Unbound, at least on early information, more to come. From the site: “Inkshares is a crowd-driven publisher. Our goal is to connect writers with readers and provide a flexible set of developmental and marketing resources. In doing so, we can bring quality literary work to life, paying authors more and costing readers less. We’re crowdfunding meets publishing.”

As I say, more to come. For now, notice: full-service and…a pretty cute name.

ReedsyI’ve also been contacted by a very early-stage outfit based in Paris called Reedsy. It describes itself as an “all-in-one self-publishing solution.” And its name might imply…tall swamp grasses; mouthpiece inserts for the clarinet; a large company that produces London Book Fair and BookExpo America. Mind you, the people there seem incredibly nice and I’m looking forward to meeting them.

But see the pattern?

jellybooksThen there’s the archangel of cutsily named publishing-related startups, Jellybooks. (This is how I ensure that Andrew Rhomberg will get in on our Wednesday discussion.) The company plans shortly to introduce a suite of tools for authors. You sign in at the picture of a cupcake.

Not that it’s a cutesy name, exactly, Wattpad is the topic of David Streitfeld’s Web Fiction, Serialized and Social in the New York Times. It, too has an element of the all-in-one, supporting a social network based in writing.

I love Streitfeld’s line about the feedback users offer to one writer there:

The first comment appeared 13 seconds after the chapter was uploaded. By the next day, there were 10,000 comments: always brief, overwhelmingly positive, sometimes coherent.

And a couple of weeks ago, many of us here were delighted to chat with Yael Goldstein Love about her and Jennifer 8. Lee’s new startup in short-reads pushed to iPhones…named for a barnyard  fowl, Rooster.

Allow me to stoke the fire with a few more book- and publishing-related venture names. In each case, I’ve endeavored to use the capitalizations the company in question uses. (Did you know, for example, that it’s Pubslush, with the first s lowercased, but it’s BooksILove, with an uppercased B, I, and L? Could we get a UN resolution on this, please?)

Had enough? Me, too. Let’s get to some questions.

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Wednesday’s #EtherIs­sue at 11 a.m. ET / 3 p.m. GMT

Please give these questions a bit of thought, and join us:

  • So many companies (so little time, yes), and a lot of them are author-service outfits and/or author-reader discover-each-other plays. How well do you feel you know them?
  • How many of the above list entries do you recognize?
  • How many of them could you describe in terms of what they do?
  • How many have names that help you understand what they do?
  • This is far from an exhaustive list. Bring yours to add when you join the discussion, particularly any you’ve used and found helpful.
  • Why do you think so many of these (not all) have cutesy names?
  • Seriously, if you could open a startup, yourself, what service would it provide, and to whom?
  • And if you opened that company, what would you call it? (Does it involve cat pictures or candy?)
  • How interested are you in sites like Hi and Wattpad that create community around writing and other activities? What do you think their places are in the world of literature?
  • Do you consider these companies we’re mentioning today to be part of publishing?

We’d love your input on Wednesday at 11 a.m. Eastern, 8 a.m. Pacific, 3 p.m. GMT on hashtag #EtherIssue — see you then.

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Last Week’s Topic: Self-Publishing, Self-Lowballing?

As author Roz Morris’ tweet suggests, it was the #EtherIssue debate that almost never stopped. Which is fine, by the way. You’re always welcome to come back, review what’s been tweeted, issue your own dire and desperate disagreements or coo softly in socially mediated agreement.

Indeed, our colleague Sheila Bounford, a London-based publishing consultant, was ahead of the game, firing off a series of comments (numbered, no less, she’s so organized) before the live discussion occurred:

As you’ll remember, the question we’d raised in Book Prices: Have Authors Lowballed Themselves? was triggered by a podcast Joanna Penn hosted with Mark Lefebvre of Kobo, her sponsor. They touched on how earlier assumptions by many authors that rock-bottom prices may be the secret to success seem recently to be giving way to somewhat higher pricing on ebooks.

In fact, as we opened our live conversation on the 19th, Jeremy Greenfield was reporting at Digital Book World that DBW’s Top-25 ebooks for the week had an average price of $7.65.

Greenfield joined us, as did Penn, Lefebvre, and a host of good-natured, serious folks who explored our topic with a lot of energy and from many angles.

And speaking of DBW, Beth Bacon is there this week with an Expert Publishing Blog post (these are voluntary posts from non-staffers of DBW) headlined Why Are T-Shirts More Valuable Than eBooks? She writes, in part:

Let’s look at the price of an ebook versus a T-shirt in terms of its overall value in your life. Right now, you can get HarperCollins’ Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup for 99 cents. Nintey-nine cents! Reading that book, with its profound insights and gripping descriptions, could possibly change your perspective on humanity. But its going rate is less than a buck! Will a T-shirt stay with you for the rest of your life—at any price?

And I’d just add that the people of publishing, and this includes self-publishing authors, need to think about what they signal to the world with bargain-basement prices for books. As I asked in the lead-in to last week’s discussion, what was wrong with $9.99 as the general default price for an ebook?

Here are some of the tweets from a very busy exchange, with gratitude to everyone who joined us. Please do so again this Wednesday!

About midway through the session, we’d come to one of the points I find most worrisome about deep discounting of ebooks, the ease with which they can go unread.

And more good debate to come. Join us Wednesday.

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Porter Anderson is a Fellow with the National Critics Institute, a 33-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. His Issues on the Ether column appears here at Publishing Perspectives on Tuesdays, followed by an #EtherIssue live discussion on Twitter on Wednesdays. Anderson’s Writing on the Ether articles are read at <Thought Catalog and he is a regular contributor to WriterUnboxed.com. He writes the Porter Anderson Meets column weekly for The Bookseller‘s Friday magazine in London with a live #PorterMeets Twitter interview with a newsmaker on Mondays. More about him is at PorterAnderson.com. Find him at Google+

Main image – Luis Mendo, Hi.co, Tokyo

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.