More than a few BookExpo America panels this year derailed during the Q&A into variations on the same theme: Tell Me How to Figure This Online Stuff Out. I came away with a few ideas which percolated this past week.
First, I caught the PBS documentary “Art & Copy,” a breezy look at the ad world by a bunch of übercapitalists disguised as mavericks. There’s a great scene during Wieden + Kennedy’s office tour when the camera pauses over a wall mural of push pins spelling out “Fail Harder” across six feet of space. And then you note the words aren’t spelled out in push pins, but the negative space around them.
Returning to BEA. I came up with Fail Week: authors, editors, agents, bloggers, everyone take seven days and try something new online with the expectation of failure. Authors! Don’t go on Twitter to match @neilhimself‘s follower-count. Go on Twitter because it might be right for you. (Or not.) Agents! What’s the difference between a Facebook community page and a Public Figure page? I know one way to find out.
You get the idea. Behind everyone’s questions seemed a reluctance to just dive in (a.k.a. fail repeatedly until you get it). This reluctance is anathema to pretty much all online communication and social media.
So, Fail Week. Try it for yourself.
On a related note, I see a common cause behind my colleagues’ frustrations. It’s a question of scope.
A successful editor aims for three profitable books out of ten. Shouldn’t a successful online/new media department try for the same? Sadly, the departments I know of don’t attempt ten projects in a year. They’re aiming for the fences with every swing.
At FSG, I’m dialing things down a bit. Instead of grand attempts to Save Publishing, how about just hitting a double? (You know things are bad when I’m using sports metaphors.)
Long story short: I’m aiming to fail harder. I want to fail over and over again this year. The only people who never fail are those who can’t recognize failure, and we have a name for them: assholes. And who wants to be an asshole?
P.S. My next big attempt at failure’s coming July 15th.
This post was originally published on Chapman/Chapman and has been reprinted with Mr. Chapman’s permission.
Ryan Chapman has recently transitioned to Farrar, Straus and Giroux as Online Marketing Manager after a few years in Macmillan’s Online Marketing department. He’s privileged to have collaborated on digital campaigns for Thomas L. Friedman, Alex Ross and Naomi Klein. Before publishing, he created online education content for a dotcom in Seattle and DJed in Prague. He speaks often at conferences and programs the infrequent 7×20×21 event with a few of his most respected and contentious colleagues.