Open Sorcery: Letting the Authors In
Yes, another journalist in your face.
And I’ve been making a lot of noise lately about the relationship of authors to what I call the “publishing core.”
The core is the business. The publishing companies and their satellites — those agents, editors, designers, developers, and Pret a Manger servers whose daily labors lie close to the fiscal center of the industry. Those with subscriptions to both PW and PL. Those who know Albanese from Cader. Those who can separate Bosman and Owen from the boys. They do LBF and BBF and FBF and jet lag.
In short, not the writers.
But hey, what am I saying about the writers?
- I’m saying that if those peasants are revolting? — our writers are scripting the revolution.
- I’m saying that it’s the writers’ stories the publishing core cannot do without.
- I’m saying that it would be great for the industry to come together before our writers pen…le déluge.
- And I’m saying that in the two great New York winter publishing conferences of 2012, I have seen something that could help.
I cannot, in good conscience, slap around the “core” without kicking writerly butt, too. Somewhat as in Stockholm syndrome, there’s a comfort to perceived — I said perceived — oppression.
- Bitch-fests are easier than books.
- Kon-wrathful rants are easier than revisions.
- There’s so little poetry in platforming, and where are those fabled publicity departments, anyway?
In fact, I may disrupt the authors’ comfortable complaints as badly as I ruffle the verticals and the horizontals of F+W and O’Reilly. It’s all I can do to keep my Klout score higher than my age, but even I can tell it’s too late to be torching for a peer relationship between authors and publishers.
Maybe the best we can get is crisis parity: “My dilemma is as awful as your dilemma.”
I’ll take it.
People still think that if you just throw up some ebooks there, very quickly – ebooks! throw ‘em up there! – that they’re going to make tons of money just by virtue of the fact that there are so many ereaders out there. I would call that having very unrealistic expectations.
Now, the point here is not that Bell says this, but that he has to say it to writers. Bell is a publishing and teaching author who gives writing seminars of his own and sometimes he team-teaches writers with Don “Breakout” Maass.
How can anybody have to talk to authors this way anymore? That video must be a couple of years old, right? No. Bell posted it 28 February 2012.
On the way home from ToC and DBW…
Maybe you’ve read some Porter palaver already about the concern with which I left both F+W’s Digital Book World Conference and O’Reilly’s Tools of Change Conference. At those confabs, I watched, listened to, and relentlessly tweeted the richest discussions going on right now in what the industry is facing — all curated by informed points of view.
It may interest you to know that this is not what more than 9,000 writers will get at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference in Chicago this week. Here’s Friday’s schedule. Scroll through a bit of this to see what the country’s largest writing conference offers.
Where are sessions about the rise of readership communities and using Big Data developments to target discoverability? Or digital adoption on the national and international scale? Or technical standards of production, format wars? How about the rise of UX, and the prancing proponents of piracy? The woods are burning all the way out to Spokane, so where are sessions on the business models going up in flames around us?
Out there where the corn is as high as an “indie” author’s eye, you can see a remarkably revealing set of more than 50 comments on author James C. Hines’ recent blog post about his difficulties with Amazon’s pricing of his ebook. What you will read in those comments is writers’ consternation morphing quickly into outright bewilderment. It’s an exchange of hearsay-as-guidance.This is going on all the time.
The writer corps is marching toward Seattle as a tattered, disillusioned, conflicted, unnerved, exhausted, socially mediated migration of hope, beckoned by Bezos.
Why are they so readily come-hithered?
Authors are fleeing a business that they perceive — I said perceive — has rejected them. I’m not talking agents’ rejection slips. I mean the whole industry.
I believe that it’s still possible to develop and benefit from a more encompassing, honest, inclusive understanding of publishing as a disaster area. But to do that, the industry core is going to have to welcome its thinking, progressive, professional authors into the tent. Soon. Now would be good.
The James Scott Bells of the business can understand with authorial instinct why Tim Carmody is talking about “changing readers” at ToC — and why Mike Shatzkin came away from DBW trying to focus people’s attention on what romance publishers know about DRM.
Does every author out there have the intelligence and professionalism to handle this level of industry briefing? No.
Does every publisher? ______ (you answer that one)
Our best writers, the ones who will be drawn to top-level industry conferences designed for them, are the ones needed most by our best publishers. But neither the pricing nor the design of our industry conferences at this point is practical for author involvement. That’s fine. I’m not complaining about the cost of ToC and DBW, they’re mounted exactly the way they should be. I’m asking for a version of those events made affordable for authors.
- I like what DBW and ToC do for the publishing core so much that I want writers to see what Shatzkin and Joe Wikert and Kat Meyer are doing, each conference configured in a form built for them, for writers.
- Even one-day conferences would be great. Sam Missingham can do it in one day at TheFutureBook in London — so let’s do it in one-day events for authors. Save on time and expense.
If such events can be created, we’ll get better writers, we’ll work with smarter authors, we’ll be in touch with the fundamental suppliers of the industry who will find outlets for their work.
Our best authors are going to find publication. Where would you like them to find it?
There are no villains here.
Blame is for jackasses. Only questions count now.
I ask the publishing core: Can you really afford to wait, as you once did, for an eloquent, media-genic unknown cracker in Georgia to crawl out from under a trailer and hand over the next sandy but radiant bestseller?
And I ask the authors: Can the vegetable stands of your own unsupported creativity really keep you in that double-wide when you’re selling your life’s work for 99 cents?
But don’t we already have these conferences for writers?
For long years, writing conferences have been in place, many good ones. AWP, which I mentioned above, is 45 years old. Most of these affairs do their jobs well in terms of craft sessions on structure, voice, building up tension, tearing down revisions, and Platform For Your Life. Sometimes even copyright sessions are on tap, along with social-media management, and how to write queries, queries, queries.
F+W‘s vertical Writer’s Digest (sister to DBW) and its annual Writer’s Digest Conference (WDC) are the leaders in this regard, hands down. And yet, when the earnest authors line up to tell agents about their projects for a scant 90 seconds each, in WDC’s well-orchestrated Pitch Slam?–those little tables between writers and agents are as wide as the Hudson. Ask any agent who’s been pitched at these conferences. Supplication doesn’t breed peer relationships.
What is being reinforced, coast to coast, event by event, is an understanding that there is the industry, the core — and there are authors knocking on its door. No one likes to mention the fact that the industry can do nothing without those utterly essential stories.
The biggest meetup of all
I want Digital Book World and Tools of Change to create events that offer to authors the same acumen, the same high view, the same executive-level presentation of the industry’s issues that DBW12 and ToC12 have just offered to the core. Including CEO panels.
Don’t dumb it down, for God’s sake. Those who can’t keep up, won’t keep up. Those who can? –will be our industry’s winners.
Only when authors get to hear Russ Grandinetti from Amazon tell the plenary that there’s never been a better time to be a reader than today … only when writers get to hear Dominique Raccah explain Agile’s pros and cons … only when novices get to hear A.T. Kearney’s boys from Milan talk global digital uptake … only when storytellers hear Valla Vakili go on about “exaggeration and perversion” in Small Demons … only when newcomers hear Kassia Krozser moderate a couple of market-cracking innovators … only then can the piece-workers of this industry start to grasp what’s happening in the home office.
I want to see DBW-Authors. Not “WDC: Special Victims Unit,” but a separate event produced by F+W’s book-biz vertical, DBW. I want presentation and explication by the principles of sessions from the DBW confab, say New ePublishing Initiatives: Digital-first (and digital-only) publishing comes of age and Agents Evolving: New developments in business models and publisher relations.
I want to see ToC-Authors. Granted, most authors may not need such sessions as The Changing Face of Open Commerce Identity in Publishing with Jonathan LeBlanc, but on the other hand, those writers who are mounting cooperative selling sites with other authors?–maybe they do need it. All authors need What Should I Read? A Brief History of Recommendations with Zite‘s Mark Johnson. And many more sessions from ToC.
The cluelessness enabled by the Net is choking us. To stop that, we have to turn around and take the time to say to the writing pool:
Here, this is what we’re talking about. This is the real issue, and this is why. These are our best heads today, these are the things they’re telling us, these are potential results – are you still with us? And what can you do to help?
Our crowning confabs are in a unique position to start professionalizing and even credentialing a perceived — I said perceived — underclass of indispensable creativity.
Whether you’ve barricaded yourself in the publishing core or are out in the saddle riding with the authors sans frontieres, “our” crisis is “their” crisis.
Kumbaya, baby, means nothing more than “come and sit by me.”
What do you think? Ping me on Twitter at @Porter_Anderson.