Publishing of the Future


io9 has an article on a recent publishing conference, the O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing Conference which was held in New York back in February.

The author of the io9 article quotes John Scalzi, author of Old Man’s War, talking about blogging and building a community of readers, vs. simply rushing to put up a Web site to promote a book once it’s published. I think this is important. There’s a whole lot of selling going on on the Web, but after the initial visit to such a site, why go back? We know how and where to find stuff if we want to buy it. He also talks about not blogging just about the writing process (which he calls “incredibly boring”) but about other things that interest people that keeps them coming back. He also talks about using the blog to build community and have conversations with people. I think we can all think of one or two writers who’ve lately been in the news whose Web sites are strictly marketing venues. And we don’t appreciate it. We DO appreciate authors who respond to readers and fans, and with luck I will someday have the chance to be one of those authors.

Scalzi talks about interaction with his readers working for him since he’s been blogging since 1998, and that maybe that window has passed. I disagree. I think blogging and engaging with readers will always be popular. People wrote fan letters in the days before the internet, then there were the fan boards. I don’t see the desire to connect with an author diminishing in the future. (Although as Margaret Atwood says, “‘Wanting to know an author because you like his work is like wanting to know a duck because you like paté.” Maybe, but why would you not want to know someone whom you find interesting?)

Further down Patrick Nielsen Hayden, editor at Tor Books, talks about Twitter being the newest thing, and now is the time to pounce on it if you are so inclined. I’m having visions of flash fiction becoming the new standard length novel. If Twitter is going to be the medium of the future people’s attention spans will be reduced to nanoseconds, from the current 30 seconds they appear to be. I can’t say I have any interest in Twitter, although I guess that could change in the future. I guess. Yes, you can engage more immediately with readers, but do we really want our lives to be ruled by this? It’s instant messaging on steroids. How do you get away from it and get anything done?

There is a long video on the io9 site if you want to see it (forty minutes worth) as well as other videos posted at the conference Web site.

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43 thoughts on “Publishing of the Future

  1. Thanks DD for that info.

    I have no interest in twittering. I know others love it, and if it makes them happy… but eh, not for me. Need time offline and outside in the fresh air, thank you!

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  2. I’m with you. I need time away from technology, although I can see the value of it from a marketing perspective. But for the average person I wonder how long it will last. It’s a new thing now so it’s everywhere, but I wonder in ten years’ time how prevalent it will be? Occasionally it would be good to disconnect and actually see people, in person 😉

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  3. Authors who blog or connect with readers through other mediums are actually the talented marketers. They realize that a simple sales page for their latest book isn’t going to impress readers and it doesn’t build relationships.

    I definitely agree that accessible authors who are willing to address and respond to fans have the right idea. I like Buckell’s comment about “vomiting content”, which is what you find on most author web sites.

    Thanks for the write-up!

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  4. I don’t know if this is a stretch, but when I look at the life cycle of comunication technology I already see twitter as something with a finite life-span. Just look at voice-mail, and how it has become the equivalent of the fax machine. Nobody wants to wade through the recordings and punch in the passwords when you can see 140 characters in a text/email or a tweet. But I think this is also a generational thing –my younger co-workers and kids don’t even listen to their v-mails. They just check the missed calls list and call back — so if you are one of the old geezers who left a specific messsage, you may/may not get a call-back.

    I think facebook is already starting to peter out a bit — and twitter will crest and then the next new ap will rise up. I think i’ve mentioned before that a future generation of our gradkids will be implanted with a little microchip at birth or at least a UPC bar code. =:-O

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  5. Hi Sam,

    I totally agree, the page devoted to selling/advertising is as dull as mud. I can see the appeal of Twitter for the fans who get on a favorite author or celebrity’s Twitter roll or whatever they call it. Getting those short little messages makes it feel very personal, as if it was sent personally to them. Silly of course, thousands of people get the same thing, but the brevity of the medium makes it seem like a quick check-in from a close friend. I think that’s the great appeal, it feels like a one-on-one communique.

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  6. Hiya Rosie,

    I think you’re right. We’ve seen how fast technology changes, just since we were kids. I can only imagine (barely!) what will be around 50 years from now. Voicemail is becoming passé, my kids tend not to listen when I leave them a message, they just see who called and call back. At work, our phones now tie in to our computers, so if someone leaves a voicemail you can either retrieve it on the phone, or it shows up as a .wav file attachment in your e-mail inbox.

    Another endeavor I’ve been looking into is writing personal histories (aka life stories). Dan Curtis on his blog talks a lot about doing video recordings, versus books for people. And I think that’s great right now, but what happens when the technology changes too fast and in 50 or 100 years no one can watch the videos anymore? I’m HOPING people will still have reading skills in the future, but I guess even that’s not gauranteed (thinking of H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine).

    Even though I’m not interested in jumping on the Twitter bandwagon for now, I guess the moral of the story is to keep up with the times! But dear god, I don’t have time to sit around sending out pointless blather in 140 characters or less all day. I guess I will at least have to look into it enough to understand how it works. I don’t want to become one of those old ladies who’s afraid of technology! 😉

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  7. And let’s not forget that those seemingly personal communications can be dangerous. I think a lot of people are seduced by social media, posting pictures of their families and intimate information about their lives. People really do get stalked, raped, murdered, etc. Look at the Craigslist Killer, or whatever they’re calling him.

    There’s got to be a happy medium right?

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  8. Exactly. Which is why most of us don’t post photos of ourselves as our avatars (although many people do). The younger kids (college and high school age) who post all kinds of photos of themselves in what should be embarrassing poses and situations on MySpace and Facebook astonish me. It all seems like good fun, but the reality is if it’s on the internet, anyone can find it. It’s very easy to let your guard down and say too much.

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  9. I like Sam’s pun!
    And I agree with DD that communication has now become a “medium” or even an art form now with stuff like twitter and facebook. Ever visit postsecret.com? Folks send their secrets to this dude on postcards and he posts them on a blog — isn’t that intimate? I must confess I read the thing every Sunday (I guess my secret’s out now), and some of them are beautiful in both composition and thought. And some are absolutely horrifying! But it circles back to Andy W’s “15 minutes of fame” for everybody.

    But as fiction writers, even making stuff up makes you feel exposed. Good writing is both lonely and vulnerable ~ does that make any sense?

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  10. Ha! Rosie, you’re so clever, I didn’t even catch that! 🙂

    “Good writing is both lonely and vulnerable” – That makes perfect sense. I think readers wonder how much of anything you write is autobiographical, even if none of it is. Like dancing naked in the dark. No one can see you, but you’re still naked.

    I haven’t seen that postsecret.com, but I have heard about it. What a funny thing, I guess it’s the old “confession is good for the soul” idea. I’ll have to take a look.

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  11. I’m surely showing my age, but I’m just not feeling the need to Twitter. I prefer deliberate, careful, planned prose – whether it’s in print, online, or graffiti’d on the wall – to the frantic, halfbaked immediacy of those tiny little texts & twits. To me that stuff is like the language of ADHD; a thousand tiny insects buzzing around your ear, flitting thru little fragments with no real beginning or end.

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  12. Excellent analogy, MJ!

    It baffles me how anyone can follow bunches of people on Twitter. Seriously, who has that kind of time?? And the whole premise of it, “What are you doing?”… Do we really need to know what people are doing every minute of every day? Would you care that I had frozen egg rolls for dinner with a glass of wine while watching “Serenity”?

    I’m seeing the next step as reality web cams with people filming their every move, their everyday lives and posting or broadcasting it for all the world (video blogs). It’s the height of narcissism. And yet, I know there are people out there who will go wild over it. What a species we are.

    I suppose it’s the luddite in me again. I enjoy blogging, but I can take my time, and revise and rewrite before I hit that “Submit” button. And I have such a small blog it’s easy to have a real conversation with the handful of folks who visit. Maybe if I was famous and had loads more people reading it would be different, but I still can’t imagine spending that much of my life doing that. It would feel like a chore to try to keep up with it.

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  13. Reality cams creep me out. I like blogging for the same reason I like talking on the phone – you can imagine me in my best cashmere sweater, sitting in a cozy velvet easy chair with the sun streamng in the window, enjoying a nice fresh cafe’ au lait, without being subjected to the nasty truth – that I’m reheating the last dregs of this morning’s Maxwell House with skim milk, wearing ratty pajama bottons while everything else is in the washer, waiting to wash my hair till the wash cycle is through, waiting to scrub the shower stall till after I wash my hair, waiting for the rain to stop till I leave the house… WHO NEEDS ALL THAT INFORMATION, every minute of the day?!

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  14. I have to admit, my problem with Twitter, Facebook, etc, is the time you have to spend on it. Yeah, with Twitter you’re limited to 140 words, but then what about reading everyone’s else Twitters?

    If I’m working full-time, I have to decide whether my very, very limited free time is best spent writing or Twittering. I go with the writing. And even if I’m not working full-time, how I spend my time is still an issue. Not as big an issue as when I’m working, but still an issue.

    Heck, I’m not big enough as a writer to even have a following to follow me on Twitter or Facebook. So I can’t help but think my time, at least for now, is best spent writing.

    Oh, I like the social networking tools well enough as a means to keep in touch with folks and blogging is something I don’t mind doing, but again, it’s the darn having-enough-time factor.

    So if this is the new wave of the future, well, some of us are going to be able to ride that wave all the way to shore and some of us won’t. For whatever reasons

    I’m certainly not going to worry about it. I’m just going to keep writing because I always like to think that there is more than one road to Damascus. 🙂

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  15. See, Jenna, that’s because you actually want to WRITE, instead of just CALLING yourself a writer. Short of a few successful full-timers who genuinely do have a marketing obligation, and are smart to keep up with new media, it seems to me that most the twitterbugs are wannabe’s who spend all their time talking about what they are going to write when they can find the time between tweets ( or is it twits?)

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  16. Hi Jenna,

    That’s what I see as the biggest drawback to it, too. For me, right now, it would be completely unproductive time. Oh, and it’s 140 CHARACTERS, not words. Roughly the equivalent of the first three sentences I wrote here just now.

    With luck, someday our “full-time work” will be our writing, and we won’t be so strapped for time although I know what the odds of that are. Still, as I always say, if you’re gonna dream, dream BIG!

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  17. Hiya MJ,

    I have seen some useful info on the Twitter listings on agents’ Web pages so for some people it seems to serve a purpose. I simply don’t have enough news to share that’s worth taking up someone’s time with on that regular of a basis, and I suspect that is true for most of those who use it. And I’m sure we all heard that case of someone who was recently hired on to a job he was less than thrilled with, “tweeted” it to friends, and it was seen by someone at his new company who reported it. There is no privacy when it’s out there flying around the ether.

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  18. One or the other of us has to do a whole post on the current generation’s complete disregard for privacy – and by that, I mean THEIR OWN! I don’t mean to sound like an old curmedgeon (can women be curmedgeons? Would I be a curmedgeoss? A curmedgix?) but so many of the under-30’s, who are so technologically clever, seem to have no understanding of how they are not only sacrficing their private lives IN THE MOMENT, but are leaving crap out there in the ether, as you say, where it can linger forever and show u at the most inconvenient time. Again, I love the blog construction b/c we can use our real names or not, “introduce” ourselves whenever we choose, or never if we so choose.

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  19. Ok, whoever gets around to it first 🙂

    I did a post on internet privacy back about a year or more ago, I think when I still over at LiveJournal. I was so horrified by the ToS agreement to use the StumbleUpon site that I never did sign on with them, and that was what sparked the post. I think I moved it over from LJ, but I’d have to dig through my archives to find it.

    How about “curmudgette”? Or does that conjure up images of twirling batons?

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  20. I suspect it’s more the illusion of intimacy built up over time that makes people feel connected to the author. Like all these people who follow Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore on Twitter, it’s one degree closer to being part of their lives. There’s probably no one trigger that will get you to buy the book, but when you’ve been following someone on their blog, or via Twitter, and you know how they take their coffee and what their cat’s favorite toy is, you’re probably more likely to take a chance on their book. And to back up a bit, you probably wouldn’t be following them online in any fashion if the subject they write about didn’t interest you to start with.

    Now, personally, I would be skeptical that it was even the author him/herself doing the messaging, and not an assistant. Stephenie Meyer doesn’t even pretend to have time to communicate with her fans, so maybe I should give her two points for honesty, but it’s bad PR. I know I keep picking on her but to not even ACCEPT fan mail is something I have never heard of. No one expects her to write a personal reply to every single person who writes to her, but not to even accept it? Receiving electronic messages from an author could be very exciting for people. I think it’s the same thing that drives people to join fan clubs, the old-fashioned kind.

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  21. I’m trying to stay away from being a Twit as well for as long as possible…seems like an awful amount of work to me to keep that thing updated all the time.

    I look forward to the day you become ‘one of those authors’!

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  22. Heya Pace!

    Welcome back! Looks like you had a fabulous time in Europe, I was checking out the photos the other day but had to run before I had time to leave a comment.

    LOL Yeah, I look forward to that day too. 😉 Honestly, I have enough distractions in my life now, I can’t get sucked into something like Twitter as well. Some days I think I’d be better off and get more writing done if I just unplugged the computer and fired up the ol’ IBM Selectric. (Ok, it’s actually a small Brother typewriter, but you get my meaning). Perhaps an old laptop without internet capability, used strictly for wordsmithing would be the answer.

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  23. How about those supa-portable mini-laptops? My understanding is that you get what you pay for (I’ve seen recognizable brand names for less than $500 – not much more than we used to pay for a good quality electric typewriter,) but that if all you want to do is word processing, they’re fine. In a pinch, you could log on and check your email, but the limited capabilities would keep you from all those tempting online timewasters, plus for paranoids like myself who won’t use a credit card via wi-fi, I’m thinking it would keep me from shopping more than I need to. I’m thinking it might not be a bad little accessory for the lodge in the hills.

    What about Blackberries – who has & who does not? I would have gotten one by now if I still had the kind of job that called for it, but I really don’t have any communication needs that can’t be handled by checking my email/voice messages at home or during office hours a couple of times a day. As Gypsy said at the start of this thread, occasionally I need some time out in the real world. That’s one of the reasons I still go out a few times a week and buy a hard copy of some paper news periodical – it gets me the heck out of the house.

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  24. That sounds exactly like what I need. Then I wouldn’t have to sit in this wretched chair at my computer desk (I’m too cheap to spring for a really comfy one) and could go outdoors even and work on the back deck on nice days 🙂 I shall have to look into it, when my tax refund gets here.

    No Crackberry for me. I have no justification for a toy like that. My job does not demand that I be connected 24/7 (one of the advantages of being a lowly admin), I don’t even check work e-mail on weekends. I think I’m the only one in my dept. who doesn’t have a company-issued laptop. They didn’t deem it necessary for me so I have a desktop in the office.

    Even my cell phone is practically an antique. I think it’s closing in on four years old now. I almost never even use that thing, so there is no way I can justify spending money on a new one. It still works fine, it’s a Nokia 6010. They’re like the Sherman tank of the cell phone world. I’ll replace it when I can no longer get replacement batteries for it.

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  25. My phone’s pretty geriatric too – it’s the one I got for free with activation 2 years ago. I’m kind of sick of it, but it works, and I’m cheap, so I’m going to wait & see what else I can get for free when my contract expires.

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  26. I inherited a Crackberry from the person I replaced when I took this job. And I have to admit I find it useful — especially when I am traveling or remote from the office. It does eliminate the need for massive email clean-up when I return, plus my customers (both internal and external) can get a quick reply from me and that does create both efficiency and goodwill. I’m sure I only use 1/4 of its operational abilities, but I once watched a PR pal of mine re-work an entire excel/Power Point pitch on hers while I drove down the NJ Turnpike. It was like watching somebody perform surgery on a tiny animal. I don’t know how she didn’t go blind.

    That said, I am very aware that it can be a huge distraction and I leave it set to “silent” and hardly check it after 7PM or on weekends. Certainly I never use it while ambulatory — I can’t walk and chew gum at the same time, and I HATE being stuck behind the slow-pokes on NYC sidewalks who have their heads down scrolling in the middle of 34th Street…. Thing should come with a warning: Operation of this device while walking may result in injury — the NYC cops told us in a safety presentaion not long ago that ER’s are seeing increased cases of falls b/c folks are getting wrapped up in their mobile devices, and not looking where they are going and are falling down the subway stairs.

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  27. I’m sorry, sick and twisted as I am I laughed out loud at the the mental image of these assclowns tumbling down the stairs while playing with their gizmos. The amazing thing is people still question Darwin’s theory. 😉

    I’m sure if I had a job that demanded it I would find it endlessly useful. For people like you who really need them I think they’re great, but I’m not in a position where I get 1400 emails a week like some of my co-workers. (No joke, one woman was out sick for a week and came back to 1400 new e-mails in her inbox. That may seem like a slow week to some people, but she’s an admin like I am.) However, they’ve become a status symbol, adopted by every teenager and soccer mom across the country for no useful reason. Kids are flunking out of school because they’re busy texting their teenage angsty bullshit and not paying any attention in class. We let this stuff take over our lives and that is what I dislike. It seems like business got done before these things were invented, and personal lives still existed.

    I’m glad you put limits on it, Rosie. I think it’s vital to disconnect and refresh your soul sometimes.

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  28. One of my students, as part of a presentation on digital media and privacy, did a little informal survey of her classmates today, asking who was on MySpace and who was Twittering. Not surprisingly, I was the only one in the room sans MySpace, but I was surprised to see that not too many of the undergrads were doing Twitter – it must be a 20+ kinda thing.

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  29. That is interesting. Frankly it still stuns me how universal the use of MySpace seems to be. I’m sure someone somewhere is doing an in-depth psychological study of why people are drawn to it.

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  30. DD — you are so right on with the distraction these things cause. Seriously, the only way my Evil Genius child can “focus” is to do her homework the old-fashioned way at the dining room table and put her phone upstairs so she can’t hear the thing. The lure of facebook/youtube/text is just too great. I guess back in our school days we only had the distraction of TV’s “Match Game” in the afternoon and “Happy Days” and “Laverne and Shirley” at night. Or to talk on the phone with our gal-pals. But with only 1 stationary phone per household you didn’t always have control over the time your could talk or much privacy. …. the good old days, right?

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  31. LOL and how! Remember the extra long phone cords so you could pull the thing into another room (if you were lucky enough to have a room with a door near it; ours was in the dining room, between the kitchen and living room with no hope of privacy).

    I wonder how much of an effect using MySpace for marketing will have on that service ultimately. Every band, musician, writer, celeb of any sort has a MySpace page anymore. It’s become de rigeur, but I wonder if that will change the focus of that service, if it becomes too commercial?

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  32. ahem… entering the scene to say that I’ve been twittering lately, and actually find a great deal of value in it. I’ve established a network of serious writers, been involved in weekend writing challenges with regular updates, and got invited to join a closed online writer’s group where solid critiquing happens. I’ve learned a tremendous amount about publishing and agents. There are drawbacks of course – the site can suck you in and eat your time. But so far, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks for me. You do, of course, have to be very careful about privacy. Hope you’re all still talking to me! 🙂

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  33. So, that’s where you’ve been! 😉 Of course we’re still talking to you, I was just thinking today I sorta miss those weekend challenges you used to post.

    Honest to god, though, I just can’t imagine how I could possibly find the time to devote to Twitter. It sounds like you’re having a great time with it, and finding real value in it. Do you ‘tweet’ on your cell phone, and if so, are you charged for ‘tweets’ like a text message?

    What’s the latest on Swimming North?

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  34. DD – Actually, where I’ve been is insanely busy. Too many extra shifts at work, and it’s suicide season believe it or not. Spring. Plus, I took on this huge Newsletter project for the WADMHP which has burned up all my free time lately. I stopped running weekend challenges because the conflict between what I wanted to do and had time to do was making me nuts! Playing along with the #wordathon people on Twitter is less stressful because I didn’t set it up. No, I do not tweet on my cell phone, neither do I text on it. Re: Twitter & time consumption, you don’t have to obsess about it. Like most things, it’s a good servant but a bad master

    Swimming North is in a state of completed draft. Letting it sit before another revision. Needs readers, (hint, hint.)

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  35. Yanno, I just recently heard that about more suicides in spring. I always thought it was the holiday season. Tragic, either way. I salute you for having the intestinal fortitude to be in that profession.

    I could offer to give SN a read, but I have to warn you I’m not the fastest reader.

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  36. I don’t need fast readers, just warm and willing. If you want to and it wouldn’t be an imposition, email me and we’ll discuss the details. But if you’re busy, or don’t feel up to it, please don’t offer. Honesty matters a lot, there. I hate that feeling like my MS is a millstone around some busy person’s neck, which is why I find it hard to ask people to read.

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  37. Thanks DD, I emailed it to you – let me know if it arrived. Tasha, I emailed you too – let me know if that is indeed the right address, and what format you want it in and I’ll send it on.

    Asking you guys to read takes me way outside my comfort zone, by the way – thank you!

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  38. Hi Uppington,

    I got your email this morning. (I crashed early last night)

    You can either paste it right into the email or send it as an attachment. I think any attachment format is okay.

    No need to feel bad for asking. We’re in this together.

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