December 29th, 2010 by Will Entrekin

Exciting Times

Yesterday, JA Konrath posted an interesting essay titled, simply, “You Should Self-Publish.”

I agree with him, for the most part.

I just wish he would drop that modifier.

Because forget it. You should publish.

You should publish essays on your website, tweets to Twitter, status updates on Facebook. You should use your Kindle to share quotes from books everywhere. You should join online forums filled with people who have similar interests–Konrath mentions the KindleBoards and how great they are for writers but sort of neglects how amazing they are for readers.

Which we all are. And we’re active readers. We’re better readers. We’re exciting readers.

I thought, for a long time, that what was so game-changing, what was so paradigm-shifting, was that we’re all now creators. We’re all publishing all the time. We’re all contributing new information to the cloud and the world.

I don’t think I was necessarily wrong about that. All those things mostly hold true.

But then I got to thinking, that’s not really what’s changed. That’s a by-product of more activity on our parts.

The biggest companies in the world right now are Google and Facebook. The former is, I think, the more important because it signals a new service. It’s a search engine. It took away passive Internet browsing. No longer was the Internet a place of CD-ROMs and free subscriptions to AOL and “You’ve Got Mail.” What Google changed was our ability to seek new and more information (as well as our ability to sift through it). Remember before Google? Back when we had AltaVista and Hotbot and Metacrawler?

No longer do we wait for information. That’s pretty huge.

We Google things. I have a Google search function on my phone. We go on Wikipedia, though we know the information we find there might be erroneous, but maybe we do that because we know that even if the information is erroneous, we can find more information right away. We can find better information. We can find commentary on that information.

We can contribute to that information, and we can change it, and we can create it.

And the faster all that occurs, the less likely traditional modes of media can keep up with it all.

It used to be, in ways, that media created culture. Radio and television delivered sounds and images to our living rooms, and our only control over what we received came in the form of dials and switches; we could change the channel or turn off the set, but that was about it. If we wanted books, we had to wait to see what corporate publishers had deemed worthy of our attention two years before. Movies, too: from optioning of screenplays to delivery of celluloid, at least a year would pass.

The time it takes to create something worthwhile might not have changed (and continues to vary), but the time it takes to access and manipulate it has. Do any of us merely read when we come online anymore? Or do we all go to news sites we frequent, share posts on Twitter and Facebook, contribute to commentary?

When was the last time you got news from CNN or MSNBC? How about the last time you got it from Twitter?

It seems like we’re moving into times of cultural responsibility, and we’re taking such responsibilities away from the people who traditional took control of them as we notice that many of those institutions gave up their reins. One of the biggest arguments people tend to make against so-called “self-publishing” is that it’s not vetted, there’s no quality control, etc.

And then they buy and publish A Shore Thing by Snooki.

We’re the upstart crows. We’re the Johannes Factotums. We are the creators and contributors, channels of inspiration and information. And we’re not just living in exciting times.

We’re exciting them.

Comments

5 Responses to “Exciting Times”
  1. JEFFREY says

    I think it’s interesting that you mention Google and Facebook in the context of self-publishing (or publishing in general). There’s an article in the December (I think) issue of GQ about social media trends, emerging Silicon Valley startups, and how technology and psychology are married to various shifts in modern behavior. Good article—highly recommend.

    One of the things discussed in that article is how Facebook has become one of the biggest threats to Google. The argument goes that both exist in the same space: both companies are actively restructuring information on the Internet to make it more accessible to users. In Google’s case, the company uses search algorithms: as long as you know what you’re looking for, you can use the search box to find it, and Google filters through the Interweb to deliver the content you need. In Facebook (really, in the social media tier that includes Facebook, Twitter, etc.), everything is delivered to you not by searching, but by virtue of your existing social connections and your relationships with other users. In that case, you don’t actively search for anything; content is delivered to you because you’ve already expressed an interest in someone or something. (For example, say someone recommends an article on Facebook; if you’ve friended that person, you see that recommendation. Or say someone tweets about a concert or an earthquake or something that Entrekin guy said; if you’re following that person, you see that tweet.)

    These companies are actively restructuring information on the web and finding new ways to present it to users. Some of this requires passive/active behavior (Google indexes sites unbidden, but you have to actively ask to find it), while some of it is active/passive (you have to actively send out a tweet, but everyone connected to you sees it automatically). But in either case, these companies are filtering all this content and shaping the way we see it.

    So, bringing this back to publishing. Is the traditional publishing paradigm dying? Maybe. My buddy got a Nook the other day. Books somehow feel anachronistic to me, something I hold in hand on nostalgic evenings when I want to do something different. I saw a newspaper at my parents’ house recently, but all the articles on the front page were things I read online the day before. I read blogs more often than I read magazines.

    But there are still gatekeepers. In the old days, publishers. Today, technology companies. Do the technology companies offer an easier road to publishing? Of course. I can create a new Twitter account right now and start tweeting about whatever I want. But that also means we’re being deluged with the minutia of what everyone else is “publishing”—quality content gets lost in the shuffle. And the basis of social media (and, generally, digital information on the web) is that it’s free to consume. Facebook doesn’t want to charge its users for access; the no-cost account is what encourages us to rely on the way Facebook filters our information. There’s no friction to keep us away, so we agree to see the world through Facebook’s lens.

    But that means for all the publishing we do on the web—for all the blogging, for all the tweets, for all the status updates—making a living as a writer hasn’t gotten any easier.

    Just to get practical for a second—yes, writers want their work read. It feels good to have that affirmation that we’ve told a good story, or that we’ve relayed a good insight. But the writers I know also want to be able to write -for a living-. While the old system of publishing doesn’t guarantee financial success or stability—there are plenty of “failed novelists”—it was, at its best, an opportunity to establish a living as a writer through pay advances and royalties. Give that up, rely on social media or the web for publishing, and yeah, you may have a few readers, but you’d better find paying work somewhere else. Because you can’t charge for status updates, and few people will read a blog hidden behind a paywall.

    Exciting times? Definitely. But are these times revolutionary for someone struggling to make a living as a writer? Not really. The web may provide another outlet for content, but it hasn’t made it any easier for writers to survive as writers—in most cases, they’re still surviving as something else.

  2. FINALLY someone says what I haven’t been able to articulate: “You should publish.”

    Books, ereaders, newspapers, bathroom walls–they’re all just containers for stories. And now that the masses have the social web, user-generated content, and worldwide POD distribution within their grasps, the way stories are told and experienced belong to the masses, too.

    I wrote the first draft of my first book as a web series. The web site uses free software to tell the story in words, music, maps and images. I used the social web to find dedicated (and growing) readers who buy my stuff. I have published an ebook anthology and have two paperback titles in production. In fact, I have at least three years worth of publishing projects planned.

    I’m going to stop calling myself a “self-publisher.” I publish. Period.

  3. Hey, Jeffrey.

    I’ll have to check that article out. Just today, I think at Gizmodo, I was reading that after an initial surge, magazines sales of periodicals like GQ on the iPad are slumping.

    You’re totally right about Facebook. I should have explored that more. Truth is, I only nominally get Facebook, and balancing promoting my work with connecting with friends is something I have to work hard on. On the other hand, it’s a little like making our friends the gatekeepers of the information we receive. Good in ways, not so much in others.

    On practicality: yes, agreed. Then again, most writers of mainstream fiction–which is what I’ve always aimed to be–haven’t made their living writing. Newer novelists and brands are exceptions, I think. Didn’t Faulkner remain on as postmaster until he retired? Lots of science fiction writers teach or do research, and even the ones who do make their living solely via writing–Scalzi comes to mind as an example–make the majority of their income–I think–from sources unrelated to writing fiction. Freelance gigs, corporate contracts, that sort of thing. I read someone say that Scalzi’s work in corporate contracts shows up in some of his fiction, but I haven’t read enough of his fiction to know.

    One of the reasons I’m grateful for USC is that it showed me something I wanted to make a living at that wasn’t writing.

  4. Wow, MediaChick, Miracle in July is awesomely impressive. Just checked it out. Haven’t plumbed into it, but looking forward to doing so. Way to explore new media publishing.

    And well done! Also, I see you used Kickstarter. What a fascinating adventure that seems to be.

  5. Nice. Inspiring as always.

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