Multiple Enthusiasms

Infinite jest. Excellent fancy. Flashes of merriment.

The Future of Publishing is You and I

I just caught a tweeted link to this blog by Mitch Joel on publishing and blogging.

Those of you who’ve read my “The Trouble with Blogging post know that this is something I’ve been thinking about. Hell, it’s part of the reason I’m doing an MBA.

Right now, I’m teaching my students about structure and plot using Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone as a demonstration of a Hero’s Journey plot archetype. Reading it, I’m rediscovering just how excellently Rowling hits every plot point and necessary element note for note, from the Call to Adventure to the Crossing of the First Threshold etc. Harry Potter is really an excellent example of someone who becomes a hero; he certainly doesn’t start out that way. Yesterday, while teaching, I was asking my students what makes people heroes. What do we look for as a demonstration of heroism?

One mentioned worthwhile purpose, and intention.

Which is why I gave up blogging for most of last year. I had no more purpose or intention. My intentions were focused almost completely on other things: recovering from my experiences in Denver, building both better relationships with members of my family and furniture, moving up to New York, getting a decent job, and studying business. I’ve been studying branding and marketing (that’s my main focus, with some digressions elsewhere), but the blog I linked to at the beginning of this post helped me to figure out what’s been niggling at me, and why I’ve felt the need to do so.

Because it’s a totally valid point. It’s something many people don’t like to talk about, marketing and writing-as-product and et cetera; for some reason I can’t figure out, the idea of commodification is terrible for many of us. I think it’s related to the Stephen King/Jo Rowling v. Joyce Carol Oates/John Updike discussion that Miconian brought up in the post wherein I announced the news I’d gotten a job teaching fiction. There’s a certain dichotomy we perceive that something so popular–I’m thinking of the Harry Potter series and Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon books, but also of Stephen King–can’t actually be fine. We make the excuse that we don’t mind people’s reading these books as long as it inspires them to read other stuff, too, as if simply sitting down and enjoying a book isn’t enough, really. And then we have guys like Updike, or perhaps Michael Chabon or Dave Eggers, who get to be critical darlings but sell a fraction of the books Jo Rowling does; did anyone line up to buy The Yiddish Policeman’s Union or What is the What?

I admit it’s part of the reason I fear genre categorization for my own books. I have a time-travel novel and a metafictional update of Faust, but I never really considered them science fiction or fantasy, respectively, as I wrote them. Then again, I wonder how much authorial intention has to do with it; I’m not sure Stephen King would say he set out to write The Tommyknockers as a sci-fi novel, or The Dark Tower as an epic fantasy series; I think, especially with the latter, he was just trying to tell the story of Roland Deschain.

I can only guess.

But that intention is, I think, important. Perhaps for nobody but the author.

The thing is, we’re all of us authors now. Perhaps it’s a function of having been active on MySpace and now being active on Twitter/Facebook, but a good percentage of the people I know blog/write/tweet/whathaveyou. Everyone has a content stream. Everyone is a writer and everyone is a publisher.

And very few of us manage to get paid for it.

Because we’ve found other things to return our investment. That spirited sense of community, a digital sense of kinship. Interaction and stimulation we sometimes don’t find elsewhere because in real life there are few places where people with such similar likes and so much in common congregate so closely and in such number. It’s easier online to talk to strangers and to open up to them.

A lot of people in the publishing industry fret about the future of it. These past few days, a group of media professionals and savvy individuals got together at the Digital Book World conference to discuss such things as e-books and piracy and the social marketing and all those sorts of things, and yesterday, while they were in it, the people who are really changing publishing–i.e., you and I–were doing other things. Me personally, here I am aiming at best-selling author, trying to get representation for my novels to sell to editors while studying marketing to better reach readers, and what was I following? The Apple announcement of the iPad. While publishing pros banded together to decide what reactive steps they might take, we published on Twitter and blogged and Tumbld.

Publishing isn’t dying. It’s changed. Corporate book packagers beholden to shareholders are trying to figure out how to continue to exist because while they were trying to react to some changes, more occurred, and now they’re playing a steady game of catch-up to yesterday’s news. Even Apple has now fallen victim to it; if the iPad were at all revolutionary, things would already be revolutionized because the device doesn’t actually do anything new. Everything it manages can pretty much already be fulfilled by a smartphone.

But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Jobs is right and the convergence is what we’re seeking without actually realizing it. Maybe everyone needs to carry an iPad in our messenger bags in addition to the smart phone in our pockets in addition to the laptop on our desks.

But one thing I noticed? The first app Jobs demonstrated on the device was Facebook.

If publishers are really going to take to using the iPad and doing so well, I’m not certain it’s going to be corporate publishers desperate for an adequate e-book platform to save a failing business model.

I have a feeling that the publishers who are going to make best use of all the new technologies and applications and devices that will be coming our way are you and I. Because that’s what we do. We buy the technologies companies think we want, and then we hack them and mod them and app them to make them what we actually need. Jailbreaking was the best thing that ever happened to the iPhone, and so much of the advancement of tech like Android and Firefox comes not from Google and Mozilla, respectively, not from their corporate overlords, but when we users get our hands on them to build extensions and themes that make them work right, faster, smarter, more efficiently.

A lot of people still refer to the publishing industry, and especially the agents and editors therein, as the gatekeepers of our culture. Except our culture has become a torrent of content you and I have created. It’s possible we’ll still need filters, but we seem to have figured it out okay so far, because it seems like everyone else in the world–politicians, pundits, and publishers alike–are struggling to keep up with us.

1 Comment

  1. “Everyone has a content stream. Everyone is a writer and everyone is a publisher.

    And very few of us manage to get paid for it.”

    As a long time slogger, erm, I mean blogger, you have succinctly put into words the struggle. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thrown in the towel – usually on the heels of yet another rejection from one publisher or another.

    This year I’ve decided to just write. I’ve built up enough of a following to know my writing makes a difference somehow, somewhere and I’m resisting the urge to “tell them all to go to hell” everytime my subscription list goes down.

    Though your quote from The Joker from the linked post is something that haunts me, I’m just now exploring what it means to be able to write for an audience who appreciate what I have to say.

    I’m trying to sink into the moment instead of invalidating it. After all, there was a time when the only people who read my stuff were my mother and all the good people on my Christmas card list.

    I’m still, however, bitter and not there yet 😉

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