EXTRA ETHER: Shadowy Platforms


By

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePenn, Steven Pressfield, Turning Pro, The War of Art

 

I’m convinced that epublishing is another tech bubble, and that it will burst within the next 18 months.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePenn

Ewan Morrison

Oh, good. Another happy face in the digital dance.

The reason is this: epublishing is inextricably tied to the structures of social media marketing and the myth that social media functions as a way of selling products. It doesn’t, and we’re just starting to get the true stats on that.

A grain of salt is advised: This is, after all, author Ewan Morrison, a rollicking good iconoclast who likes to worry the winsome and jangle the jaded at such events as the upcoming Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference in August.

As recently as February, the Ether wrapped its gaseous skepticism around Master Morrison’s pronouncements.

And his next book is Close Your Eyes, coming in September. Oh, goodness gracious, look at this, it’s coming in a Kindle version. Well, well, it appears that Morrison hasn’t yet given up all hope on what he calls epublishing, bless his heart.

One imagines he’ll just want to sell those ebooks very quickly, since he’s expecting it all to come apart:

When social media marketing collapses it will destroy the platform that the dream of a self-epublishing industry was based upon.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePenn, Steven Pressfield, Steve Pressfield, The War of Art, Turning ProNevertheless, as quickly as we may want to dismiss Morrison as simply warming up his pipes for next month, his piece in the Guardian, Why social media isn’t the magic bullet for self-epublished authors, comes quickly after a weekend in which many at Writer Unboxed engaged in a lively debate about the contemporary author’s struggle to balance writing (of, say, a book) with platforming (to, say, sell the thing).

Might not an author, we debated, fall into emphasizing platforming over writing, thus slipping into a “shadow career” instead of what she had intended?

The shadow career is such a danger, particularly if you’re writing whole books. The short-term feedback hits are so appealing if you’re working on a project that’s going to take you a year or more before you get anything back.

‘Anabelle,’ in a comment at Writer Unboxed

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePenn

Joanna Penn

Morrison invokes our current Writing on the Ether sponsor, J.F. Penn, author of Prophecy, for her prominent position in the UK as a platforming author:

As Joanna Penn says: “In a world with lots of talent, success requires more than simply being great.” She advocates, “more effective networking, of course!” Self-styled eSpecialists such as Penn often invoke the 80/20 rule which advises that, as a sales person (in this case an author), you should spend 20% of your time writing and 80% of your time networking through social media.

For her part, Penn has communicated to me that she feels “the Guardian piece wasn’t exactly complimentary, or indeed entirely true, so I’m not promoting the article.”

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePennIt’s just as well, really, that nobody at Writer Unboxed pulled out an 80%-20% formula. Some of our respondents seemed 100-percent anxious without such a prompt.

Our comment-exchanges were based in serious concerns about how to be both a productive, focused author and an adequately platforming promoter of one’s work. Therese Walsh and Kathleen Bolton’s Writer Unboxed has an especially articulate, engaged readership, with Vaughn Roycroft leading its community effort. There were no disappointments in the comments department this weekend.

Yep, and here I am, reading delicious, enticing blog posts instead of writing. It’s called procrastination in my world. The idea beckons, the editing awaits, but I’d rather not . . . Shadow lives and shadow worlds and shadow works.

– Normandie Fischer in a comment at Writer Unboxed

In my monthly contribution to Writer Unboxed, I had started with Steven Pressfield’s new book Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePenn, Steven Pressfield, Turning Pro, The War of ArtI isolated Pressfield’s concept of the “shadow career,” a Resistance-driven, denial-fueled near-miss that has a person doing a lot about a prized worklife, but not achieving the goal because he or she isn’t doing the work.

Here’s Pressfield in one of his clearest examples of this:

Are you getting your Ph.D. in Elizabethan studies because you’re afraid to write the tragedies and comedies that you know you have inside you?

I then cast this concept in terms of the ongoing debate in the writing community about platforming. My question:

What if your author platform becomes your shadow career?

  • Are we going where we think we’re going? Or are we addicted to being on a parallel track?
  • Are we building readership and bona fide community around our ideas and our art? Or are we gassing our best energies out into the Zuckersphere?
  • Are our platforms supporting our work? Or has our work become the rationale for the platforms?

I am going to have to think about this because the idea of a shadow career resonated with me so much. I’m afraid that’s what I’m doing, not just with my platforming, but my job, too. Doing “almost” what I want to do, but not really. Saving only a little time for what is I’m supposed to be doing.

– Tina Barbour in a comment at Writer Unboxed

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Joanna Penn, J.F. Penn, Prophecy, ARKANE Thriller, The Creative Penn, TheCreativePenn, Steven Pressfield, Turning Pro, The War of Art

Steven Pressfield

In the ensuing comment-conversation — which I hope you can find some time to look over — you hear several themes:

  • Internal wrestling matches about time spent writing vs. time spent platforming;
  • Deep concern (which Morrison is tapping into) about the actual efficacy of platforming — we still have little data on its effects; and
  • Particular resentment about time spent online in social media as vehicles for platform work.

I’ve been struggling with feeling guilty about NOT wanting to ‘build platform’ and focusing on the writing. How crazy is that? It kind of reminds me of the self esteem movement in the 90′s, where we couldn’t let kids experience failure or risk wounding their tender egos. When in fact, all we ended up doing was divorcing the outcome from the work.

– Lisa Cohen in a comment at Writer Unboxed

 

I note that by comparison to the Writer Unboxed readership, Morrison seems to spend little time on platforming as community-building. His emphasis is on the apparent logic of marketing online material (ebooks, as it were) in an online setting (a platform with, at least, online components). By contrast, the Writer Unboxed respondents seem to agree that readership cultivation is the goal of good platforming. If anything, many seem to blame themselves for not working out a formula to make it all work.

I have thought a lot about the amount of time I am spending on my blog relative to writing fiction. There is a real imbalance I need to address. My word count is way down and I know many writers are struggling with this balance.

– CG Blake in a comment at Writer Unboxed

But if anyone can undermine a basic confidence in the concept of the platforming author, it’s  Morrison at the Guardian, who directs us back to the story by Alison Flood in May, reporting a survey’s findings of “less than 10% of self-publishing authors earning about 75% of the reported revenue and half of writers earning less than $500.”

Yes. I was lost there for a while. What’s worse, I started to feel I wasn’t very good at it, and so not only was I wasting time that might have been spent writing, I started to think there was no point. If I couldn’t craft a tweet that anyone would care to read, what business did I have writing a book?

– Jan O’Hara in a comment at Writer Unboxed

 

There are, it should be pointed out, some authors hay-riding the platform bandwagon very happily:

Writing and platform are inseparable. They have to be. And I think every writer needs to sort that out herself.

– David Olimpio in a comment at Writer Unboxed

There also are enough questions, enough qualms about the efficacy of the author-platform idea itself, that Morrison can look forward to an attentive hearing in Edinburgh — and our authors aren’t likely to let this topic rest for some time to come. As Morrison, fond of coming up with those percentages, you know, asks:

Calculate your investment of time and money in writing versus social media.  Do you want to spend 80% of 80% (sic?) of your time Facebooking about cats in the hope that you’ll make a 2.12% increase in sales on a book you had to write in 18 days?

| | |

How well do you think authors are handling the challenge of promotion in the digital disruption? How real is the danger of platforming becoming a “shadow career” that sidelines the creative work of writing books? And is Morrison simply rabble-rousing? Or has too much emphasis been placed on the arrival of the epublishing/self-promoting author?

A quick update: Our good colleague in Ireland, Eoin Purcell, has written a comment on Ewan Morrison’s original post at the Guardian. It’s well worth your attention.

 

Main image: iStockphoto / sack

  • Bob Mayer

    After several years of being indie, I’ve come to the conclusion that the best marketing is a good book. Better marketing is more good books.

    Frankly, I don’t see a bubble bursting because of the lose of social media impact, because I don’t see one existing right now. I know quite a few of the top selling indie authors and they have one or both of two things going for them: an extensive backlist from traditional publishing; and/or they have a strong fan base for a series or type of book that is desperate to read the next book. Few of the top selling authors are out there on social media “promoting”. They might have a presence, but it’s not focused on marketing.

    For authors struggling to break in, my advice is not to focus on social media for promoting or marketing, but to use it for building community. What’s so much more valuable than selling a few copies here and there is to make contacts with people in this business and networking. Like any other business, people run it. Get to know those people. At Thrillerfest recently, I spent my time with other indie authors, with agents, with other publishers, with people trying new and different things. Listening, throwing out ideas.

    You do a lot of that via social media.

    When I teach, I always say one of the best thing you can do on social media is to go to other people’s blogs, like this one, and leave cogent comments and participate in the discussion. People tend to read their own blogs and the comments.

    I’ve made a lot of predictions and some have been wrong and some right, but unless the Internet goes away, the key is not social media, it’s the fact the Internet allows distribution. It has been the great leveler in publishing.

  • http://twitter.com/thecreativepenn Joanna Penn

    I’m too busy writing my next book to respond to Ewan Morrison on my own site – thanks for doing so here – and to everyone else who has commented :)

  • Mary Sutton

    I agree with Bob Mayer. The best marketing is a good book & lots of them. But I have made a lot of industry contacts that I otherwise wouldn’t have through social media so I consider that time well spent.

  • http://www.facebook.com/maryann.mcfadden Maryann McFadden

    Bob, I totally agree with you. My third novel, THE BOOK LOVER, just came out in May and I’m struggling with trying to write my new book, touring, social media and reader outreach, and the constant stress of feeling like I’m not doing enough. And I realize my writing time is suffering. I haven’t really become a consistent blogger which is even another pressure that I feel. Because of all this, I find my mind is flitting from one thing to another and I have to go back to making WRITING the priority.
    I think part of my problem is that I originally self-published my first novel, THE RICHEST SEASON, after 5 years of rejection and it was throwing my all into bookseller and reader outreach that I finally got my dream deal. But I can’t put that kind of effort with each book because it really does leave no time to write. Building a readership book by book, the old fashioned way, I think is still the way to go. The mega-bestsellers that start with a blog/platform are, I agree, not the norm and aren’t going to be. It’s the writing that matters.
    Maryann McFadden
    http://www.maryannmcfadden.com

  • http://www.facebook.com/carolpalmatierpearson Carol Pearson

    Yes! Yes! Yes! (slamming hand on table ala Meg Ryan…) THIS is where I’ve been wandering…I want to write, but am being told “why bother” until I have a large enough platform to make it “worth my while.” Worth my while? When is it NOT worth my while to exercise my writing muscles? This is good stuff, Jane, thanks for your take on it.

  • Lisa Cohen

    Porter–thank you for continuing the conversation here (and for linking to my comment). I ended up writing my own blogpost, inspired by yours at Writer Unboxed. http://ljcbluemuse.blogspot.com/2012/07/stepping-up-my-game.html

    I’m working on pouring more of my energy in writing more fiction and less worrying about what’s happening in the twitter-verse. I feel like this discussion has given me permission and the courage to do that. Thank you.

  • http://twitter.com/jenniecoughlin jenniecoughlin

    Excellent roundup and analysis, as always, Porter. I’ve pulled back a lot from social media in the past few months because work was hectic and I was on (self-imposed) deadline for novel revisions and something had to go. I figured getting the next book as good as it could be and finished was more important than tweeting and Facebooking. I’m doing a little more right now because the first chapter is being posted for free download as a teaser next week, but that’s tied to an offline event (visiting hometown, the area where the series is set) – the social media/online platforming part is more a “while I’m here…” extension.

    I’m one of the <$500 indie authors, but that's also because the first book (of several) is a short story collection that can't be categorized. I figured from the beginning it would be backlist for the novels. The advantage of publishing it myself is that I can do that – a publishing company wouldn't. Morrison is getting at a trend that was true long before ebooks. Lots of people write, and only a fraction of those make money at it. The people who thought this was a shortcut will go away. The ones who knew it would be the same long road, just of a different sort, will stick around, keep publishing and building a following, and likely do well over time. There’s no shortcut.

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com Ed_Cyzewski

    The “shadow career” of platform building is a huge issue for me since interacting on social media really can suck up my time. My sense is that those who are efficient and can build meaningful connections through RSS subscribers and e-mail newsletter subscribers will gain the most from social media. The issue for me isn’t so much how to get more networked but how to use my network connections.

  • http://twitter.com/Porter_Anderson Porter Anderson

    It’s Porter writing, actually, Carol, but as we all know Jane is Porter’s Brain, so you’re hardly far wrong, lol. I like your spirit and understanding of the issue. The priority of the creative work is probably something NO one has questioned, at least officially, and yet many writers are feeling enormous tugs — or, in Steve Pressfield’s shadow-career terms, enormous seduction — away from their core writing projects and toward their platforming.

    The key for each of us is whatever returns us to Job One, as Mr. Perot used to say. I’m sure Meg Ryan would agree.

    Carry on, Carol,
    -p.
    @Porter_Anderson on Twitter
    http://ow.ly/cCZGF on Google+

  • lmmckay

    Overall I don’t think authors are handling the challenge well. Those who don’t spend time “platform-building” on social media feel guilty – as if they’re not “trying their hardest” or “putting their best foot forward.” Authors that DO try to platform build often fall into one of two camps – those who relentlessly and annoyingly self-promote in ways that alienate many potential readers anyway, and those that have a genuine “shadow career” (e.g., writing on topics related to their more creative work) that does garner them readers but distracts from the sort of more creative work they’d rather be doing.

  • James Scott Bell

    Nothing has really changed. In the age before social media many writers knocked themselves out with marketing and PR, book signings and bookmarks, conventions and convocations, gimmicks and gimcracks . . . and the only ones who were successful over time were the ones who could actually write what people wanted to read, said people spreading that news via word of mouth.

    Vis-a-vis marketing, I’ve always taught writers this formula. Do whatever you can without:

    a) hurting the quality of your writing

    b) hurting the quality of your relationships

    c) going into debt

    Regarding social media, a. and b. are primary.

    I also don’t see a bubble bursting because there really is no bubble. There is an ocean and most writers are underwater. A few writers, the ones who can deliver the goods, will ride the waves and do fine. Some very fine. Just like before. Just like always.

  • William

    I don’t know. Seriously, I don’t know. I have no idea what I’m doing! I’m just working on my novel and updating my blog weekly. The blog has nothing to do with the novel. It’s where I share personal opinions and make bad jokes. I don’t know if that’s a platform. I don’t know what a platform is. I try to get more blog hits. Will that attract people to my fantasy novel? I don’t know. Maybe. But, maybe they’ll be reading my novel and wondering where all the humor from my blog is, or why my blog doesn’t mention anything about the Price of Magic or the sword of the moon goddess Vora.

  • http://www.porteranderson.com Porter Anderson

    William.

    You need to use Jane Friedman — host of my “Ether” pieces here at JaneFriedman.com — as your resource, she’s the best. Start with this story on figuring out what your platform needs to be about. And then get into Jane’s writing-advice archive and start looking around for what you need.

    You’ll have to do this for yourself, nobody else can put into your head what you need in there. My warning would be that you can’t just blithely carry on without understanding what you mean to do or what you’re doing. Loads of good material here from Jane, who is the best.

    Good luck with it all, and thanks for commenting.
    -p.

  • http://twitter.com/cgbarbeau Caroline Gerardo

    Most important thing is the writing. Platform writing can be thought of as warm up. The style of writing on twitter, comments, posts is a different pace with a focused purpose- to connect with others rapidly. Use an egg timer and limit it to 10% of your work schedule, find the places that fit your style.
    Being a creative person means making something great, this requires quiet time, not on the distracting internet.
    Is social going away? No. Will it change? Certainly.
    Be true to your own goals and never mind the squabbles.

  • http://www.wegrowmedia.com/ Dan Blank

    Great piece Porter, I like the continued focus on platform as SERVING the writing, not on merely “marketing.”

    So with all of the calls of “platform is schlock” and the like… what if we remove it. So in 18 months, authors are “like totally over” platform – they don’t blog, they don’t Tweet, they don’t do any marketing.

    They are free to write, just as they always were in every decade previous. Is the path to a successful writing career now MORE open?

    Is this a more empowered writer?
    -Dan

  • http://twitter.com/JenTalty Jen Talty

    I really love what you have to say here. So true.

  • http://www.porteranderson.com Porter Anderson

    Dear great stable observer:

    Seriously, good input and an excellent reminder that while the bells and whistles, even the gears and pulleys, may change color and play funny digital tunes instead of Chopin, the situation IS normal in an odd (and oddly reassuring) way.

    As I find myself reminding everyone, Ewan Morrison makes gets his attention by proposing the preposterous about once a year for the festival there — it goes on to a kind of debate format. This year, in fact, I think that Andrew Keen, author of Digital Vertigo, which which I’ve been impressed, is going to be working the “show” with him as a counterpoint to some of his assertions.

    What we need is more of the sort of stability you’re offering here to keep folks from sky-is-falling all over the place each time someone comes up with a new such challenging line. (Of course epublication isn’t going to disappear in 18 months, it’s on the rise faster than any development since you-know-who with the Bible in Germany, and our real job is probably to find the normal challenges here (because those we DO understand) and apply the responses we’ve developed so we can be flexible enough to take advantage of the curve balls.

    So thanks for the input, keep that up, will you? Balzac would have gone back to writing with a shrug. :)
    -p.

  • http://twitter.com/thecreativepenn Joanna Penn

    Don’t ask me to give up my blog – or twitter – Dan :)

  • http://twitter.com/thecreativepenn Joanna Penn

    That’s great James – and I think that (b) is brilliant – I love to make relationships on social media and follow that into real life. Without social, I would be without so many of those very relationships.

  • http://jenniferluitwieler.com/ Jennifer Luitwieler

    Wow. So much to chew on in here. I have a whole different comment on the ebook thing, but I’ll put that aside to say this. I know when I’m using social media and when I’m being used by it. Sometimes I care to differentiate and sometimes I don’t. I look at it like healthy eating. If I’m eating all the right things, the I can sample the coconut cake. In other words, when I’ve done the writing work, I can then turn to the other stuff.lltweets and surfing.

  • http://twitter.com/jenniecoughlin jenniecoughlin

    Good way to look at it – the formula is a useful rule of thumb. I like the ocean metaphor – seems more accurate.

  • http://www.facebook.com/janohara.author Jan O’Hara

    Porter, I appreciate you including me, of course, but I popped in for another reason. This piece is a marvel. For a person who asks the hard questions about platform, you are masterful at extending yours. I’m in awe at how you weave it all together.

  • http://www.porteranderson.com Porter Anderson

    Well, those are good questions, Dan, though I’m not quite prepared to issue all the answers at this point. :-)

    Yes, I think that the assertions Morrison is making — for the purpose of debate at the festival, mind you, this is provocation (and it works, huh?) — are based in seeing platforming as a marketing-only effort. Now some marketing efforts, especially good ones, can be beautifully grounded in the work they support, as we know. But if you look at platforming from that supportive role first, and as a marketing facilitator later, then you probably have the purer concept of platforming in mind. And at least the conversation can involve that “service” element, which I know you love to emphasize.

    All that said, it’s striking, as I know you see, too, how many authors feel uncomfortable, confused, burdened, and/or outclassed by the various going conceptions of platforming, what it offers, and what it can do. In time, as with most things, the hubbub will subside, folks will find their “separate peace” on this, as the digitally dominated era of print solidifies (that thing our Mr. Morrison feels will be gone in 18 months, and do you think TV is going to catch on?).

    I find the specter of the shadow career raised by Steven Pressfield in Turning Pro more concerning, for my money, than Morrison’s calculations of time divvyings-up between writing and marketing. I’m more worried about folks evading their best work because platforming, by contrast, is easier. Platform-as-evasion, platform-as-shadow-career. That’s where I think we have our greatest issue for concern, and probably our hardest challenge to fight, too.

    We shall see. Or maybe we shan’t. :)
    -p.

  • http://twitter.com/Porter_Anderson Porter Anderson

    Dear great stable observer:

    Seriously, good input and an excellent reminder that while the bells
    and whistles, even the gears and pulleys, may change color and play
    funny digital tunes instead of Chopin, the situation IS normal in an odd
    (and oddly reassuring) way.

    As I find myself reminding everyone, Ewan Morrison makes gets his
    attention by proposing the preposterous about once a year for the
    festival there — it goes on to a kind of debate format. This year, in
    fact, I think that Andrew Keen, author of Digital Vertigo, which which I’ve been impressed, is going to be working the “show” with him as a counterpoint to some of his assertions.

    What we need is more of the sort of stability you’re offering here to
    keep folks from sky-is-falling all over the place each time someone
    comes up with a new such challenging line. (Of course epublication isn’t
    going to disappear in 18 months, it’s on the rise faster than any
    development since you-know-who with the Bible in Germany, and our real
    job is probably to find the normal challenges here (because those we DO
    understand) and apply the responses we’ve developed so we can be
    flexible enough to take advantage of the curve balls.

    So thanks for the input, keep that up, will you? Balzac would have gone back to writing with a shrug.

    -p.

  • http://twitter.com/Porter_Anderson Porter Anderson

    Well, those are good questions, Dan, though I’m not quite prepared to issue all the answers at this point.

    Yes, I think that the assertions Morrison is making — for the purpose
    of debate at the festival, mind you, this is provocation (and it works,
    huh?) — are based in seeing platforming as a marketing-only effort. Now
    some marketing efforts, especially good ones, can be beautifully
    grounded in the work they support, as we know. But if you look at
    platforming from that supportive role first, and as a marketing
    facilitator later, then you probably have the purer concept of
    platforming in mind. And at least the conversation can involve that
    “service” element, which I know you love to emphasize.

    All that said, it’s striking, as I know you see, too, how many
    authors feel uncomfortable, confused, burdened, and/or outclassed by the
    various going conceptions of platforming, what it offers, and what it
    can do. In time, as with most things, the hubbub will subside, folks
    will find their “separate peace”
    on this, as the digitally dominated era of print solidifies (that thing
    our Mr. Morrison feels will be gone in 18 months, and do you think TV
    is going to catch on?).

    I find the specter of the shadow career raised by Steven Pressfield
    in Turning Pro more concerning, for my money, than Morrison’s
    calculations of time divvyings-up between writing and marketing. I’m
    more worried about folks evading their best work because platforming, by
    contrast, is easier. Platform-as-evasion, platform-as-shadow-career.
    That’s where I think we have our greatest issue for concern, and
    probably our hardest challenge to fight, too.

    We shall see. Or maybe we shan’t.

    -p.

  • http://twitter.com/Porter_Anderson Porter Anderson

    William.

    You need to use Jane Friedman — host of my “Ether” pieces here at
    JaneFriedman.com — as your resource, she’s the best. Go to the bottom of the page and find her archive for writers. All you need and more is there, start looking around.

    You’ll have to do this for yourself, nobody else can put into your
    head what you need in there. My warning would be that you can’t just
    blithely carry on without understanding what you mean to do or what
    you’re doing. Loads of good material here from Jane, who is the best.

    Good luck with it all, and thanks for commenting.

    -p.

  • http://www.facebook.com/janohara.author Jan O’Hara

    I love this, James. It might be a case of selective hearing, but it seems most long-terms successful authors are coming around to this POV. Reassuring and challenging.

  • http://twitter.com/Porter_Anderson Porter Anderson

    Wow, Jan, you may be my next publicist if you keep this up, lol. (Want a plank of my platform?)

    Thanks, seriously. I’m really concerned that our author corps is in so much turmoil as digital disruption backs the car over publishing because (don’t tell the software guys) there IS no publishing without the stories, and the destabilization of the creative bloc can’t be good, in the long run, for literature. However, it’s the responsibility of the writers to come to the table and sort these things out, individually and as a (massive) group and with cordial honesty about such issues as “There are too many books.” (I’m quoting Don Linn there.) Too many books means too many people trying to write them, a situation made only worse when so many of those folks are deploying the dumb-as-a-post approach and arriving unprepared.

    We have an unprecedented situation in publishing today in terms of the number of people trying to create content, the sheer load of inventory already staggering the market, and the market, itself, which is pretty much a new world with no cup-holders evident.

    So thank you again, and keep that seat belt fastened, this bumpy ride is far from over.
    -p.

  • http://twitter.com/Porter_Anderson Porter Anderson

    Great approach, Jennifer, and you you get to keep your figure, too. Glad the temptations-in-their-place tack works for you. Keep that up, by all means.
    -p.

  • http://twitter.com/Porter_Anderson Porter Anderson

    I’ll protect you, Joanna. :)

  • Shawndra Miller

    There’s also the issue of social media rewiring our brains, if you believe the recent Newsweek article citing research to that effect. Internet addiction (defined as 38 hours/week) shrinks the area of the brain responsible for processing of speech, memory, etc. What is this doing to the quality of writing we actually get down to?

  • http://twitter.com/annerallen Anne R. Allen

    Thanks for the rebuttal to Morrison’s piece, which included some unhelpful snarky digs at self-publishers. I think what you said in the comment thread here is of primary importance “if you look at platforming from that supportive role first, and as a marketing facilitator later, then you probably have the purer concept of
    platforming in mind.” Social media helps new authors network and get information that used to take years to acquire. Plus writers find their agents and publishers as well as beta readers, supporters and even co-authors through “platform building”. That shouldn’t be overlooked.

  • David Mark Brown

    I work on the (shadow) platform as much as I can stand before loosing my mind and having to return to writing to save myself. That turns out to be about 20% platform 80% writing for me. I know. I’m quite disciplined that way! But I’m an artist, am I not! I let passions dictate and screw the guilt:)

  • http://www.wegrowmedia.com/ Dan Blank

    Thanks Porter. But why don’t we talk about other critical issues writers have faced for generations, beyond just platform as evasion:

    laundry as evasion.

    mowing the lawn as evasion.

    watching television as evasion.

    For the context of a lot of this, it is the BUSINESS of publishing. We are talking about writers who WANT overt success. They want a big readership, they want to be a bestseller, they want a book deal, they want (I can barely bring myself to say this) MONEY. Not exclusively, but as a byproduct of their writing.

    To me, learning the ins and outs of how to grow an audience is evergreen. And of course, completely optional. Writers have so many wonderful choices they can make. Can it be overwhelming? Sure. But thankfully, we have the likes of you (although no one else is really like you) and our friend Joanna and others to act as resources.

    Thanks.
    -Dan

  • http://twitter.com/Porter_Anderson Porter Anderson

    Good comment, Bob, thanks for it.

    And yes, as I’ve been saying today, one of the things Morrison is doing — deliberately, as a provocateur — is emphasizing marketing over community-building in platforming. And this, of course, creates it in a different relationship to the writer’s literary work.

    I do think I can understand seeing digital as a bubble right now, considering the speed and scale of its growth in the market, but there’s little chance of it popping somehow, as it’s actually the new atmosphere, replacing the old. Big bubble, lol. Expanding like Ether, if you will.

    It’s definitely going to be more challenging, not less, though, for authors who need to ride this movement forward with their eyes open and their creative heads around them. It’s like being jostled on a rough ride, staying focused gets very hard. Hence what we’re seeing in the community, I think, in terms of people trying to find their way around an acceptable mix of creativity and promotion.

    And yes, distribution is the key turned by the Internet. The question, then, is what you do with 32 million active titles already out there waiting. :-)
    -p.

  • http://twitter.com/Porter_Anderson Porter Anderson

    Ha – a smart retort to Mr. Morrison. And thank you again, Joanna, for being our great Ether sponsor this week, so glad to have had you!
    -p.

  • http://twitter.com/Porter_Anderson Porter Anderson

    I’ve had that experience, too, Mary (and I think Bob would agree that he, too, has met many good folks online — he and I met that way).

    I tend to think this question for many authors is coming down to how better to marshall resources of time and energy into the creative writing but withOUT having to give up the good contacts and suberb connectedness that digital is offering us these days.

    In short, it’s a balance worth figuring out, to my mind, though it can be a real struggle along the way.

    Thanks for reading and commenting, good to have you!
    -p.

  • http://twitter.com/Porter_Anderson Porter Anderson

    Hey, Lisa,

    Really great of you to go to your own blog site with a piece based on the Writer Unboxed post — I’m glad that the discussion is prompting you to really grab hold of this issue that so many authors need to work on.

    Probably the worst thing any of us can do is not get down and focus on this thing squarely. As I keep asking folks to do, we need to decide, not default, to a way to handle it. And that way will differ for each of us.

    If we can give you some permission and courage to break away from the “madding crowd,” as Hardy would have it, then we’re accomplishing something already.

    Thanks for reading and commenting and writing on the subject!
    -p.

  • http://twitter.com/Porter_Anderson Porter Anderson

    Hey, Jennie, and glad to have you back with us even if just during the event period for your series.

    You’re echoing James Scott Bell’s good comments here, actually, in looking at how there are deep similarities underpinning what can appear to us as brand-new challenges. As you say, there have always been writers — and, no doubt, a majority of them — who were on the lower end of the revenue stream from sales. If anything, digital has encouraged this major influx of new would-be authors, and I’m quite sure some of them are there for what they think is some kind of get-rich-quick bonanza. (Jim Bell has done a great video on this, you can find it on his site, about the people, he says, who say, “eBooks! Just throw them up there on the web!” and wait for the money to roll in.

    Somebody will always be looking for that shortcut, huh? :)

    Thanks for reading and commenting!
    -p.

  • http://twitter.com/Porter_Anderson Porter Anderson

    Hey, Ed,

    You’ve put your finger right on it — as with any tools, the win belongs to those who can use them best. If anything, the advent of digital capabilities tends to mean (or seem to mean) that you need to use your tools before they use you. I’m probably sounding a bit more Marshall McLuhan here than necessary but there is a sense that the power and the range of these still-new capabilities are pretty much chasing a lot of folks down the street.

    So there’s not only an emotional step to get past in terms of accepting and understanding these things — there’s also a lot of work that has to go into getting new and effective skill sets that can take advantage of what’s in front of us.

    It’s a lot, and most of it, of course, is not within a natural realm for many writers, I’m frequently surprised at how many authors aren’t really very computer savvy, still struggling with simple activities and apps and software.

    Thanks for reading and commenting today, really good to have you in the discussion –
    -p.

  • http://twitter.com/Porter_Anderson Porter Anderson

    Yeah, exactly. This is what we’re talking about. And in the middle are the paralyzed people (maybe the biggest group of all) who simply don’t know where to turn and aren’t making progress in any direction very happily. If you hide from platforming, you may be no better off than you are if you hide from your writing.
    Thanks for reading and commenting,
    -p.

  • Vaughn Roycroft

    This discussion obviously resonates deeply. I think your ‘Decide, don’t default’ is the best synopsis of, and solution to, the issue. In fact, I’m thinking of having T-shirts printed. Thanks for the mention, and for initiating such a resounding discussion, Porter!

  • http://twitter.com/Porter_Anderson Porter Anderson

    Right, Caroline, there’s an author named Joanne Tombrakos who’s written

    It Takes An Egg Timer: A Guide To Creating The Time For Your Life — she guest posted here on Jane’s site at one point.

    It’s a matter of managing things, not letting them get away from you. I’ve had a good experience with RescueTime.com, mysefl, in terms of analyzing what i’m doing with time and concentrating when need be with their FocusTime functionality.

    -p.

  • http://twitter.com/Porter_Anderson Porter Anderson

    Hi, Shawndra.

    I think I’d need to see a bit more evidence of shrinking brain areas before I’m ready to jump onto that one, but you’re right that we certainly must hope that online time doesn’t make us dumber writers. :)

    Thanks for reading and commenting,
    -p.

  • http://twitter.com/Porter_Anderson Porter Anderson

    Screw the guilt is certainly the right attitude, David, since it does no one any good.

    And glad to know you have a formula, even if its driven by your dislike of platform. Sounds to me as if you’re in very little danger of a shadow career developing there. :)

    Thanks for reading and commenting,
    -p.

  • Tom Bentley

    Porter, the Ether is getting ever more ethereal, with shadow selves and all. You reminding me of that pressing Pressfield insight sent me scurrying to close Tweetdeck and work on my novel for an hour. Indeed, I am frightened that I’m becoming as much of a used-car salesperson as a writer.

    But man, can’t we come up with a better word than “platform”? I know, it’s too entrenched now to be thrown out like a common drunk, but wouldn’t something more mellifluous like “gossamer sidelines” or “sidelong glances” or “silken spreadsheeting” be better?

    Or just make it Costermonger’s Stall and be done with it.

  • http://twitter.com/jenniecoughlin jenniecoughlin

    Well, hoping to find a better balance now that work is simmering down. I miss the discussion and writing links I find when I’m on Twitter – they often spark ideas that help me with writing. As always, looking for the happy medium.

  • http://twitter.com/DianaStevan Diana Stevan

    Excellent post. You’re underlining what I’ve been feeling for awhile. I definitely feel as if I’ve been developing a shadow career with platforming. Seems to me a more productive mix would be 80% writing and 20% social media/platform development.

  • Pingback: Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, July 31, 2012 « cochisewriters()

  • Cynthia Morris

    Wow, there’s a lot to respond to here. I had to go take a nap and get serious with my pillow about what’s true for me in this issue.

    I actually feel willing and able to do the platform building, though I would probably be better served if I didn’t privately call it ‘massaging the monkey.’

    I feel the real challenge is the quality of my attention. Only today was I able to divide the kind of work I do into two simple categories:
    generative
    maintenance

    Generative work is anything I need to focus exclusively on. That’s writing of any kind. Think writing blog posts, working on a book, drafting scripts or developing curricula.

    Maintenance work is the kind of tasks that are done online, using various systems and software. Think posting blogs, posting and responding on Twitter, Facebook, following up, responding to emails. Much of this is in the platform building.

    Each of these requires a very different kind of attention. I find if the maintenance work starts my day, my focus will be diffuse and scattered for the rest of the day. Then generative work is very hard to do.

    So while the maintenance work isn’t as much fun, it’s not horrible either. It just takes a different kind of focus and energy, and if it’s done too much, it can erode the energy needed for generative work.

    If I am able to align my schedule in these two categories and ideally put generative work first, I think I’ll feel a lot more satisfied.

  • http://twitter.com/Porter_Anderson Porter Anderson

    Hey, Cynthia, thanks for reading and responding –

    I think your division into generative and maintenance work — and massaging the monkey — makes good sense and has a lot of clarity for you, which is my main point in these discussions. (Decide, don’t default, as I keep saying.)

    I’ve learned the hard way what you mean about how a day starts in terms of which kind of tasks you begin with. It really can seem to shatter a day’s later course when the wrong material gets in the way up top, can’t it?

    Great thoughts, and many thanks for sharing them.
    -p.

  • http://twitter.com/Porter_Anderson Porter Anderson

    Hey, Diana, thanks for your comment.

    More productive, certainly, is your idea of the 80% writing time-allocation. But practical? This is the problem, for most people, that sort of ability to put that much time into the writing comes only with sacrifice of something else, if it’s possible to manage at all.

    Thanks again for jumping in, good to have you,
    -p.

  • stevendaniel

    I have a web site and an email adress and a facebook page all ready to go, but I have no intention of seriously marketing my work until I have some work that merits serious marketing. In short, I am not built to sell something I don’t believe in. And on that note, I recall that I ate most of my own high school band fundraising candy.

  • http://twitter.com/Porter_Anderson Porter Anderson

    Tom, we’re stuck with “platform.” For which you should be grateful.

    If you think of the cutesy names that entrepreneurs heading up publishing-related startups are giving them, you realize pretty quickly that book people are rather bad at naming stuff. (I give you JellyBooks, Bublish, BookieJar, Booktiq, I’m not making these up, they’re out there.)

    Believe me, given a chance to come up with another term other than “platform,” we’d never avoid something close to kitty shower curtains.

    And “platform” is a term redolent with practicality — another virtue that doesn’t always come readily to our industry folk.

    We’ll be fine with “platform,” I think. It won’t sell as well as a Michael Landy at Sotheby’s but we’ll avoid some flowery embarrassment, too.

    Cheers,
    -p.

  • http://twitter.com/Porter_Anderson Porter Anderson

    The integrity of what you’re saying is great, of course, Steven. But remember that true “platforming,” as we use the term, is not the marketing tool that Ewan Morrison seems to believe it is.

    Platforming is the cultivation of your readership by using various means of connecting with a community of people interested in what your work is about. It’s not about “buy my book,” it’s about learning your audience.

    And if you wait until you have something to sell to that audience, you’ll arrive with it as an unknown, trying to ingratiate yourself in a big hurry.

    This is why many writers now try to start developing their relationships with potential readers long before they’re ready to try to sell something in the marketplace. A platform paves the way. It gives you some visibility.

    It was your high school band fundraising candy you ate last time. This time, you could end up eating your own words. :)

    -p.

  • Tom Bentley

    Porter, the bulge in my cheek was fully my tongue when I was proposing that we toss “platform.” (Though your case for “kitty shower curtains” is strong.) No, I was simply being cranky, chafing at a word that for many writers suggests an albatross in a cheap suit.

    It’s now the way of things that writers are peddlers too (and always have been, but today the peddling is more pronounced). The trick is not to peddle cheap goods, nor use any flimflam in the peddling.

    Thanks as always for your cool drink of water in the Inferno.

  • http://chrisrechtsteiner.tumblr.com Chris Rechtsteiner

    After pouring over all of the comments, insights and opinions it seems to me that there really isn’t one answer. Social isn’t the beginning or the end of anything. Rather, it’s a component of a complete solution needed for any business (let alone author’s and publisher’s) to be successful.

    The most successful businesses are those where the “customers” are really “partners” in that they have taken a vested interest in the product, brand and its ultimate success.

    I don’t feel it’s far fetched to see the most successful authors and publishers being those who have cultivated and encouraged these vested interests rather than distanced themselves from their customers.

  • corajramos

    Cynthia, this idea of the two categories is very helpful as I try to forge that balance for myself. I’m on the same wavelength of thought about social media/writing as you. Glad you took that nap.

  • Pingback: WRITING ON THE ETHER: Olive Branch | Jane Friedman()

  • Pingback: Friday Features #16 | Yesenia Vargas()

  • http://www.facebook.com/laura.disilverio.5 Laura DiSilverio

    Cynthia, I’ve been thinking about my work this way for a couple of years now, although I use the less evocative terms “writing” and “business stuff.” Working on my novels is the most important thing and I have to do it in the morning or, as you said, I’m too scattered and unfocused to do it later. Social media stuff, setting up book events, emailing, talking to editors/agent . . . I tackle those tasks in the afternoon with a different sort of energy and focus. Thanks for giving me better terms to use (and for showing me I’m not alone).

  • Pingback: Link Feast For Writers, vol. 18 | Reetta Raitanen's Blog()

  • Pingback: WRITING ON THE ETHER: Static | Jane Friedman()

  • Pingback: This Week’s Top Ten Poetic Picks | TweetSpeak Poetry()

  • Christina Garner

    James, I was thinking the very same thing with regards to things staying the same.

    As to the final point you made, as one who was writing and directing short films when the Canon XL1 came out and made everyone and their mother filmmaker, I can tell you that the cream, and a little of the not-so-creamy, rises to the top. Just like before. Just like always :-)

  • Pingback: The Week's Best News: The Turndog Tales()

  • Pingback: WRITING ON THE ETHER: Static | Porter Anderson()