WRITING ON THE ETHER: No More Predictions

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Table of Contents

  1. Tim O’Reilly’s Context for the Comment
  2. Craft: Stealing Off With a Scene
  3. Craft: Well, Can You Give It 15 Minutes?
  4. Con­ference Season Ahead
  5. Books: Reading on the Ether
  6. Last Gas: Fabled Flashes in Big Pans

Tim O’Reilly’s Context for the Comment

Skinnier, narrower, fainter: 2012 is mercifully starting to blur and go wonky, breaking up into wavy lines and scooting colors. Daily it gets harder to care, even about all those Top 10 lists dumped on us in the past weeks.

 

And now, even better, we’re declaring the Prediction Period to be closed.

You know this time of year in publishing. It’s as if the Holy See in Rome had issued Predictions for Publishing Urbi et Orbi — the cardinals are everywhere. ‘Tis the season when publishing people are seized, red-faced, with great spasms of prognostication nobody asked for. Everybody’s a psychic.

 

Listen to Jonny Geller. UK bookshops have been halved in seven years. There’s our present tense and tension. More than enough without what-if-ing about the future that lies before us. Let’s try understanding what’s already happened first.

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Steven Levy

I must say, the O’Reilly “I don’t give a shit” line has been the perfect distraction from all the soothsaying.

It’s the diss heard ’round the Predict-o-Rama, one of our best leaders in the business, the visionary Tim O’Reilly of O’Reilly Media, in a fine interview with Steven Levy for Wired — so many good things to say — and suddenly, boom, emphasis mine:

I don’t really give a shit if literary novels go away. They’re an elitist pursuit. And they’re relatively recent. The most popular author in the 1850s in the US wasn’t Herman Melville writing Moby-Dick, you know, or Nathaniel Hawthorne writing The House of the Seven Gables. It was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow writing long narrative poems that were meant to be read aloud. So the novel as we know it today is only a 200-year-old construct. And now we’re getting new forms of entertainment, new forms of popular culture.

Careful, you could be trampled by English teachers running screaming into the night.

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For example, on Apple, O’Reilly tells Levy:

They’re clearly on the wrong path. They file patent suits that claim that nobody else can make a device with multitouch. But they didn’t invent multitouch. They just pushed the ball forward and applied it to the phone. Now they want to say, “OK, we got value from someone else, but it stops now.” That attitude creates lockup in the industry. And I think Apple is going to lose its mojo precisely because they try to own too much.

On Amazon:

Amazon is clearly trying to own the entire stack. They ate most of the retail part of the stack, and now they’re trying to eat the publisher part of the stack. On the other hand, Amazon is doing so many good things—their cloud-computing initiatives have been earthshaking, and I give Jeff Bezos great kudos for getting the publishing industry to move seriously toward ebooks. I am so impressed with them. I just wish they were a little less ruthless.

And about the Web, itself:

I had no idea it would be as big as it became. I still remember in 1993 my partner Dale Dougherty originally wanted to do Global Network Navigator as a quarterly online magazine. And I remember saying to him, “Dale, I think people will have the web browser open on the desk every day. We have to think about them accessing it every day.” I had no idea that it would be every minute.

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Tim O’Reilly: “And to top it off, I’m wearing OATV portfolio company Betabrand’s ‘Executive Hoodie‘ in the photo.” Image by Jason Madara, as used in the Wired interview with Steven Levy.

Now, O’Reilly jumps onto Google+ to announce:

And to top it off, I’m wearing OATV portfolio company Betabrand’s “Executive Hoodie” in the photo :-)

Pinstripes, no less. And this is the same Tim O’Reilly, remember, who in a personal bio on the O’Reilly.com site wrote:

I read a lot (I recently counted more than 5000 books in my house) — science-fiction, historical fiction, classics, and books about big ideas. I buy business books but rarely read past the first chapter. I read enough technical material at work that I try to avoid it at home. One of my favorite kinds of book to discover is the bestseller of a bygone era, the books that didn’t quite make it to classic status but still reached millions of people. They can often tell us more about the unique sensibility of an era than the timeless classics.

So what gives with his apparent denunciation of literary fiction?

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If anyone saw the session I did on Charlie Rose, you will have some context for this remark (which was part of a larger discussion, excerpted for maximum impact, as I should have expected…).  Ken Auletta and Jonathan Safran were hand-wringing to the tune of “who will pay for the kind of things we do if the big publishers go away.”  Jane Friedman and I were responding: “If people want what you do, you’ll find a way to get paid. But no one owes you continuation of the current players and business model.”  And I was pointing out that popular art forms come and go – classical music was once pop (Franz Liszt elicited reactions akin to those to the Beatles), and that the literary forms of today might one day be less important.

Here is the Rose show in question, and if you have 33 minutes, it’s a good one to watch. It’s no secret I’m a fan of Rose’s work, and O’Reilly here is part of the kind of show that demonstrates why.

The conversation unfolds on levels that are excellent for laypeople outside publishing to hear but fully viable for us bookish folks who follow the predictions and pratfalls of the digital dynamic with excruciating, incremental care.

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From the 1623 Shakespeare folio, an instruction to the reader to buy the book. The Charlie Rose Show.

(For all of us who hate our colleagues’ endless social-media entreaties to “Buy my book!” there’s a nice moment in the show’s setup at 4:36 with Yale’s David Kastan, in which we read the producers of the 1623 Shakespeare folio insisting that the reader purchase it: “What ever you do, buy.”)

In the wide-ranging discussion on the show, O’Reilly says to Rose and the other guests at 28:28 in the tape:

There’s this cultural significance of the quote-unquote “literary author.” It really matters to a relatively small number of people. It’s an elitist thing. There’s popular fiction, there is serious nonfiction which is in the same category as serious reporting of all kinds.

The New Yorker’s Ken Auletta intervenes and says to O’Reilly, “You’ve used this phrase ‘elitist’ twice in this conversation. What do you mean by that?”

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What I mean is the notion by some group that their favorite activity is so important that it needs to be protected.

Auletta:

What if it were defined differently, as a group that says, ‘This is part of…preserving the culture?'”

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Tim O’Reilly on The Charlie Rose Show

O’Reilly:

Take classical music. What we call classical music today used to be popular music. Franz Lizst was like the Beatles. And now classical music is in this ghetto of this very small number of people who are playing for each other and saying, ‘We should be subsidized because we’re this important cultural phenomenon.” And the fact is that the music that will be remembered from our era and will be the, quote, “classical music,” is the popular music of today….Look at classic authors. Dickens. Literally there were riots when the new edition of a book came out, people trying to get it in faraway places, (when) the new fascicle came out from Bleak House.

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Ken Auletta on The Charlie Rose Show

Auletta then asks how O’Reilly’s support of NPR and PBS jibes with his comments on self-declared cultural work. Auletta says:

One of the things they do [“they” being PBS and NPR] is basically subsidize, in part, the culture with some government support.

O’Reilly:

The amount of government support for PBS is relatively small. A huge part of the support comes from people who care about it. It’s not actually a subsidized activity so much as it’s subject to market forces and there’s a set of people who say, “I want that, I like it, I want to pay for it.” And you see this with new technology platforms like Kickstarter where people are saying, “Hey, would you like this? Would you pay for this?” It’s this incredible new direct mechanism for authors and other creators to say, “Would you care about what I want to produce?”

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, TOC, #TOCcon, Tim O'Reilly, Author (R)evolution Day, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, DBW, #DBW13, Publishers Launch, Authors Launch, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, The Bookseller, TheFutureBook, Charlie RoseHere, Jane Friedman picks up the conversation and goes back to the use of the term “elitist.”

This is not the host of the Ether here at JaneFriedman.com, by the way, but the former HarperCollins CEO, now chief of Open Road Media.

Friedman picks up the conversation and goes back to the use of the term “elitist.” She says to Auletta:

Ken, I think the elitist element was that books were selected, and it was the editor who selected it, and then it was put into certain bookstores, and the independent bookstore, which I am a fan of, was a little intimidating for people who didn’t know how to find the book that they wanted. Then the superstores tried to make that better…True literature and fine nonfiction have always been thought of as a very small universe. And what e- has done now — and [to O’Reilly] I’m so glad you mentioned Kickstarter, which I think is brilliant, because why shouldn’t people pay for a book that they want to be written? It’s a theory that anyone who’s grown up in publishing thinks is absolutely cuckoo, but it’s not. Because you’re now having the consumer say, “That’s a very good idea, and if a publisher won’t give you that $10,000 advance, we will put up $100 and reach that $10,000.”

Auletta points out, “You can have both.”

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Jane Friedman of Open Road Media on The Charlie Rose Show

Friedman agrees with him, saying that yes, we’ll have both:

There will be for the foreseeable future be printed books. But I think that the move to electronic distribution of information and education and entertainment is going to come from the e-space.

Auletta ties it by saying, “You’re always going to have an economic issue. And the economic issue is how do you support things that are important?”

This, unfortunately, is where the edit of the show had to end the conversation.

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Left to right, Freidman, author Jonathan Safran Foer, Rose with back to camera, O’Reilly, and Auletta – The Charlie Rose Show

Auletta is voicing a genuinely valid point that serious observers of culture do worry about — and that doesn’t mean they can’t agree with O’Reilly, as well. I’m comfortable with the perspectives both men raise here, and neither should be dismissed.

The idea of what Friedman terms “true literature and fine nonfiction” having to fight for itself in a market-driven setting is not necessarily wrong.

 

Many times in my work in theater criticism, for example, I’ve wished that the U.S. “legitimate stage” had been required to survive from the outset on box office sales rather than staggering along on a nonprofit model combining ticket sales and often heavy contributions and subsidies of various sorts. If this had happened, the most important theater might have found its commercial legs, of necessity, instead of suffering for so many decades as “the fabulous invalid” of American entertainment.

While I’ve never come to a point of saying I “don’t give a shit if serious theatrical production goes away,” to paraphrase O’Reilly, I do understand how he comes to a thought like this about literary work.

In his remarks on the email exchange about the Wired interview, in fact, O’Reilly adds:

I do regret the turn of phrase that Steven captured in the Wired interview.  Especially since I do love literary novels and other forms of “high culture.” But I do get irked by the sense of entitlement of some of the practitioners.

And maybe this is one reason I’m put out with the Parade of Publishing Predictors each year at this time. You can hear in so many of these folks that same air of entitlement in how they weigh in, unbidden, to announce to us “My Big Predictions for Publishing in 2013,” etc. This looks like the attitude O’Reilly is getting at, the smug pomposity of fading control, old gatekeepers and their busy defenders showing off what they think is their still-expert analysis of what’s ahead.

 

Although each day may seem about three weeks long to us in the business, the undermining of the kingmakers has occurred quickly. These prophets are crying in a wilderness none of us can read in advance.

And what we can take away from O’Reilly’s excerpted comment may actually be the best de-facto prediction of all. Maybe it’s the only one worth carrying with us as we make our fateful crossing into a new, looming year: The kinds of literature we may have deemed most valuable so far? –finally must be made to stand up on their own in the marketplace.

We can’t shove aside the old guard but still beg for their tweedy fiats when we need a meaningful book positioned for the public.

 

A profound work of literary fiction today could lose its readers to a Christmas present of soft pornography, a three-book set originally concocted as vampire fan fiction.

Sacred cows may find scant footing on the slippery slopes of 2013.

So write your stuff well: the new year will arrive quickly enough.

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Craft: Stealing Off With a Scene

The story as a whole and every scene within it begins with a goal. Your character wants something—something he will have difficulty accomplishing. What he wants frames the plot on both the macro and micro levels. What he wants defines him as a person, and, by extension, the theme of the book as a whole.

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K.M. Weiland

K.M. Weiland is in the third installment in her ongoing series of posts on the scene as a unit of specific attention in fiction writing.

Call me an old actor, but I’m frequently surprised how little some very strong writers seem to know about how to button a scene so it holds its own in a cadence; how to float a scene like a dandelion’s fur right over the fray in your plot below; how to pace a book with scenes that fall around a reader like mortar shells; or lull a reader into a false sense of mystery-solving with legato, flattering scene-spiel.

The most important factor to keep in mind as you identify each scene goal is its pertinence to the plot. Subplots may provide opportunities for goals that aren’t directly related to your primary goal of marrying the neighbor girl, but they, too, must eventually tie into the overall plot in an impactful or thematically resonant way.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, TOC, #TOCcon, Authors, Author (R)evolution Day, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, DBW, #DBW13, Publishers Launch, Authors Launch, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, The Bookseller, TheFutureBookThat’s from Structuring Your Story’s Scenes, Pt. 3: Options for Goals in a Scene. And I believe the inciting incident in this example was the girl next door caught chewing up the main character’s petunias. Or maybe that was her dog.

What makes Weiland’s grasp of this problem so cunning is that she knows, as she writes, that “scene goals will manifest in wildly different ways.” I think this can be a reason some writers don’t work easily with scene-by-scene schematics as opposed to more traditional chapter outlining.

Scenography normally refers to stage-set painting that creates the illusion of perspective. In literature, it can mean getting some higher-view perspective on your overall work through the strokes and lines of your scenography.

 

Weiland manages to catalog five formulations of a character’s desire and five methods of working within scenes on those formulations.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, TOC, #TOCcon, Authors, Author (R)evolution Day, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, DBW, #DBW13, Publishers Launch, Authors Launch, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, The Bookseller, TheFutureBookAs usual, she then turns to concrete examples from books and films, a group she has used in serial lessons before. Here are scene notes from Pride and Prejudice; It’s a Wonderful Life; Ender’s Game; and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.

And she comes through with five good questions to ask yourself about a given scene’s goals:

  1. Does the goal make sense within the overall plot?
  2. Is the goal inherent to the overall plot?
  3. Will the goal’s complication/resolution lead to a new goal/conflict/disaster?
  4. If the goal is mental or emotional (e.g., be happy today), does it have a physical manifestation (e.g, smile at everyone)?
  5. Does the success or failure of the goal directly affect the scene narrator?

There’s a key reason she’s asking that fifth question, in particular, I’ll let you get to that, yourself, in going over this third installment in her series.

I mentioned the start of this series in Ether for Authors: Listening to the Industry at Publishing Perspectives.

If the accomplishment or thwarting of any given scene goal won’t affect the overall outcome of the story, it’s probably not pertinent enough.

This is the kind of test-able advice that can be so helpful in revisions of a major work because it orchestrates your vision of the work in wide theme and close-up granularity.

Once you have a proper goal in place, the rest of your scene will likely flow easily and organically.

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Craft: Well, Can You Give It 15 Minutes?

Let’s say you have a novel to write, but you’ve been finding it impossible to free up a big chunk of writing time. The solution: Stop waiting for a big chunk of time. Instead, commit yourself to writing that novel in bite-sized chunks of 15 minutes a day. Make a commitment to “Grab 15″ minutes of writing time every day.

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Jim Denney

This is what it has come to. I’m indebted to James Scott Bell for passing this one along. The Grab 15 Principle is an excerpt from Jim Denney’s Quit Your Day Job!

The exclamation point is all his. And so is a very eclectic oeuvre on Amazon that includes the just-published Invasion of the Time Troopers and How To Be Like Jesus: Lessons for Following in His Footsteps, written with Pat Williams.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, TOC, #TOCcon, Tim O'Reilly, Author (R)evolution Day, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, DBW, #DBW13, Publishers Launch, Authors Launch, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, The Bookseller, TheFutureBook, Charlie RoseGenre-juggling is all the rage. And, alas, so is Denney’s advice to people who can’t seem to sit down long enough to get their Word documents open:

Those 15-minute snippets of time add up. If you Grab 15 every day, you will magically add at least 91.25 hours to your year. That’s the equivalent of more than two 40-hour work weeks that have been added to your life with hardly an ounce of inconvenience.

Of course, the real secret is found in his third point about how his “Grab 15″ approach should work:

Once you get started on a Grab 15 session, it’s hard to stop at 15 minutes. When you’re on a roll, you want to keep going—and that bonus writing time will move you even faster toward your goals.

But don’t tell that to your ADD self who can’t think about one thing for more than a quarter of an hour. This really is what it has come to. Fifteen minutes. Not of fame, but of effort.

And we laughed at Tim Ferriss’ four-hour stuff.

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Con­ference Season Ahead

If you have a publishing conference event coming, please notify me through the contact page at porteranderson.com, and I’ll be happy to consider listing it.

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Registration continues for Digital Book World (#DBW13) (January 15-17) — and the associated Children’s Publishing Goes Digital (January 15) and Authors Launch (January 18, see below). Substantial savings are available, and you’re welcome to use my affiliate link to trigger them as you register. You can also use code PORTER at registration.

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Teddy Goff

Newly announced, Teddy Goff, the Obama for America re-election digital director, is to speak at the conference, first in a keynote address, “What Publishers Can Learn from Obama’s 2012 Campaign,” then in a session, “Digital Marketing and the Obama Campaign.”

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, TOC, #TOCcon, Tim O'Reilly, Author (R)evolution Day, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, DBW, #DBW13, Publishers Launch, Authors Launch, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, The Bookseller, TheFutureBook, Charlie RoseAlso at Digital Book World, the Publishing Innovation Awards Luncheon, January 16. The awards are sponsored by Sony and AllZone Digital, and they honor the most innovative ebooks, enhanced ebooks, and book apps in 14 categories. Registration here.

 

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agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, Authors Launch, TOC Authors, Author (R)evolution Day, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, FutureBookA 25-percent discount is available on registration — use code AL375 — for the all-new January 18 Authors Launch one-day conference.

It’s being produced by the Publishers Launch team of Mike Shatzkin and Michael Cader.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, TOC, #TOCcon, Tim O'Reilly, Author (R)evolution Day, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, DBW, #DBW13, Publishers Launch, Authors Launch, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, The Bookseller, TheFutureBook, Charlie Rose

M.J. Rose

This is the daylong series of specialized presentations from a roster including Peter McCarthy, Dan Blank, MJ Rose, Randy Susan Meyers, Jason Ashlock, Meryl Moss, Ether host Jane Friedman, David Wilk and more.

My own session at Authors Launch is In the Public Eye: Media training for authors.

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agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, Authors Launch, TOC Authors, Author (R)evolution Day, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, FutureBook, #fbook12, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Nigel Roby, The Bookseller, TheFutureBook, Digital CensusThe 14th Annual Winter Conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators is set for February 1-3 in New York.

“This year’s conference features two jam-packed days of inspiration and the latest on what’s happening in the field of children’s literature from top editors, agents, art directors, authors, and illustrators. Make sure you look at the detailed description of each workshop on the Schedule before you select your breakouts.”

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Author Revolution Day with change + TOC added TREATEDAuthor (R)evolution Day (#TOCcon) (February 12) from O’Reilly Tools of Change and Publishers Weekly.

You’re welcome to use my code AFFILIATEPA for a discount of $350 on your registration.

I’ll be doing an onstage conversation with Grub Street’s Eve Bridburg on The Author Blueprint for Success as part of this program, looking forward to it.

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Cory Doctorow

Among other featured presenters:

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Laura Dawson

Cory Doctorow, Laura Dawson, Allen Lau, Jesse Potash, Dana Newman, and Kristen McLean.

Also featured are Peter Armstrong, Tim Sanders, Michael Tamblyn, Rob Eagar, Kate Pullinger, Kat Meyer, and Joe Wikert.

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agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, Authors Launch, TOC Authors, Author (R)evolution Day, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, FutureBook, #fbook12, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Nigel Roby, The Bookseller, TheFutureBook, Digital CensusO’Reilly Media’s Tools of Change (#TOCcon) Conference  (February 12-14) in New York City.

Use my code AFFILIATEPA for an immediate discount of $350 on any registration package.

#TOCcon 2013 includes a major brace of workshops for industry professionals during Author (R)evolution Day (your pass must include Tuesday), plus two days of keynotes, events and multi-tracked offerings running up to five sessions simultaneously.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, TOC, #TOCcon, Tim O'Reilly, Author (R)evolution Day, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, DBW, #DBW13, Publishers Launch, Authors Launch, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, The Bookseller, TheFutureBook, Charlie Rose

Henry Jenkins

Among highlighted sessions: A keynote address with Henry Jenkins Professor of Communication, University of Southern California Annenberg.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, TOC, #TOCcon, Tim O'Reilly, Author (R)evolution Day, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, DBW, #DBW13, Publishers Launch, Authors Launch, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, The Bookseller, TheFutureBook, Charlie Rose

Evan Williams

And find out what’s so obvious about The Obvious Corporation, in former Twitter CEO and co-founder of Blogger Evan Williams’ keynote.

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For an updated list of planned confabs, please see the Publishing Conferences page at porteranderson.com.

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Books: Reading on the Ether

As each week, the books you see here have been referenced recently in Writing on the Ether, Ether for Authors, or in tweets.

I’m bringing them together in one spot each week, to help you recall and locate them, not as an endorsement. And, needless to say, we lead our list weekly with our Writing on the Ether Sponsors, in gratitude for their support.


Writing on the Ether Sponsors

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, TOC, #TOCcon, Tim O'Reilly, Author (R)evolution Day, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, DBW, #DBW13, Publishers Launch, Authors Launch, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, The Bookseller, TheFutureBook, Charlie RoseGood reviews for Ether sponsor Roz Morris’ novel, My Memories of a Future Life.

Maryann Madsen writes, at Amazon:

I was raised by a working mother and stay-at-home grandmother, the latter having been the high priestess of a metaphysical church during the spiritualism of the 1930s. I thought I’d heard it all and there wasn’t anything new to be added to the occult. Wrong. The imagination of Roz Morris has taken spiritualism into new territory. Even my grandmother would have been mesmerized.

From Build Another Bookcase at Amazon:

The main themes that came across to me in this book were threefold: how much a life can be impacted by devotion to a single pastime or occupation; the draw of mysticism and the subtle line between belief and cynicism; and the trust that we place in others through relationships…Morris presents the whole like a crossroads where each and any direction can make sense. My Memories of a Future Life is a wondrous book.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, TOC, #TOCcon, Tim O'Reilly, Author (R)evolution Day, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, DBW, #DBW13, Publishers Launch, Authors Launch, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, The Bookseller, TheFutureBook, Charlie Rose

Roz Morris

And from Jon P. Bloch, The Kindle Book Review:

I suppose on some level it must be said that her story deals with reincarnation–both past and future lives–and for that matter begins in a yoga studio. But if you’re not into this type of thing, don’t let it scare you away. Because what Morris is really writing about is the difficult challenge of life itself. You do not have to believe in reincarnation to enjoy or be enriched by this book…The point is not whether reincarnation happens, but that life happens.

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Last Gas: Fabled Flashes in Big Pans

The project took six months for John Branch to report. The credits (like I said, it’s more like a textual documentary than a news story) include a graphics and design team of 11, a photographer, three video people, and a researcher. As Andrew Kueneman, deputy director of digital design at the Times, told the Atlantic Wire‘s Rebecca Greenfield, “This story was not produced in our normal CMS … We don’t have the luxury of doing this type of design typically on the web. Now we just have more options and more tools.”

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, TOC, #TOCcon, Tim O'Reilly, Author (R)evolution Day, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, DBW, #DBW13, Publishers Launch, Authors Launch, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, The Bookseller, TheFutureBook, Charlie Rose

Derek Thompson

No one wants to take anything away from The Times for its masterful interactive piece, Snow Fall, including me. As The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson writes, it’s a “miraculous mega-multi-media feature…a triumph of reporting, design, and creativity.”

In journalistic terms, it’s pretty much that rocket pack we’re all supposed to be flying around with these days, right? And just as rare. Thompson:

It was immediately hailed by much of the Internet as the “future of journalism.” It’s not. And that’s okay.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, TOC, #TOCcon, Tim O'Reilly, Author (R)evolution Day, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, DBW, #DBW13, Publishers Launch, Authors Launch, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, The Bookseller, TheFutureBook, Charlie RoseI like the way Thompson takes that dumb praise (“the future of journalism”) apart here precisely because he does it without stealing one snowflake of glory from the Times team that make the snow fall.

There is no feasible way to make six-month sixteen-person multimedia projects the day-to-day future of journalism, nor is there a need to. Think about this morning. The top national news story is John Boehner’s failure to corral votes in the House for a plan to avoid the fiscal cliff…why waste the time?…To borrow a construction from venture capital: Text isn’t broken.

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Mathew Ingram

At GigaOM, Mathew Ingram was picking up on the same icy shudder that Thompson felt, in The good — and the bad — about the NYT’s Snow Fall feature:

The authors of the recent Columbia University report on the future of journalism made a similar point: namely, that the New York Times has done a number of things (including a paywall) that don’t really have any bearing on the woes of the rest of the industry, because it has resources (and a brand) that others can’t match.

And he raises the ante:

Snow Fall is also a great microcosm of the issues confronting the journalism business for another reason: it probably cost a substantial amount of money to produce, and yet there is no clear path towards recouping that investment. The series is being made available as an e-book through a partnership with Byliner, and some will undoubtedly buy it even though they could read it for free online, but $2.99 per copy isn’t going to go very far. And what about advertising? At first the web version had none, but now it does, and it is terrible — ugly, not very useful, poorly integrated.

 

If all this reminds you of something, maybe it’s another part of the digital forest in which we’ve seen the same trend play out. Remember Amanda Hocking fever? When every girl was going to sell a million vampire romances?

And most recently, our hats are off to Hugh Howey, whose Wool ebook series is being produced in print by Simon and Schuster — not only a coup for Howey, but an interesting case in which a major publisher decided it needed to forgo its usual grab for digital rights and take what it could get.

So shall we all rush out and rev up our ebook series, then face down the ivory towers when they want more than print rights? Not likely.

 

The digital dynamic seems to lit by gaudy flashes of lovely light that’s never for everyone. Its main engines — access to potential audience, ability to create product oneself, global distribution for the diligent — are open to all and hailed as democratizing. But both in the corporate side of things and in the authorial/creative camp, we see what’s being described here so well by Thompson and Ingram.

Not even one-shot wonders, no need to be quite so bleak. But certainly rare spark-throwers. Hens’ teeth after the snow slide.

Maybe the light thrown off by these hope-burning flares teaches us valuable things, if nothing else, about what we can’t expect all quarters to achieve. But they also mislead the gullible, confuse the their celebrants, and make moving forward as a community even harder, in an odd way. A hare buzzes through and leaves the tortoises in a traffic jam.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, TOC, #TOCcon, Tim O'Reilly, Author (R)evolution Day, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, DBW, #DBW13, Publishers Launch, Authors Launch, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, The Bookseller, TheFutureBook, Charlie Rose

Mac Slocum

And lest you think it’s just the faithful turtles who get turned around while searching for a more generous promised land, even the sleekest bunnies get messed up. Check out Mac Slocum’s writeup at O’Reilly’s Tools of Change about the Times’ effort to have Quartz take down its complimentary imagery about Snow Fall:

Quartz posted a static screenshot of an interactive and it linked to the interactive and praised the interactive. Quartz was actively encouraging people to go check out the full thing on the New York Times’ website. The offending Quartz article is titled “Our favorite charts of 2012.” …And yet, the Times wanted Quartz to take the whole thing down.

Well, to make that longer story shorter, the Times backed down. Figleaf: We just wanted better attribution. Side issue of interest: Look how easy it is for a smaller medium to embarrass a big one in the world of digital immediacy.

Slocum’s piece on it is rightly headlined A screenshot, a link, and a heap of praise are met with a takedown notice

Even the winner in the Snow took a Fall when that digital sizzle came fizzing its way.

 

A happy interpretation of what flashes in the digital pan mean might suggest that eventually we see more and more such flashes, bigger and bigger and brighter and brighter and Kumbaya, my Lord, Kumbaya…nah.

I don’t think we know enough about the publishing world as a digital sphere yet to do that warm-and-fuzzy dance at this point. We just don’t know enough yet. No matter what the predictors among us want you to think they’ve figured out.

 

If I were a predicting man…never mind. Let’s give it to Thompson.

Give “Snow Fall” the respect it deserves. It doesn’t need to bear the augury of “journalism of the future.” It’s just a rare and sensational gift for readers in the present. That’s quite enough.

And I’ll see you on the other side, in 2013. Mind the gap.

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Porter Anderson (Find him on Twitter / Find him at Google+) is a Fellow with the National Critics Institute. As a journalist, he has worked with three networks of CNN, The Village Voice, Dallas Times Herald, D Magazine, and other outlets. He contributes to Digital Book World’s Expert Publishing Blog and to Writer Unboxed, and has been posted by the United Nations to Rome (P-5, laissez-passer) for the World Food Programme. He is based in Tampa. His companion to this column, Issues on the Ether Issues on the Ether, appears on Tuesdays at PublishingPerspectives.com, and is followed by a live chat on Twitter each Wednesday, hashtagged #EtherIssue. His Porter Anderson Meets series of interviews for London's The Bookseller features a live Twitter interview each Monday hashtagged #PorterMeets, followed by a write-up in the magazine on the stands each Friday. More at PorterAndersonMedia.com.

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Posted in Writing on the Ether.

13 Comments

  1. Ah, Porter…for an Ether with no lists, it’s a lot to consider as we finally end 2012.
    First, “Snowfall”. It was in my Sunday NY Times, but I haven’t read it yet. I knew about it, because one of the skiers who was killed was the son of a former colleague. I’ll read it, just not yet. But in print, it looks impressive.
    Second, over Campari and Absolut we will discuss the application of your nonprofit theatre example to publishing, because it makes a lot of sense.
    I moved to Chicago in 1977 to work in the theatre community. It was the fabled Off-Loop theatre movement, which birthed Steppenwolf, John Malkovich, David Mamet and scores of now “classic” artists and institutions. They were far from mainstream at the time. They were cutting edge, raw, intense, sloppy and fascinating. Not everyone liked them. But those of us in the midst knew we were creating a new kind of theatre.
    That “Chicago-style” theatre still exists, but with a difference. Where at one time it seemed a new non-profit theatre popped up weekly, now new ones are few and far between. Economics. We could appropriate a storefront, charge $5 a ticket, and stay one step ahead of the building inspectors. Not now.
    The shift in economics affected what was on stage in a – pardon the pun – dramatic way. Individual donors were also customers. That was fine. But when foundations and corporations offered more zeroes on their checks, that’s when almost everyone changed. They now offered programming that the funders demanded: in the schools, in retirement homes, less-edgy, etc.
    When I was still pitching my book to agents, I was asked to re-write it to broaden its appeal, say, to people whose dog died. But that’s not my book, nor is it what I’m interested in writing. So I respectfully declined. For many, though – including, I suspect, those a-list authors – the temptation is too great. What they write is shaped by their publisher (not dictated, but shaped).
    So, much to consider, Porter, and that’s even before we debate the merits of “Les Miserables”. :)
    Viki

    • @twitter-240542789:disqus
      Hey, Viki,

      Yes, agents and publishers can shape the final forms of books, of course, but so can authors who simply know what they’re doing and aren’t so desperate to publish that they allow others to muck around with their work. It takes self-knowledge, poise, and enough sheer force of personality to hold a project “in the road,” as my grandparents would have said. Authors who want too badly to be published will turn over most of their initial creative concept just to get the publishing operation on their side.

      And as for the nonprofit development in theater and what eventually happens to it and other art forms in the U.S. as economic developments kick them all around, this, too, is predictable — but wasn’t at the time things were set into motion this way. We got trapped in this mode of seeing the arts as nonprofit, subsidy- and grant- and donation-needy things because most of us came from a European model.

      The Continent’s historical subsidies have been deeply challenged in the past decade or so (even the director of the Louvre, Henri Loyrette, now outgoing), once told me how urgently the museum had had to put together some of its country “friends” groups — chapters in Japan, the U.S., etc. — to shore up reduced subsidies). And virtually all over Europe, governmental support for the arts isn’t what it once was, at least in all sectors.

      Nevertheless, the idea of the arts as something that should be maintained as a public service was planted deep in the collective psyche of the States and has hampered artistic development badly in the last decades as arts organizations tried to stay afloat in the onslaught of electronic entertainment. Without the distribution power of the Time Warners of the world, the arts are at a terrible disadvantage because they can’t leverage the kinds of audiences the entertainment media do. Digital has not, on the whole, been good to the arts in most ways.

      One exception is the Internet contemporary-classical station I support in New York, Q2 Music, which creates a worldwide audience for live and recorded exposure of some of the newest classical music being written today. That’s how to take a technology and turn it to the distribution force that the arts need. Alas, even “the mighty Q2,” as I like to call it, is far less mighty than its parent station, WQXR, which plays Tchaikovsky and Beethoven for older folks who will, summarily, die as an audience, leaving the new world of superb but far less-well-funded new music hanging on by a few festivals, some brave smaller recording labels, several cabaret-style venues for performance, and a few services like Q2. (You might want a Friend Grief book ready for that one.)

      We still are no good at recognizing that the contribution-and-subsidy model isn’t kind but a cruelty in our arts world. It leaves our arts and artists unprepared to withstand market forces, let alone able to navigate the upheavals. Live theater is all but a museum art already (regardless of whether you enjoy it, which I know you do — that doesn’t change its status as a form that hasn’t entered the digital age well.) Ballet and other forms of serious dance are sustained mainly in New York and on tour. (Hubbard Street, sorry, is jazz-er-cise, no matter how legit they try to appear.) Opera and older symphonics will continue their long, long, long, long slide into the warehouses of older arts. Museums have been a bit better at trying to innovate to pull in bodies than some of the other arts (and museums are much younger — they were really born as a form with the Louvre, not before).

      And serious literature has to look at its place and purpose and salable status in this same context. Which is why Tim O’Reilly’s comments were valuable, if posited in the kind of hot-button way that tends to make us waste a lot of time in publishing arguing over emotion rather than fact.

      It’s not really about nonficiton, which is highly adaptable in the digital age, and proving it.

      It’s about the literary equivalent of the arts. Just as smoking-jacket-bound as so many of the other arts, relegated by old habits to the elite. If not always based in public funds, often given the same aura of “public service” weep-weep hauteur that’s supposed to back down anyone who might assail its alleged importance.

      We have much to learn about how to publish and sell good work. So far we’ve spent most of our digital dance doing cheap conga lines. The hard work still lies ahead.

      -p.

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