EXTRA ETHER: A Good Day for the (R)evolution

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I’ve hugged my technologist extremely closely and well.

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Kate Pullinger

“Digital fiction” author Kate Pullinger of London, near the end of the day, embraced the subtle, central heart of Tuesday’s inaugural Author (R)evolution Day program at the O’Reilly Tools of Change Conference (TOC) installed this week at the Marriott on Broadway.

In almost every element of the contemporary writer’s condition, there are options, so many options, too many options. But tech’s tough-lovely drive is behind them. This choice-choked scenario that energizes some writers but paralyzes many more is derived from the digital dynamic sweeping the creative core of an exhausted industry.

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, 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

The Author (R)evolution Day room was packed at many points during the day, attendees of the day’s adjacent  TOC workshops dropping by to see some of the program.

It’s apt, then, that tech- TOC has been the producing body to step up to a challenge I issued on the Ether last year. I wanted to see the authors in, basically—I wanted one or more of our major-conference producing bodies to provide an industry-class event in which the creative corps (and core) of this business could hear from top-level practitioners, observers, analysts, with a view to pounding out a serious way forward.

I saw publishers, CEOs, CTOs, CIOs, COOs mixing with innovators, startup chieftains, researchers, analysts…and no authors, no one who creates the fundamental element of publishing for all the rest, the stories.

After Tuesday’s event, I want to say thank you to Joe Wikert, Kat Meyer, their co-chair Kristen McLean — and to Tim O’Reilly, himself, who came to “#ARDay,” sat with us, watched and listened. O’Reilly is an organization that has stopped to turn and look at a pressing issue so richly associated with the upheaval and promise of a new publishing landscape. They’ve not only looked at it, but they’ve addressed it with a first outing that was, as promised, no tips-‘n’-tricks writers’ confab of the usual needlepoint-lessons variety.

Here are several important ways in which Author (R)evolution Day has arrived as an authors’ conference for entrepreneurial creative professionals:

  • It leverages the new centricity of authorial energy in the business. Joe Wikert, in his opening remarks Tuesday: “The pendulum of power over the years has shifted to authors.”
  • “Entrepreneurial” is the key, not self- or traditional publishing. The program accommodates the breadth of response we now must welcome: Kristen McLean made the point during the  morning session that Author (R)evolution Day (ARD) is agnostic on the question of self-publishing vs. traditional for authors. She noted recent statistics that indicate potential success for what we’ve called “hybrids” for some time now, writers who both self- and traditionally publish. And she anchored the ARD initiative firmly in the realm of what’s “entrepreneurial.” ARD is developed to address entrepreneurial authors and their needs.
  • Amazon is in the room. I was particularly glad to see Libby Johnson McKee, Amazon’s North American Director for Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and CreateSpace. I’ve seen McKee in writer’s conference settings before. (Seattle’s leadership is engaged in the writing community, something I can’t honestly say about many other major publishers’ executives. Might be something to learn there.) We’ve already seen conferences this year with no Amazon presence. Nothing could be a bigger mistake. The largest player needs to be among us, know us, and let us know it. And in the warm, gracious humor of someone like McKee, a formidable edifice starts to look human in a hurry.

Meyer asked us at day’s end to help pinpoint areas in which we’d learned things. There were easily identifiable themes resonating all day in various sessions.

  • Conversation and engagement, reader-to-writer and writer-to-reader
  • Advocacy
  • Community
  • Strategy
  • Discoverability
  • Distribution
  • Self-direction

Authors, including Pullinger, Cory Doctorow, Mark Jeffrey, Scott Andrew James, and Amanda Havard of Immersedition, were on hand, as were writing counselors and program leaders including Eve Bridburg of Grub Street, who outlined the “logic model” she’s using with career-building authors in Boston.

Literary agent Jason Allen Ashlock—whose Movable Type Management has created the new Rogue Reader author collective—told the room with a wry smile that an author working alone in the business today may not be adept at what’s needed, “no matter how many times you’ve read Guy Kawasaki’s book.”  The agent as a rapidly evolving “radical advocate,” he said, is the only such support equipped to stay with authors for the long term of the changes ahead.

For the first time in my conference-coverage experience, a session on metadata for authors was included, with one of the country’s leaders in the field of identifiers, Laura Dawson of Bowker. One study, she said, has shown that simply adding a book image could increase reader interest in a book by more than 260 percent. The importance of good data, and of monitoring your data, she explained, cannot be overstated.

“Without this information, you’re leaving readers with a lot of questions,” Dawson said. “Or no questions, which is worse.”

Note: Bowker has announced a new partnership with with New York’s Data Conversion Laboratory (DCL) to form the new Bowker eBook Conversion Service for authors. I have a story for it at Publishing PerspectivesBowker Intro’s 1-Stop ISBN Ebook Conversion Service.

From marketing and discovery discussions with Author Day co-sponsor (thank you) Publishers Weekly’s Cevin Bryarman and Kobo’s Mark Lefevbre to community and audience-creation debate with Wattpad’s Allen Lau and distribution points from Net Minds’ Tim Sanders, the tone and pitch of the day was rooted in responsibility—the author’s responsibility to educate him- and herself, to learn to flex long-unused business muscles by understanding the business and tackling deficiencies.

| | |

Last year, I left Digital Book World (DBW) and TOC frustrated because authors were all but invisible in these great annual high-end state-of-publishing productions. It felt scandalous to me that as a journalist I could hear from publishing executives, analysts, commentators speaking to each other…as if the authors weren’t on the need-to-know list about a market smoky with confusion and wholly dependent on the creative essential produced by the absent authors.

This year, as TOC “proper” goes forward Wednesday and Thursday, the picture has changed, thanks to O’Reilly Media’s first-class response to that appeal, complete with a daylong free video stream of the events provided for authors who couldn’t be with us.

Thanks to TOC’s Shirley Bailes, I can tell you that the presentation slides made available by ARD speakers are being posted on this page, and many are available now, including those I put together for my onstage interview with Bridburg.

You see what I mean about TOC being a class act.

The bar hasn’t been raised, it’s been set, and for the first time. TOC’s program is singular in its scope and fully up to the crisp standard of the production capability we know as its trademark in international conference events in publishing.

This Author (R)evolution was a good Day for writers. I look forward to many more.


Images: Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson (@Porter_Anderson) is a journalist and consultant in publishing. He's The Bookseller's (London) Associate Editor in charge of The FutureBook. He's a featured writer with Thought Catalog (New York), which carries his reports, commentary, and frequent Music for Writers interviews with composers and musicians. And he's a regular contributor of "Provocations in Publishing" with Writer Unboxed. Through his consultancy, Porter Anderson Media, Porter covers, programs, and speaks at publishing conferences and other events in Europe and the US, and works with various players in publishing, such as Library Journal's SELF-e, Frankfurt Book Fair's Business Club, and authors. You can follow his editorial output at Porter Anderson Media, and via this RSS link.
Posted in Writing on the Ether.


    • @twitter-1120538828:disqus

      Hi, and thanks for the good question. Alas, we didn’t have a chance to get into the patent on the “used digital content” issue, although this was a heavily debated theme at a TOC Executive Roundtable on Monday — not so much the Amazon patent but the work of ReDigi as a marketplace for such content. Our focus in the panel on which Libby McKee joined us was the author’s choices in production and distribution services.

      Thanks for reading and commenting. Our regular Writing on the Ether runs here at JaneFriedman.com each Thursday, do join us!


  1. I watched the livestream (brilliant idea! Thank you TOC!) and while the speakers were dynamic and engaging, 99% of what they covered was a great overview of “what” authors (pursuing any route to career success) needed to know but definitely lacking in the “how” to do it.

    We know what we need–if we don’t, there are hundreds of places to find it, including here on this blog–what we’re lacking is the specifics.

    For instance, metadata–I’ve been trying to do my own and talking to my NYC publishers on how to do that better for years, so I was excited to see a session on it…only to learn once again what it is and why it’s important but not HOW to do it better. As publishing portals limit you to only 2-3 genre categories (often not consistent with BISG) and a handful of keywords there is no way to include all the “essential” metadata via the platforms self-published authors have…and while traditional publishers might have access to better programs to do metadata, clearly they aren’t taking full advantage of them. So what is an author to do?

    Let’s move the conversation to the next level: there are many, many smart people out there in publishing. Stop treating authors like we don’t understand the need to take our careers into our own hands. We own our success or failure whether it’s partnering with NYC or partnering with self-publishing venues, what we need to know is HOW to proceed…concrete, measurable, actionable information to help us make informed choices.

    I’m thrilled to see programs like Author [R]evolution, delighted to see so many talented and knowledgeable speakers willing to share their insights, and am excited to see what next year’s conference will bring!
    CJ Lyons

    • “only to learn once again what it is and why it’s important but not HOW to do it better”

      CJ, I think that’s because it’s a learning curve for everyone. The how-to do it better is still in the making because no one really knows. Humble two cents.

      • Exactly why that’s the conversation that needs to be happening, ME. Like Bob, I’ve been a “hybrid” since 2010 and have successfully managed my career with both NYC and self-publishing as well as forming strategic partnerships with several small to medium presses…in fact, I think “strategic partnerships” is the key word that we’ll be hearing a lot of this year…but people need to understand how to make those decisions. There’s no one right way, but without information we’re all just winging it.

        • @cjlyons:disqus

          Hi, CJ,

          And my apologies for taking so long to respond. I’ve had the heaviest week of the year in terms of conference coverage (both in New York and London), and didn’t want to give your qualms short shrift with a too-fast response.

          I do understand your concern about Author (R)evolution Day seeming at times to focus on a fairly basic level of authorial issues and needs. But I think it’s important to remember that this was an unprecedented conference given by organizers who are new to staging events for authors. It’s important not only to welcome and praise the work of O’Reilly Media (and Publishers Weekly as major sponsor) — in concert with Kristen McLean’s Bookigee and WriterCube — but to stay mindful of the fact that so many writers’ events focus on craft much more than on the career and business of writing. We took a step simply in the entrepreneurial focus under the aegis of TOC.

          “ARDay” needed to establish a baseline on its first outing. I think it did that with a very high level of success, and that’s one reason I’m proud to have been a part of it.

          Would more sophisticated how-to approaches to something like metadata be good, as you suggest? Of course they would. And Laura Dawson could certainly go to the most granular level possible in such a pursuit. But a one-day survey of the author career (hybrid, self-pub, or trad) is probably not the setting in which an adequate course in metadata issues of the kind you describe (all very right, by the way) could be managed without “tracking” the day into breakout groups as Tools of Change, itself, breaks up into as many as five simultaneous tracks at times.

          We wanted this first Author Day to run on one, unified track. Everybody in the room together. We wanted it to be an establishing moment of some of the realms of challenge that entrepreneurial authors are facing. And we wanted to test, frankly, where the interest came from — would more newer authors be drawn to this event, or experienced ones like you?

          Your reference to Bob Mayer, while apt in terms of the success of a hybrid approach, is limited to your own point because Bob tends to make it clear whenever possible that he needs no instruction from any quarter and, in fact, has done everything that other authors should do.

          On the other hand, you’re interested — if I read you correctly — in instruction for some of these relatively advanced perspectives and issues you’re encountering.

          Your own career is at a more advanced stage of success than that of many authors, indeed than that of most authors, I’d bet. And I’d like to see your needs answered, too. But I disagree that Author Day’s inaugural outing was where this was going to occur, though I’m sorry if that left you disappointed.

          Let me suggest that for metadata issues, you take up Bowker on its offer of free help. In fact, if you’d do this and let me know how it goes, I’d love to know what you find in terms of ready response. You’ll find details of that here: http://ow.ly/hLCQu (There are email addresses there for you to contact them and I’ve found Bowker’s people very responsive to my own needs.)

          For the moment, I think such direct approaches to germane sources of info — in this case, Bowker — are your best bet and your main entrepreneurial approach at this point in the evolution of a supportive structure for empowered authors.

          Any conference — even one created in part, as Author Day is, to start moving us past the “tips ‘n’ tricks” writer-conference format — is going to have a hard time focusing on the level of inquiry you have now at your level of multi-faceted production. I think we CAN develop ARDay to include advanced-track work, and I hope to see that happen. My own involvement will push for it, of course.

          But there’s as much to be discovered about responding to authors’ challenges as there is to those challenges, themselves.

          And, as admirably clear as you obviously have been about the need for authors to take responsibility for what they’re doing, huge numbers of them understand no such thing yet, and, in fact, are not yet realizing that they need to learn their new industry by way of mastering it as entrepreneurs. There are “authors” for whom the platform debate is a new issue, CJ. I stare bug-eyed at that thought, too — you’d be shocked how frequently I’m asked, “But what IS this “platform” thing?

          You’re ahead of the game. And more power to you. Adequate response at your level of work probably isn’t out there yet in a conference setting. But we’ve taken a step closer to that this time, and I’m really glad of that, and I hope that down the road the Author Day initiative can offer you something much, much closer to the level on which you’re interested in focusing.

          Thanks again for your input and for following Author (R)evolution Day. And thanks, of course, for the benefit of your responses, always needed and appreciated.



          • Hi again, Porter! I’m sorry if you thought I felt the Author [R]evolution day wasn’t worthwhile—that wasn’t my intent. Rather, I wanted “more, please!” from the speakers.

            As you know, I’ve been a long time advocate of the author as CEO of You, Inc…ever since my first NYC publisher abandoned my debut novel because of cover art issues beyond my control. Yes, there are still authors who prefer to isolate themselves inside a snowball globe labeled “artist” with no connection to the outside world…I doubt they will ever be TOC’s target audience.

            The talks at the inaugural Author [R]evolution were a great way to bring everyone on board but as someone who spends her days imagining possibilities, I guess I can’t help but think of “where do we go from here?” and wishing there were a way for the experts on stage to take us beyond the basics.

            Perhaps the answer is that it’s not up to them but us to continue the conversation. Such as your kind sharing of Bowker’s link for metadata info (which I’ve been using for several years and absolutely recommend to others, although it is a bit confusing to jump through all the hoops and you’re often inputting data more than once as you supply it to all of the Bowker’s collection sites, it’s worth the time and effort) and Bob’s sharing of his own business strategies and so many others who offer transparency about what works and why.

            Not only is it time for authors to take control of our own careers, we have the opportunity to grow our own Global Empires (something I recently blogged about) via strategic partnerships. Conferences like TOC are providing a wonderful service because they are agnostic about genre, fiction v. non, and self-published v. traditional publishing.

            (BTW, I was recently turned down for speaking engagements at several well known conferences because I still partner with NYC publishers and the organizers felt their audience wanted “pure” indy authors as speakers rather than someone like me who has experience across the publishing spectrum, so the discrimination has now come full circle, lol!)

            Anyway, my request for “more, please!” was exactly that—perhaps there’s a way to provide an online curriculum of resources, a Publishing U if you will, to continue the conversation so we don’t have to wait until next year?

    • And the authors who don’t understand that they need to be entrepreurial-minded don’t matter.

      I think there is a lack of concrete how-to because 99% of people who create this type of material simply don’t know.

      • @douglance:disqus

        Hey, Doug,

        Apologies for the late reply, lots of travel intervening.

        You’re putting your finger on something that’s not always readily admitted — there really are a lot of things we don’t know yet, in terms of what works and what doesn’t. We know areas we’re particularly in the dark on, such as pricing online. In other parts of the issue, we’re truly at sea — one of the biggest, to my mind, being a way to merge the mechanics of a business mind with the requirements of a creative intelligence.

        Too much material, as you suggest, really includes no answers. Frustrating but true. Early days.

        Many thanks again,


  2. I attended in person…Porter has done a wonderful job in crystallizing the major points. And it is important for authors, the creative folks/the “content providers,” to be given a focus in a conference like this one. The main message, I think, is that authors must, like it or not, become entrepreneurs. The metadata info was excellent, and Pullinger’s talk was great – we need to think more about transmedia, telling a story across multiple platforms.

    • @roxiemunro:disqus

      Thanks so much for your kind words, Roxie, AND your clear thinking on this. Sounds to me as if you really made good use of your day with us, and I’m delighted you could be with us — a bit of history made as we had the first-ever such event under TOC’s auspices.

      You’re right about the entrepreneurial imperative. And, of course, it’s not a comfortable reality for many but, as you say, is coming into focus as an increasingly important fact of authorial life.

      Please keep following as the TOC initiative is developed further, and thanks again for being part of it!


  3. There aren’t many people who have the full spectrum of experience from creating the content to actually having the content in the readers hands. I used the term “hybrid” author back in June 2011 and it was talking to a void. People were setting up camp as either an indie or a trad. The reality, the successful author is everything; but they can’t do everything by themselves.

    I’ve even changed the way my company works with authors. We’re not publishers. We’re partners, with the most valued person being the author. We have ten authors we’re working with now and Jennifer Probst just came on board to broaden her base as an author. We’re working her books with us around her traditionally publishing schedule because the different aspects of her career should complement each other.

    • @google-09a2be7b6f84fae4eec329151af4fc09:disqus

      Thanks, Bob, good to have your input, as usual. Several times during the day, the point was made that there’s basically no such “independence” as “indie” suggests to many people. It’s always a collaborative effort, in other words, which seems borne out by your experience and work.

      The concept of publishing both in a traditional and self-publishing format, by the way, is still “void” territory to many. Those of us focused on the digital dynamic are familiar with it and with surveys and trends, of course, but the idea still is new for many.

      Thanks again,

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  6. Well, Porter, I’m still processing all that I heard and learned at ARDay. Aside from the lack of Mardi Gras libations and chocolate in any form, I have few complaints.

    The thing that struck me throughout the day was that I never heard a tone of condescension. Frankly, I’ve heard that a lot at other conferences, when industry professionals speak to a room full of authors: that “now, dear, listen to what I’m telling you” snarky tone of voice. None of that at ARDay, and I was grateful. I didn’t feel like I was sitting at the kids’ table.

    I, too, appreciated the agnostic point of view: no one was assuming that self-publishing is a means to the end of a traditional deal, or that one way is better than the other. All authors are entrepreneurs – whether they like it or not, and many don’t. Do we need a 12 step meeting so people will finally admit it?

    I particularly enjoyed the discussions about developing your business model: play to your strengths, job out those tasks that suck the joy from your life. Duh. Self-employment – which defines every author not in a paid staff position – is not new to me. But because of the ever-changing nature of this industry, it’s been a challenge sometimes to step back and assess what I’m doing.

    ARDay has left me feeling pretty damn good about where I am and how i’m moving forward. Granted, some of the tech things were still over my head. I expect that a lot of tech things will always be over my head, but that’s okay. That’s why I pay my technologists. Now I guess i should hug them. 😉

    Well done as always, Porter.


    • @twitter-240542789:disqus

      Hey, Viki,

      Still in London on my mighty Tour des Confabs here, lol, but wanted to get back to you to say thanks for this comment — let alone for coming to Author (R)evolution day and reverting to us with such helpful insight and observations.

      Do have a look at CJ Lyons’ comments below and my answer to her.

      What’s interesting, of course, is that she felt elements of our program were too basic and she wanted more detailed approaches to issues she’s encountering. Not that I have a thing against seeing that kind of work available at Author Day, I’m explaining that we were looking for a kind of baseline with this initial outing.

      It’s just as helpful to know that you found some of the more technical bits challenging (you’re hardly alone) as it is to know that CJ found things less advanced than she’d like (she’s not alone, either).

      Beyond the old “that’s what makes the horse race,” these responses are actually very indicative of the wide range of experience and purview in the author corps as a whole. Needless to say, they tell us something about the challenge of programming the best conferences, too.

      I’m thrilled to know you didn’t feel talked-down-to. That’s so important. To my mind, any author willing to grapple at the level of responsibility on which we based Author Day is nobody to talk down to. Seems we got that right, and I’m grateful to you for confirming that.

      I’m especially chuffed that the business-model inputs resonated for you. One reason I was so glad to be able to bring forward Eve Bridburg’s Logic Model is that I see this whole approach as fundamental to what so many authors need and aren’t getting — and don’t *know* they need. I think I disagree with CJ when she says that most authors know they need to take responsibility for themselves. I’m contacted by so many who clearly have no such understanding and have no guidance out there (at least none they’ve found or been impressed with) to suggest taking a long, logic-based and highly organized, conscious approach like that advocated by Bridburg and Grub Street.

      And, especially keeping the whole day on one track (deliberately) instead of breaking up into simultaneous sub-sessions, we knew would mean letting go of the chance to do focus-level breakout. Those would have divided up the group for part of the day. I’m happy with the decision to keep everybody on the one track this time and experience the progression of concepts and inquiries together.

      And yes, the agnostic view. I swear, this has to be one of the most important elements of the approach these days. I like looking at the question as that of the “entrepreneurial writer,” who may go trad, self-, or hybrid. The point isn’t the path, it turns out, but the careerist mentality of entrepreneurism. This is a step, in itself, in the wider dialogue. Getting past the trad vs. self- battle is still a new idea for so many writers, as you discovered last spring in another conference ostensibly for self-publishers but centered on trying to snag a contract.

      Much to do ahead in trying to develop the great start we have in the ARD initiative, but I’m so pleased that you found so much value in it. Thanks for these observations, totally appreciated!

      Hurricanes and chocolate. I’d have been happy to trade my latter for your former. :)


      • Yes, obviously, the decision to keep us all together all day was deliberate, and I see the point. There were things that I already knew, a few things (tech-wise) over my head, and a few perspectives that were new, at least to me.
        We are all, as you reinforce in other comments, in different places in our career development. Even if you have tracks, people will decide for themselves what track they’re in. They may not be accurate in that assessment.
        But as I said, perhaps for the first time at a conference, I felt the presenters did not consider themselves the only professionals in the room. They assumed we are, too, and that was refreshing.

        • @twitter-240542789:disqus

          And I’m so glad you got that feeling, Viki, of not being talked down to at Author (R)evolution Day.

          The moment we begin to face the fact of the entrepreneurial author at the center of the industry, we have to concede that this means professionals in the house. And in any setting like an ARD conference, we must assume the attendees are those professionals — just getting oneself to the conference in New York, and/or watching the live-stream that TOC was generous enough to provide, is an act of professionalism that can help guide a writer toward his or her best efforts.

          The issue of folks being at difference levels — and of them self-selecting their paths through an event — will always be a challenge in some ways. But, at the end of the day, self-assessment (which gets us back to Eve’s good Logic Model from Grub Street) is part of a professional writer’s brief. A part of what a good entrepreneur develops is that sixth sense about what she or he needs to seek out and work on.

          This actually may be an area for some session work in the future: self-evaluation in business acumen as well as writing quality.

          Thanks again for all these good thoughts and your engagement in the program, it was great to have you there Tuesday!


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