Author Archives: Andrew Simone

Publishing and the Digital Landscape

We’ve talked much about what’s happening in publishing, paper, and digital culture, but let’s talk about what should happen.

“Book Oven is cloud-publishing: we are an online toolset that enables individuals and groups to make, improve, publish, and sell print books and ebooks. Book Oven is designed for independent writers and small presses.”

Regardless of what you think about Book Oven’s implementation, they have the right idea. It is a community-centered network that provides a platform for writers to preen their work and easily export it into formats for digital and print-on-demand publishing. This is a fantastic tool, but does not provide any pipeline into traditional publishing circles. Enter Richard Eoin Nash’s start-up, Cursor:

The business will focus on developing the value of the reading and writing ecosystem, including the growth of markets for established authors, as well as engaging readers and supporting emerging writers. Each community will have a publishing imprint, which will make money from authors’ books, sold as digital downloads, conventional print and limited artisanal editions—and will offer authors all the benefits of a digital platform: faster time to market, faster accounting cycles, faster payments to authors. But the greatest opportunity is in the community itself. Each will have tiers of membership, including paid memberships that will offer exclusive access to tools and services, such as rich text editors for members to upload their own writing, peer-to-peer writing groups, recommendation engines, access to established authors online and in person, and editorial or marketing assistance. Members can get both peer-based feedback and professional feedback.

Now we are getting somewhere. Richard could speak to this better, since the platform doesn’t exist yet, but from what I can glean this looks more like a traditional publishing scheme that is taking advantage social media. Do you catch the difference? Both services are trying to figure out how to make a book happen, but Book Oven seems to be asking these question from a writer’s standpoint: can we create a service that helps writers, editors, and readers interact? Richard, however, is asking the question from a publishing standpoint: how can we help you writers produce a good, viable product that people will buy? At least, that’s how I see it.

We should not, however, neglect what Dave Gray is doing with unbooks, the book as software. If we view a book as something always in process with a community centered discussion, then this would change how we would define the web platform. For instance:

  • The writer of the book ought to be able to track exactly who bought the book, so he can bring them into the discussion (either publicly or privately). This also gives the author greater power over his brand.
  • If we take the software metaphor seriously, then why can’t somebody purchase the book at any stage of development? Why not just sections of a book? The power and usefulness that could bring for the sale of technical manuals, for example, would be incredible.
  • And–to extend the metaphor to hardware–why not plug and play books? I create my own selection of short stories from a catalog and make my own (through print-on-demand) collection of stories, or I am a college professor who wants to select specific chapters from specific books to create my own textbook. The possibilities are limitless

The list could go on.

The one group, however, that seems to have been neglected are book designers.* My question, as spin off from my little mantra, “In an age of increasing digitization, objects become more valuable“, is how can we make a community centered platform that makes gorgeous books, electronic or hard copy, as a focus? What will it take to make a book version of Ponoko and is that a viable business model?

*Nash actually alludes to it in the quote above, “digital downloads, conventional print and limited artisanal editions“, but I suspect it is not his focus.

Social Writing

No, I don’t mean blogs.

  • Protagonize was originally devised as a lark, testing out a new technology platform with what was supposed to be a simple, fun idea. When the site launched in late 2007, it was dedicated completely to the (nearly) lost art of the addventure (yes, that’s spelled right), a very specific type of collaborative fiction. Shortly after our initial launch, the site was expanded to support the creation of linear stories, as well, based on user feedback. This significant change allowed the site to attract a much broader community of authors looking to hone and refine their creative talents. Since that time, many more updates and additions have been made to enhance our authors’ experience on the site.”
  • Book Oven* is cloud-publishing: we are an online toolset that enables individuals and groups to make, improve, publish, and sell print books and ebooks. Book Oven is designed for independent writers and small presses.”
  • Fictionaut** brings the social web to literary fiction, connecting readers and writers through a community network that doubles as self­-selecting magazine highlighting the most exciting short stories, poetry, flash fiction, and novel excerpts.”

*Book Oven is very much in beta and does not yet support direct print-on-demand publishing
**Fictionaut is invite only at this time.

New Authors and the Web

If you do happened to get signed by a publishing house, odds are you won’t get the attention you think you deserve. Once you finish your book and actually get it out there your job is just beginning:

“Being an author has become much more of an ongoing relationship with your audience through the Web, rather than just writing a book and disappearing while you write the next one,” says Liate Stehlik, publisher of William Morrow and Avon Books. “You have to be out there in the online world, talking and participating.”

Authors are expected to behave like mini-entrepreneurs, says Kamy Wicoff, founder and CEO of She Writes, a Web site devoted to helping women writers promote their books. She started the site in June. More than 4,000 writers have joined.

For just such occasions, Austin Kleon suggests authors create a blogger’s kit:

Everybody’s heard of press kits, but the aim of a Blogger’s Kit is spreadability–images and videos that are easy to embed, post, disseminate on the web.

The best place I can see this happening isn’t on a publisher’s website, but on Flickr, the photo-sharing site. Flickr, unlike a publisher’s website, is a destination–a place where people hang out, favorite photos and comment. People love Flickr. They go there for inspiration. Publishers should go there to meet them.

Here is a sample from Austin’s kit for his newly released Blackout Poems:

I pick Austin as an example because he is a fairly savvy web personality whose work is intrinsically connected to paper. He understands that paper can be exploited in ways that HTML and CSS cannot, but sees the web’s power of “spreadibility“, or what the social media gurus call “marketing” and the rest of us call “conversation.”

Odds and Ends

A few quick links because this day is moving faster than I anticipated.

elimae, pronounced el-ee-may, and standing for electronic literary magazine, was founded by Deron Bauman in 1996 and has published essays, fiction, interviews, poetry and reviews. At the end of 2004, Bauman departed to concentrate on other responsibilities, and the editorship was assumed by Cooper Renner.

Honest to goodness great work curated and edited monthly. Cooper currently has his review of William Carlos Williams reissued book In the American Grain up:

Williams published this book of essays likewise concerned with voice but rather more with history than myth, though myth lurks always nearby in any examination of national origins. As one might expect from Williams’ poetry, which often stands contrary to the literary Modernism of his peers, In the American Grainis a contrarian look at early American history, a “warts and all” approach which must have seemed especially contentious in its time, when the United States was new to the circle of world powers and the ’20s were roaring happily along.

Coop also does fine work in poetry himself and I happen to have a copy of his latest on my bed stand.

And then there is designer Jonathan McNicol who serializes books in the public domain and releases gorgeous  layouts in pdf format. His current project is a riff off the web’s darling meatspace project:

With the end of the summer came the end of Infinite Summer, but today marks the opening of a new iteration, Infinite Summer: Dracula, and I’m happy to announce that I’ve signed on to provide a handsomely typeset, easy-to-read version of Stoker’s classic text to supplement the project.

Here is the layout of the first chapter of Dracula to whet you palate.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I blog with all of these gentleman (Deron, Cooper, and Jonathan) on clusterflock.

Newspaper

In the spirit of self-publishing, Russell Davies et aliud created Newspaper Club, a mostly UK launched collective dedicated to building a service to help people make their own newspapers. One of my favorite ideas is Things Our Friends Have Shot On Flickr which is a beautiful example of the digital world colliding with print media.

It’s very reminiscent of James Bridle’s Tweetbook which, itself, is a prime example of hacking current technologies to get what doesn’t, but should exist:

I wanted to test Lulu’s capacity for hardback books, to continue experimenting with the literary cornucopia machine, and to see if you could make a traditional diary/journal in retrospect. And you can, and it’s quite nice (apart from some weird kerning issues). No, most of it doesn’t mean anything, certainly not to anyone else, but it makes physical a very real time and effort.

It was cobbled together with InDesign, but required a custom code to scrape the twitter API which is trickier than it sounds since you can only make 100 API calls an hour and are limited to downloading 2000 tweets per hour.

The take away, I suppose, is that digital culture is finding new ways to couch its content and, further, that paper is still a legitimate medium. Best of all, there is an inversion to the book/newspaper/scroll metaphor emerging on the web and it’s causing designers to rethink the traditional print media layouts: