Monthly Archives: March 2008

When Publishing, Go Write A Proper God-Damned Book, Please?

A girl reading a book.Today I woke up to yet another article demonizing a blog turned blook. And the problems mentioned were exactly the same as a hundred other similar reviews I had read in the past: it was sloppy, it was put together slap dash without a thought on how it would read on the page, blog popularity did not translate to book sales. Etcetera etcetera etcetera.

And it’s funny, you know, how blog popularity and stunning wit in a blog just doesn’t seem to jump onto the printed page. Because it should. Because writing a post is as linear as writing a chapter in a book, and there shouldn’t be any problem in converting the things you love in the blog from one form to another. And it’s just frustrating for me to see such great writing, such amazing blogs at the forefront of blooking, stumble the leap to the static page. And get a bad review in the process.

The two links I posted above refers to The Order Of The Phoenix Park and Petite Anglaise (though the 2nd link also talks a little about Julie And Julia) respectively. The first had newspapers calling it “resolutely clunky and self-indulgent’ and having ‘sloppy’ structure. The 2nd had this particular comment going for it (I’ve read similar ones on Julie and Juila the year before, so this review is by no means alone):

I remember being disappointed with Julia Powell’s Julie and Julia that the book wasn’t a series of her best blog posts. I didn’t ever follow her experiment (to cook her way through Julia Child’s massive tome Mastering the Art of French Cooking) online, and I expected the book to be a series of vignettes charting her progress. Instead, it was fluffed out with less fascinating personal detail. The same is true with Petite Anglaise: the blog itself was gripping in a reality TV, slice-of-life, car crash kind of way, and the book itself isn’t. It’s fluffy, and like candy floss, doesn’t satisfy.

My theory for this is that personal bloggers don’t approach writing the same way writers do. Writers set out on a project to tell a story; personal bloggers just want to let steam off after their boss yells at them or their cat pees on the couch. And the good ones do it so well, so brilliantly, so witty, so true, that we readers can’t help but fall in love with them.

But the problem with all this is that when Penguin comes knocking on their doorsteps any thought to the formula that has so far worked for them goes flying out the window. They start to approach the project like a writer writing an actual manuscript, but not exactly, because they’re sourcing material from their online rantings. So what you get a mix of both: blog writing and book writing, and it doesn’t appeal to either groups that will buy these blooks: the blog readers (who follow these bloggers) and the book readers (who browse a bookstore and don’t care if it’s a blook; they just want something good to read).

In the end readers aren’t going to read you because you’re hip and in the news all the time. They’re going to read your book if your writing is good and your story is solid, regardless of where the source material is from. So please, blook writers – you Petite Anglaises and Julias out there. Write your book as a writer would (from scratch) or capture your blog posts without tinkering around with the format that has worked for you so well.

Just don’t mash the two approaches together. Put out a book that’s worth reading, that’s worth falling in love with – because it’s the ideas and stories in between the covers that matter the most, not the fancy technological shwag that got it there in the first place.

And that’ll do all of us in the blook medium a big favour. We won’t have to deal with any more negative preconceptions about jumping to the static page. And that – if it happens – can only be a good thing.

Internet Criticism: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

A Graffiti ProtesterAnybody creating on the Internet will have to face their audience sooner or later. This is particularly true if you’re using a blog – and yes, most of us do, whether we’re artists, writers, or musicians.

Now the problem with all this is that writing and feedback simply don’t mix. Writing is best done alone, with a cup of coffee at your favourite desk, and a cat curled up at your feet. I look for feedback only after I’m done with a story – and even then I have to be careful who I ask. I have five friends whom I ask for feedback. Each of them gives me a specific type of criticism – some I go to for their clarity, and others I go to just to gauge their reactions (these people are my Average Joe testbeds). I’m sure all of you have your own teams of feedbackers – these people may consist of your professors, your spouse, or your bestest friends. And these people are people you trust.

Now imagine an online situation, where you blook your story and this unknown dude comes up and says: “hey I like your story but can you please do this: *insert*” Or he comes up and he tells you how to improve your writing. The second is okay – hey, we’re all learning, aren’t we? – but the first is downright horrible. And the worst kind is the one that comes up and tells you: “I absolutely love your story. The way you handled this blah scene was amazing, and the way you construct your blah blew me away!”

The effect of all of this is to paint the writer into a corner. All writers have egos, and all bloggers have bigger egos than writers. We only take criticism from the people we know and we trust, and this applies to life as it does to writing. The first kind of comment distracts you from your story, the second kind annoys your ego (if that’s inflated this is a bad thing for said reader) and the third risks you doing something other than storytelling (like – I don’t know – showing off?).

On top of all of this is the simple fact that Internet criticism is propelled by the lowest common denominator. Youtube comments, for instance, are at monkey level. And blogs attract like comments: thinking blogs attract thinking discussion, self-help blogs have this ethos of helpfulness about its commenting section, and blogs that diss celebrities have equally mean feedback.

So what does this mean for us? How can we write and not be detracted by all the chatter coming back?

My solution is, unfortunately, multi-pronged. I would suggest finishing the whole damned story offline, edit it, bounce it off your circle of feedbackers and then blook it, and I would think this the best way to do blog fiction (feedback can come at the end of the story, at a comments page). But not everyone follows this model. Some of us come to blooking because we want to create never-ending novels, and another attraction to the medium of blog fiction is the flighty feeling of cooking up a story under heat of reader anticipation.

Penguin’s Little Writing Project

Penguin - We Tell StoriesPenguin has been doing the ‘let’s try something weird’ thing again, and they’ve created this little project called We Tell Stories. 6 authors, 6 stories, and 6 non-linear presentation styles. There’s a competition involved (presumably to up interest in the experiment), and each of the stories takes its inspiration from a classic. The first week’s story is inspired by The 39 Steps.

I am most interested in Penguin’s take on non-linearity: Penguin’s Digital Editor Jeremy Ettinghausen has in this post talked about how non-linearity just might be the presentation method of the future. And while his point about non-linear information-seeking in this age is valid, I don’t think it will translate to how stories play out – a beginning, a middle, and an end simply do not conform with a random bounce-bounce presentation of information. Stories are linear. We live our lives in a linear fashion. So, the presentation of a story has to be – more or less – linear.

However, I do believe a random bounce-bounce presentation of the events happening within a chapter (or, say, an hour in a 24 hour period) would work, though in the bigger picture the chapters (or hours) would be linear in nature.

On other sites: James Smythe has a wonderful post about the possible implications this move would have if it succeeds (or fails), and Lee is not impressed with the writing. I, on the other hand, think it to be a really good experiment to the presentation of fiction. There’s a lot more story here in than there ever was in Dreaming Methods (which read more like poetry than anything else), and the use of Google Maps as a visual aid to move the story along is just brilliant. Another plus point: We Write Stories does not use Flash.

Keep an eye on this. Week Two’s coming out, and I’d like to see how this particular presentation plays out.

1000 True Fans: Making Money Off Your Blook

Johnathan CoultonJohnathan Coulton is a B musician who makes enough money to get by. He is not yet the Timberlake millionare, nor is he a commercialized pop idol. You’ll probably never hear of him in mainstream media, in fact – no MTV showcases, certainly no Channel V music videos. And yet he has plenty to do, and his fans are a dedicated, semi-international bunch. He does tours. His CDs find their way into the hands of those willing to listen. And, most importantly, he replies to your email.

Coulton is one of the few musicians who have found a way to make a living online. I first discovered him in late 2007, and I’ve been a firm subscriber to his feed ever since (with good cause – he does a weekly song, often with fan input). I was rummaging through my online bookmarks when I found the NYT article that introduced me to him, and it got me thinking about how his model could be applied to blooking.

1000 True Fans

Before we apply anything to anything (and get into a big shmooze fest), let’s take a look at what other people have been saying about the business model Coulton – and others like him – have been implementing. Wired founding editor Kevin Kelly has named this concept ‘1000 True Fans’, and it says this:

A creator, such as an artist, musician, photographer, craftsperson, performer, animator, designer, videomaker, or author – in other words, anyone producing works of art – needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living.

1000 True Fans is an extension of The Long Tail, and is only logical because the Long Tail heaps benefits on chiefly two parties: individuals and content aggregators (eg: you and Amazon). Creators still don’t really benefit: if their product is bought it may do well in the long run, but only for the store that sells it. You aren’t going to make a lot of money with flops, unless you have a) a lot of them, or b) a few hits.

So 1000 True Fans leverages the Long Tail in such a way that even B artists get enough coverage and enough sales to survive. How do they do it? What is the nitty gritty of their daily lives? The NYT article gives us some insights.

Coulton earns what he calls ‘a decent middle class living’ – $3000 to $5000 a month, and he does it through CDs and digital downloads of his music on both iTunes and his own site. He gets about 3000 visitors a day, his songs are downloaded 500,000 times, and his fan base is so dedicated he’s got people doing illustrations for his weekly songs, for absolutely nothing. He sells his CDs this via contract with a virtual fulfillment house called CD Baby, which processes the credit card payment for each sale and ships it out, taking a $4 slice (much less than an actual label – this sounds a lot like Lulu and Blurb for musicians, doesn’t it?). He also makes money by offering his songs for free (the Radiohead pay-what-you-want model) with payment through donations. And it works – the Radiohead model just seems made for the Internet. Other musicians are even more ingenious: Canadian folk-pop singer Jane Siberry’s site shows the average price for songs, thus creating a subtle minimum standard for her fans and earning her more per track than if she sold through iTunes.

The Friday Project: Out Of Business?

the_friday_project.gifIt appears so. The only blook publisher to have regularly put out blooks of quality seems to liquidating. The Telegraph reports HarperCollins to be the frontrunner in the bid for The Friday Project’s assets, while a Guardian article entitled ‘Industry majors seek option on ailing ‘blook’ publisher list‘ reports Random House has joined HarperCollins in talks regarding TFP.

“The group now has insufficient funds to continue to trade and the directors have a responsibility not to allow the group to incur further liabilities where there is significant uncertainty about the group’s ability to meet their liabilities as they fall due,” said Friday Project Media plc.

I’ve blogged about my experience with TFP, and I must say the feeling towards the company on the ground has been largely positive. Its model of publishing has been largely traditional, the only difference being its source material – which is from the Internet. Whatever happens, whoever succeeds in buying TFP’s list … one thing is clear: there will be no more new media publishers of TFP’s pedigree.

It is believed that HarperCollins intends to buy publishing rights to The Friday Project’s book titles. It also plans to use the company’s expertise in new media publishing to bolster its existing new media operations.

Which is a pity.

Four Rules For Community

This guest post is written by M. Alan Thomas II (call him Alan) a.k.a CrazyDreamer of Critical Mass. Critical Mass is a blog that focuses on the advancement of quality in webfiction. It rocks. Alan also has a public first draft of fantasy webfiction called Wet Hero. In this guest post he outlines and details four principles of community.

Rule #1: Acknowledge your membership.A Crowded Train Station

If you are reading this, then you are probably part of the blooking community or a closely-related one. A community is made up of a lot of things, but one of the most important is simply a recognition by its membership they belong to it. If enough people say “I am part of the X community,” then the X community exists. What’s more, not only is there strength in numbers, but the more people who acknowledge their membership in the community, the more visibility the community has and the more likely it is that someone who is involved around the edges will realize that the community is one of their interests and will want to become more involved.

Rule #1 is fairly simple, but it enhances everything that follows.

Rule #2: Be involved.

Membership in a community is more than filling out a form; it means paying your dues. Not monetary dues, but involvement. It’s like being in a social relationship: According to some sociologists, a relationship begins when there is an awareness of being observed. In other words, it begins when you and the other person are both able to be affected by the other (because you both observe the other) and acknowledge that fact (Rule #1). In the case of an online community, this requires that you do something for another member of the community to notice.

Eli will have stuck some sort of answer to the question “Who is this strange person writing on Novelr?” at the top of this post. I presume that it mentions my own blog on the subject of webfiction[1], Critical Mass. Hopefully other members of the webfiction community notice my contributions there, particularly after reading this post. (Hey, guest posts are good, free advertising. I never said that being part of a community had to be altruistic!) If you don’t want to run your own blog—and I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t—a guest post can add a new topic to the core conversation or develop an argument at length with far more prominence and ease of commenting than a comment to someone else’s post can. Whether or not you have the time or desire to write a guest post, you can and should write public comments, e-mail other members of the community, and/or otherwise make a nuisance of yourself add your thoughts to the mix.

Bookmarked! 1st March

A graphical representation that resembles a rainbow, of all bliblical cross references

I admit some of the articles here are old, but I’ve been hoarding links for awhile now with never enough time to post them up. The picture above, for instance, is a graphical representation of all the cross references in the Bible. Click the picture for the source, or read on:

Three online storytelling efforts (read: webcomics) that deserve mention:

  • Garfield Minus Garfield is a good look at the Garfield comic strips without the orange cat. It turns the strip into an ‘even better comic about schizophrenia, bipolor disorder, and the empty desperation of modern life’.
  • Adam’s Apple. Requires an understanding of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, the Macbook Air … and God.
  • The Life Of Mann is an online graphic novel that features a different artist every chapter. Both The Museum Of Modern Fiction and The Life Of Mann are the projects of Josef Lee, a Singaporean artist and graphic designer.

PS: I’ve got a break coming up, so I will have enough time to post up some articles I’ve been working on. I apologize for my inactivity: exams really are not letting up.

PPS: Novelr has gone through a server change and a minor redesign, and I hope it’s better, faster, and easier to read. Enjoy.