Monthly Archives: July 2010

  •    Isa has written what I’ll call The Best Piece on Web Fiction You’ll Read This Week. It’s the results of a survey she undertook a couple of weeks back, covering the readers and writers of fanfiction, web fiction, webcomics and role plays. #
  •    Japanese Author Skirts Publishers With iPad Novel:
    Let the nightmare begin. Novelist Ryu Murakami plans to release his latest novel exclusively for digital bookworms through Apple Inc.’s iPad ahead of the print version.
    Appears to be a trend – Stephen King did something similar in April this year. #
  •    Does Language Influence Culture? Lera Boroditsky for the Wall Street Journal:
    English speakers tend to say things like “John broke the vase” even for accidents. Speakers of Spanish or Japanese would be more likely to say “the vase broke itself.” Such differences between languages have profound consequences for how their speakers understand events, construct notions of causality and agency, what they remember as eyewitnesses and how much they blame and punish others.
    Somewhat related: what language do the deaf think in? (thx, Tanushri) #
  •    Janet Fitch’s 10 writing tips that can help almost anyone:
    The writer is both a sadist and a masochist. We create people we love, and then we torture them. The more we love them, and the more cleverly we torture them along the lines of their greatest vulnerability and fear, the better the story. Sometimes we try to protect them from getting booboos that are too big. Don’t. This is your protagonist, not your kid.
  •    I find your lack of faith disturbing: SLEDGEHAMMER AND WHORE is a screenwriter’s rant at procedural tv shows.
    The stories I love often involve world-building. But most people working in the tv business are terrified of building worlds. They want shows that are relatable and recognizable. They want real worlds with real people that will under no condition make viewers uncomfortable or remind them of anything remotely strange and unknown. No Ordinary Family is a perfect example of this: the family is Absolutely Ordinary until they’re NOT. And when they’re NOT, they respond to that very NOT-ness just as any other Ordinary Family would.
    Then he finds a whore in his office and decides to write a procedural around that. #

Surprising Truths From Richard Nash’s Publishing Talk

Richard Eoin Nash (formerly of Soft Skull Press) has a talk available on that’s well worth a watch:

Wired editor Chris Anderson calls this the “best speech (he’s) ever seen on book publishing”. My eyebrows went up at that, and so I sat down for a listen. Anderson was right. Here are the best ideas from that speech; or at least, the ones that struck me as most surprising.

“We are a small industry sitting atop a huge hobby”

I’m not sure if Nash means reading, the hobby, or writing, the hobby (I suspect the latter), but I’d never thought of the publishing industry like this. An implication: publishing may become a hobby, just like how reading is part of the writing hobby, or computers are part of the programming hobby. A little far-fetched, I know, but something to keep in mind.

“(Writers) are not happy about being published. They want to connect. (…) They don’t write to stay alone. They write stuff so they can get out and connect with people who read their stuff.

We’ve known this for some time, of course. My contention is that writers want two things the most: a) to write, and b) to talk to readers. Anecdotal evidence suggests this to be true – Keren Wehrstein has a lovely guest post up over at Becka’s writing blog, where she talks about her shift from being a traditionally published writer to a online one:

When I first decided to do this, I emailed Alexandra Erin to pick her brain. She told me that she thought the biggest adjustment for me, switching from traditional to online publishing, would be dealing with immediate feedback in comments, and that it might be tough. My feeling was—are you kidding? That would be like nirvana! I did have a little trepidation—the net abounds with trolls, for one thing—but mostly felt I’d enjoy getting immediate comments.

The social component of people responding to your fiction, online (or anything of yours that is online, really) is incredibly addictive. Think of Facebook, and how much a timesuck that is.

“We’re in the writer-reader connection business. If our supply chain doesn’t do it (connect writers and readers well) we should abandon it.”

I found Nash’s articulation of the ‘publishing problem’ very elegant. My assertion – that publishing is a solution to the problem of distribution – seems obfuscated in comparison.

“Currently, publishing has products in the $10 – $30 price range. What about below $10? We have no products there. Or what about above $30? Say: $100? What products do we have there? Like perhaps a meeting with an author? We’ve not met all the demand at all the price points we might have possibly met.

This applies to big-name publishers, of course, but the idea that there are price points on the demand curve that are not yet addressed is worth looking into.

“The 20th century was about supply management. The 21st century is about demand management. You have to own the community.”

Nash’s thesis is that publishers no longer need to manage the supply side of things – there is more content now than at any other point in time in the history of publishing. He contends that publishers now have to ‘manage demand’. That they have to find, and build audiences, or at least create digital systems where communities of readers get to pick what books they’d like to see published.

“The absence of audio and video in long form text is a feature, not a bug.”

This is something I’ve been saying for a bit, but never have I seen it expressed so … succinctly. Nash has a real talent for ideas like this – I’m keeping an eye on him, and I think you should, too.

  •    I quite like this: Monique Jone’s Polite Society. Great theme choice, and lovely character drawings. #
  •    Web Series Writing Month is out. 10 days left for registration – go knock yourself out (literally!) for a month of serial writing. #

Ebooks vs Web Fiction

There appears to be two competing systems for reading digital fiction today. The first, promoted by Amazon and Apple and countless others through their digital bookstores, is the ebook. You surf a vast collection of titles, download the ones you like, and choose others based on store-wide recommendations. It is a system that works.

The second system is web fiction. You upload a text on what is likely the most open, distributable format available: a website. You make purchasable editions (ebooks, POD paper versions) available to readers. You design your own online presence, craft your own books, and in turn you get loyal readers you can talk to, get to know; readers who will support you and may become benefactors of your work.

These two systems are currently competing for writer mindshare. Just as VHS fought for mindshare with Betamax, and SLRs and rangefinders fought for photographer adoption in the 90s, so is web fiction fighting for mindshare with eBooks. And web fiction is currently losing.

I believe this is bad for all of us.

How is Web Fiction Losing?

A cursory glance of the blogosphere suggests that most writers think the ebook/digital-bookstore/electronic-reader ecosystem to be the shape of the bookfuture. It’s easy to see how they may think this: that particular vision isn’t very different from the current paper-book/phsyical-bookstore/home-bookshelf manner of reading that we all know and love.

The truth is that independent writers today don’t think of posting their book in website form. They think instead of creating a pdf and uploading that to Smashwords, and then perhaps opening a writer blog and building a following around that. (A quick comparison: Smashwords has 15360 listings; Web Fiction Guide: 754). Web fiction is not an obvious choice for the new writer. Nor is it, currently, the default manner of thinking about digital publishing.

Now I must note that the web fiction model is compatible with the ebook one – you may both have your book on a website and sell that same book through ebook stores (e.g.: Amazon, Smashwords) at the same time. But what it also means is that more writers are likely to plug their books into the Kindle store, instead of starting their own web-based books.

Why this happens is simple: it’s easier, for one. Uploading to the Kindle store and waiting for the money to come in takes far less energy than setting up your own blog, designing your own book, and building your own audience. There is a technological barrier to web fiction that we have not yet overcome. The other bit of it is that it’s easier to understand the idea of a ‘digital bookstore’; as I’ve mentioned above, it’s not very different from what we have in the real world.

So then – why is this bad? Why is web fiction so important, if the ebook model works?

  •    SlushPile Hell is one literary agent’s attempt to chronicle the worst of writer queries. It is also rather funny. (via) #
  •    A Computer Engineer studies literary deconstruction and comes back with one hell of an essay:
    The basic enterprise of contemporary literary criticism is actually quite simple. It is based on the observation that with a sufficient amount of clever handwaving and artful verbiage, you can interpret any piece of writing as a statement about anything at all.
    So, so true. #
  •    Kas Thomas: In defense of PDF. There’s an excellent overview of how the format came to be in the beginning of this article, and Thomas’s thesis reads largely correct. I do not, however, think there are many threats to PDF today, so far as print-and-share documents are concerned. #