21st Century Publishing, New Niches and Transmedia Storytelling

The afternoon of May 7th I found myself attending two more sessions at the Edge of Print Conference that raised a lot of questions for me.

The first was “The Multi-Niche Writer: Spinning Your Idea through Genres and Media” with Judy Schultz. Judy is an accomplished writer and tv host, and certainly knows how to spin a concept in a dozen directions, but I experienced a lot of push back listening to her talk:

She says she never writes for free and encourages all writers to follow suit. I’ve heard similar things before: “If someone is willing to publish it for free, someone else will pay you for it.” While I agree we should get paid for our work so we don’t become devalued – or devalue other professional writers – we also need to build bylines, author platforms, and network. This means we tweet, write on Facebook, newsletters, and blog posts (like this one) for free, even though others are getting paid for those same things elsewhere.
There wasn’t a lot of time for questions after her talk, but I managed to ask one after I twigged to a comment she made about contract negotiation. It turns out that after 16 books she still feels she isn’t negotiating strongly for herself. This has been a niggling concern of mine this conference season: to get an agent or not? [any of your thoughts would be much appreciated on this!]
“21st-century Publishing: The Future Is Now”
I’d wished for more “New Media” (or at least non-print media) discussion in Judy’s session, but got it in spades during the last panel. While all four panelists had interesting points to make, I was captivated by Kevin Franco’s description of transmedia storytelling and his first foray into this field with writer Jeff Buick’s book One Child (the world’s first transmedia novel).

His background is in marketing, and so it’s no wonder his company, Enthrill, is taking literary consumption to a new level on that front. Last year they created an “immersive experience” with One Child, blurring the lines between fiction and reality (or “faction” = fact + fiction, Kevin says) as they created a blog “written” by the main character, websites for corporations mentioned in the book, and an online radio station that followed the days of the book’s plot. Participants/readers even received a postcard in their mailboxes at one point during the journey.
How cool is that?
For postmodernists like myself it’s a revelation and I instantly started thinking of the possibilities for immersive historical experiences connected to the nonfiction and fiction books I’m writing. Readers fall into “rabbit holes” (the concept is from the computer gaming world) and become active agents in the story. I loved those “choose your own adventure” books growing up, and in some ways this reflects that experience.

I can also see how it might be a little scary to people, though… if anything, the price tag and staff requirements are a little off-putting (it took about 30 people and a lot of dough).

Final thoughts:

The other panelists, each with their own unique background, also brought up some interesting food-for-thought on the ongoing “indie question“:

  • Glenn Rollans: according to him, publishers are still desirable because they act as gatekeepers, assume risk for publication, and add value to the product through editing, design and marketing.
  • Linda Cameron speaking of the University of Alberta Press in particular, echoed that sentiment: the press coordinates outside readers, negotiates foreign language editions, creates e-book editions, and pitches the title twice per year at sales conferences.
  • Lyn Cadence, who does publicity for Frontenac House, was also on the pro-publisher side of the fence, saying “self-publishing is an easy place to die” a literary death because of the size of the market, the difficulty of discoverability/visibility, etc.

But as publishers increasingly outsource design and editing to contractors, what’s to stop authors from doing the same? And with several major publishers dealing with huge distribution issues this past year, it’s not surpising authors get nervous (and go to sites like www.lulu.com to publish and distribute their work). Finally, the onus is increasingly on authors to do their own promotion and social media work, and contractors like Lyn Cadence or Rachel Sentes are available for a fee…

So the debate continues!
© 2011 Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail. All Rights Reserved.