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!

Writing and Publishing on the Edge

Another weekend, another writing conference! This last one was Get Publishing’s Edge of Print event, and it was a heavy-hitter of sessions, panels, and pitch camps, plus lots of time to network.

The day opened with a keynote from Minister Faust (aka Malcolm Azania, aka Captain E-Town) called “Honing Your Edge.” As his bio says:

“Internationally-acclaimed, award-winning Edmonton author Minister Faust is a risk-taker. Through his trademarked mix of the comic and profound, he will reveal how he’s built and advanced his edge in style, in content, in research, in social networking, in multimedia, and in recognising the Next Big Thing, including his just-announced decision to leave Big-6 publishing, and, like J.A. Konrath …. go indie.”

Here are some of the nuggets from his talk (or at least what I wrote down between gulping coffee at 9 a.m. on a Saturday!):

  • Audacity. Writers must stop worrying what people will think of them or their work. Just go for it and remember that there’s really no such thing as good and bad art, just what you like and don’t like (despite what awards juries and literary canon-makers might tell you).
  • Accountability. Take on no more than you can handle, and identify distractions. Then remove them however you can. This includes Facebook, Twitter, and other ‘necessary’ tools.
  • Rethink everything: your attitudes, assumptions, and expectations. Also, go where the fear is and you will unveil your most remarkable work.
  • On crafting voice: eavesdrop and immitate people in your writing – immitation eventually (hopefully) leads to appreciation of distinct ways of speaking, accents, etc.
  • Leverage your skills. Do skill swaps with friends and colleagues!
  • Go Indie by avoiding publishers completely and publishing your own e-books. You’ll retain editorial control, can choose (and change) your own cover art and blurb length, and revise your book umpteen times. You’ve got to make sure you reduce barriers for readers to access and purchase your books; price them competitively; and deliver them instantaneously. You could also consider print-on-demand for those who want a hard copy.
  • Be on the technological edge of promotion. Do book trailers, 3-D book covers, and create downloadable wallpapers of your book.

Minister Faust certainly gave some good food for thought to go alongside the croissants and fruit, but it sparked the beginning of an interesting debate that permeated the other sessions. Is social media an exciting part of the author’s toolkit or a time suck? Are publishers important players or increasingly unnecessary? Are e-books and self-publishing the way to go, or a way to pump a whole lot of literary crap out into the world?

Over the next few days I’ll write up the rest of my notes and ponder these questions…

© 2011 Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail. All Rights Reserved.