EXTRA ETHER: A Good Day for the (R)evolution

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I’ve hugged my technologist extremely closely and well.

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Kate Pullinger

“Digital fiction” author Kate Pullinger of London, near the end of the day, embraced the subtle, central heart of Tuesday’s inaugural Author (R)evolution Day program at the O’Reilly Tools of Change Conference (TOC) installed this week at the Marriott on Broadway.

In almost every element of the contemporary writer’s condition, there are options, so many options, too many options. But tech’s tough-lovely drive is behind them. This choice-choked scenario that energizes some writers but paralyzes many more is derived from the digital dynamic sweeping the creative core of an exhausted industry.

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The Author (R)evolution Day room was packed at many points during the day, attendees of the day’s adjacent  TOC workshops dropping by to see some of the program.

It’s apt, then, that tech- TOC has been the producing body to step up to a challenge I issued on the Ether last year. I wanted to see the authors in, basically—I wanted one or more of our major-conference producing bodies to provide an industry-class event in which the creative corps (and core) of this business could hear from top-level practitioners, observers, analysts, with a view to pounding out a serious way forward.

I saw publishers, CEOs, CTOs, CIOs, COOs mixing with innovators, startup chieftains, researchers, analysts…and no authors, no one who creates the fundamental element of publishing for all the rest, the stories.

After Tuesday’s event, I want to say thank you to Joe Wikert, Kat Meyer, their co-chair Kristen McLean — and to Tim O’Reilly, himself, who came to “#ARDay,” sat with us, watched and listened. O’Reilly is an organization that has stopped to turn and look at a pressing issue so richly associated with the upheaval and promise of a new publishing landscape. They’ve not only looked at it, but they’ve addressed it with a first outing that was, as promised, no tips-‘n’-tricks writers’ confab of the usual needlepoint-lessons variety.

Here are several important ways in which Author (R)evolution Day has arrived as an authors’ conference for entrepreneurial creative professionals:

  • It leverages the new centricity of authorial energy in the business. Joe Wikert, in his opening remarks Tuesday: “The pendulum of power over the years has shifted to authors.”
  • “Entrepreneurial” is the key, not self- or traditional publishing. The program accommodates the breadth of response we now must welcome: Kristen McLean made the point during the  morning session that Author (R)evolution Day (ARD) is agnostic on the question of self-publishing vs. traditional for authors. She noted recent statistics that indicate potential success for what we’ve called “hybrids” for some time now, writers who both self- and traditionally publish. And she anchored the ARD initiative firmly in the realm of what’s “entrepreneurial.” ARD is developed to address entrepreneurial authors and their needs.
  • Amazon is in the room. I was particularly glad to see Libby Johnson McKee, Amazon’s North American Director for Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and CreateSpace. I’ve seen McKee in writer’s conference settings before. (Seattle’s leadership is engaged in the writing community, something I can’t honestly say about many other major publishers’ executives. Might be something to learn there.) We’ve already seen conferences this year with no Amazon presence. Nothing could be a bigger mistake. The largest player needs to be among us, know us, and let us know it. And in the warm, gracious humor of someone like McKee, a formidable edifice starts to look human in a hurry.

Meyer asked us at day’s end to help pinpoint areas in which we’d learned things. There were easily identifiable themes resonating all day in various sessions.

  • Conversation and engagement, reader-to-writer and writer-to-reader
  • Advocacy
  • Community
  • Strategy
  • Discoverability
  • Distribution
  • Self-direction

Authors, including Pullinger, Cory Doctorow, Mark Jeffrey, Scott Andrew James, and Amanda Havard of Immersedition, were on hand, as were writing counselors and program leaders including Eve Bridburg of Grub Street, who outlined the “logic model” she’s using with career-building authors in Boston.

Literary agent Jason Allen Ashlock—whose Movable Type Management has created the new Rogue Reader author collective—told the room with a wry smile that an author working alone in the business today may not be adept at what’s needed, “no matter how many times you’ve read Guy Kawasaki’s book.”  The agent as a rapidly evolving “radical advocate,” he said, is the only such support equipped to stay with authors for the long term of the changes ahead.

For the first time in my conference-coverage experience, a session on metadata for authors was included, with one of the country’s leaders in the field of identifiers, Laura Dawson of Bowker. One study, she said, has shown that simply adding a book image could increase reader interest in a book by more than 260 percent. The importance of good data, and of monitoring your data, she explained, cannot be overstated.

“Without this information, you’re leaving readers with a lot of questions,” Dawson said. “Or no questions, which is worse.”

Note: Bowker has announced a new partnership with with New York’s Data Conversion Laboratory (DCL) to form the new Bowker eBook Conversion Service for authors. I have a story for it at Publishing PerspectivesBowker Intro’s 1-Stop ISBN Ebook Conversion Service.

From marketing and discovery discussions with Author Day co-sponsor (thank you) Publishers Weekly’s Cevin Bryarman and Kobo’s Mark Lefevbre to community and audience-creation debate with Wattpad’s Allen Lau and distribution points from Net Minds’ Tim Sanders, the tone and pitch of the day was rooted in responsibility—the author’s responsibility to educate him- and herself, to learn to flex long-unused business muscles by understanding the business and tackling deficiencies.

| | |

Last year, I left Digital Book World (DBW) and TOC frustrated because authors were all but invisible in these great annual high-end state-of-publishing productions. It felt scandalous to me that as a journalist I could hear from publishing executives, analysts, commentators speaking to each other…as if the authors weren’t on the need-to-know list about a market smoky with confusion and wholly dependent on the creative essential produced by the absent authors.

This year, as TOC “proper” goes forward Wednesday and Thursday, the picture has changed, thanks to O’Reilly Media’s first-class response to that appeal, complete with a daylong free video stream of the events provided for authors who couldn’t be with us.

Thanks to TOC’s Shirley Bailes, I can tell you that the presentation slides made available by ARD speakers are being posted on this page, and many are available now, including those I put together for my onstage interview with Bridburg.

You see what I mean about TOC being a class act.

The bar hasn’t been raised, it’s been set, and for the first time. TOC’s program is singular in its scope and fully up to the crisp standard of the production capability we know as its trademark in international conference events in publishing.

This Author (R)evolution was a good Day for writers. I look forward to many more.

 

Images: Porter Anderson

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Posted in Writing on the Ether.

Porter Anderson / @Porter_Anderson

View posts by Porter Anderson / @Porter_Anderson

Porter Anderson (@Porter_Anderson) is a journalist and consultant in publishing. He's The Bookseller's (London) Associate Editor in charge of The FutureBook. He's a featured writer with Thought Catalog (New York), which carries his reports, commentary, and frequent Music for Writers interviews with composers and musicians. And he's a regular contributor of "Provocations in Publishing" with Writer Unboxed. Through his consultancy, Porter Anderson Media, Porter covers, programs, and speaks at publishing conferences and other events in Europe and the US, and works with various players in publishing, such as Library Journal's SELF-e, Frankfurt Book Fair's Business Club, and authors. You can follow his editorial output at Porter Anderson Media, and via this RSS link.

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