Writing on the Ether: Tools of Change

Tools of Change, Tim O'Reilly, O'Reilly Media, publishing, books, conference, ebook, TOC, #toccon, Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, Joe Wikert, Kat Meyer, New York Public Library, New York City, DBW, Digital Book World, LeVar Burton, Baratunde Thurston

ToC: Techno-calities
ToC: Where’s my unified ebook market, dude?
ToC: Shall we call this one ‘librasion’?
ToC: Credit where due
ToC: One programming malfunction
ToC: Three A’s to consider
(1) Authors
(2) Amazon
(3) One fine, Agile presence

Extra Ether: New writings on ToC 2012

Sign of a highly successful conference: new reflections on aspects of O’Reilly Media’s Tools of Change Conference, covered extensively in last week’s Ether, continue to be published.

Many of the events of the conference have bearing on elements of our coverage in the new Ether upcoming. Meanwhile, some recent highlights you may want to review include:

ToC: Techno-calities

Locution, locution, locution.

In its sixth year, the Tools of Change Conference — just closed in New York City — easily held its own as one of publishing’s two great confabs of a stressful year, the other being last month’s Digital Book World Conference + Expo.

And when it comes to locution, ye shall know them by how they say “data.”

January’s DBW (#dbw12) used “following data” to tell us where things lie (not lay, damn it) amid the sinkholes of today’s treacherous, fast-digitizing landscape.

February’s ToC (#TOCcon) vowed to wield “Big Data” as a photon torpedo, LeVar Burton, in the battle for publishing’s cultural viability.

Burton gave a Treky’s keynote on Tuesday in which he revealed that spotting Nichelle Nichols on the original bridge of Gene Roddenberry’s USS Enterprise helped him find his race and place in an entertainment industry that would later cast him in Alex Haley’s pivotal “Roots” and now platforms his RRKidz mission to get digital reading to kidz (not kids, damn it).

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Speaking of race, another adherent of Lt. Uhura’s persuasion, author and Onionist Baratunde Thurston, gave another keynote that day, plugging his book.

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Author Baratunde Thurston’s keynote at ToC 2012: all about his book, “How To Be Black.”

Here is his keynote on video. Here he is with Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air, in Baratunde Thurston Explains “How To Be Black” And here is his book in an enhanced edition, “enhanced” being a term we include less and less frequently in our publishing patois.

More locution: ToC and DBW are perfectly aligned, like squirming twin Cupids, in their use of the term “keynote.” It once referred to an often long, always singular, rabble-rallying speech by a major figure of real heft. You remember Margaret Atwood at last year’s ToC? Well, of course you do. And you can refresh your memory when she does it again at AWP in early March.

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Today? Every girl can give a keynote. In fact, every girl and every boy targeted by arrows this Valentine’s Day seemed determined to do just that. A “keynote” now lasts 15 minutes, max. And it arrives in a candy box full of matching presentations, each of them crinkly-wrapped in the visuals that we Contemporary People must behold in order to focus, damn it, focus. The givers of today’s “keynotes” are frequently low-energy folks whose first calling in life clearly is not oration. They want to tell us that their software is better than your software.

They may be right. They may be wrong. They may be sponsors. And one of them at ToC hid envelopes under the audience’s seats. Ten of those envelopes, we were told, would provide the lucky derrieres above them with iPad 2’s. (I made my colleague Jeremy Greenfield check under our seats in the media room. Chewing gum. Not an Inkling of a win.)

Did I mention locution? It’s all in how we say it, you see.

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Let’s have one more.

“Scaling” could mean something less friendly to some soon.

A Wednesday session, Scaling Content Development Through Automation, gave us Kristian Hammond of Narrative Science and Robbie Allen of Automated Insights in their talks on those computer-generated sports and real-estate reports you may have heard about, ex machina.

These punchy accounts of youth hockey matches and other pivotal events are generated, Hammond told us, by “a simple set of derivations from the data.” Then “angles” are applied, he said. And he was at pains to tell us, “We’re not writing stories that just express the data…the system understands the trend.”

For the record: This report is written not by a machine but by a human being made productive by caffeine rather than electrical current. Parse me, bubba, I’ve got yer data right here.

But ’tis bootless to exclaim.

By the time the last flotilla of petit-four-sized keynotes eased us all to sleep in our seats on Wednesday afternoon — never let the elegant thinker Theo Gray onto a stage right after lunch to show you his Wolfram Mathematica CDFEd Nawotka managed to fire up his Publishing Perspectives account and tweet before passing out:

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ToC: Where’s my unified ebook market, dude?

One theme I’d like to have seen played up more aggressively and specifically is the superb signal sent out ahead of the conference by its co-chair and O’Reilly Media general manager Joe WikertA Call for a Unified eBook Market  While various sessions poked at the issue from one side or another, the ployglot nature of the conference’s too-busy schedule never formed a stop-everything coherent moment around the idea.

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In ToC 2012’s Digital Petting Zoo.

Wikert’s first-ever Digital Petting Zoo, in fact, made that problem more interesting than the devices lassoed to their pedestals. I’d like to have seen it turned into a repeated session in which, say, 30 attendees could enter at a time and be talked through the issue of proliferating ebook standards, illustrating the disparity with the devices at hand.

Instead, on my visit, some of the devices were accompanied by their sponsors’ reps.

For example, I found friendly Rafiq Ahmed of Richard Nash‘s session Baby and the Bathwater: New Publishing Models Incorporating the Best of Old Publishing Practices. Here are the PubSlush presentation slides from that session. Ahmed hoped to snag some interest in his Demibooks Composer code-free application for making interactive iPad books on the iPad itself.

ToC: Shall we call this one ‘librasion’?

There was, naturally, a “keynote” on the libraries’ crisis. Barbara A. Genco of the Library Journal didn’t throw any hymnals at our heads during her 10-minute preso, Public Library Power Patrons Are Your Best Customers (includes video and slides), but I wouldn’t have been surprised if “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” had been piped in under her.

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From Barbara Genco’s ToC presenation of Bowker and Library Journal info about library “power patrons.’

Genco’s mission was to use good numbers to tell publishers about what she calls the Power Library Patron who gets to the library at least weekly and is, according to Genco’s Bowker-fueled  presentation:

  • 61% female
  • Age 48
  • Making $61,000
  • 62% college- (or higher) educated
  • 39% with kids under 18

Dianna Dilworth at GalleyCat has more on Genco’s monologue in How Library Power Users Help Publishers.

A full session called The Library Alternative gave us a robust panel of strong personalities approaching the “mad as hell” stage. Here was Micah May of the New York Public Library talking almost from Tuesday to Wednesday about his concerns.

Panel moderator Peter Brantley, of the Internet Archive‘s BookServer project, ever eloquent in his defense of all things library, made it clear that librarians see themselves and their patrons as innocents caught in the crossfire between publishers such as Penguin and the digital distributor which has used Amazon to fulfill lending orders,  OverDrive.

Brantley went so far as to mention talk of class-action suits, ever so briefly and without assigning names or organizations to the idea.

He ushered in comments from Andrew Albanese, Julie Sandorf, and Tim Coates of the Bilbary international ebook venture.

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Calvin Reid at Publishers Weekly has more for you on this in TOC 2012: LeVar Burton, Libraries and The Bookstore of the Future.

And as soon as ToC had closed, here came 9 Rings, 8 Planets, 7 Dwarfs, 6 Publishers from Marlene Harris — an effort to help educate library patrons about why they may not know the name of the key publishers withholding ebooks from lending services, and introducing each house and its imprints. As she writes:

What we know are their books. When there is a title that patrons want, and we can’t buy it, that’s when we are reminded who the “Big 6″ are.

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ToC: Credit where due

Staged with the grace of a fresh reboot by O’Reilly Media’s Kat Meyer, this year’s trot of the digi-faithful around the lithium altar put some 1,500 attendees through more than 60 sessions. ToC 2012 was perched on several floors of the Marriott Marquis on Times Square.

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The interview cage at ToC this year was situated among exhibition booths. Photo: Porter Anderson

The conference’s “exhibition hall” of sponsored show-and-tells this year kept free brochures moving and nattering demo-ers busy. In down moments, company reps retreated to their own devices in booths clustered around the elevator core of the post-Jetsons hotel.

Many of us, of course, were also at the Digital Book World Conference + Expo last month at the Sheraton and creature-comfort confab-comparisons could be heard from start to finish at ToC.

While there’s no need to cloud the Ether with those considerations, one thing can certainly be said, I think, without fear of contradiction: When it comes to food service and refreshments, ToC simply eats DBW’s box lunch. At ToC, we sat at luncheon tables like ladies and gentlemen after serving ourselves from long buffets, and we were entrusted with genuine cutlery and cloth napkins, courtesy each day of another O’Reilly sponsor. No squatting in hallway corners with box lunches as at DBW. No drinking from soda cans like mall rats. No bartering for apples with brownies.

Lest our great, good friends at DBW feel bad, however, let’s hasten to say that at the Marriott, as at the Sheraton, the production staffers show a remarkable fondness for presenting speakers in the darkest parts of many ballrooms. It’s hard to fathom this zeal for dimming our wittiest icons. Everybody’s a critic.

As a professional critic, however, I can tell you that Meyers’ colleague Wikert was truly effective on his first outing as co-chair.

He had corraled with Meyer a consistently difficult choice among worthy breakout sessions. And he joined her in presiding over the software swirl apparently without fatigue. I want a list of Joe’s prescriptions, is that Big Data? Even better, he took an authoritative lead role in many sessions, either as a panelist or moderator and, late in the game, as an especially quick keynoter, to tell us the happy news that O’Reilly — which long has offered its authors their own portal for data about their sales — will begin paying royalties to its writers monthly rather than quarterly.

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ToC: One programming malfunction

There was a single moment in Tuesday afternoon’s keynotes in which oil followed water on stage in a highly entertaning way. Nobody’s fault, these things happen. We simply heard from both the light and the darkside (no, not you this time, Baratunde) in rapid succession.

First, we had O’Reilly author Clay Johnson, plugging his The Information Diet (can you believe it has no index at the back?). His book tells us that “today’s media — Big Info — give us exactly what we want: content that confirms our beliefs.” This is another formulation of the The Filter Bubble if you’re Eli Pariser, or Beyond the Echo Chamber if you’re Jessica Clark. Johnson is particularly entertaining in talking up this subject, and he’s O’Reilly’s boy and ToC is O’Reilly’s show, so there he was, speaking such truths as:

Media managements know that we’ll click on info-tainment. Pizza tastes better than broccoli.

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He was immediately followed by Steve Rubel of Edelman and the Clip Report. Rubel reminded us that Edelman is the world’s largest independent public relations firm. I don’t know why we didn’t all run screaming out into Shubert Alley right then. Probably we were too loaded down with yummy sponsored eats from lunchtime (not pizza) — not to mention Ms. Meyer’s clever Valentine desserts at coffee break.

But it’s fair to say that Rubel brought the #TOCcon Twitter stream to a near standstill, the only time that happened, with a whiplash of a message from the stage. The title of Johnson’s gracious eight minutes just finished had been Is SEO Killing America? Rubel’s advertised Insights on the Future of Media then insisted that it’s SEO that has helped “the media claw its way back to relevance.”

Not only is “media” still a plural word (damn it), but Rubel says the industry is at “a dynamic inflection point.” That’s one to save and use at parties, is it not? I say that every day of my life and I’m sure you do, too. He went on to assert that the media have discovered how to keep their output “relevant.” Through SEO. There was giggling in the house.

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ToC: Three A‘s to consider

In coming days, I’ll have more on ToC in the O’Reilly newsletter, and I’ll be adding to this edition of the Ether on a variety of topics.

But before leaving ToC now, I’d like to mention three elements. Two were missing, one was a great presence. Each starts with the letter A.

(1) Authors

They were largely missing. Take good note, this was the case at Digital Book World, as well, and I’ve written about that, too. I’m not holding ToC up for special censure on this. Nor was the Marriott fully void of authors, of course. Here were a number of speakers who have published, of course, plus our friend Tobias Buckell, who gave one of the five-minute Ignite ToC sessions on the first evening.

But with ticket prices that can approach $2,000, ToC is another conference simply not meant for authors. Most attendees are their on their companies’ dimes, and they are members of the production end — technologists, publishers, designers, innovators, inspi-vational speakers, some agents, some editors, the professional core.

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The most important display in the ToC exhibition area.

We must take into account that this is an industry strangely resting on its hope that an army of mostly amateur self-styled “creative” people flung to the ends of the National Kitchen Table, will somehow offer up the next masterpiece. Can you imagine Toyota depending on the kindness of amateur mechanics for its service bays?

And when it comes time to share the formidable realities of a business all but melting down under the “abundance” that Brian O’Leary tells us about so faithfully? — authors are left out. It can appear that they’re thought too, um, artistic for expert conference discussions they really should be hearing on such subjects as:

  • ePub
  • publishing sector investors
  • consumer attitudes about e-reading
  • an “insight-oriented publishing environment”
  • global market access
  • “monetizing meaningful engagement with content”
  • print-to-digital publishing models
  • “hybrid” publishing employees

I’m going to say the following extremely carefully, and I want you to read it that way. I do not want to be misunderstood or misinterpreted on this. Watch how I put it:

I believe (i.e., this is my opinion only, do I look like a committee to you?) that the publishing industry (in the abstract, no one stone is being thrown here) has created what appears to be (as in it may not be, but it sure looks like) an attitude of disdain for authors.

Authors certainly experience it this way. This is why we have such Kon-wrathful spasms of apocalyptic invective as Amazon Will Destroy You, which was posted on Monday by the self-publishing agitator Joe Konrath.

And I’d like to offer you this fine response to the sneering, graceless tone of Konrath from Felice Therese at TheFutureBook. In I am proof that publishers love authors, Therese (of Little, Brown UK) writes:

At every opportunity, Konrath will drive the knife in a little further – pointing out our past mistakes and revelling in our apparent foolishness. Ok, maybe our actual foolishness: Amazon did see the importance of digital before most publishers when they catapulted the eBook to stardom like some overzealous Simon Cowell. And people (not necessarily publishers themselves) do spend a lot of time bemoaning the state of the industry in the media – he’s also right on that. Still, these things are hard to stomach when they’re wedged between the vindictive implication that the Big 6 treat authors ‘like shit’, and churlish sentiments like ‘I’ve spent hours talking to Amazon. And Amazon listened.’

I really empathize with Therese. I cracked up, myself, when I read Konrath coming close to announcing that he has taught Amazon everything it knows. A total guess here? — I’ll bet there’s not much joy in Seattle when Konrath gets his sack cloth up over his head like this. Prime

Even Therese, however — obviously the one with whom you’d rather be stuck in the elevator — seems to understand that a perceived condescension among publishers to the creators of the stories is what can come across, if unintentionally, when our major conference organizers fail to find a way to offer the most promising, forward-leaning, Big-Data-ready, lucution-capable writers what they need to be good for the industry. This is a key to what I’d like to get across here. Any business needs quality creators. Publishing needs smart authors, not dumb ones. Our business can be severely hampered in producing what’s needed when those innovators, the generators of our stories, are held away from the real issues.

ToC, mind you, is the best in this regard. Notice how much of their programming they streamed, free on their site during the conference. This is such an asset and it’s up to the rest of us to be sure to get out the word of coming additions to the conference archive of tapes. Presentations and videos from the whole thing are being compiled and added daily, this is the page to watch, and I really appreciate the O’Reilly operation making so much of its material available. It’s writers’ turn to respond by stepping up and consuming as much of this as possible.

And, on the subject, DBW has mounted material from its conference as well as other good pieces at DBW Updates.

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Qualcomm’s mirasol displays has created this heatmap of Twitter conversations about Tools of Change.

Yes, there are writing conferences. But they focus on craft courses. Writers also need outfits with the power and sophistication of O’Reilly and Digital Book World to help guide them into the industry, not relegate them to the hothouse of occasional accidental success. From rapid-fire keynote-reductions to tracked sessions on managing, making, and marketing, I believe that most authors are missing inclusion in their own industry’s central moments.

Granted, on a day-to-day basis, the burgeoning writing community is lucky to have key people working to stabilize best practices. There’s Jane Friedman, chief among them and my host here each week, the leading national analyst in the digital transition’s effects and demands on writers. There’s Dan Blank, who develops entrepreneurial pathways to digital platforming for authors at We Grow Media. There are several more who recently are putting together new models of demonstrable, workable patterns. They’re taking stances against the quickest routes of chance in order to produce ethical and sustainable ways forward — in writing, in author representation, in sales. One we’ll have more on soon promises symmetry between retail and online presence.

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In her three-part article, “Are We Ready for Change?” agent Rachelle Gardner looks at comparisons of the publishing industry to the decline of corporate giant Kodak.

During ToC, in fact, agent Rachelle Gardner — you may remember her forthright position on clearly labeling ideologically purposed books as such — has moved a well-observed three-part comparative piece on what publishing can learn from Kodak. It ran in parallel sequence to the three days of ToC’s sessions this week.

Based in Colorado, Gardner is another of our community working diligently to raise the creative community’s awareness and standards. Here series’ links:

When Berlin’s Fabienne Riener, who makes open-source software for news people, released her SourceFabric Booktype platform for digital books at ToC? — journalist-authors who might be starkly interested in it were not there to see.

When Kathy Meis took, Pappus, her social-media outreach program for books, into ToC’s Startup Showcase, authors weren’t there to see this program developed expressly for the execution of a writer’s promotion of his or her work.

This industry can succeed without virtually any traditional class of worker. Except the storyteller. How much longer can we afford to keep that one, imperative player down on the farm?

So I’d be glad for a day when ToC NYC and ToC Bologna and Mini ToC Austin and Mini ToC Chicago and Buenos Aires, could be joined by ToC Authors. Kat Meyer has every right to kill me for suggesting this. She has more to do than the rest of us can guess to try to create the events already in the system. But I’m offering to help. And I feel sure I could bring along some of our best-positioned figures to assist.

If you ever think it’s something you and the good offices of O’Reilly can consider, Kat and Joe, I’ll work with you on ToC Authors.

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(2) Amazon

Again, I’d like to be clear, careful, and as respectful as I can be in the light of how accomplished Wikert and Meyer and everyone behind ToC are. I have nothing but the highest regard for them all. For all I know, they, too, would like to have had some presence from Amazon at ToC this year. For all I know, they invited Amazon to be involved and got no uptake. For all I know, they may have made a careful and purposeful decision not to include an Amazon presence — in which case, I bow to their deeper understanding of their goals and needs, confident that they made the right decision for their shop.

What I do know, however, is that when DBW had Amazon’s Russ Grandinetti speak at the conference in January, it was a good move. It’s not a question of whether Grandinetti or another representative of the company stuns us with transparency (not bloody likely, Mr. Shaw), or lets down her or his hair with us at happy hour (I want pictures).

It’s the power of inclusion. We could sure use some.

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The Broadway Ballroom gets a soundcheck before a plenary session at ToC 2012.

There are many ways to look at Amazon, and in publishing, not many of them are nice these days. But as Don Linn has reminded  us (not in relation to this conference, just as general policy), hating Amazon is not a strategy. And I’d prefer to know more about this entity, if it’s nothing more than how it shakes your hand. Cross-country sniping from New York at the Unmentionable Seattle Company has gotten us nowhere.

I learned a few things about Amazon when Grandinetti spoke. Of course he didn’t break down crying and spill all the numbers the Bezosians keep to themselves. But just watching how he described the Amazonian viewpoint without the pertinent numbers was an education.

So enough. My point’s clear. I think that in publishing we can ill afford a standoff with anybody. It’s bad enough between the militant wing of self-publishing and the Big Six. I hope that in the future, all our major conference organizers will at least consider whether there might be a place on an agenda for a little inclusion. Then ask. It’s the higher road to Seattle. And hell, when DBW asked, they said yes.

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(3) One fine, Agile presence

We all were pretty tired, I’m sure, by the time we reached late-morning Wednesday and the ToC session called Real World Agile Publishing. But what a hopeful, promising kick it turned out to be.

Brett Sandusky of Macmillan moderated, and he had both Wikert and Dominique Raccah, publisher of Sourcebooks, as his two panelists. And these are two folks genuinely interested in nurturing good work and in being enablers of it for their authors and their companies.

For her part, Raccah started with the disconnect so many writers feel when editors, cover designers, marketing people, all come into play with important roles of their own. As she put it:

When you’re an author, a frustration occurs the moment that author hands you the manuscript. I asked the question, “Could we create a better author experience?”

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A slide from Joe Wikert’s presentation at ToC about O’Reilly’s work in Agile Methodology.

Wikert likes to call the Agile methodology a matter of “paving the road under us while we’re changing a tire as we’re rolling down the road.” I get this all too well. At CNN, programming changes on the television networks and something as subtle as a new CMS version at CNN.com all must be executed on “while the plane is in the air,” as we used to say. Not easy.

But by iterating a project in smaller cycles of development — and then testing the effectiveness of those smaller cycles before moving on — “there’s going to be a whole lot of learning that occurs, and more opportunities,” Wikert said from experience.

An author needs a thick skin to handle the approach, Raccah cautioned. Both she and Wikert stressed that getting the right match of an author to the methodology is essential.

But as Sandusky added, once the iterative process of the Agile methodology is moving along, the author is creating a whole suite of material around the project, not simply writing “the book.”

Raccah mentioned that she’s uncertain how one finishes a project in this rolling format, an intriguing and valid concern. And she added that she has been surprised to find one of her writers of fiction hoping to apply Agile, a potentially happy development.

In offering such caveats, neither Raccah nor Wikert sugar-coated the realities of the concept, which made the session all the more valuable.

This was a conversation about an intriguing way of working that may have a lot of application to the current interest in shorter form work, the rise of “singles,” and in the search for meaningful, supportive collaboration in a publishing space that looks pretty rigid too frequently. It was a smart and thoughtful entry in a conference of many insights.

Watch for more of the session when it posts here . For now, Wikert has his slides on the page for you, and Raccah has posted her own slides and some commentary on the session for you in 2012 Tools of Change: Real World Agile Publishing. I commend this to you, particularly if you write — there’s hopeful, engaging potential here for many of us.

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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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Kathleen Pooler

Porter, Thanks for another power-packed recap of TOC and publishing. I really appreciate both how you give writers a voice in the midst of all the exploding technology and your call for all parties to be a part of the team. We’re working toward the same goal- getting a good story in front of the reader =book sales-so bridging the gap between “the militant wing of self-publishing and The Big Six” seems like a reasonable goal. Love paying attention to “The Three A’s :Author,Amazon and Agile presence.” As a writer, I am realizing that writing the book is just one… Read more »

Porter Anderson

You know, @KathyPooler:disqus , I always love how you pick up on various points of the Ether so well and turn them right around with understanding and good sense. Thanks for your kind words, especially on a week when “power-packed” feels pretty far from the reality of post-conference exhaustion, lol. That reader — the destination of our every story — still is the constant and will be, you put it very well. And yes, from the Agile session I was describing, there’s so much to be said for that “suite” of material you produce around a book. In case you… Read more »

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Roz Morris fiction

Having worked on both sides of the publishing ‘divide’, I add another A to your rallying cry for inclusion: ‘absolutely’!

Porter Anderson

Thanks, @ByRozMorris:twitter , I know you know this all too well. 🙂  We’ll get there. We have a huge factor on our side, and that’s storytelling. If we remember to create the stories we’re living right now about how we work with other parts of the industry, then we on the creative end of the equation will make sure our own stories have happy endings. Which  always mean inclusion — getting those endings to be happy for our colleagues, as well. It just takes some new ways of thinking to get past old training about competition and exclusivity and rivalry… Read more »

Bob Mayer

I asked “TOC” about presenting and my request was ignored.  Many conferences ignore authors while inviting speakers who are experts in whatever they’re experts in.  However, our motto at Who Dares Wins Publishing is writers produce the product, readers consume the product, everyone else is in between.  Lead, follow or get the hell out of the way.  The lack of authors tells me that many in the industry have not woken up to the fundamental fact that in the digital world the gap between the author and reader is closer than ever, and the speed with which the author can… Read more »

Porter Anderson

Some great points here, @Bob_Mayer:twitter , as ever, thanks for reading and commenting. I’m glad to tell you that I’m getting a warm reception to my comments today re: the perceived — and we do need to keep stressing this — the perceived sense of disdain that some of the core industry has held for authors. Many things can factor into such a state of affairs, of course, and we should note, too, that this is not unusual in the wider business world. Creative players, no matter how fundamental, can be so easily overlooked and discounted as flighty, less-than-realistic, capable… Read more »

Kassia Krozser

I have long been torn on the issue of authors attending Tools of Change. Obviously, they have (at this year’s conference and in the past), and they certainly have presented at various times. I cannot speak to why Bob Mayer’s speaking proposal wasn’t received — the conference has a very good system for tracking and responding to proposals — but there were, as always, far more proposals than time slots (my own proposal didn’t make the cut). Neither TOC nor DBW are author-oriented events. After many years of consideration, I believe authors can find value in certain of the sessions,… Read more »

kelly McClymer

LOL Kassia, I loved TOC last year; couldn’t afford it this year; plan to go next year; would NOT recommend it to most of my writer friends. You need a certain mix of geek-tech-insanity as a writer in order to enjoy TOC. Consider this, though — self-publishing is not the only thing that authors can use TOC info for…if their publishers start treating them like partners in the creative process, there’s a lot of crossover that could be author-led, not publisher-top-down. That’s something I hope becomes a publisher-author topic of discussion very soon (agents welcome, but not needed, of course).… Read more »

Porter Anderson

Hey, @KellyMcClymer:twitter — great of you to chime in, just want to second what you’re saying about a peer-to-peer relationship between authors and publishing being absolutely critical. This is some of the source of my “perceived disdain” issue (which I see you’re telling me about below, lol). At ToC this year, the Agile presentation from @Draccah:twitter and @jwikert:twitter and @bsandusky:twitter gave me a glimpse of what MIGHT be one way forward on this — authors working closely and constantly with publishers in the development of a work, rather than “just give us your MS and don’t worry your pretty little… Read more »

Porter Anderson

Incredibly good comments, @booksquare:twitter , and thanks for them. Your 0wn observations and commentary, spanning both the author experience and the production core of the “industries” — I like your plural — give you a lot of insight into this issue. I should have said clearly, too, that I’m not, actually, on to the self-published (especially vs. traditional) march on this, either. I do think that one is done to death. There are good things to be learned, of course, but I’m trying to imagine something in ToC Authors that’s on a higher level. Couldn’t agree with you more that… Read more »

kelly McClymer

Porter, You need to keep stressing perceived. I don’t. Been there, done that, won the t-shirt. There are plenty of other writers with the same t-shirt who can dropkick the perceived, too (and leave you laughing when they tell the tales). I went to TOC last year and loved it, despite being one of the few fiction writers in attendance. Am enjoying the reports and streaming from afar this year. But, when it comes to TOC-Author, there’s a writer’s group already doing that — Novelists Inc. We’ve always been business/career focused (all our members are published). The last two years,… Read more »

Porter Anderson

More great comments, @KellyMcClymer:twitter — I do hear you on the “perceived” part. LOL.  And yes, I do need to keep stressing it. In my position as journo, one gives every benefit of every doubt to everybody. That fairness thing. Not knowing what’s really in the hearts of men and women is so tedious, isn’t it? 🙂 But that’s no problem for us, I just keep “perceived” on my T-shirt  – I need to catch up, clearly (in that or any other outfit) – with Novelists Inc.  It sounds like a pretty energetic approach to the situation and one well… Read more »

Joni Rodgers

You said it, sister.  Last year, after more than a dozen Big 6 books as an author and ghostwriter, I started a digital imprint to indie pub my backlist. It went so well, I did my latest novel. My agent at WME is supportive, knowing this enhances my brand, and creates subrights she can sell. I’m still working with traditional publishers as a ghost and two of my books are still in print at HarperCollins, where my editor is also supportive, again recognizing that my indie-pub venture adds value to the chunk of me they still own.  This year, I… Read more »

Porter Anderson

Sounds like the look (and book) of the future to me, Joni, congrats on the hybridization success and thanks for reading the Ether and commenting, bests with all the good work –

Porter Anderson

Sounds like the look (and book) of the future to me, Joni, congrats on the hybridization success and thanks for reading the Ether and commenting, bests with all the good work –

Joni Rodgers

You said it, sister.  Last year, after more than a dozen Big 6 books as an author and ghostwriter, I started a digital imprint to indie pub my backlist. It went so well, I did my latest novel. My agent at WME is supportive, knowing this enhances my brand, and creates subrights she can sell. I’m still working with traditional publishers as a ghost and two of my books are still in print at HarperCollins, where my editor is also supportive, again recognizing that my indie-pub venture adds value to the chunk of me they still own.  This year, I… Read more »

Adrienne LaCava

These are interesting times for a writer.  We’re facing a range of opportunities never imagined before.  While it is daunting (I’m actively selling my first novel), it is exciting, edgy, treading new ground.  I’m glad I carved a business career first… and am thankful for the watchdogs and neutral commentators!  Loved the treaty writing analogy, Porter – that is exactly how it needs to play.

Porter Anderson

Well, thanks for reading and for adding this good comment, Adrienne. Yes, it’s both scary and interesting, I agree. Probably we could all use a little more stability and that, in time, will come thankfully. Meanwhile, yes, here’s to neutral — or at least fair — intentions in commentators, so we get through things without too many fist fights. 🙂

Porter Anderson

Well, thanks for reading and for adding this good comment, Adrienne. Yes, it’s both scary and interesting, I agree. Probably we could all use a little more stability and that, in time, will come thankfully. Meanwhile, yes, here’s to neutral — or at least fair — intentions in commentators, so we get through things without too many fist fights. 🙂

Jill Kemerer

Porter, I AM at a dynamic inflection point. 🙂 Sorry, had to go there. So the Tools of Change conference had few authors and no Amazon? I understand the authors–most of us have little disposable income–unless we have a patron of the arts, ha!–and we try to spend it on websites, marketing, and conferences where we can either pitch our projects or mingle with professionals who can directly influence our career. But I’m not sure why the biggest change(r) who has provided to authors the biggest tool for change wasn’t present. As always, I find the information here mesmerizing. It’s… Read more »

Porter Anderson

And how painful IS it, this dynamic inflection point you’ve run into, @JillKlemerer:twitter ?  🙂   Yep, the ToC world as it stands now — and it’s intensely useful for the world it’s designed to serve (and charge such rates) — isn’t affordable for authors. Quite right. I hope not to sound as if I’m upbraiding authors for not finding cash at that level. Most of the folks who ARE at ToC, as I mentioned, aren’t paying their own way as authors would have to do, they’re on company tabs.  I do hope, though, that it’s possible to come up with… Read more »

Jill Kemerer

Yeah, it’s a double scoop of OUCH. 🙂  I’m not even sure how it will end, this dynamic inflection. I hope my limbs are intact. Honestly, I would love to attend a TOCcon event. I’m just techy-geeky enough to enjoy it. And you did not come across as upbraiding authors–not at all. I just wanted to add the most obvious reason we aren’t there. It’s shocking (and a bit sad) how many authors still ARE debating the do-we-need-a-platform. I still talk to writers who say they just want to write the book they want and not have to do a thing to… Read more »


Amazing article. As an author working on his first novel, I suppose I should feel a little shame at only understanding the general gist of the Business Side of things. Still, a fun, informative, and exciting read.

Porter Anderson

Hey, @bb0e1963cb9900ae0ecfc1b6fde22ae7:disqus , don’t feel bad, just get busy. We’re all scrambling. Read @JaneFriedman:twitter here at this site every day. Keep up with @Dan Blank:twitter at @WeGrowMedia:twitter  Become as fluent in social media as you can. And watch for conferences, particularly business-oriented ones, you can get to for some intensive learning experiences. The old ways of just handing off a manuscript to an agent and walking away are gone. You’re going to have to do an author’s career yourself, hands on. So start reading, engaging, and take all the responsibility you can to bone up. @WriterUnboxed:twitter is a good site… Read more »

Louis Shalako

The world has changed so much that we are all amateurs. This levels the playing field, but it is not for the faint of heart. For traditional publishers wading through neck-deep slush-piles it must seem that there is no shortage of writers. So why worry? Another factor in ‘writer disdain’ is that in the past the industry moved with glacial pace in all endeavours. For someone to write and publish a book in anything less than a year and a half, in a solo effort, and come out with a good book is simply unheard of. Therefore, it can’t be done.… Read more »

Porter Anderson

 Hey, @af57cfc6cb02f4814ef6c513ddacb1ec:disqus , thanks for your comments. Not a bad point at all that we’re all rendered amateurs in so many new circumstances — that level playing field, though, lies very far below sea level in such a scenario, and I’m not happy to remain down there for long, myself. Could not agree with you more about the bad impression the back-biting creates, this is a big problem for publishing right now. (Could you speak to Lord Kon-wrath for us?) I do believe that traditional publishers are getting it. They simply cannot miss the facts — never have they been… Read more »

Victoria Noe

Porter, I, too, have been sleep-deprived this week, but decided to tear myself away from Google Analytics long enough to respond to your TOC manifesto. I know you’ll be appalled, but I keep hearing Arlo Guthrie’s voice inside my head: “…and if three people, just three people walk in, sing a verse of Alice’s Restaurant and walk out…well, they’ll think it’s a movement…” That’s what’s really going on here: a movement. We’re all amateurs because we’re creating a new industry that never existed before. It may be a hybrid of traditional and self-publishing. It may be a three-headed monster we… Read more »

Porter Anderson

Hey, @twitter-240542789:disqus I do know how you feel. And I’m trusting you to back the SUV over the writers who aren’t professional. We shall know them by the tire tracks you left on their butts, thank you for that service. The danger here is in demonizing the conferences. We cannot in good faith do that. We can’t afford to. The fast-dying apparatus of publishing requires us to get together, not waste time fuming at each other about past blind spots. I know the organizers well, too, both at ToC and F+W. Nobody’s out to get us, trust me. And these… Read more »


[…] Next let’s get “high” on ether, or if you can grasp the image, you can visit with Porter Anderson’s Writing on Ether. […]

[…] at Digital Book World or even the recent ToC (Porter Anderson explores this in depth in the latest Writing on the Ether.) Yet, without writers there are no stories, no books to […]

[…] conference: new reflections on aspects of O’Reilly Media’s Tools of Change Conference, covered extensively in last week’s Ether, continue to be […]

[…] a little longer read, Porter Anderson’s most recent Writing on the Ether (on Jane Friedman’s blog) provides a range of insight on Amazon pricing, library struggles […]

[…] you’ve read some Porter palaver already about the concern with which I left both F+W’s Digital Book World Conference and O’Reilly’s Tools of Change […]

[…] As I wrote in last week’s Ether, I left ToC con­cerned that the best dis­cus­sions about the industry’s future are going on largely with­out the authors, the peo­ple who might form an unprece­dented robust and inno­v­a­tive part of the answer to publishing’s dilem­mas if they had the chance to engage in the conversation. […]