Friday, June 11, 2010

Getting published

Slush Pile Reader is a community in which readers and writers, rather than marketing and publishing executives, get the chance to choose which books they'd like to see published.

It is one of two sites on which I have posted a novel manuscript in an attempt to explore the feasibility of self-publishing using the power of the Internet.

On the Slush Pile Reader Blog a recent post by Ian Roberts titled The Difficulties Of Becoming Published made grim reading.

Not that he fails to quote some words of encouragement...

“Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not: unrewarded Genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone can assure success. Press on!”.

But I wonder in what direction we should press on?

Could it be that we lovers of words-on-paper must find the courage to come out of our comfort zones and ask some questions... about publishing... and about storytelling.

Roberts invites us implicitly to do so. He points out that these big [publishing] organisations have many established writers on their books and do not need to rely on fresh talent or first-time authors.

How true. And it is not entirely a bad thing. As a reader of on average two trade paperbacks per week I am happy that there are the established writers I can count on to craft a good yarn. Many of these are authors who have developed a franchise over the years, with their series of novels becoming almost a form of episodic entertainment, cleverly promoted as such. I do look forward to 'the next Ian Rankin' or a new title from Kate Mosse, Lee Child or Diana (we all have our weaknesses) Gabaldon.

None of the big publishing houses are waiting for Ian's manuscript or mine! In the United Kingdom over fifty percent of revenues are generated by Harper Collins, Pan Macmillan, Penguin, Hachette and Random House. They are pleasing both their shareholders and their readers.

So the answer to the question about the publishers might well be... let them be! In many ways they have enough on their plates, given their need to adapt to the world of e-Readers and iPad apps.

The other question which could be posed concerns our understanding of storytelling.

About a month ago the Slush Pile Reader Blog admin posted under the heading Publish For What Reason? Johanna Denize reminds that change is slow, especially when it comes to an existing giant of an industry that has been run the same way basically since Gutenberg came along.

But it could be argued that the Internet and a range of digital tools now provide a totally new toolset, in itself as revolutionary as Gutenberg's press was in its time. My comment to the blog post was as follows...

I am wondering whether we are overlooking one of the most significant points with regard to narrative fiction and electronic interface devices. What I spy on the horizon is a move towards transmediality. I look forward to storytelling as compelling as any successful novel, but delivered not just as written prose, but in multiple forms on multiple platforms.

I made a hesitant step in this direction about four years ago. I had thirty-nine chapters of a manuscript and the vague notion that a website-based hybrid form of self-publishing was... thinkable. Sex&Drugs&Profiteroles... The idea was to release a chapter per week as an audio podcast hosted on what seemed at the time to be the most promising platform. The first thirteen chapters were to be free, but a one-time payment would be asked for from those wishing to carry on to the end.

Each audio chapter, however, was preceded by a short video clip, a vlog in which the novel's heroine looks back on the events that the story relates.

Each weekly clip then closes with a call to action inciting the user to click through to the audio. The additional effort involved is far from onerous nor is it particularly demanding in terms of video skills which, in this day and age, are no longer exotic or unduly challenging.

In the case of my own project we didn't get further than Chapter Seven. But this was not on account of any basic flaw in the operational model. At the time I was working in Abu Dhabi and my 'heroine' was at university in England; our only direct collaboration was for the last two chapters which were coveniently locationed in Dubai. And our realization was that a venture of this nature is not made easier when thousands of kilometres lie between the participating creatives.

I remain convinced that the video component enhanced the discoverability of Sex&Drugs&Profiteroles. And in 2006 YouTube was by no means as potent as it is today. A story that is difficult to find is a story which will never be read; this being a problem that few of the self-publishing enablers have adequately solved.

Today the transmediality can go further than video. An interactive game, features akin to the 'bonus content' we know from DVDs, social network community involvement... all of these and more can move storytelling from mere words-on-paper to a new level, and one on which the independents and newcomers are probably better positioned than the publishing behemoths of old.

Slush Pile Reader is, of course, for storytellers who are first and foremost writers. But as we authors, chastened as we are by Ian Roberts' reflections, look ahead and realize that the chances of our tale being published between hard covers is truly remote, I think that the consideration of alternatives is probably a good idea.

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