Jonathan Franzen’s Worst Nightmare


This piece originally appeared in the Future Tense department on Slate. Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State University.

To many devoted readers, bookstores, and collectors, a book is good, but a signed book is best – and the absence of a title page to autograph is just another reason for purists to eschew those newfangled e-readers. A signed copy of a favorite book can be intensely meaningful to an avid fan. And in the world of rare-book collecting, something inscribed by the author can catapult a book’s price into the stratosphere.

But apparently Apple hopes that this charm of print publishing may have a digital equivalent after all.

The website Patently Apple recently posted the details of a proposed Apple e-book patent. (Purcher 2013; Dougherty 2013). The method would allow two e-readers to communicate, so that the publisher or the owner of the content could create a special autograph page in the reader’s device, ready to accept an image of the author’s autograph. The inscription could be transmitted when in the vicinity of an author at a book event or in a special online forum. Apple’s patent would also offer a certificate of authenticity and give readers the chance to add a photo or video of themselves with the author to the page.

There aren’t too many sacred cows left in publishing, and it’s unlikely that the industry will go to battle with Apple in defense of the real-world author autograph. Nevertheless, the commodification of this one tradition seems like it won’t offer Apple many rewards. Although the e-book market in the United States is showing signs of maturity, digital migration has leveled off (Owen 2013; Cader 2013), and it’s doubtful that e-book signing capabilities will be the carrot that attracts the last remaining print loyalists. That’s because an inky signature has a certain personal quality that won’t translate easily to digital.

And naturally, for Apple to roll out this new capability, they’d need to have authors on board.

David Rees, a comedian and the author of How to Sharpen Pencils (2012), says that he’d sign a reader’s e-book to be polite. But he thinks Apple’s patent sounded like a debasement of what an author’s signature is meant to be – the meeting of a reader and author in real space. “It sounds so sad,” he said “because they’re trying to figure out how to reproduce the physical authority that real books have. Next there will be a button for that musty old book smell.”

And how eager will bookstore proprietors – who usually host signings – be to accommodate the bells and whistles of a medium that has played a part in undermining their business?

According to Lacey Dunham, marketing director at Washington, D.C.’s Politics and Prose, it might depend on the retailer. If Amazon’s Kindle e-books were to take on this capability, the bookstore would have to have an internal conversation about whether they would allow Kindle e-books to be signed in their stores, she said. That’s because of the uniquely fraught relationship Amazon has with brick-and-mortar bookstores. But bookstores may be amenable to working with Apple, which has 20 percent of the U.S. e-book market (Reid 2013).

In the world of rare and antiquarian book-selling, the question goes beyond the author-fan relationship: A signed book can be immensely valuable. Yet according to Allan Stypek, rare-book appraiser and owner of Second Story Books in Washington, D.C, the idea of a signed e-book is artificial – nothing more than a facsimile. It just won’t have the historical or literary value that a physical signature has and would appeal only to those seeking to be completest about a particular author.

“I wouldn’t categorically refuse to handle an exclusive, signed e-book,” he said, “but it’s unlikely, unless I found it was a justifiable commodity in the market place.”

E-book retailers are exploring ways to let readers sell “used” e-books. But the truth is that you never really own a digital title – you’re more or less leasing it. These blurred lines have produced some horror stories, like Amazon disappearing an e-book copy of Orwell’s 1984 or when Apple was uncomfortable with the male nudity in a graphic novel of Ulysses (Stone 2009; Barrett 2010). And in its patent description, Apple doesn’t detail a means of transferring ownership of the autograph, ensuring that any attempt to resell an autographed e-book, in a market that barely exists anyway, will be doubly difficult.

But if you wait for hours to have Jhumpa Lahiri sign your copy of The Lowland (2013), wouldn’t you want your rights to her personal inscription to be a little more permanent? And what happens if you decide to dump your e-reader and change to a new device – does the autograph move with you? Or when Amazon “bricks” your Kindle for transgressing their terms and conditions, will you lose that meaningful signature, too?

By all means, e-retailers are free to experiment with additions to their still fledgling medium. As Dunham said, “A signed book is not a concept that [a bookstore] owns. There are lots of things that an e-retailer can do, but they cannot replicate everything that a bricks and mortar store does, it’s just not possible.”

And should e-retailers even want to?

Apple’s patent illustrates just how surprisingly unimaginative e-book and e-reader retailers have been over the past few years – attempting to replicate nearly every feature of a book’s physical incarnation, just a little more portably and with a little less permanence. There have been some strong examples of enhanced e-books, like Mark Z. Danielewski’s The Fifty Year Sword (2012), and there’s talk of creating what could be a new and unique form of storytelling. So far, though, e-retailers have displayed a strong inclination toward copying publishing’s more dusty traditions, but without the charm.

Most people that come in to have a book signed seek that brief relationship with the author, Dunham told me. “The decision readers will have to make in the end is what they will connect to the most – something signed, visible on their shelf or a signed copy they cannot see on their e-reader.”

Of course, Apple may never use its patent, but it might be better off if it left this one thing to the world of pen and paper. The future of digital publishing would be more exciting if they didn’t simply take all the traditions of print as their template, and tried something slightly more innovative. After all, if you really want his autograph, you can always just get Jonathan Franzen to sign the cold, hard plastic of your e-reader for posterity.



Twitter’s #LitChat Discusses the Future of Reading, Writing & Publishing


Prior to the advent of the novel, storytelling was largely a social experience delivered through theater and other group settings. The emergence of the novel in the late eighteenth century put stories into the hands of individual readers and created a whole new avenue for vicarious thrills, learning, escape, romance and adventure. Fan fiction, choose your own adventure novels, interactive novels and other digital reading experiences are changing the future of reading, writing and publishing.

How will fiction change with interactive novels? Is digital publishing circling back to story as a social experience? Inspired by the enriching content emerging from Sprint Beyond the Book, and particularly the Jane Friedman essay, “The Blurring Line Between Reader and Writer,” we discussed questions such as these in the October 14, 2013 session of #litchat. #Litchat is a hashtag-led discussion featuring topics of interest to readers and writers held through Twitter each Monday, Wednesday and Friday, from 4-5 p.m. E.T.

The one-hour #litchat session drew more than a dozen active participants from the U.S., Canada and the U.K., including Friedman, to discuss how the digital age is changing the way we experience stories. An archive of the #litchat session was created in Storify.

The following is the transcript from the one-hour #litchat session:

LitChat Welcome to #litchat. We’re excited to participate today HOW WILL PEOPLE READ IN THE FUTURE discussion. Join us for the next hour. #LitChat
LitChat While #litchat is underway between 4-5pmET with moderated convo, please don’t use the hashtag unless contributing to the topic.
LitChat #litchat was founded in 2009 and is moderated by @CarolyBurnsBass. We chat M W F, 4-5pmET.
ChatSalad RT @LitChat: Welcome to #litchat. We’re excited to participate today HOW WILL PEOPLE READ IN THE FUTURE discussion. Join us for the next ho…
LitChat Follow #litchat easily from Simply login/authorize and you’re in the convo.
agnieszkasshoes RT @LitChat: Welcome to #litchat. We’re excited to participate today HOW WILL PEOPLE READ IN THE FUTURE discussion. Join us for the next ho…
LitChat Who’s with us today in #litchat? Please introduce yourself and let the convo begin.
MadelineDyerUK RT @LitChat: #litchat was founded in 2009 and is moderated by @CarolyBurnsBass. We chat M W F, 4-5pmET.
Pendare @GLHancock You’re safe I think! #LitChat
NineTiger Marianne, here. Still screaming about #governmentshutdown while pursuing other topics. #litchat
GLHancock retired publisher/editor/writer of a half century wondering why you think people didn’t read alone before novels were written? #litchat
LitChat Today’s convo was inspired by SPRINT BEYOND THE BOOK PROJECT and @JaneFriedman essay THE BLURRING LINES BETWEEN READER & WRITER. #LitChat
Pendare Patricia here — on Canada’s Thanksgiving day. #LitChat
21stCscribe marc nash here #litchat
LitChat Here is direct link to the SPRINT BEYOND THE BOOK PROJECT, a 72-hour book collaborative now underway: #LitChat
GLHancock @Pendare Happy happy – are you thankful still? #litchat
agnieszkasshoes @LitChat I’m here! I wrote a novel interactively on Facebook back in 2009 so fascinated by the subject #litchat
Pendare @GLHancock Pretty much!  #LitChat
21stCscribe I’ve got an interactive digital novel in the works next year hopefully #litchat
LitChat Here is direct link to @JaneFriedman essay THE BLURRING LINE BETWEEN READER & WRITER: #LitChat
palefacewriter Hi readers and writers. #LitChat
GLHancock @Pendare Good! Good! #litchat
LitChat We’re hoping @JaneFriedman has a moment to stop in to share her knowledge and experience in this fascinating topic. #LitChat
21stCscribe Interactive in the sense the reader plots their own way through it. But not with treasure at the end #litchat
novemberhill Hi!  Just read the article and  have to say I’m not eager to go this direction as a writer or a reader. #LitChat
GLHancock My disappearing epubs on Amazon are all interactive – linking to others and my website. So? #litchat
rcmogo Does anyone here know how to define “hypermedia?” #LitChat
LitChat Let’s get right into today’s discussion. If you have a question you’d like to submit, please post it here and I’ll add to queue. #LitChat
dellasm RT @MartinBrownPubs: Tips for Writing a Novel: Know the Difference Between Plot and Story #litchat #amwriting #write…
GLHancock @rcmogo Linked. #litchat
21stCscribe Nothing knew, BS Johnson did it in print with his book “The Unfortunates” #litchat a book-shaped box, loose chapters read in any order
NineTiger @LitChat The counter for the 72 hour book is all zeros. Has it been done already? #litchat
GLHancock @LitChat Why do you think no one read alone until novels were published? Stories, essays, poetry existed in print form. #litchat
agnieszkasshoes RT @21stCscribe: Nothing knew, BS Johnson did it in print with his book “The Unfortunates” #litchat a book-shaped box, loose chapters read …
novemberhill Trying to figure out if I have to put in #litchat or if it happens automatically if I’m logged in at nurph… #LitChat
LitChat I see you here! RT @novemberhill Trying to figure out if I have to put in #litchat or if it happens  #LitChat
Arzooman_Edit New to this chat; going to try to follow along best I can on my Android. #litchat
ChatSalad @novemberhill It happens automatically 🙂 #LitChat
LitChat Q1 How will the digital age open new ways of learning, discovering, and experiencing story?  #LitChat
novemberhill @LitChat Okay, great. I can relax and just type. #LitChat
novemberhill @ChatSalad Thank you. 🙂 #LitChat
LitChat Welcome. RT @Arzooman_Edit New to this chat; going to try to follow along best I can on my Android. #litchat #LitChat
LitChat Welcome, just dive right in. RT @palefacewriter Hi readers and writers. #LitChat
palefacewriter Well, I’ll never give up my interest in the experience of the traditional book.  Power Law of Participation interesting. #litchat #LitChat
21stCscribe Q1 new narratives that don’t have beginnings, middle ends if reader if choosing their progress trough them #litchat & thank god for that
novemberhill I am still blown away by my Kindle and being able to get a book in my hands within a matter of seconds.  #LitChat
rcmogo Me too! #LitChat
GLHancock A1 Can you spell multimedia? It’s already here. People are constantly mishmashing them, experimenting in many way, especially vids. #litchat
21stCscribe apologies for my awful typing tonight #litchat 2 mistakes in last 2 tweets *sigh*
novemberhill Am also intrigued as a writer when I open my own books on the Kindle and see the reader highlights – that is true feedback. #LitChat
NineTiger A1 How could you ever build a saleable collection if all ebook. Collector issues. #litchat
Arzooman_Edit @LitChat thanks, have not mastered Twitter chats on Hootsuite. #litchat.
palefacewriter A1: There’s an expectation for immediacy. Interactive, digital books seem to work well with that need in newer readers. #litchat #LitChat
21stCscribe collaboration with other artists too,I’ve collaborated with designer for kinetic typography short fiction #litchat Now that is new narrative
GLHancock @Arzooman_Edit Try the Internet-based sites: tweetchat, nurph, and twubs – all dot coms. #litchat
palefacewriter Yes, the ability to combine many creative aspects to enhance the written/printed word opens up cool possibilities. #litchat #LitChat
rcmogo Interactivity is changing the way stories are written, too. #LitChat
GLHancock @palefacewriter Of course, some people find all that annoying. #litchat
LitChat @Arzooman_Edit Here’s a link to our dedicated chat channel:  #LitChat
LitChat Q2 What kind of books/stories might we expect with social and interactive digital media? #LitChat
novemberhill Can’t see myself enjoying a novel as interactive experience – I value the writer’s authority in telling the story his/her way. #LitChat
Arzooman_Edit Q1 to me there’s a value 1st in being able to update nonfiction, but also to quickly correct mistakes, fiction or non. #litchat
palefacewriter RT @GLHancock @palefacewriter Of course, some people find all that annoying. Yes, all that “incoming” can be so! #litchat #LitChat
GLHancock A2 That depends on the publishers, but with SP (indies) I’d expect it more in genres. #litchat
21stCscribe @novemberhill interaction doesn’t necessarily mean the reader writes the book, maybe just chooses their own path through it #litchat
GLHancock @Arzooman_Edit Absolutely. Obviating errata sheets, sites, pages. #litchat
21stCscribe @GLHancock I’d find that depressing if it comes to pass. #genre #litchat
novemberhill @21stCscribe How would that work?  #LitChat
palefacewriter Readers have always participated in their/our own minds…interactivity is akin to a sci-fi plot entering real time. #litchat #LitChat
Arzooman_Edit Q1 but the expectation is already there that you should link to sources, or webpages of contributors, or even books like yours. #litchat
21stCscribe @novemberhill author skilful enough to write a story that doesn’t rely on fixed order, but open to many diff paths through #litchat
GLHancock Right now it appears inevitable that future books will come with built-in social media connections. #litchat
novemberhill I do love the ability to make corrections and update facts in nonfiction. #LitChat
rcmogo A2 The experience of the characters and setting can be much richer with supplement of social and interactive digital media #LitChat
palefacewriter A2: Adventures for sure. Sci-fi. Almost anything, I suppose. Yike. Imaginations cut loose! #litchat #LitChat
GLHancock @rcmogo Interrupting the flow of the narrative? #litchat
Arzooman_Edit @GLHancock thanks. I will sign up as soon as I get home to my computer #litchat
novemberhill @21stCscribe Not sure how that would play out in actual reading experience. Readers could read in any order in print book form. #LitChat
21stCscribe i think it’s quite limiting just to think about storytelling in these new media. #litchat
soniawrite @GLHancock #litchat well, all the various ebooks devices already have twitter and fb and all that
GLHancock @Arzooman_Edit I use TweetChat usually on my Kindle Fire. #litchat
21stCscribe @novemberhill and yet they don’t  🙂 #litchat
LucidGlow The most important tonight and ever is clearly WHSmith’s treatment of indie authors #litchat It’s just fucking unbelievable.
novemberhill How does writer offer a novel in a form that could be utilized best interactively? #LitChat
rcmogo @GLHancock More like “post story” experience. After finishing my favorite novels, I am always hungry for more information #LitChat
j4k061n RT @LucidGlow: The most important tonight and ever is clearly WHSmith’s treatment of indie authors #litchat It’s just fucking unbelievable.
palefacewriter A2: Of course, I think of it only as an additional option. Quiet books in printed form will always be welcome in my hands. #litchat #LitChat
GLHancock Block! #litchat
novemberhill @21stCscribe Well, I on occasion do – but usually on a second read, not generally the first. #LitChat
21stCscribe @palefacewriter as a reader, mine too. As a writer, less so #litchat
21stCscribe @novemberhill exactly. A book readable in any order is unique experience for each reader #litchat
novemberhill RT @palefacewriter A2:  Quiet books in printed form will always be welcome in my hands.   Mine too!! #LitChat
GLHancock I have to admit that a few times, I’ve sought out more info maybe about a setting like Pondicherry, IN or some other novel aspect #litchat
LitChat Q3 In her essay, @JaneFriedman asks: To what extent is the future of reading social? #LitChat
GLHancock And I appreciate authors’ notes on research in both nonfiction and novels, sometimes. #litchat
novemberhill So I am envisioning a novel where you put the chapters on shuffle and read it many different ways. #LitChat
21stCscribe @novemberhill  can be yes #litchat
novemberhill I have been adding back matter to some of my novels that includes my playlists of songs I listened to while writing. #LitChat
GLHancock A3 I don’t see why it should be any less than it is now and ever has been, though originally storytelling, not reading per se. #litchat
palefacewriter A2: Some interesting possibilities for enhancing poetry. As a writer, though, I’d be wary of allowing open access. (selfishwriter!) #LitChat
rcmogo A3 Simply because you can reach so many millions more people. #LitChat
JaneFriedman Something I didn’t write about: new digital book format that Intel is developing, particularly interesting for NF & fan fic (1/2) #LitChat
21stCscribe A3 the writing of a novel can be crowd sourced social. The reading still solitary, unless live stream author reading #litchat
soniawrite @LitChat @JaneFriedman #LitChat A lot! It already is somewhat. Wittness this chat. If it werent, authors wouldn’t be encouaged to blog/tweet
LitChat @JaneFriedman Is the Intel project an interactive format for reading? #LitChat
21stCscribe @soniawrite @novemberhill well it has been done before and in print! #litchat
JaneFriedman Allows new chapters or materials to be added by user or publisher, visible to all readers (if reader opts to see them). (2/2) #LitChat
soniawrite @novemberhill #litchat lol and get a different end each time. Could be an interesting experiment.
novemberhill Also pondering now how one might mimic the actual act of storytelling – where you write the version you “tell” & listeners continue #LitChat
palefacewriter A3: I thought that was worthy of pause and consideration. I think of it in degrees I suppose. How much interaction varies. #litchat #LitChat
agnieszkasshoes RT @21stCscribe: i think it’s quite limiting just to think about storytelling in these new media. #litchat
GLHancock @JaneFriedman Hi Jane! Thanks for that info about the new Intel book platform. Got a link? #litchat
21stCscribe @soniawrite @novemberhill well hopefully mine will be out next year #litchat
JaneFriedman Intel project sees each book as a community, w/many different levels of authorship/contribution, assuming publisher allows it. #LitChat
LitChat @JaneFriedman Do you know if they will develop proprietary hardware for reading new format? #LitChat
soniawrite @21stCscribe @novemberhill #litchat which books? got a recommendation?
21stCscribe @novemberhill why do we have to mimic or even tell stories in conventional/ trad way? #litchat
novemberhill I have considered that my connected novels could be linked so reader could follow a character link to different book. #LitChat
palefacewriter A3: Gets complicated. Who’s the author? Who holds copyright? Does it matter? (Yes) Does anyone care… #litchat #LitChat
JaneFriedman Intel project will be completely open source, so any publisher/author could make use of it. Not proprietary. Huge win for everyone. #LitChat
21stCscribe @soniawrite @novemberhill BS Johnson “The Unfortunates” #litchat
novemberhill We don’t have to – I may be stuck doing that myself but wld love to see what others do that is new and different! #LitChat
LitChat How much involve­ment will read­ers have in writ­ing process and final prod­uct (to the extent there is a “final” book)? (Friedman) #LitChat
21stCscribe in my digital novel project, would like to crowdsource art works for it on the book’s theme #litchat
novemberhill Need to say that I am getting somewhat overwhelmed with this new chat program – not following it as easily as tweetchat… #LitChat
LitChat Q4 How much involve­ment will read­ers have in writ­ing process & final prod­uct (to extent there is a “final” book)? (Friedman) #LitChat
palefacewriter A3: Possibly we will eventually find that a new definition of ‘reading’ emerges. Instead of merely reading, we immerse like gamers. #LitChat
GLHancock A4 None for me. I know how hard it is to write novels. I am a passive consumer, for entertainment only. You work – I read. #litchat
novemberhill I can see my teenagers immersing like gamers. I am dinosaur. Have never played computer game, ever.  #LitChat
LitChat @novemberhill Give it time. It’s easy to follow when your eyes adjust to the different look. #LitChat
JaneFriedman Q4 Feels like reader involvement will be driven by genre at first. Already see good examples of this in NF, happening w/fan-fic. #litchat
palefacewriter A4: I’ve thought of the new age process as kind of an unending, perpetually changing, story unfolding. #litchat #LitChat
LitChat RT @novemberhill I can see my teenagers immersing like gamers. I am dinosaur. Have never played computer game, ever.  #LitChat
rcmogo A4 – hopefully not much. There’s online software for collaborative story writing, probably shouldn’t apply to published fiction #LitChat
novemberhill @LitChat Will do. 🙂  Apologizing in advance for clunkiness today. #LitChat
GLHancock I’ve seen immersion books for children, and appreciated the appeal – to children. #litchat
agnieszkasshoes @LitChat A4 I imagine it will be very like ancient oral communities each creating their own versions of stories #litchat
JaneFriedman Q4 Right now, it takes great effort to promote reader-writer interaction in the development of a book. Need better tools/platform #litchat
21stCscribe I’m more interested in the look of a digital text, the way you can drill down to the level of typography for example #litchat
GLHancock @JaneFriedman Maybe many other readers are like me – don’t want to participate but to enjoy the end product only! #litchat
novemberhill @21stCscribe Love the idea of crowdsourcing art for a book. #LitChat
ampersand_h Kindle or print version? #litchat #books
21stCscribe think about if Jennifer Egan’s “…Goon squad” was online & really did have  a Powerpoint presentation Chapter! #litchat
Midnyghtskie Just stumbled across #Litchat, I’m so excited.. though waaaay behind. 🙂
richmagahiz @LitChat A4 Maybe more on the business side than on the actual writing side. Think Kickstarter-like process for greenlighting #LitChat
palefacewriter A4: Maybe a writer could audition potential contributors before granting access to project. that elitist? =;-) #litchat #LitChat
21stCscribe @novemberhill any maybe other aspects too, just not thought of them yet relevant to the book #litchat
Pendare YES! RT @GLHancock @JaneFriedman Maybe many other readers are like me-don’t want to participate but to enjoy the end product only! #LitChat
robynmcintyre A4: As much or as little as the author wants them to, I suppose. #LitChat
SheanaOchoa @LitChat @JaneFriedman Do you think interactivity heightens or diminishes critical thinking as a literary tradition? #litchat
GLHancock RT @ampersand_h Kindle or print version? / Of what? #litchat
palefacewriter Have any of you experimented with collaborations with other writers? #litchat #LitChat
richmagahiz @palefacewriter Only in poetry #LitChat
GLHancock @SheanaOchoa @LitChat @JaneFriedman Well, I, for one, do love footnotes, end notes, author notes, metameta. #litchat
novemberhill @palefacewriter I have collaborated with illustrator. Very cool to use apps to make collaborating easier.  #LitChat
LitChat Author & former Disney artist @AurelioObrien created an interactive site for GENeration eXtraTERrestial: #LitChat
21stCscribe @palefacewriter no, but other types of artists #litchat
palefacewriter I tried a short story once with five others. Then we did a public reading and humiliated ourselves. Humility is a virtue? #litchat #LitChat
GLHancock @palefacewriterI have enough trouble getting along with myself and clients. Collaboration brings shudders! #litchat
novemberhill @palefacewriter LOL! #LitChat
LitChat No apologies necessary. Yr insights are great. RT @novemberhill @LitChat Will do. 🙂  Apologizing in advance for clunkiness today. #LitChat
JaneFriedman @SheanaOchoa Interactivity typically involves collaborating, moderating, creating, questioning – which involve critical thinking? #litchat
rcmogo @SheanaOchoa Depends on the type of interactivity – but as a rule, I think interactivity makes anything less passive. #LitChat
druchunas @palefacewriter I am finishing up a book with a coauthor and have another series with a different coauthor/cocreator. #litchat
LitChat RT @rcmogo @SheanaOchoa Depends on the type of interactivity – but as a rule, I think interactivity makes anything less passive. #LitChat
Arzooman_Edit @JaneFriedman I do like the idea of collaboration in fine-tuning a book. It’s amazing what others can see that a writer misses. #litchat
novemberhill Interesting thought – I never think of myself when reading a great novel as being “passive.” Nothing abt the experience is passive. #LitChat
rcmogo Less passive 🙂 #LitChat
druchunas @JaneFriedman I don’t want reader interaction in the creation of my books. They are my art / products. #litchat
palefacewriter RT @druchunas: @JaneFriedman I don’t want reader interaction in the creation of my books. They are my art / products. #litchat
Arzooman_Edit @novemberhill I pretty much agree, but I do love seeing reader feedback. #LitChat
rcmogo @druchunas What about in the pre-published stages of your books? #LitChat
robynmcintyre @novemberhill That’s what I think. #LitChat
novemberhill Yes. RT @druchunas  I don’t want reader interaction in the creation of my books. They are my art / products. #LitChat
Pendare @Arzooman_Edit ABSOLUTELY.  #LitChat
GLHancock Most authors can benefit from collaborating with professional editors and proofreaders. #litchat
SheanaOchoa @JaneFriedman Rephrasing: how might it affect the imagination lit up by the experience/leisure of reading in solitude? #litchat
novemberhill Getting feedback from readers before publishing is a given for me.  #LitChat
Arzooman_Edit @LitChat oh, thanks. Just logged in! (I’m back at my home computer) #litchat
WheelhouseEdits Retweet! Retweet! Retweet! RT @GLHancock: Most authors can benefit from collaborating with professional editors and proofreaders. #litchat
gmcgarv Retweet! Retweet! Retweet! RT @GLHancock: Most authors can benefit from collaborating with professional editors and proofreaders. #litchat
druchunas @palefacewriter yuck. I am completely immersed in reading. I don’t find additional media enhances the experience. It’s distracting. #litchat
richmagahiz @druchunas @JaneFriedman The only visual artists okay with people scribbling on their art are some graffiti radicals #LitChat
LitChat RT @GLHancock Most authors can benefit from collaborating with professional editors and proofreaders. #litchat #LitChat
Pendare @novemberhill I’m fiercely possessive of my stories. And nobody ain’t gonna mess with my writing! #LitChat
Arzooman_Edit @druchunas I only like graphics and the occasional SHORT video. Long videos, forget it. But sources–Definitely. #litchat #LitChat
GLHancock @druchunas Ditto! In fact, that’s what I said earlier. Thanks for your support! #litchat
novemberhill @Pendare I absolutely value the author’s distinctive voice. #LitChat
21stCscribe @Pendare @novemberhill interactive does not necessarily mean the reader is part writing your story #litchat
novemberhill Am now envisioning the digital book version of playing albums backwards. 🙂 #LitChat
Arzooman_Edit @Pendare I am possessive once i’m sure the story is done and I’m happy. Will take suggestions during creative process. #litchat #LitChat
rcmogo Regarding collaboration and story writing, I think most writers seek out opinions and ideas during story creation. #LitChat
LitChat Q5 How can authors and publishers expect remuneration from interactive book? Are subscriptions to books on the horizon? #LitChat
palefacewriter Well, what about music to enhance something like spoken word? I use regularly and find the process creatively motivating. #litchat #LitChat
21stCscribe @Arzooman_Edit try this for size – 275 words, 3 mins video, different type of narrative #litchat
richmagahiz @21stCscribe @Pendare @novemberhill Think about how The French Lieutenant’s Woman was written with three endings #LitChat
GLHancock The only suggestions I’d want would be from fellow professionals, not feedback from potential purchasers. Feed me the ca$h! #litchat
21stCscribe @palefacewriter pproblem is copyright of music #litchat
rcmogo A5 Subscriptions seem to be lot more popular these days! #LitChat
JaneFriedman @SheanaOchoa Sounds like a Q for a researcher. But this isn’t an either/or debate, reading coexists with interaction. #litchat
palefacewriter I write the music. #LitChat
Arzooman_Edit I think 3 minute video (if you’re reading) is too long. #litchat #LitChat
novemberhill @richmagahiz Oh, great example. I had forgotten that. #LitChat
21stCscribe @Arzooman_Edit there’s no reading as such #litchat try it!
Pendare @richmagahiz You’re right! #LitChat
richmagahiz @novemberhill Well Fowles wrote that quite a while ago #LitChat
novemberhill @richmagahiz Yes, long while ago. #LitChat
GLHancock A5 At least 4 experiments in subscription services are now going. #litchat
Arzooman_Edit @21stCscribe not during a #litchat, but thanks.  #LitChat
palefacewriter @21stCscribe …I guess that’s collaborating with myself, lol! #LitChat
21stCscribe @novemberhill I like that idea! #litchat
21stCscribe @palefacewriter yes if you have the added skills why not? #litchat
GLHancock A5 Remuneration can be as varied as it is today. Is there anything new on the horizon @LitChat ? #litchat
richmagahiz @LitChat A5 Maybe you get the basic book (possibly free) but have to pay for remixes and mashups. Or vice versa #LitChat
21stCscribe @Arzooman_Edit I meant after the chat! 🙂 #litchat Just think much of  current thinking is too limited, trying new media 4 old narratives
palefacewriter A5: Contracts 101? Know what you’re expectations are before you begin seems like a good idea/ #litchat #LitChat
novemberhill Subscription to book-in-progress – get rough draft,  edits, etc. Interesting. I would pay to do that w/ much-admired writers. #LitChat
palefacewriter *your #LitChat
Arzooman_Edit @21stCscribe do you mean storytelling is limited? #litchat #LitChat
21stCscribe My digital online novel will be subscription. only way to menthes it #litchat
soniawrite @21stCscribe @novemberhill #litchat thanks!
Arzooman_Edit @novemberhill I don’t know if I would. I would have to REALLY love them. #litchat #LitChat
21stCscribe @Arzooman_Edit the way people are conceptualising it for new digital media right now is yes #litchat
GLHancock Is Amazon still doing that thing where you subscribe and they dribble out a story over weeks or months? Weird, I think! #litchat
novemberhill I’m thinking Michael Ondaatge and Barbara Kingsolver. Would love to see their process. #LitChat
21stCscribe @Arzooman_Edit we seem to be talking about interactive editing and beta reading. It can be waaay more than that #litchat
novemberhill @21stCscribe Yes, you’re right. I am just not thinking far enough outside the box.  #LitChat
palefacewriter A5: I would not subscribe to books, but I suppose it’s possible that many readers would consider this option if available. #litchat #LitChat
novemberhill Creaky brain. 🙂 #LitChat
21stCscribe @novemberhill well it’;s hard because there are no horizons, people falling off the edge of the world or getting vertigo! #litchat
Arzooman_Edit I’m for all kinds of art to convey a message, but I’m more into words for myself because that’s what I was trained in. #litchat #LitChat
21stCscribe why would you merely translate a block print from page to screen? Make it non-linear, tell diff type of story on screen #litchat
novemberhill I am still wowed by Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet – 4 POVs on same story. #LitChat
Arzooman_Edit I’m always looking at art that I love and thinking of ways to collaborate on a book with an artist. #litchat #LitChat
21stCscribe @Arzooman_Edit but words remain the centre of the art #litchat
JaneFriedman @SheanaOchoa Of course- I think main thing that’s forgotten is reading as solitary activity is fairly new, came w/wide literacy #litchat
LitChat At Carnegie Mellon University, a project is underway: SIX-DEGREES OF FRANCIS BACON, REASSEMBLING THE EARLY MODERN SOCIAL NETWORK. #LitChat
Arzooman_Edit If it’s created with words, yes …  #LitChat
GLHancock @novemberhill One of my undergrad college days’ faves! #litchat
richmagahiz @LitChat Ernest Cline put together a music playlist to go with Ready Player One. Maybe this can become more popular #LitChat
21stCscribe @Arzooman_Edit did you see Foer’s “Sea of Trees”? #litchat
palefacewriter A5: Marketing personnel are no doubt working variables out as we participate here. I’d be interested in the suggestions. #litchat #LitChat
Arzooman_Edit @21stCscribe no, what is it?  #LitChat
21stCscribe @Arzooman_Edit personally words are all I have. But can still do different things with them as building blocks. #litchat
novemberhill @GLHancock Still one of my all-time faves. Love love love it. #LitChat
LitChat Twitter feed for SIX DEGREES OF FRANCIS BACON: @6bacon. #LitChat
21stCscribe @richmagahiz @LitChat my previous novel has a DJ & all the songs he plays are on a spottily playlist the novel links to #litchat
novemberhill The reason I read is because of the way the words are put together by the writer. That will never change for me.  #LitChat
21stCscribe @Arzooman_Edit it’s a novel that is highly visual in that sections of pages are cut out, giving into view future sentences etc #litchat
Pendare RT @novemberhill The reason I read is because of the way the words are put together by the writer. That will never change for me. #LitChat
Arzooman_Edit @21stCscribe I am interested, but part of me keeps hearing, “A good novel isn’t enough anymore” #litchat.  #LitChat
LitChat Q6 The @6bacon project seeks to assemble early social networks. What kind of early social networks might they study? #LitChat
palefacewriter @novemberhill Agreed. =;-) #LitChat
GLHancock Not sure I’d want someone else’s music preferences inserted into my mind while reading. Like what I like! #litchat
21stCscribe @novemberhill but all we are saying is digital offers new & diverse ways of putting those words together on a screen #litchat
novemberhill I wouldn’t dare read any kind of interactive spin on a novel I have previously read and dearly loved.  #LitChat
LitChat RT @novemberhill The reason I read is because of the way the words are put together by the writer. That will never change for me. #LitChat
21stCscribe @Arzooman_Edit well Foer has a reputation as a decent novelist… #litchat My disappointment was that he basically adapted pre-existing book
GLHancock If I want to listen to music while I read, I turn on what I like to hear.  #litchat
palefacewriter A6: ICQ maybe? #litchat #LitChat
Pendare @GLHancock If the music on the playlist wasn’t to my liking, I wouldn’t read the book! #LitChat
druchunas @LitChat @rcmogo @SheanaOchoa reading is not at all passive. Page turning is interactivity. #litchat
21stCscribe @Pendare you won’t like my book then! #litchat
Arzooman_Edit I do have Jodi Picoult’s “Sing You Home,” which has a CD you’re supposed to play w the book. Haven’t had time  yet… #litchat #LitChat
LitChat I think they mean earlier than that. 🙂 RT @palefacewriter A6: ICQ maybe? #litchat #LitChat
novemberhill @21stCscribe Yes, I know. I would love to see stellar examples.  #LitChat
21stCscribe @Arzooman_Edit I can’t actually read when music is playing #litchat
Pendare @21stCscribe Sowwy! #LitChat
palefacewriter A6: like the partyline? lol #LitChat
GLHancock Early networks? Like campfires, church choir pactice, camp meetings, seances? Or BBS, forums, mailists? #litchat
21stCscribe @Pendare no problem #litchat
SheanaOchoa Lol”@druchunas: @LitChat @rcmogo @SheanaOchoa reading is not at all passive. Page turning is interactivity. #litchat”
richmagahiz @21stCscribe @Arzooman_Edit It can be hard to write when there’s music with words going on #LitChat
21stCscribe @novemberhill well a non-fiction example is Kafka’s Wound – just google it #litchat
Arzooman_Edit It’s supposed to enhance the story, one character is a songwriter. I’m not sure, you might have to pause your reading. #litchat #LitChat
novemberhill But of new work to me – at least initially. #LitChat
richmagahiz @GLHancock I was thinking of whether there were brothel-based Elizabethan social networks #LitChat
21stCscribe @richmagahiz @Arzooman_Edit see I can write to music, but not read or edit #litchat
novemberhill @21stCscribe Okay, I will check it out. #LitChat
palefacewriter Music… sometimes when I travel by air I play AC/DC or Bob Marley while reading. My preference to sniffing/chatter. =;-) #litchat #LitChat
Pendare @21stCscribe It’s classical all the way for me — which I also have on when writing. #LitChat
Arzooman_Edit I can sometimes write with a lot of noise, but hardly with just a little bit of noise. #litchat.  #LitChat
GLHancock @richmagahiz UK has long history of men’s clubs for all levels of society. #litchat
21stCscribe @richmagahiz 18th century writing in tea rooms & literary societies there #litchat
palefacewriter With headphones, of course. Wouldn’t want anyone else to be disturbed by my habits. #litchat #LitChat
novemberhill Usually I listen to my playlists as a way to get into the story. Not so much while I’m writing. #LitChat
Arzooman_Edit Seems it’s time to go. my LitCat keeps interrupting my #litchat.  #LitChat
richmagahiz @Pendare @21stCscribe But if the book is about punk anarchists classical might not be the most appropriate accompaniment #LitChat
GLHancock I pretty much go deaf when I’m working. #litchat
novemberhill @Arzooman_Edit Ha!!  Love it. #LitChat
novemberhill But the songs are picked specifically for the story I’m writing.  #LitChat
21stCscribe @richmagahiz @Pendare yeah I choose a soundtrack selection for each book & stick to it rigidly #litchat
palefacewriter @Arzooman_Edit Meow Disturbance? #litchat #LitChat
21stCscribe @novemberhill me too #litchat
Pendare @GLHancock Me too. Comes from tuning out four small boys! #LitChat
Arzooman_Edit Nice chatting. Glad I was able to use Nurph; it was so much easier to tweet! I’ll try to make the next one. #litchat #LitChat
GLHancock Needing to hear certain music to write smacks of needing “emotional support” to be a writer. I’m just sayin’ #litchat
palefacewriter A bientot, @Arzooman_Edit! #LitChat
LitChat What a blazing session of #litchat thanks to all of your brilliant minds. We’re going to submit the archive to #beyondthebook. #LitChat
GLHancock @Pendare For me, tho, it means I don’t hear dryer ding, washer end, doorbell … #litchat
Pendare @21stCscribe Mind you, when writing the WWII memoir, I did listen to all the appropriate music of the war years. #LitChat
novemberhill Terrific chat today – thanks for introducing me to nurph. Got to run get daughter from driver’s ed!  #LitChat
21stCscribe @GLHancock no, it’s about the rhythm or the setting #litchat
palefacewriter Thanks for sharing your thoughts, #litchat ers! Out… #LitChat
soniawrite Great chat! Wish I could have been here for all of it. #LitChat
GLHancock @21stCscribe “needing” anything not between your ears sounds like a deficit to me #litchat
LitChat Sending up a shout of THANKS to @JaneFriedman for stopping in today. She’s a beacon of light in this murky publishing climate. #LitChat
Pendare RT @LitChat Sending up a shout of THANKS to @JaneFriedman for stopping in She’s a beacon of light in this murky publishing climate #LitChat
Adult_ADHD_Blog @LitChat @JaneFriedman She sure is! ‘Was a huge help to @Jeff_Emmerson (me) 🙂 #LitChat
LitChat Come back for WritingWednesday when we discus KILLING THE CLICHES. #LitChat
GLHancock RT @LitChat Sending up a shout of THANKS to @JaneFriedman for stopping in today. .. #litchat
richmagahiz @GLHancock @21stCscribe Then needing coffee is a widespread deficit among writers #LitChat
StoryStudio RT @LitChat: Come back for WritingWednesday when we discus KILLING THE CLICHES. #LitChat
Pendare @LitChat That sounds like a great subject. Looking forward to it! #LitChat
GLHancock @richmagahiz  Pretty sure coffee is addictive substance. #litchat
GLHancock RT @LitChat Come back for WritingWednesday when we discus KILLING THE CLICHES./Ooo that’s a great topic for #writing  #litchat
Pendare Bye all.  #LitChat
LitChat Let’s welcome new voices: @Arzooman_Edit @rcmogo @druchunas @palefacewriter. We’re here  MWF, 4-5pmET. #LitChat
LitChat See you on Friday when actress & author Kathryn Leigh Scott @Dark_Passages joins us to discuss DOWN & OUT IN BEVERLY HEELS. #LitChat
LitChat RT @chriswhitewrite: .#LitChat @6Bacon Hellfire Clubs (or just gentleman’s clubs in general.) The Mohoks, maybe…
21stCscribe if anyone from #litchat wants to see a possibility for the new digital fiction, here’s a 3 min video story


Ancient Marginalia: The Watershed Manifesto


The arithmetic magicians of old did not know what fire they handled, what heat they hefted, when they considered the humble ‘1’ and the mystical ‘0.’ Certainly, they knew of power there, but none could have guessed what this dynamic digital duo would be up to come the 21st century.  Indeed, heroic ‘one’ and the Enkidu ‘zero’ are a pair on a journey – and we are all along, passenger and crew.

The recent achievements of this binary couplet are many – but one in particular concerns us here.  Binary has (re)turned content into a fluid. By content, I mean the stuff we generate to fill pages and the grey between our ears.  Story telling, information transmission, all outward expression has been touched and transformed by digitization.

Continue reading at Digital Book World…

The Minigraph: The Future of the Monograph?

Books on a stone ledge

It has taken digital a lot longer than many had thought to provide a serious challenge to print, but it seems to me that we are now in a new moment in which digital texts enable screen-reading (if it is not an anachronism to still call it that) as a sustained practice. Here, I am thinking particularly of the way in which screen technologies, including the high-resolution “retina” displays common on iPhones, Kindle E Ink, etc., combined with much more sensitive typesetting design practices in relation to text, are producing long-form texts that are pleasurable to read on a screen-based medium and as e-books. This has happened most noticeably in magazine articles and longer newspaper features, but is beginning to drift over into well-designed reading apps that we find on our mobile devices, such as Pocket and the Reader function in Safari.

With this change, serious questions are being asked about our writing practices—especially in terms of the assumptions and affordances that are coded into software word-processors like Microsoft Word, which assumes and sometimes enforces a print mentality. Word wants you to print the documents you write, and this prescriptive behavior by the software encourages us to “check” our documents on a “real” paper form before committing to it—even if the final form is a PDF. The reason is that even the PDF is designed for printing, as anyone who has tried to read a PDF document on a digital screen will attest. But when the reading practices of screen media are sufficient, then many of the assumptions of screen writing can be jettisoned, especially the practice of writing for paper.

There is little doubt that writing and reading the screen is different from print (Berry 2012; Gold 2012). These differences are not just technical; they also involve forms of social practice, such as reading in public, passing around documents, sharing ideas, and so forth. They also include the kinds of social signaling that digital documents have been very poor at incorporating into their structures, such as the cover, the publisher, the author’s name, and the book’s unique design. Nonetheless, at the present phase of digital texts, it is in the typesetting and typography, combined with the social reading practices that take place, such as social sharing, marking, copying/pasting, and commenting, that make digital a viable way of creating and consuming textual works. In some ways, the social signaling of the cover artwork, etc. has been subsumed into social media such as Facebook and Twitter, but I think that it is only a matter of time before this is incorporated into mobile devices, since advanced screen technologies, especially an E Ink back cover, can be built for pennies.

To return to the texts themselves, the question of writing, of putting pen to paper, is on the cusp of radical change. The long thirty-year period of stable writing software created by the virtual monopoly that Microsoft gained over desktop computers is drawing to a close. From its initial introduction in 1983 on the Xenix system as Multi-Tool Word and renamed that year to the familiar Microsoft Word that we all know (and often hate) today, print has been the lodestar of word processor design.

As the next stage of digital text emerges, many of the textual apparatuses of print are migrating to the digital platform. As they do so, the advantages of new search and discovery practices make books extremely visible and usable again, through tools like Google Books (Dunleavy 2012). There is still a lot of experimentation in this space, and some problems still remain: for example, there is currently not a viable alternative to the “chunking” process of reading that print has taught us through pages and page numbering, nor is there a means of book marking that is as intuitive as the changing weight of the book as it moves through our hands, or the visual clues afforded through the page volume changing from unread to read as we turn the pages. However, this has been mitigated by turning away from the very long-form book- or monograph-length texts of around 80,000 words, to the moderate long-form, represented by the 15-40,000 word text which I want to call the minigraph.

By minigraph I am seeking to distinguish a specific length of text that is able to move beyond the limitations of the 6-8,000 word article, but avoids the chunking problem of reading lengthy digital texts. In other words, in its current stage of implementation, I think that digital long-form texts are most comfortable to read when they stay within this golden ratio of 15-40,000 words, broken into five or six chapters. The lack of chunking is still a problem without helpful “page” numbers, and I don’t think that paragraph numbering has provided a usable solution to this. However, the shortness of the text means that it is readable within a reasonable period of time, creating a de facto chunking at the level of the minigraph chapter (2,000 – 5,000 words). Indeed, the introduction of an algorithmic paging system that is device-independent would also be helpful, for example through a notion of “planes” which are analogous to pages but calculated in real-time.1 This would help sidestep the problem of fatigue in digital reading, apparent even in our retina/e-ink screen practices, but also creates works that are long enough to be satisfying to read and offer interesting discussion, digression and scholarly apparatus. Other publishers have already been experimenting with the form, such as Palgrave with its Pivot series, a new e-book format: “at 30,000 to 50,000 words, it’s longer than a journal article but shorter than a traditional monograph. The Palgrave Pivot, said Hazel Newton, head of digital publishing, ‘fills the space in the middle’” (Cassuto 2013). Indeed, Stanford University Press has also started “to release new material in the form of midlength e-books. ‘Stanford Briefs’ will run 20,000 to 40,000 words in length.” Cassuto calls Stanford’s format the “mini-monograph.”

How should one write a minigraph? It’s likely that Microsoft Word will algorithmically prescribe paper norms, which in academia tend to either 7,000-word articles or 70,000-word monographs. Here, I think Dieter (2013) is right to make links with the writing practices of Book Sprints as a connecting thread to new forms of publishing (Hyde 2013). The Book Sprint is a “genre of the ‘flash’ book, written under a short timeframe, to emerge as a contributor to debates, ideas and practices in contemporary culture…interventions that go well beyond a well-written blog-post or tweet, and give some substantive weight to a discussion or issue…within a range of 20-40,000 words” (Berry and Dieter 2012). This rapid and collaborative means of writing tends toward the creation of texts of an “appropriate” size for the digital medium. Book Sprints usually involve 4-8 writers, facilitated by another non-writing member. The output of each writer throughout the sprint conveniently maps onto the structure of minigraph chapters discussed earlier. For Dieter, the Book Sprint is conducive to new writing practices, and by extension new reading practices for network cultures, and therefore “formations that break from subjugation or blockages in pre-existing media and organizational workflows” (Dieter 2013). In this I think he is broadly correct; however, Book Sprints also produce texts that are conducive to reading and writing in a digital medium, especially in terms of word count.

Nick Montfort (2013) has suggested a new predominantly digital form of writing that enables different forms of scholarly communication, the technical report, which he argues “is as fast as a speeding blog, as detailed and structured as a journal article, and able to be tweeted, discussed, assessed, and used as much as any official publication can be. It is issued entirely without peer review.” Montfort, however, connects the technical report to the “grey literature” that is not usually considered part of scholarly publishing as such. Experiments like the “pamphlets” issued by the Stanford Literary Lab, and which Montford argues are technical reports in all but name, are between 10-15,000 words in length: slightly longer than a journal article and a little shorter than a minigraph.

However, a key difference is that neither the Book Sprint nor the technical report are peer-reviewed, although they might be “peer-to-peer reviewed” (see Cebula 2010; Fitzpatrick 2011). Rather, they are rapid production, sharing, and collaborative forms geared toward social media and intervention or technical documentation. In contrast, the minigraph would share with the other main scholarly outputs—the journal article and the monograph—the need to be peer-reviewed and produced at a high level of textual quality. This is where the minigraph points to new emergent affordances of the digital that enable the kinds of scholarly activity, such as presenting finished work, carefully annotated and referenced, through these nascent digital textual technologies. If these intuitions are right about the current state of digital technologies and their affordances for the writing and reading of scholarly work, then the minigraph might be the right structure and form for digital scholarship to augment the current ecosystem of the article, review, monograph, and so forth.

In some ways the minigraph is a much less radical suggestion than the multi-modal, all-singing, all-dancing digital object that many have been calling for. However, the minigraph, as conceptualized here, is still potentially deeply computational in form. We might describe the minigraph as a code-object. In this sense, the minigraph is able to contain programmable objects itself, in addition to its textual load, opening up many possibilities for interactive dimensions, like those suggested by the Computable Document Format (CDF) created by Wolfram.

The minigraph as described here does not, of course, exist as such, although its form is detectable in the documents produced by the Quip app, the dexy format, as “literate documentation,” or the Booktype software. It is manifestly not meant to be in the form of Google Docs/Drive, which is essentially traditional word-processing software in the cloud, and which ironically still revolves around a print metaphor. The minigraph is a technical imaginary for what digital scholarly writing might be. It remains to be coded into concrete software and manifested in the practices of scholarly writers and readers. Nonetheless, as a form of long-form text amenable to the mobile practices of readers today, the 15-40,000 word minigraph text could provide a key expressive scholarly form for the digital age.


[1] Minigraph chunks would be at 250-350 word intervals, roughly pages, and chapters of 2-5,000 words. There is no reason why the term “page” could not be used for these chunks, but perhaps “plane” is more appropriate in terms of chunks representing vertical “cuts” in the text at an appropriate frequency. So “plane 5” would be analogous to page 5, but mathematically calculable to approximately (300 x plane number) to give start word, and ((300 x plane number+1)-1) to give the end word of a particular plane. This would make the page both algorithmically calculable and therefore device-independent, but also suitable for scholarly referencing and usable user-friendly numbering throughout the text. As the planes are represented on screen by a digital, the numbering system would be comprehensible to users of printed texts, and would offer a simple transition from paper page-based numbering to algorithmic numbering. If the document was printed, the planes could be automatically reformatted to the page size, and hence further make the link between page and plane straightforward for the reader (who might never even realize the algorithmic source of the numbering system for plane chunks in a minigraph). Indeed, one might place the “plane resolution” within the minigraph text itself, in this case “300”, enabling different plane chunks to be used within different texts, and hence changing the way in which a plane is calculated on a book-by-book basis—very similar to page numbering. One might even have different plane resolutions within chapters in a book, enabling different chunks in different chapters or regions.

Authors and agents becoming publishers together


It is my belief that almost all the innovations that Amazon has brought-to/forced-on the publishing and bookselling industries over the last couple of decades have eventually worked to the advantage of authors and readers. I am quite sure if I were a publisher or a bookseller I would feel very differently about the rise of Amazon to virtual world dominance, but I’m not. As both an author and a reader I love the many ways in which they have enriched my life.

There have been rumblings recently of “mysterious and secret” deals being done between Amazon and some of the biggest and brightest literary agents. They are calling it their “White Glove” service, and from the point of view of authors whose agents love their books but are unable to persuade traditional publishers to take them on, it’s a brilliant innovation, which I believe points to one of the ways forward for people working in publishing.

Last year I wrote a novella, Secrets of the Italian Gardener. I sent the manuscript to one of the biggest and best agents in London, who I have known for many years, and he came back brimming with enthusiasm. He wanted no re-writes and he was sure he could get a sale. He told me the book was a “contemporary re-casting of Ecclesiastes” and was about “the vanity associated with the desire for power and possessions and ultimately about the cycle of birth, growth, death and re-birth” – which was a surprise, but by no means an unpleasant one.

Six months later he had to admit that he had failed to convince any publishers to come into business with us on this one. In the old days that would have been the end of the story. Simple self-publishing was now one option, of course, but with Amazon’s “White Glove” service we had another, and to my mind far preferable, alternative.

Highly skilled staff at the agency proceeded to do a totally professional copy-edit and then did all the heavy lifting with getting the book up onto Amazon, ready for print-on-demand as well as electronic publication. It has become a team effort rather than a lone author’s voice in the crowd and should the book start to “gain traction” in the market place the agency is already fully engaged and ready to handle the business side of taking it to the next level.

It seems to me that this template offers future roles for all the souls who work as authors and agents and who are unable to persuade anyone else to come on board with a project. The resulting books stand as good a chance of success as anything published in the traditional way, avoiding the “ordeal by rejection” which has made life as a professional author such a nightmare for the last two hundred years.


Two Paths for the Future of the Author


Let’s pretend you’re an author. What do you most want from life? More likely than not, you want readers to read what you create, and you want enough money to keep writing what you’d like to write (in relative comfort). In the future, who is going to read your books? Who is going to give you money to keep paying your rent? The most common answer, the author’s fantasy, is that she will earn money from the people who read her work.

You dream of living comfortably because you’re able to attract readers. This is more or less a fantasy of market justice. I’m sorry to report that reality bears little relation to this fantasy. The people who read you and the people who pay your bills are probably not going to be the same. It is exceedingly rare for an author to be able to generate enough of an income to survive from book sales. In almost every case, non-readers subsidize your writing.

This is true today, and will continue to be the case. Let’s take a look at two possible futures for the author which have their foundations in already existing institutions.

Literary Investors

My novel Pop Apocalypse imagines a future world in which aspiring celebrities can float their names on a reputation stock market. After your IPO, you capitalize on your potential, build your human brand and pay dividends to shareholders. There are primitive examples of systems like this that exist today. For example, the novelist Tao Lin sold shares of the profits of his novel Richard Yates to readers. The minor-league pitcher Randy Newsom sold shares of his future earnings. Kickstarter and similar crowdfunding sites promise to generalize these phenomena.

You may think of these sites as a means of forging a direct relationship to readers. But this is a mistaken view. Such sites are only indirectly related to whether you connect to readers. On these services, enthusiastic investors may pony up cash because they like a particular project. They may indeed want to read your book. But they may also have purely financial motivations. If the author is offering to share a portion of the book’s profits, the book itself is secondary. Investors may, as Ian Bogost suggests, have an almost purely imaginative relationship to the project in question. Bogost writes:

We don’t really want the stuff. We’re paying for the sensation of a hypothetical idea, not the experience of a realized product. For the pleasure of desiring it. For the experience of watching it succeed beyond expectations or to fail dramatically. Kickstarter is just another form of entertainment. It’s QVC for the Net set. And just like QVC, the products are usually less appealing than the excitement of learning about them for the first time and getting in early on the sale.

Your investors may want to be seen as the sort of person who supports a particular kind of literary project. They may be fans of your literary brand, not your books. So literary investing would become a kind of entertainment media. Admittedly, part of the symbolic fulfillment of a particular entertainment-investment might involve the author-brand completing her proposed book. Investors might also feel happier if their favorite author is a bestseller. Who doesn’t love a winner?

But whatever the case may be, you shouldn’t nurse the fantasy that you’re earning your keep because readers love – or even read – your books. Whether or not a literary investment fulfills its promise, its success is only incidental to its material realization.

State Subsidies

Norway offers another model for your literary future. As Wendy Griswold documents in her book of literary sociology, Regionalism and the Reading Class, Norway invests in its authors in a serious way. I outlined the dramatic scope of this investment in a post on Stanford’s Arcade blog:

Norway buys 1000 copies of every book a Norwegian author publishes. It provides a $19,000 annual subsidy to every author who is a member of the Authors’ Union. The Association of Bookstores is allowed to have a monopoly on the sale of books – but is prohibited by law from engaging in price competition. It requires, by law, that bookstores keep books in stock for two years regardless of sales. And it exempts books from its very steep sales tax. Not surprisingly, Griswold finds, “Norwegians everywhere read, and they read a lot; Norway has one of the world’s highest reading rates.”

Under this system, authors receive generous support, literary culture thrives and readers presumably have a wide range of appealing books to buy on the market. Which is all for the good. As an author, I’d like to live in a country with a literary system that resembled Norway’s. Though you would be materially enriched if you lived under such a system, the relation between you and your readers is anything but pure or simple. You presumably receive your subsidy whether or not you are productive in a given year. You’re ultimately being paid by taxpayers, not readers. These taxpayers may or may not also be readers. At the top of the literary pyramid of success, you may earn substantially more than your allotted subsidy, or you may not.

The state presumably doesn’t subsidize authors because they love you as an individual author – sorry! – but rather because it reflects the priorities of the population. A people who choose to direct tax dollars toward authors presumably care about fostering a healthy and sustainable national literary culture. The goodness or badness of a particular author is beside the point. The health of the literary field as a whole is what is at stake. We may debate the desirability of such a system – the question of whether Norway’s system is optimal will require much more discussion – but the point is that your capacity to pay your rent and your readership is heavily mediated.


What conclusions can we draw from juxtaposing these two models? First, the writer-reader relationship is never simple. You may think that you are fostering communities of loyal followers or readers, but you’re actually interacting through a much vaster set of mediating institutions. Someone educated your readers. Labor law shapes the amount of leisure time that your readers have to enjoy your books. The state may facilitate your bodily survival, either through the provision of social welfare benefits (like health care), through tax breaks and other subsidies or through other indirect means. When you put your wares on the market or make a promise to put your wares on the market, you may think you are forging a more direct connection to your readers. In fact, you are fostering the fantasies of readers, possible readers and others who may not read word you write.

Is this a depressing state of affairs? No, it’s just as it should be – and, moreover, just as it must be. The real question goes beyond the situation of the individual writer. The question is: What kind of literary system do you want to live in? What policies, institutions, and economic arrangements would foster the world you want to write in? If you believe you have some hand in determining the future of the book – if you believe that, working together, we can direct the Shape of Things to Come – then the real task ahead is to build this better, alternate world. You’ll have to become a writer of something like political science fiction.

Authors: Develop Communities, Not Just Audiences


In 2008 Kevin Kelly, author and former editor of Wired magazine, posted an incisive and influential essay, “1,000 True Fans.” He noted that the “long tail” in media is great for the aggregators (Google, Amazon, etc.) and the general public, but a problem for artists who weren’t stars. He wrote:

A creator, such as an artist, musician, photographer, craftsperson, performer, animator, designer, videomaker, or author – in other words, anyone producing works of art – needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living.

A True Fan is defined as someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce. They will drive 200 miles to see you sing. They will buy the super deluxe re-issued hi-res box set of your stuff even though they have the low-res version. They have a Google Alert set for your name. They bookmark the eBay page where your out-of-print editions show up. They come to your openings. They have you sign their copies. They buy the t-shirt, and the mug, and the hat. They can’t wait till you issue your next work. They are true fans.

I’d experienced this several decades earlier, when I spent seven years playing music for a living. My band had the kinds of fans Kevin describes here. We played mostly around New England, and almost no matter where we appeared, at least a few of them would show up. They were, for us, much more than a friendly audience. They were friends and part of a community.

Later, as a journalist practicing my trade relatively early in in the digital age, I discovered something else: My readers knew more than I did. This was blindingly obvious in retrospect, if not at the time. Not only did they know things I didn’t, but they could easily let me know via online communications.

When a blog software pioneer, Dave Winer, launched one of the first blogging platforms in 1999, I jumped aboard. It became an essential part of my newspaper column at Silicon Valley’s San Jose Mercury News and the comments became a vital part of the conversations I was having with my readers.

As noted elsewhere in this e-book, I used the blog to post chapter drafts of my first book. The suggestions from readers were amazingly helpful, and the book was vastly better as a result.

Since then, our ability as authors to interact with our audiences has only grown — and I’m more convinced than ever that we need to move past the word “audience” and think about “users” and “community” in this context.

My more recent book, Mediactive, isn’t just a book. It’s also a toolkit for modern media literacy. I offer blog-based lesson plans for teachers and make everything available under a Creative Commons license to help spread my ideas on what I believe is an essential skill for the 21st Century. I also have great conversations in email, on Google+ and Twitter, and of course on my blogs, with people who want to talk about this.

Creating users and communities has meaning for an author’s bottom line as well. As crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and self-publishing tools of various kinds give artists ways to go around the traditional publishing industry cartel, authors can leverage their communities into support. We can reach our 1,000 fans much more easily, with less and less conversational and financial friction, than we ever could before.

A caution: Community development and management skills don’t come naturally to everyone. I failed badly at this in a digital news startup some years back and I don’t claim to be an expert now. But having a conversation isn’t a chore for me, and what I gain from it is more than worth the effort.

Where can we take conversation and community? For one thing, we can recognize that a single price point – a book’s list or street price – is an absurdly limited view of the emerging book ecosystem. Some authors are experimenting with higher-priced special editions for what we might call their 250 Super Fans who not only buy everything but are happy to spend more for a special version. Or maybe there’s a premium-priced “dinner with the author” when he or she is visiting a new city.

One more caution: Conversations and communities take time. Authors have to ask themselves how much time they can afford to divert from their most essential job: writing and re-writing. If they neglect that, the rest won’t matter.

Google Should Buy the Entire Publishing Industry


The creation of books is a cottage industry: solitary artisans or small teams labor away in private to produce eccentric products tailored to the recondite needs of an audience which may be tiny (in extreme cases of academic publishing, the reader community may number a couple of hundred, worldwide) and is in any event very small by mass media standards. Even a wildly successful global-scale bestseller is unlikely to rival the audience (much less the profitability) of a mid-ranking Hollywood movie. Publishing as an industry is only large because it is so prolific, with roughly 300,000 trade books published per year in the US (“Books published per country per year”); it may come as a surprise to realize that the global turnover of the publishing industry is around the $20 billion mark.

Moreover, much of this turnover is absorbed by the supply chain. Amazon alone has three times the turnover of the Big Five multinational publishing conglomerates (who account for 80% of the industry’s revenue). Publishing is, quite simply, not a very profitable industry sector – it’s labor-intensive, inefficient and the only reason we put up with it is (to paraphrase Winston Churchill) because all the alternatives are worse.

Part of the reason we put up with the system is because it gives authors (the “we” in this context) a mechanism for remuneration. Writing is hard brain-work. Worse, non-authors underestimate it. (Most people have the basic literacy skills to read a book, and also to construct a sentence or write a paragraph. Books are, to a first approximation, just lots of paragraphs strung together: “so why shouldn’t I write a novel?” thinks the lay reader. This ignores the fact that a novel is structurally different from a high school essay the way a wide-body airliner is structurally different from a balsa-wood toy glider: there’s a complexity angle that isn’t immediately obvious. But I digress.) So books and the labor that goes into making them are persistently undervalued.

The mechanism by which working authors currently earn a living is copyright licensing. We automatically own copyright – literally, the right to control copying – over material we have invented. If we’re successful, we license the right to make copies to a publisher, who sells copies to the general public and pays us a pro-rata share of their receipts (a royalty).

There’s an interesting paradox implicit in the copyright/royalty licensing paradigm, of course. The more expensive the product, the more money the author receives per copy – but the fewer the number of customers. Consumers are convinced that anyone can write a book: how hard can it be? So the idea of charging, say, $10,000 a copy for a novel strikes them as ludicrous, even if the work in question took the author years of hard work to produce. In economic theory, the term for the change in demand as the price of a product increases is the price elasticity of demand.

Books are problematic: it turns out that e-books in particular suffer a drastic drop in demand if the cover price exceeds a very low threshold – around $4.99 in the US market. This is considerably lower than the price of a mass market paperback, much less a hardcover: consumers, it would appear, value the information content of a book less highly than the physical object itself.

As an author I have two goals. I want to maximize my income, and I want to maximize my readership. But by seeking to maximize income per copy sold, I may inadvertently minimize the number of copies sold, i.e. minimize my readership. The two goals are not merely orthogonal; they may be in conflict.

Anyway, this brings me to an interesting thought experiment: what would be the consequences if a large internet corporation such as Google were to buy the entire publishing industry?

Bear in mind that Google or Apple have a sufficiently large cash pile that they could take out a majority stake in all of the Big Five – it would only take on the order of $10 billion. Also bear in mind that the paper publication side of these organizations could remain largely unaffected by this takeover, insofar as they could still be operated as profitable commercial business units. The focus of the takeover by Google would be on the electronic side of the industry. The purchaser would effectively have acquired the exclusive electronic rights to roughly 300,000 commercial-quality books per year in the US market space. They could provide free public access to these works in return for a royalty payment to authors based on a formula extrapolating from the known paper sales, or a flat fee per download; or they could even put the authors on payroll. The cost would be on the order of a few billion dollars per year – but the benefit would be a gigantic pool of high-quality content.

From an author’s point of view, the benefits should be obvious. Having your books given away free by FaceAppleGoogBook maximizes your potential readership, while retaining print royalties and some sort of licensing stipend from FaceAppleGoogBook should maintain your income stream. Win on both counts!

Such a buyout would amount to a wholesale shift to a promotion-supported model for book publishing. Google would presumably use free book downloads to drive targeted advertising and collect information about their users’ reading habits and interests. Apple might use the enormous free content pool as a lure for a shiny new proprietary iReader hardware device. Facebook could target the authors, wheedling them to pay for promotional placement in front of new readers. The real questions are: is there enough money in a new shiny iReader device or the AdWords market (indeed, the advertising industry as a whole) to support the publishing sector as a promotional loss-leader; and, would this get FaceAppleGoogBook something they don’t already have?

Perhaps we should ask why they haven’t done this already.

The dismal answer probably lies in the mare’s tale of contracts and licensing agreements and legal boilerplate that underpins the publishing industry. The 300,000 books/year figure points to 300,000 legal contracts per year. Contracts which in many cases ban advertising, or place bizarre constraints on licensing and sub-licensing and distribution through anomalous channels such as Edison wax cylinder reproduction rights and talking stuffed character toys. Untangling the e-publishing rights and renegotiating the right to distribute them for free in return for a flat payment would be a nightmare; only an algorithmic approach to massively parallel contract negotiation could succeed and such an exercise might strain even Google’s prodigious programming capabilities. And as an afterthought, why should FaceGoogleBook try to buy books so that they can advertise through them, when they can plaster advertisements all over the search pages that lead readers to the books, or the commerce sites that sell them?

Looks like my utopian future as a salaried Google employee churning out Creative Commons licensed, freely downloadable novels for my enthusiastic audience (enthusiastic because everything is suddenly free – in return for their eyeballs, of course) will have to wait.

The Idea of the Author Is Facing Extinction


I spent more than ten years working at Writer’s Digest, a media brand that provides information, education and services to writers both new and established. In the span of those ten years, a lot happened. Most of the U.S. population got online, social media and Web 2.0 evolved and e-books took off.

Expectations for authors have changed dramatically. Perhaps we never lived in a world where a writer could just focus on his writing to the exclusion of all else, but certainly there was less to worry about if you were writing novels pre-Internet. Your publisher wasn’t asking you to tweet, be on Facebook, write blog posts, have a website or build a platform.

On the other hand, pre-Internet, an author had few options for making a living that didn’t involve working with a publisher. Today’s authors live with the burden and opportunity of being able to reach their readers directly, without anyone’s help. In fact, an author can make a full-time job out of marketing, promotion and audience development, waking up to find that, somewhere along the way, the writing became secondary. Steven Pressfield has talked about this phenomenon, what he calls the “shadow career.” He writes in Turning Pro, of people who get distracted by activities that lie outside of the work (in our case, the work of writing):

Instead of composing our symphony, we create a “shadow symphony,” of which we ourselves are the orchestra, the composer and the audience. Our life becomes a shadow drama, a shadow start-up company, a shadow philanthropic venture. […] The amateur is an egotist. He takes the material of his personal pain and uses it to draw attention to himself. He creates a “life,” a “character,” a “personality.”

There is a danger in the industry’s call to authors to build relationships with readers, to be responsive and engaged, to be in “conversation.” How big of a danger, however, totally depends on the values and goals of the writer. If the goal is sales and long-term readership growth, there might not be any harm at all. But if the activities impede the writer from pursuing his primary purpose (however that may be described or quantified), then we can see the call to engagement as seriously detrimental and distracting.

This has been the conclusion of many “literary” authors, or those people who see their purpose as producing art and meaning, something that goes beyond entertainment or “satisfying” the reader. Author Will Self said in an interview with The Guardian: “I don’t really write for readers. I think that’s a defining characteristic of being serious as a writer” (qtd. in Day, “Will Self”). What happens to such writers in the future of publishing, if it is defined or driven by author-reader interaction?

I’ve often tried to tell writers (of all stripes) that the Internet is the best thing to happen to the introvert. Before the Internet, an author would probably be put upon by a publisher to do tours, talks and other public appearances that can be time-consuming and draining. Post-Internet, the introverted author can decide exactly how, when and where they want to interact with the public – do it completely on their own terms. There’s a great deal of control and planning that one never used to have over marketing, promotion and networking activities. The Internet, in short, is a great blessing for introverts.

But that doesn’t really solve the problem of the author who has zero interest in putting on a show or being revealed. Another serious author, Benjamin Anastas, argued:

Distance is the writer’s friend. It’s nice to break out from your seclusion every now and then and give a reading to a room of actual people, or visit a college class that’s reading one of your books, or introduce yourself to someone on the subway who’s got his nose in your first novel. […] But for the most part the old adage holds true: You should never meet your heroes. And if your heroes are writers, you really don’t want to meet them. Writers are generally vain, and needy, and shut inside for most of the day listening to the voices in their head, so when they come out, their behavior can be erratic. […] Mystery plays a big role in our love of books, and by using social media to promote yourself, you’re only demystifying your work for everyone who follows you. And that makes you lose potential readers.

What is to come of the author who holds this philosophy? Does such a species survive? Does the future of publishing, which is becoming more and more focused on reader interaction, favor a very particular type author, one who is comfortable serving his customers? Or is there a class of readers out there who, just like the authors, prefer no interaction, and recognize the wisdom of never meeting your “heroes”? Perhaps a patronage system will evolve to support such authors and their art, if they can neither support themselves (through entrepreneurial activities) nor gain publisher support.

What nags at me, however, is that our culture’s idea and concept of authorship is destined to change. As Richard Nash pointed out in his essay “The Business of Literature,” the concept of the author is a fairly recent one, which was invented side by side with the printing press. The digital era may entail a new type of authorship, one that is built on resampling, remixing and collaboration. Authors may evolve to be leaders, moderators and synthesizers of information, rather than the dictator in control of it.

Bob Stein, at the Institute for the Future of the Book, has advised, “Go back and study […] what McLuhan called the shift to print, the place where an idea could be owned by a single person. One of McLuhan’s genius insights was his understanding of how the shift from an oral culture to one based on print gave rise to our modern notion of the individual as the originator and owner of particular ideas.” We are outgrowing the era where someone owns an idea, or, as Stein eloquently says, “If the printing press empowered the individual, the digital world empowers collaboration” (qtd. in Bustillos, “Wikipedia And The Death Of The Expert”).

Bookmobiles in Reverse: Rogue Wheeled Scanners


We humans have never lived in an environment like this digital one, one that is increasing exponentially in complexity and size. None of us can keep up. The latest new thing yanks attention this way and that. We risk that whole libraries of content and backlists may be leapfrogged over, ignored, never digitally archived, lost forever.

As traditional publishers consolidate to a handful of global players, all with sophisticated digital strategies and business models serving their current business interests, perhaps, increasingly, only the content they choose to publish or aggregate or point to may  be found by online readers, on terms these few publishers dictate.

OK, maybe free search will still turn up unvalidated forests of digital content unbranded by any traditional publishing authority (such as publisher, library, university, or gov.), adding bricks to our Tower of Babel.  But in both cases, digitized content = centrally controlled content, and, as we saw on the side of the barn in Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” such content can be changed with a keystroke.  Readers of the future should be ensured both of the comprehensiveness of online scanned content, and also its fidelity to the printed word. Time for a popular library?

Perhaps some new, extra-institutional publishers will crank up and take a populist approach to building and maintaining personal libraries from around the world, creating a multilingual, ubiquitously available online library. Instead of Bookmobiles bringing books for people to read in outlying communities, a small UHaul  Bookmobile carrying a state of the art scanner may roll in to town, funded by the local Rotary or Chamber of Commerce, and spend a Saturday at the Community House, scanning for free people’s rare books and documents, creating a people’s library, accompanied by a rich semantic index which could be created and maintained by university-based indexers and metadata experts, growing a new and popular library before all those old paper books get….recycled.

The Way the Trees Are: Cabin #1


Five years from now, when the loons start to sing and the weather heats up,  we’ll want to read a real book or 2 up in Cabin #1, at the end of the path, deep in the woods where solitude reigns and cellphones don’t work. We will take  backroads up to the North Country,  avoiding EZPass scanners on I95, shutting off or leaving home any GPS enabled clothing, accessories like glasses, jewelry, or other devices. We’ll stop at non-chain eateries along the way, to avoid security cameras and ubiquitous computing opportunities at all the hot spots along the route, where what used to be furniture (tabletops, backs of seat cushions, menus, bathroom wall fixtures) now take the place of the devices we tote around today — PDAs and cellphones. Your retina scan, your thumb print, will let you log in from virtually anywhere (except Cabin #1!) . Even your clothing will be “hot!” Gone will be the days of toting around a plastic rectangle, keeping it charged, thumbing messages into or buying little custom color covers to protect it.  XML will rule; text will flow freely. You will be able to access your online avatar(s)  (you may assume multiple identities!) from anywhere, without needing to remember usernames and pwds because your retina/fingerprint/dna “me-suite” will take care of that customer ID you, and you will be able to get news, content, messages, pix, tunes, books  — hey, it’s all one! — from anywhere at any time. Take off your T-shirt, shake it to stiffen up the interface, and bingo, you’ve got a screen to stare at and live in, no matter where you are. When devices are gone, no longer will you have to wrestle with these costly “plans” from for-profit telcos to maintain your online presence, getting locked into years-long licenses of paying exorbitant fees for insubstantial digital “products” like # of text messages.  You will be required by the government to be online all the time, and will get fined and possibly jailed  if you are not online. Universal health care will mean that your biometrics will need to get uploaded regularly, or you will not be covered if you need medical attention.

So this trip to Cabin #1 for the purposes of reading a paper book, the old kind of reading where the type is sunk into the beautiful cotton paper of the page,  may be kind of radical act, kind of like the end of “Fahrenheit 451,” where the book lovers amble among the trees reciting the book they each memorized, after all the books have been destroyed. But remember, if you can get there, and avoid all the satellite- and tower- enabled scanners and ubiquitous readers along the way, there will be a shelf of good books, some clean water to drink, a rocking chair, and an unlimited vista of night stars waiting for you!

Pay the Reader


Online publishers have been struggling to modify for the online media the product-based,  reader-paid business models. This recompense model needs to be flipped on its head, so that humans are paid to think out loud, in the secure, trusted, selected, and recorded environment  of their choosing, either anonymously or for attribution (different pay scales for each). Publishers will license “cogniright” instead of copyright, in this instance, and cognactivity would include such online actions as:

  • generating original prose or commentary
  • footnoting: linking to related sites or publications to buttress one’s original thoughts
  • opinionating: endorsing or damning other publications
  • living out loud: publishing one’s online thought pat

This reader-paid model might best be first implemented in medical publishing, as the life and death impetus has a way of sharpening the business need. And truth and timeliness in publication is critical. Also, in STM or Tech publishing, we frequently see heuristic cycles  of defined content domains where authors who are also readers who are also authors. What’s missing is the business model that compensates readers (and editors) specifically for their online editorial and publishing duties. And when I say compensate I don’t mean only a one-time hourly or retainer fee, but an ongoing residual for contributing to and assuming responsibility for the validity of online content.


Paper vs. Digital


I say unfortunatly since i have always been in love with the published words and the smell of books.

digital reading seems to be the future, but ademant paper loving readers should fight or at least resist the battle to go with papers

Calling All Blue Pencil Dinosaurs!


To understand what will become of editors in the digital future, we need to understand editors’ roles int he context of a traditional publishing house. I use a trade publishing house as an example, where, back in the 1970s when I started out at Little, Brown and Co.,  “editors” had the following roles:

  • Acquisitions Editor — Selects the one book manuscript from the many, publishes a list of authors every year
  • Substantive Editor — Work closely with the Author to realize the book’s potential, focusing on the Big Ideas in the book
  • Manuscript or Line Editor — Pay close attention to the prose, help the author finalize the manuscript on a line-by-line basis
  • Copy Editor — Fine tune the prose, focusing on grammar, consistency, prose, and integrating all the parts (captions, index, etc.)

Working with such editors is how authors like Norman Mailer, J. D. Salinger, Gore Vidal, William Manchester for published at Little, Brown. Editing was a process of refinement, so that readers, when they saw the “LB” logo on the spine of the book, could trust that the prose inside was close to the author’s vision or truth. Publishing was a linear, collaborative,  and analog process, person-to-person, requiring sustained attention by many editors over a period of approximately 9 months. This process has not yet been mapped to the digital world of publications, and rarely exists any more in the world of publishing conglomerates.

In addition to the editors names above, outside of the trade discipline, and into peer-reviewed scientific publications, one needs also to consider peer review editors, who read colleagues’ work and recommend it for publishing or not, usually in a “blind” process where the reviewer is unknown to the author. Again, these editors are part of a larger system, a publishing house, with their goal being to ensure that the resulting publication is as close to the truth as possible.

For independently produced, digital multimedia, kinetic books of the present and future, will there continue to be one single umbrella entity, like LB Co.,  providing a quality control process, funding and distribution for publications produced by editors practicing such roles, plus all the new editing roles — link, video, translation, and display editors for example?    I doubt it.

Roaming about the digital plains today we find many editors of all stripes — most of them freelancing as book doctors or consultants, outside of publishing houses. Who if anyone will harvest their knowledge and skills in author support, in book enabling in this new age? And who will train the generation of editing people and programs to come? Will readers be able to continue to rely on traditional publishers’ logos to ensure that what lies inside a book’s covers is true?

We digital publishers are akin to the first amphibians flopping on the beach, gasping for air as we emerge from the sea of traditional, paper- and product-based publishing. Our old analog ways of doing things, like editing,  do not map to this new world of immediate creation and publication, of living out loud. We see the Tower of Babel rising before our eyes, self erecting. Our search for answers happens urgently, in real time. Thanks to ASU & FBF for leading the industry to define and assume its role in the new world.

See als, from the early days of online publishing: