creative writing community, craft and inspiration
Jason Allen Ashlock may not like to call himself an expert, but we at The Writers Circle refuse to consider him anything else. Who but a true digital visionary could take the shaky landscape of modern-day publishing and map such a clear, precise picture of its transformation and opportunities?
“May I have five volunteers from the audience, please?”
Jason began his talk by calling up five members of the audience. He swiftly identified two as the Writer and the Reader, and placed three traditional publishing professionals between them: the Publisher, the Distributor, and the Retailer. We all grew up with this publishing model and were comfortable with it.
But then he called up another volunteer – titling her as the Disrupter, Amazon. “This thin intermediary seemed harmless at first,” Jason explained. “But then it assumed the job of Distributor and Retailer – and eventually even that of Publisher.” By dismissing the publishing pros one by one – both in our demo and in real life – Writer and Reader moved substantially closer together.
Shifts in the Bedrock
While these changes have produced great optimism in the writers’ lives with the opportunity to go direct to the reader, they also have caused great anxiety. Jason detailed how the once rock-solid publishing world has shifted in a variety of ways:
From Physicality to Virtuality. We no longer need a physical book to read a story.
From Scarcity to Abundance. In the past few decades, we’ve moved from independent booksellers with limited shelf space to cavernous stores like Borders and Barnes & Noble, then to Amazon with its seemingly limitless offerings, and finally to today’s instantaneous downloads.
From Container to Context. Books no longer need to be a certain shape and size, but can suit the needs of the community of readers in terms of both length and content. The very idea of the book has been transmuted.
“These shifts raise many questions,” Jason told a nodding audience. “What is authorship and how does it differ now from aspiring authorship? Has authorship become another form of entrepreneurism, requiring endless self-promotion? If you don’t engage in these new modes of publishing, does that mean you’re not brave enough?”
Tech Tools to Think Differently
One way to get used to the new publishing realities is to try some of the new technical tools available for authors – many of them free. Jason suggested:
• Scrivener, a writing platform that puts all of the elements at a writer’s fingertips
• Google Docs, providing the ability to share and edit documents collaboratively in the cloud
• Evernote, a repository for random ideas
• Workflowy, a minimal organizational tool.
These tools, and others, can simplify a writer’s work process and enrich their creativity. “We need to push ourselves to think differently,” Jason said.
Flash Teams to Publish Differently
While traditional publishing still remains the goal of many writers, others – including some who are already traditionally published – are opting for the autonomy of working with a smaller publisher or doing it themselves.
“If they’re smart,” Jason said, “they’re not sacrificing quality. By pulling together ‘flash publishing teams,’ writers can avail themselves of the expertise of professional editors, designers and online promoters to work on focused, individual projects, ensuring the same level of professionalism once only found in a large publishing house.”
Three Principles to Live By
Jason concluded with three principles to guide all authors facing the new digital realities:
Drink Mexican Wine. When introduced to the new wines of Mexico during a recent trip, Jason discovered, “Where there is no tradition, there is only experimentation.” There are no rules in this new field, so writers should feel empowered to play in the untrodden space, discovering what works, and what doesn’t, for them.
Learn to Love the Broken Places. While we all still crave the acceptance that comes when big publishing finds us worthy, it’s less and less likely to happen without the assurance of the publisher’s financial success. But the current disruption may provide aspiring authors with new opportunities. Small publishers are picking up brilliant authors and giving them the platform they deserve. Writers are finding ways to publish on their own.
Walk on Water. We need to grow accustomed to the idea that the publishing world will never be the same – and that there are advantages in finding your footing in the new reality. Publishing has become increasingly tied to mass market success, which has ultimately brought us books that are more and more generic. The flash team publishing model means that writers don’t need to succeed solely by the measuring stick of the bottom line. They can afford to reach fewer, more invested readers with work that speaks to them. Success in publishing looks different now, but great satisfaction and an appreciative audience can come from these new, unexpected places.
In a mind-expanding afternoon, our publishing guru gave us a great deal to think about. One thing, however, has not changed. “You still need to write the best book you can,” Jason concluded. “That’s still the key.”