To understand & improve the process…
Doctorow expressed the most heart-wrenching part of the traditional publishing process:
But the reality of books was this: a publisher’s rep would come in and tell us breathlessly about the lead titles – how much promotion they were up for, how much the house believed in the title, how well the author had done before. We’d order a pile of hardcovers, generally a smaller pile than we’d been asked to take, and usually, they’d sell modestly well. Then we’d return the leftovers, and some months later, they’d resurface as remainders, with their dustjackets clipped or magic-markered lines drawn on their page-edges. Then they’d come in as paperbacks, hang around for a few months longer, and vanish. Sometimes, a copy or two would surface as used trade-ins, and sometimes a regular would ask us to order a copy, but within a short time, the book would no longer be in the publisher’s catalog in any form. It would be gone.
This was the greatest shock of my bookselling career, because these weren’t always bad books. Sometimes, they’d be wonderful books, the kind of books you wrote enthusiastic ‘‘shelf-talkers’’ for and recommended to all the regulars – the kind of books you fell in love with. Sometimes there was an afterword that talked about how much heart and soul the author poured into the book – the years of work and heartbreak. And just like that, the book would be gone.
How can a book live on? He asks authors who consider self-publishing to have a plan (there’s a novel idea). In particular, the plan needs to address how “to understand and improve the process by which large masses of people decide to read a book.”
Here are some of my “understand&improve” thoughts for Delta Stream Media:
- Readers as co-producers
- Authors as community leaders (more meaningful than “book tours” and more flat-structured and peer-to-peer than workshop&consult models)
- Books as living social objects (with versions, more like software)
- Layered (“onion”), continuous model of publishing (making the works public) to increasingly large circles, but rewarding enough at all levels to stop there if need be
- Moving to the next, slightly larger layer of publicity means more work, but the work is spread among people previously engaged
- The network is not a pyramid, but a more distributed network architecture, like LLL
- The principle of care: the innermost levels are people who have relatively strong love for the topic, the content and the author (cf. fanfic networks or academic journals for narrow specializations)
SHREK: No! Layers! Onions have layers. Ogres have layers. Onions have layers. You get it? We both have layers.
P.S. Making relatively empty sequels to good works is not how media should become “living social objects.”
P.P.S. An excellent example of observation-driven, agile, version-based dialog with media users:
For raids, we look at curves indicating the number of new players who beat an encounter each week. That slope tends to be steep at first as the most talented guilds race through the content, and then slows down as other players make progress. It’s time for us to step in when the lines flatten out and no new players are beating the content. It’s a bit easier for the five-player dungeons because we want players to prevail almost all the time. Nobody wants to go back to Throne of the Tides week after week until they finally beat Lady Naz’jar.