you should publish a book

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You dream of writing a book.

In fact, even if you’ve previously written books, you dream of writing another one.

Two things are going through your mind right now:

  1. He’s reading my mind. That means magic is real. I can fly. I can fly! crash…thump
  2. What’s wrong with me? (Yes, indeed, what is wrong with you? Who writes a book nowadays?)

Let’s be even more specific: you dream of writing a “traditionally published” book, the entire process from soup to nuts, including a literary agent.

And not just any agent. You want to get yourself The Agent, the brusque, Chanel-clad power agent who just hired a stunning-if-it-weren’t-for-those-glasses number 2 assistant recently arrived from Kalamazoo to pursue her dreams of literary stardom and sure, maybe she’s a klutz and spills coffee on a famous author’s manuscript that one time (“That was Stephen King’s original draft of Cujo 2: Off the Leash!, Jennifer—it’s irreplaceable!”), but her new gay friend’s gonna give her a rocking makeover, plus there’s this really cute guy she meets when they’re both reading Ulysses on the subway coincidentally (he just wants to be friends—doesn’t he?) and she’s going to be important enough to use a New York City car service (“Mom, I’m calling you from a car, and the driver is wearing a suit!”) someday soon because she spotted a bestseller on the slush pile that’s going to be made into a movie starring Shailene Woodley as the number 2 assistant of a Chanel-clad power agent recently arrived from Kalamazoo…

You know, traditional publishing.

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escaping the new media cargo cult: or, how I learned to stop worrying and ignore the metrics

This article appeared in modified form on Boing Boing.

What appealed to me about the Web from the start was that what seemed too niche for the “mainstream” could flourish because you had a mechanism (search, links) for reaching all the oddballs on your frequency. To paraphrase (and reverse) William Gibson, your readers are already here, they’re just evenly distributed. The Web brings your true fans together. I call it gerrynerdering.

Except something’s changed. Whether you blame Facebook, Buzzfeed, HuffPo, or “algorithms,” the new media landscape has grown a big fat mainstream of its own. Not at one particular site, but in the sense of a particular mechanic of creative expression: tailored for clicks, pasteurized, grabby. The long tail of odd and authentic content is bigger than ever, but if you find your content the way most people do, through the algorithmically warped suggestions in your social media feeds, the stuff you stumble onto feels less like writing and more like wordage, a sort of tips-and-tragedies lorem ipsum.

What happened? And what does this mean for writers who want to reach an appreciative audience without putting their ideas through a wood-chipper? I’m an editor so this shift is of profound importance to me: boring writing sucks even more for those of us who have to work closely with it.

I found one possible answer, appropriately enough, in a highly technical interview about a programming language from the 1970s.

Alan Kay was a key player at Xerox PARC, the storied research team that developed the laser printer, the mouse, Ethernet, and the graphical user interface. (Michael Hiltzik’s Dealers of Lightning tells the whole, fascinating story of PARC.) Among other things, Kay conceived of the Dynabook—a device superficially resembling the iPad although potentially much more transformative—back in 1972 while at PARC.

You can’t throw a brick at Kay’s work without hitting something prescient (although, being prescient, it will have ducked).

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