Pondering the future of publishing, in San Jose


I spent the past few days in San Jose at the O’Reilly Tools of Change Conference , a techie-meets-publishing idea extravaganza.

My dear friend, Sarah Milstein, is one of the conference chairs, and she and Tim O’Reilly, founder of O’Reilly Media, opened the event with an amusing romp through publishing innovations from the beginning of recorded time. (Sumerian tablets were nifty, but not too portable.) One of the highlights of their talk was a hysterical video called “Medieval Tech Support,” which has been making its way around publishing offices for some time.

If you haven’t seen it, watch it here.

The video captures the tone of the conference perfectly: new technology has always been a little scary for users; over time, we adapt and see its value.

I got a chance to speak with Wired editor and “Long Tail” author Chris Anderson in a panel about how publishers and authors can be better partners on book promotion. Some of the subjects we hit upon included:

  • how to reconcile what might appear to be the misaligned interests of publishers and authors (e.g. Chris’s interest is promoting the Chris Anderson brand, which now includes earning income from speaking as well as from selling books, whereas his publisher might be primarily focused on selling books.) Upon further discussion, it became clear that these interests might not be misaligned.
  • techniques for partnering and sharing innovative ideas with other authors and in the greater publishing community (what I am starting to call “Author School”).
  • the need for all writers to become adept at self-promotion (for which we were properly challenged when an audience member questioned the wisdom of applying this same standard to fiction writers.)

It was a provocative discussion, the kind that left me with as many questions as answers.

Chris also talked about his latest slash, Booktour.com, a site he’s founded along with Adam Goldstein (who I coincidentally profiled in my book way back when Adam was a mere high school student/author/software developer) and Kevin Smokler (author/founder of Virtual Book Tour) where authors can list their upcoming events and potential audience members can search for events in their areas. Booktour would have been a godsend for me these past few months, but I plan to use it going forward for all my events. If you’re an author doing events, get there pronto. The site is still in Beta mode. I believe the official launch is next week.

Below is a small writeup about the panel on Mediabistro’s GalleyCat:

Tools of Change: Chris Anderson Will Take Your Call

Wired editor-in-chief Chris Anderson teamed up with NYT online career columnist Marci Alboher for a Tools of Change panel on getting more out of marketing with authors, and opened with a whammy: “All authors are underserved by the book industry,” he said of current marketing and publicity efforts. For the next half hour or so, the two discussed ways to change that situation, including building up an author’s “word-of-mouth in the permalink world” and giving authors the tools to become their own best marketers. “We need to destigmatize small success,” Anderson said, referrign to the disappointment some writers still feel when their book gets mentioned on a blog rather than in a newspaper’s book review section. And we need to look to the long term; “if an author is the best expert I can find for a topic in my column,” Alboher said, “I don’t care if the book’s three years old.”

In response to a query from the audience, Anderson made a bold promise, which he said when I introduced myself afterwards I can pass on to you: He’s willing to do a free conference call with any publisher who wants to discuss these marketing issues and bring their authors into the conversation. “As long as I don’t have to get on a plane,” he quipped.

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My turn to be the media subject

My book has been out for a few months now and I’ve had several chances to experience playing the media subject instead of the interviewer. I’ve learned a lot from it. Still, each time I do an interview and then read the article, I brace myself to see what the reporter got wrong — or more often, chose to emphasize out of all the words we exchanged. What’s more, it’s always fascinating to see a story that’s told when you know — from being there — that there was much more to the story.

Last week I traveled to Philadelphia for a book event at a very unusual book club. The host, Amy, selects the books and often she invites the authors to appear for a discussion, either by phone or in person. For my book, I offered to bring in a few of the local book subjects since I had three inspiring slashes who lived nearby. Amy agreed and allowed me to lead a panel discussion about the book with Jamie Donegan – theater producer/landscape designer, Debbie Epstein Henry – lawyer/work-life expert/mother, and Joe Van Blunk — longshoreman/documentary filmmaker/dad.

Debbie Henry invited Jan Von Bergen, a reporter from the Philadelphia Inquirer, and we had no idea whether she’d find the idea interesting enough to cover. Thankfully, she did. She showed up, along with a photographer, and wrote a vivid account of the evening.

The Phenomenon of Slash Careers

If you were there, you’d know that Jane, the reporter, rather kindly left out some of the events details. Moments after finishing the panel discussion and Q&A, I started feeling light-headed and queasy. I thought I was going to pass out (something I have a tendency to do) and quickly excused myself to the powder room. You don’t need to know the rest, but it wasn’t pretty. After that episode, I’m told I emerged looking fairly “peaked.” And just about then, Jane came at me with some of her most thoughtful, challenging questions. “Isn’t slashing really a positive spin on the fact that we have a health insurance crisis and people are taking many jobs to get by?” I was in no shape to answer Jane’s smart questions and I pretty much lied down on the sofa while she talked to Joe, the longshoreman, whom she had wanted to meet for years. She could tell from my white face that I wasn’t just evading.

I knew she had a few days to file the story so I called her when I got back to New York the next day and told her I’d be happy to talk further. Thankfully, she listened.

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Heymarci @ Google!

I don’t like to play favorites, but this Friday, I have a speaking gig that I am more than a little excited about. I’ll be doing the Authors@Google series (Visit the site at your own risk. You may never return).

I’ll be sharing the stage with Tim Ferriss, author of The Four Hour Work Week, whose Amazon rank has been hovering at around #10 for more than a week now (I bet I check as much as he does!)

I am a little nervous people might not show because apparently it’s a busy day at the Googleplex. John McCain is also speaking (after us). And everyone is going to see the new Spiderman movie as a company field trip. But a friend told me that maybe it’s good McCain is speaking as it will bring some of the telecommuters onto campus.

There’s a touch of irony about giving a talk about improving your work/life mix on a day when the potential audience is struggling with these kinds of stressful decisions:

1) Should I go to work today?
2) Should I see John Mccain speak?
3) What time should I do the Spiderman field trip?

A typical work day when you work for a company that’s always showing up at the top of those “best companies to work for” lists.

Google posts all author talks at YouTube, so you can watch it here.

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Outing your slashes — Let’s talk about it.

As I go around speaking about the slash way of life, one theme that repeatedly dominates the conversation is whether, when and how to reveal your various identities. Of course, with any complex question, the answer is, “It depends.” Generally I find that people are more comfortable when they can be open about their various identities. The easiest cases are when one slash fuels the other — for me, writing and coaching other writers works that way. But when slashes have the potential to clash — like when you’ve got a corporate job and you’re starting your own business on the side, it’s a more delicate dance.

I am working on a longer article on this subject and want to hear your thoughts about openness and transparency in a slash life. I’m looking for examples of when it’s been helpful and when it’s been a disaster. I’m also looking for innovative approaches to bios/websites/blogs/business cards that reveal multiple identities. Send them my way and I’ll probably blog about them.

Malcolm Gladwell, one of the most well respected journalists around, does a great job of explaining how he is both a legitimate journalist and a highly paid public speaker on his
website.

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