By Porter Anderson | @Porter_Anderson
From August 9, 2012
Part of my series of columns on publishing, Writing on the Ether, appearing Thursdays at the invitation of Jane Friedman at JaneFriedman.com
My Memories of a Future Life
by Roz Morris
If your life was somebody’s past, what echoes would you leave in their soul?
Carol is a gifted concert pianist—until an injury threatens to end her career. Desperate for a cure, she discovers Andreq. Is he her future incarnation or a psychological figment? And can he help her recover?
“Highly original, haunting and compelling.”
Find out more on Amazon and download a sample to your Kindle. You can also listen to a free audio sample of the author reading the first 4 chapters.
Technicalities: On the Air or Ether / Missingham, Jones, Eisler, Morrison, Blofeld, Wikert, Lipskar
British writer Ewan Morrison was claiming to have spied a “glassy-eyed fanaticism” among people “in the throes of the revolution” of digital publishing.
American author Barry Eisler began, “This notion that we’re not going to have literary fiction anymore…” but was cut off by UK literary agent Piers Blofeld, who seemed to want no more than to yell “Amazon!” at everyone in an accusatory tone.
And host Philip Jones was trying, with little success, to pull them all together with a perfectly valid question, “Where is the great self-published literary fiction writer?” — meaning how is it that we have yet to see a major literary author walk across the street to the self-publishing side of the industry! the industry!
Rarely are good intentions so frustrating.
The annoying hour we all shared on Wednesday during the fortnightly Internet-radio/podcast show The Naked Book on Radio Litopia made me realize just how far out of their depth some of our publishing industry colleagues are swimming in the fast-rising tide of technology. There’s a lot of ineffectual noise being made these days simply because we can make it.
In this instance, The BookSeller’s talk show is recorded live at 3 p.m. ET every other Wednesday, 8p London time, noon in Los Angeles. After the live-cast, a somewhat cleaned up tape is posted, normally within 24 to 48 hours.
The session is led by Jones, editorial chief at The BookSeller, and by the UK’s leading advocate of intelligent digital development in publishing, TheFutureBook’s Sam Missingham.
I’ve been following Naked Radio sessions since they began in March and have covered some of these presentations here on the Ether, notably this one focused on Amazon last month.
Wednesday, the pinballing shouting match included some of the following random lines (I ran a tape of my own):
- “Right now legacy publishers are solving how to deliver paper books.” (Eisler)
- “A huge amount of minnows and one enormous shark (that would be Amazon).” (Blofeld)
- “Don’t interrupt because what you just said is ridiculous and I waited patiently through all that ridiculum.” (Eisler)
- “We have to engage in an ideological battle…to preserve the status of our publishers.” (Morrison)
- “Surely Amazon is one of the dominant channels for sales of the traditional publishers, as well” as for self-publishing authors. (Missingham)
- “We do see Amazon as a hugely predatory American monopoly in this country…people in Britain…are concerned about the influence Amazon has over the High Street.” (Morrison)
- “Surely if people were that concerned they’d stop buying” (from Amazon). (Jones)
- “You’re expounding a basically neo-conservative agenda, Barry…” (Morrison)
- “I can’t believe you’re actually saying…” (Eisler)
- “No you’re actually saying…” (Morrison)
- “Could we stick to the book business?” (Jones)
- “You’re parodying some notion of Americans that you’ve gathered from afar…it’s silly, it’s a straw-man argument.”
- “We believe there are social institutions that protect us from the market…left to its own devices, the free market will damage culture.” (Morrison)
- “It takes time for authors to find their voice, to find their readership…years and years of being supported, finding a home in legacy publishers…” (Blofeld)
What this Seattle slingshot of a jam session was supposed to be was a debate on the status and future of self-publishing between Eisler and Morrison, prompted by Morrison’s article(s) in the Guardian.
As covered in our Extra Ether: Shadowy Platforms and in Writing on the Ether: Olive Branch, Morrison is headed to the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference, as last year, with the sweaty sheen of summer provocation all over him.
Last year he inflamed everyone with some “end of books” chatter. This year, in The self-epublishing bubble, he’s declaring that self-publishing is a largely wrong-headed trend, if not outright fad, and that the usefulness of online promotion of books is a bubble that should burst or be dissipated within 18 months.
But many podcasts, videos, and audio presentations these days are being made to less than ideal standards. It can all be a bit of a reach. Sometimes a noble reach, actually, but still a reach.
It’s enough that Radio Litopia’s transmission cuts out several times an hour. And that’s whether you’re listening on the site’s in-line player or via iTunes, which I prefer. Even on good days, much of the audio input is Skype lines, providing that strangled-honk sound to voices at times. What’s more, on Wednesday, Radio Litopia’s chat room functionality was only intermittent.
Of course, nobody gets up in the morning determined to put together another semi-comprehensible podcast. Glitches will be glitches, and there are no villains here. In fact, I’m going to the length you see here because I think a great deal of this BookSeller/FutureBook team and I like their spunk in trying to construct an hour-long show with key figures (Pottermore’s Charlie Redmayne, Small Demons’ Richard Nash, Unbound’s John Mitchinson, etc.).
But there are things that can be controlled. All is not the luck of an evening’s draw. And as a news producer, I can suggest some of them. Many of these points can be applied to more than one form of electronic content, by the way, not just to podcasts.
- Promote your show, including its guests and topic, in writing. For NakedBook, there should be a story on The BookSeller and on TheFutureBook blog and on the Radio Litopia Naked Book page several days ahead, naming the guests to come — with their Twitter handles — and announcing the focus of their event. A few tweets won’t do it. Currently, you can find out who was on a show once the edited tape goes up, but that’s as late as those charming drivers who use their turn indicators once they’re around the corner. They tell you what they did, not what they’ll be doing.
- Don’t overload your guest roster. In this case, Eisler and Morrison — the two authors meant to debate — would have been more than enough; they arrived ready to chew each other’s legs off. The inclusion of Piers Blofeld, the agent (without any lack of respect meant for Blofeld, with whom I have had some very helpful correspondence in the past) was a needless and noisy complication. He seemed to feel his job was to declare his raging hatred for Amazon, which wasn’t announced as the topic at hand. In most instances, two guests are plenty, particularly with both Missingham and Jones as show hosts.
- Consider having short-segment “appearances” by useful figures, if applicable and available. In this case, author Joanna Penn — who had written for TheFutureBook blog of her objections to some of Morrison’s points about her career in his Guardian writings — was “in the house.” She was very visibly following the discussion via Twitter (since the chat room wasn’t working), and could have offered a statement, maybe a quick Q&A with Jones, Missingham, or even Morrison, by Skype or phone, and then jumped back off. Patching her in this way could give the show another voice but without the Blofeld-weight of yet another full guest.
- If you’re working in audio only, you need guests to identify themselves each time they start to speak, or have a host do it. “Barry here”…”this is Ewan again”…”Piers back to yell about Amazon once more”…”it’s Sam jumping in for a moment…” and so on. It’s not your audience’s job to have to guess-the-speaker for an hour.
- Structure the debate. Get together a rundown of talking points based on the recent writings of your incoming guests, and use it to fill them in ahead — get it out to them in an e-mail — and again as a last-minute reminder before showtime, too. It’s not enough to just bring on two seasoned figures in their respective fields and ask them to have at each other. There should be a planned pathway through the subject matter, signed onto by all concerned.
- Explain to all parties what will and won’t be tolerated in heated exchanges. Then follow through. Don’t be afraid to use the cough button and mute a guest who refuses to shut up when it’s the other guest’s turn to speak. Your show serves not the guests but the listeners. Your customers are your audience members, not the personalities on-air. If a guest won’t properly allow someone a chance to have her or his say, that’s ripping off your audience. Suppress the uncooperative guest’s audio until it’s her or his time to speak.
- Once a recorded version of the session is posted, include a transcript. At the very least, you want a short write with key points landed.
Here’s a good example of one way to handle this helpfully but without a full transcript. It’s The agency model’s impact on ebook pricing with O’Reilly Media’s Joe Wikert interviewing Writers House Agent Simon Lipskar (a Twitter refusenik, apparently, I can find no handle on him).
The finished version lists key points from an on-camera interview with time codes so you can scrub to pertinent elements of the discussion. (One of the severe drawbacks of video and audio presentations is that they’re not searchable for words or phrases. Time codes are your best bet.)
At the end of the day, it’s up to all of us to learn from these events and ask ourselves questions about our own work and about what our audience, the writing community needs and wants.
If you’re about to post a video of yourself talking — with no visuals to enhance the tape — and you could have created a searchable, excerpt-able, quickly scanned text, the question to ask is why? Same for audio. And same for podcasts.
These are linear instruments, they have to be seen and/or heard, and that requires time that might be better spent on other tasks.
If we’re to use these various means of info-sharing, we need to be sure we’re honoring each other with enough value to make them worth their while.
If you both talk, no one can hear you scream.
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Click to read this week’s full Writing on the Ether column at JaneFriedman.com.