“Great storytelling starts with a great idea, not the platform.”
New media, social media, transmedia… the landscape for writers has changed dramatically over the past 10 years, and today, there are more options to get published and reach new readers than ever. With more options, though, come more unknowns, some more obvious than others. Here are 10 questions you should be asking yourself as you look ahead to the future of publishing—and where you’ll fit in.
[NOTE: This article was written in June/July 2010, originally published in the September 2010 issue of Writer’s Digest, and was made a lot better thanks to the editing skills of Managing Editor, Zac Petit. Many of the questions posed here were elaborated on in subsequent posts, by me and others, and I’ve added links accordingly. Please do click through!]
1. AM I A WRITER OR A CREATOR?
Writers sell stories; creators build storyworlds. The former is a transaction-based existence focused on the traditional publication of books or articles, with everything else viewed as ancillary. The latter is an approach that sees traditional publishing as just one of many ways via which a storyworld—your fictional universe—can be experienced, and focuses on your ability to reach and engage with readers across a variety of channels.
Neither path is necessarily “better”—there will always be a need for transactional writers—but there’s evidence that creators will have more control over their futures as the industry evolves. As new formats, media and devices come along, creators with well-conceived platforms will be better positioned to make the most of them.
2. SHOULD I GO TRADITIONAL?
As more and more publishing options open up, the traditional route won’t always be the best first choice for every author. Knowing the tangible advantages a traditional publisher offers will be critical to making an informed decision.
Traditional publishers have three fundamental strengths that, depending on your resources, will determine how vital they might be to your eventual success: advances, bookstores and credibility. If you need an advance to finish your book, if you want to see your book on shelves, or if your genre, profession or subject is highly competitive, you’ll want a traditional deal.
3. SHOULD I SELF-PUBLISH?
There are now more ways to independently publish your work than ever. But true self-publishing is more than just uploading a file to a print-on-demand company or e-book retailer. It’s a business decision that comes with numerous responsibilities, from design and marketing to rights and taxes. Each represents an expense of time and/or money that must be accounted for when comparing publishing options.
4. DO I KNOW TRANSMEDIA?
Transmedia refers to a story that’s told across a variety of media (short films, mobile apps, etc.). As defined by the Producers Guild of America, transmedia projects involve three or more story lines within the same invented world that are unique (not repurposed content). Genre writers especially should be looking at their work from a transmedia perspective, and seeking agents who are forward-thinking in negotiating rights. (Genre fiction is one of Hollywood’s favorite veins to mine, and it’s particularly conducive to transmedia thanks to a tendency toward serial storytelling, archetypal characters and imagined worlds.)
5. WILL MY STORIES INSPIRE OTHER WRITERS?
Star Wars has evolved into one of the most vibrant transmedia properties in history, while the entire comic book industry is arguably built on a mix of sanctioned and tolerated fan fiction. What would happen if you provided a platform for other writers to contribute to your creation, either informally online, or officially via publication? This is a great way to expand your fan base. Eric Flint and Baen Books do a variation of this in the Grantville Gazette (grantvillegazette.com), featuring work set in Flint’s 1632 universe.
6. WHAT ELSE CAN MY SUPPORTING CHARACTERS DO?
How many times have you read (or told) a story, and found one of the supporting characters as interesting, or even more so, than the lead? Not every supporting character is worthy of a complete story, but each one can contribute to the expansion of your storyworld in short fiction, webisodes, social media, etc. Fleshing out your storyworld this way allows your readers to stay connected between books and builds a broader platform upon which you can engage with them year-round.
7. WHAT ELSE AM I GOING TO DO WITH MY PLATFORM?
You’re blogging; you’ve amassed a decent number of fans and followers on Facebook/Twitter; you have a book deal … now what? What’s your strategy for keeping fans engaged, buying more of your books and spreading the word? Writers will have a more difficult time with this question than creators will. The key is to continue to add real value to your platform on a regular basis. James Patterson, Gretchen Rubin and Warren Ellis are a few good examples to learn from.
8. CAN I DIRECTLY REACH MY FANS?
Blogs and social networks are great, but when you want to communicate directly with your most passionate readers, nothing is more effective than e-mail. When signing on with Amazon.com’s publishing imprint, AmazonEncore, for his latest book, J.A. Konrath said that one of the most appealing draws was the company’s ability to “e-mail every single person who has ever bought one of my books through their website, plus millions of potential new customers.” It’s an advantage Amazon has over most publishers, but any writer with a solid platform and content strategy can easily build his own e-mail list, too.
9. SHOULD I BUY AN IPAD, NOOK OR KINDLE?
No matter your opinion of the numerous e-book-friendly devices out there, e-book sales are steadily increasing, and it’s useful to have hands-on experience with as many devices as possible. What’s the difference between an e-book and an app, and should you have one of each, or neither? Are your e-books available on every device? How do they look on each one? How are they priced? What else are they competing with? Check out websites like techcrunch.com, readwriteweb.com and engadget.com to keep apprised of developments and trends.
10. AM I STAYING CURRENT?
Publishing is evolving at a dizzying pace, but there’s more industry information available than ever before—from the pages of this magazine to a host of other resources in print and online, including digitalbookworld.com. Find sources you can rely on to stay up to date on changes that may affect you, and be sure to read them regularly—blink, and you might miss an opportunity that’s tailor-made for you.