You know what’s never, ever happened to me as a transmedia writer? Rejection! Nope, I’ve never, ever received a transmedia rejection letter. That’s because there is no gatekeeper for the internet. You wanna tell a story on Twitter, set yourself up an account and let that bad boy rip. Write up a script, grab a video camera, and get that fucker shot and up on YouTube your own self.
-Andrea Phillips, Transmedia Writers Have More Fun
I’ve said often that publishers are effectively similar to venture capitalists (though rarely given credit as such in the “fail faster” meme), and the confirmation of Facebook’s move into location-based services and acquisition and planned shutdown of Hot Potato got me thinking about that, and what it means for up and coming writers, for whom many of the old rules of traditional publishing no longer apply.
Writers basically have two choices: they can build enough of a platform to entice an acquisition, or build one that’s bigger than just books and enables their long-term independence. (And by independence, I mean making a sustainable living, not just self-publishing your book via Amazon or Lulu or Smashwords and declaring yourself an “indie”.)
Similar to work-for-hire vs. creator-owned, it’s evolving into the difference between being a writer and creator. In the digital era, writers sell stories, while 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 [though their value is steadily dropping as “content” itself has been steadily devalued in the Web 2.0 world; don’t get me started] — 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.
Also, as Andrea noted, transmedia writers (aka creators) have more fun!
Genre writers, in particular, are ideal creators as their work is especially conducive to transmedia development thanks to a tendency toward serial storytelling, archetypal characters and imagined worlds. Non-fiction writers can build transmedia experiences around their particular expertise, too, especially if it’s in an area where things are constantly changing or continuing education is a requirement. (It’s every social media guru’s wet dream!)
In the comics world, where transmedia has been a way of life for many years, there are numerous examples of the difference between writers and creators. Marvel and DC have always employed bullpens of work-for-hire writers to spin new (or, in some cases, rehashed) stories featuring their most popular intellectual properties characters, some of whom have also found success with their creator-owned projects, like Frank Miller’s SIN CITY and Robert Kirkman’s WALKING DEAD.
Outside of the Big Two Bullpens, Brian Lee O’Malley’s SCOTT PILGRIM is another creator-owned comic that’s gone beyond the book, while Rich Burlew’s webcomic, The Order of the Stick, has blossomed into a mini-transmedia empire that includes books, games and T-shirts. (OOTS totally screams WiiWare RPG! Somebody needs to make it happen.)
With so many new opportunities for writers to tell stories and reach and engage with (and sell to) their readers directly, why would you ever want to limit yourself to just writing and publishing a book?
[NOTE: This post was inspired by, and contains excerpts from, my article “Futurama” (Writer’s Digest, Sept 2010), which poses 10 questions all writers should be thinking about as they contemplate the future of publishing and their place in it.]