The Paul Habit

Posted on 29/07/2011 by

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Why am I doing this? I’m asking myself this question… why put my entire work out for free, and even be considering self-epublishing? That isn’t something that many writers who want to be ‘taken seriously’ do. There are, of course, a number of high profile authors who have been doing just this, but too often they have been experiments–often as a ‘loss-leader’ to selling print–and anyway, the kind of thing which works once because it is unusual. They have often either been working a long time (pushing to get something particular published), or have their texts out simultaneously as a print edition with the digital version.

I want to find a reliable way to get my work out there, that supports the writer and industry. I’m doing this is for research in how digital texts can work successfully into the long term. And on a much more worried note, while it is true that ebooks are having an incredible speed of uptake–may I add, from a paying readership–I am particularly researching the more concerning devaluation of content coming from the association of text and printed book/bound. I want to look at how authors and publishers can best make use of their skills to capture the broadest readership. This means that it isn’t enough to keep trying to sell an ebook as if it was print. But as something else.

What this means is that, ideally, I don’t want to be a successful outlier, I want to be successfully replicable. Ebook sales aside, the goal seems to be about getting noticed (for your writing), and turning that into success. However, Scalzi writes about the problem of putting work out online, and then waiting and praying for readers to come to you. This is a great point, that just putting work up, as a fixed whole, is not any encouragement to form a lasting bond between reader and author (which should be the goal for an online platform ;) ) And perhaps this has been an issue with pre-Kindle epublication? An ebook without an object-interface is simply too ephemeral a concept for consumers to understand.

So, I’m not trying to sell the fiction, but trying to provide another, unique experience to print, which can instead be associated with the digital, textual media. Cory may actually be a good example of this ‘selling experience,’ because he does give away his content (though I may–eventually–argue that content can never actually be sold at all…), and instead has a print experience which he can sell. The simple online text is merely another entry point to his monitised experience. That’s a part of my argument, that the subjective engagement of digital content cannot really be bought or sold at all, only the more particular, scare instance of a bound or… something else? (See the Kindle as an experience of that digital text. Note, however, while there is actually evidence of ebooks making a profit, the sales on Amazon and the iBookstore are much lower averages than print. I would argue this is in some sense, because though ereaders provide some experience, it is still less visceral than print.)

Of course, one of Scalzi’s main points is about static e-text, instead of something more like what I’m doing, releasing parts, and hoping to capture an experience of activity (and habit). Scalzi writes:

… as I’ve noted before, given the choice between placing or serializing one’s work online, and creating a kickass blog/Web site that draws people in and has them returning on a repeat basis, I think it’s much smarter to build that kickass Web site. No one would have read either Agent or Old Man’s War if I had simply put them up cold; the people who read them when they were online (and before I became known for any other sort of writing) were the people who were already reading me because of my site. They already knew they liked my writing. Overall, I feel very confident in saying that it is the blog writing, not the fiction writing, that draws people here.

While I am not so sure about his necessary distinction between a novelist writing clever posts, and their fiction, I absolutely agree with the idea that no one would have read the books if he’d just put them up cold. Engagement is key.

That’s why I’m (telling myself) I’m putting this up online. Not to sell it, but to use the narrative form that I’m good at to reliably engage readers, teaching them a ‘Paul habit.’

Funnily, that shouldn’t be as egocentric an activity as it sounds. What I hope to do is to use the text of the fiction itself as a nexus for a community. It’s about creating a lens through which an audience can see the world as I do, while being able to express their own. Instead of offering the text (as a static whole) and a bulletin board-style space (both of which do not encourage engagement with my work, or myself, only around it), the idea is to encourage further (somewhat fractal) engagement with the indeterminacies of the text of my work itself. That can be in inter-linking, annotation, fan- or original fiction, and community itself. What it hopefully has in common, is a direct relationship with the text itself. The idea is to promote a dynamic text, based on readership (once again, there are legal issues around this, though I’ll get back to you on that one.)

Hopefully there are also possibilities to pursue multiple publishing options. I have (as of yet) only sent Bibliotek out to one publisher–truth be told, coming out of its second structural edit, it wasn’t ready to go out. However, I worry about the state of publishing, and a book that should be extrapolated near-future, turning into alternate history… so I feel as if I’m racing the clock to stay relevant. As such, serialisation, seeking print publication, and (likely) distribution as an ebook are all going.

It’s not a bad feeling, however, it happens to put me right in the situation which I’m writing about–ah! The curse of living your own book. Struggling with the relevance (or not) of publishers (I still come down on thinking: yay), and the need for authors to be out there, communicators rather than static writers.

Posted in: Hyperwork, Paul