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I am heading to bed to grab three hours snooze before getting up at 2:30am to watch the Inauguration live. (Curse Australia and it’s proximity to the international date line!)

So, instead of a thoughtful, considered blog post, you get literary sadmasochism, courtesy of Write or Die!, a  friendly little web app that punishes a writer for not making their word count.

The idea is to instill the would-be writer with a fear of not writing. We do this by employing principles taught in Introduction to Psychology. Anyone remember Operant Conditioning and Negative Reinforcement?

Negative Reinforcement “strengthens a behavior because a negative condition is stopped or avoided as a consequence of the behavior.”

Consequences:

  • Gentle Mode: A certain amount of time after you stop writing, a box will pop up, gently reminding you to continue writing.
  • Normal Mode: If you persistently avoid writing, you will be played a most unpleasant sound. The sound will stop if and only if you continue to write.
  • Kamikaze Mode: Keep Writing or Your Work Will Unwrite Itself

(Thanks to The Book Oven for the heads up)

Alphabet SoupI’ve been too busy with Clarion South to be able to write longer posts, so here’s a round-up of a few interesting tidbits I’ve seen around the interwebs lately.

Winnie the Pooh to the Rescue
Apparently a Pooh sequel is in development. PersonaNonData quotes a Times article: “Michael Brown, for the trustees who manage the affairs of A. A. Milne and E. H. Shepard, said that he had been hoping to give the green light to a sequel for a very long time.” This intrigues me since I was fairly sure A. A. Milne’s works entered the public domain in 2007.

Self Publishing Continues to Grow
Martyn Daniels over at Brave New World comments on the continued rise of self publishing as an option for authors finding it hard to be published. It may be cheaper and easier than ever before. But watching my members’ experiences with POD and self-publishing at QWC, it seems the only ones making money out of it so far are the service companies Daniels mentions, like Authors Solutions.

Canadian Wine Meet Canadian Content
Mark at Index//mb has a nifty marketing idea: pair Canadian books/authors with Canadian wines. Mark, Australian Coriole Wines did a brilliant promotion using exactly this idea a few years ago with Adelaide poets. Poetry and poet bios on the labels, attractive limited edition half-cases with royalties to the poets, and even “Poets in the Vineyard” events with readings and music. I hope Canadian wineries can follow the example!

Do publishers still dream of electric books?
Brian Joseph Davis, guest blogging at the Globe and Mail, has a short, sweet with Soft Skull‘s Richard Nash about the state of publishing.

There are two fixed points in the cultural economy of books; the writer and the reader. Everything in between is up for grabs. And everything in between will need to earn its piece of the action by providing valuable services to writers and readers. Publishers especially have shown little regard for readers and most will need a radical change in culture in order to create a strong enough service culture.

So folks in a 2019 publishing office will be connecting writers and readers with passion, elan, humility and respect. Or not at all.

I’m truly bummed not to be able to go to National Young Writers Festival (NYWF) this year. Instead, I’ll be heading west with QWC’s Programming Director Julie Beveridge, with Neil Diamond on the iPod apparently, visiting the fine citizens of Roma, Cunnamulla, Goondiwindi and Toowoomba to present QWC events.

That road trip is going to be fab and I can’t wait to see what the writers of those towns are working on. But having just checked out the NYWF program on their site I’m really sorry to miss it. This is exciting stuff, and despite the name, is a festival that any one of any age would enjoy and be stimulated by. There’s a killer line-up of guests including Marcus Westbury, Mark Davis, Amy Barker, Lisa Dempster, Simon Worthington, and Michael Webster. NYWF also presents the kind of events that seem to be mostly absent from the mainstream writers festivals in capital cities, events such as Web2Pod how-to workshops, StreetSpoken, a spoken word tour of Newcastle’s hidden locations and Get Lost! (with me), an interactive art adventure combining photography and storytelling in public and private spaces around the festival.

In every nook and cranny of the festival program there’s something to do, say, create and participate in, a much more energetic and active focus than writers festivals where the emphasis is on listening and observing. That’s not a criticism of the major capital city festivals, but more an observation that the audiences are different, and I don’t mean that NYWF is targeted at young people. The audiences are different because NYWF is aimed at writers, makers, producers and curators, rather than readers and the general public. Or, looked at from a different angle, NYWF assumes its audience wants to write as well as read, create as well as consume.

So, while I’m dodging kangaroo carcasses on the Moonie Highway singing along to Sweet Caroline (thanks, Jules), I hope you will be at the National Young Writers Festival making your own zine and remixing some lit.

On the Jellicoe Road

Most writers I know would like nothing more than the financial independence to give up work and write full-time. I’ve never felt this way. I love my job passionately and even if I had the opportunity to give it up to write, I think I’d prefer to keep working, however hard it may be to keep a balance. There are joys I get from my job that writing could never provide. I’ve always admired authors who (at least in my imagination) are successful enough with book sales to write full-time but instead choose to keep working. I imagine they too love their jobs and do it for passion and fulfilment, just as they write for the same reasons. After all, it’s very hard to make such a deliberate choice. It means never quite having enough time for anything, and it means producing books at a slower rate.

But then I read books like On the Jellicoe Road by Mellina Marchetta and my position is instantly reversed. Why, oh why, can’t she give up her pesky time-consuming job as a teacher to concentrate on delivering to me more novels as fine as this? Why must I wait so long between each of her books? I will surely die before having the pleasure of the next one. It cannot be borne! How could she consider spending her time on anything else when she is so very very good at writing?

Via Justine Larbalestier‘s blog, a neato essayby author Justine Musk on writing and selling books. Musk offers some insightful musings on the economic realities of mass market PB fiction and the venus fly trap of book sales data. Here’s a little taster…

Because here’s the thing. In this age of such relentless number-crunching, books don’t get the shelf life they used to get. There’s no time for a slow build-up: either the book performs once it’s out of the gate (in fact, my deal for the sequel to the sequel to BLOODANGEL offers a ‘bonus’ if the book ships above a certain number of copies within the first few months of its release date) or it gets dumped from the stores altogether and the author gets tagged with a stigma that’s hard to overcome. The problem is that the best way to sell a book – the only way, for most books that don’t get the loving PR attention of the publishers – is reader word-of-mouth. And word-of-mouth, if it’s going to happen, takes a while to get up to speed. People not only have to buy the book, they have to actually read the damn thing, and recommend it to people, who also have to read it, and then have to… etc. And by the time enough people have read it to maybe make something start to happen, the book is out of stores and maybe even out of print.

Link

The other day I was discussing with an agent whether authors should hold back digital rights from publishers until the publishers could demonstrate they had the know-how to fully exploit those rights. Well, HarperCollins US have just taken a big step toward bolstering my confidence.

Forbes.com has reported that HarperCollins, together with 4th Story Media, are producing The Amanda Project, a cross-platform interactive story series targeted at 12-14 year old girls. Readers will not only consume but participate in creating and sharing the narrative via social media and games.

Amanda Valentino is the elusive, charismatic, and alluring new girl at Evansville Township High School who arrives mid-year, leaves abruptly, and indelibly changes the lives of everyone around her in the process. Her story will be told across a variety of media in addition to the books — a social website where readers can interact with and become characters in the mystery, a related series of blogs chronicling the story as it unfolds, clues and seed posts on satellite sites, downloadable music and official and user-generated merchandise. Amanda’s fate will begin to unfold across the web during the fall of 2008, through the launch of the T.A.P. website in early 2009, and continue into the publication of the first book in Fall 2009.

This is complex and ambitious and I’m really excited about it. I also think it’s aimed at the right demographic – socially aware, digital native teen girls with hyper-connectivity. Needless to say it’s been a long time since I was a 12-14 year old girl, but I look forward to participating when The Amanda Project is released.

Sara Loyd, over at Pan Macmillan’s blog the digitalist, has posted the first instalment of what’s shaping up to be a superb essay on the future of publishing. Here’s an excerpt:

One of the key perception shifts that publishers need to make, then, is about the book as ‘product’. Whilst the book continues to be viewed as a definable object within covers, as a singular ‘unit’, publishers will continue to limit their role in its production and distribution, and this is a sure fire way for publishers to write themselves out of the future of content creation and dissemination. There are two areas of activity in the linear progression of a text between author and reader which have previously remained hidden to the reader: the development of the text itself; the writing and editing process, and the sales, marketing and distribution of the text. Readers have traditionally had no role in the former and only a limited role in the latter, through word of mouth recommendations or viral marketing. It is likely that today’s digital natives, who have become ‘prosumers’ (producer / consumers) with alarming speed and perhaps even more alarmingly different levels of proficiency, will expect a great deal more involvement in both of these areas of activity if they are to be engaged by texts. Witness two main stream examples, the Star Wars films and the Harry Potter books and films, both of which have developed massive prosumer (or ‘superfan’) followings, and both of which have seen conflict between the film companies and the fans that are creating content.

This segment has echoes of Sherman Young’s The Book is Dead, but also emphasises the fact that the nature of reading and writing as cultural activities are also changing and merging. Loyd points out that the obsessive focus of publishers (and the writing sector generally) on the “book as product” has led to digital strategies that are about turning a printed artefact into a device, such as an e-book, when in fact  there is already an established and pervasive culture of digital reading (and writing) that is constantly growing. This reading and writing is taking place on websites, blogs, mobile phones and other media.

I eagerly await the rest of this blog series!

I mean, wow. There’s a reason Booksquare is fast becoming my favourite blog. Kassia Krozser just keeps pulling out post after post of brain-bleeding insights. Every writer go read this. Now.

 The Book is Not the Territory.

I can’t believe I missed this. Although I shouldn’t be surprised, I didn’t have Gary Kemble’s blog in Google Reader. I hardly ever remember to visit friends’ websites so it’s always best when they’ve got a blog or something I can subscribe to. I fixed that now.

Anyway, Gary linked to World War 1: Experiences of an English Soldier on his blog a while back. It’s letters and postcards between an English soldier and his family during the first World War, posted exactly 90 years after they were written.

We are not doing so bad for food out here it would be better if we got paid more regular we have only drawn ten lires in a month that is equal to five shillings in English money, so I think we shall have a bit to our credit, we get plenty of fruit out here oranges and apples etc. It will be Willie’s birthday this month 21th but I shall not be able to send him anything. We see some fine scenery out here we are quite close to the mountains some of these take about five hours to climb and they are not the highest. it is different to flanders being out here.

When I was about 14 I remember seeing Ken Burns’ The Civil War. The pieces I loved best were the letters and journal entries by regular soldiers and townspeople. They were always simple and honest, but incredibly emotional, perhaps because of their simplicity and honesty.

I can’t wait for the rest of Harry’s letters.

Sebastian Mary has posted a thoughtful essayon if:book, the blog of the Institute for the Future of the Book, unpacking the debate around the ideology of ‘literary’ and its relationship to the web.

This isn’t to suggest that there’s no room for ‘the literary’ online. Finding new writers; building a community to peer-review drafts; promoting work; pushing out content to draw people back to a publisher’s site to buy books. All these make sense, and present huge opportunities for savvy players. But – and here I realise that this all may be just a (rather lengthy) footnote to Ben’s recent piece on Hypertextopia – to attempt to transplant the ideology of the literary onto the Web will fail unless it is done with reference to the print culture that produced it. Otherwise the work will, by literary standards, be judged second-rate, while by geek standards it’ll seem top-down, limited and static. Or just boring.

I’m particularly interested in his assertion that the notion of literature is inseparable from print. It tallies with my experience of how authors and publishers they think about how digital media relates to their industry. The discussions I most frequently hear are centred on the web as a means for promotion, distribution, building and connecting with communities etc. In my professional role at QWC, I almost never encounter practitioners actually producing collaborative writing, alternative reality games, hypertext etc, and perhaps this is because these activities are not regarded as ‘literary’.

I need to ponder this a while longer.