Vincent Writes

Welcome to Vincent van Wylick's Website

Category: publishing (page 1 of 3)

The State of Individual Websites

These last few weeks, I’ve really been thinking about one main topic to write about (I’ve also experienced two of the most severe flus in my life): the state of individual websites in an unwelcoming ecosystem. I started with thinking about the evolution of social networks, which for me are more and more becoming professional media-based, rather than friend-or connection-focussed. As I came across an article on the disappearance of the blog due to both a change in consumption and in how Google ranks websites, my thinking evolved to that level and what it meant for me.

We all represent sub-cultures that exhibit different behaviours to how we add value to our intellectual lives. My consumption pattern for media is perhaps like yours the reader (there is the likelihood of a perception bias), but it could also be completely different. As a blogger since 2004, I’ve read a lot of blogs and found ways to organise that reading through dedicated readers. The jump to podcasts was not hard, because it’s essentially the same world in audio-format (independent authors, collective players instead of readers). Social media was always more experimental for me, because of the random nature of what you would get out of it (I have a good idea what Daring Fireball will write about tomorrow, but not necessarily my brother or girlfriend). Because I already had a dedicated reading environment, I was very slow to add (semi-)professional media to social platforms, and it still feels like something I should not mix.

Nowadays, we see social platforms everywhere and the idea of a dedicated reader has been pushed into the dark, forgotten corners of the web. A new user of the Internet will more likely have heard of Twitter and Facebook, than know that Google Reader once existed, was replaced by Google Plus (a Facebook clone that has no real value), and other much smaller readers tried to take Google Reader’s place (Feedly being the most well-known).

Next comes the problem of discoverability. While searching for blogs or other ‘independent content’ was always a little tricky—Google once had a dedicated blog search as well, but that was hidden off the main page—we now operate in an era where searching for any individual content will reveal either adverts or collective results. Think about the following:

  • Search for any book: you’ll probably find Amazon as the top-result.
  • Search for any job: you’ll get as a top-result.
  • Search for a restaurant or hotel: Trip Advisor or Yelp.

This list can easily go on for any search term out there. All of the above-mentioned websites have been around for over a decade, but another trend arose within this decade, that of single-serving sites that exploit individual searches. I don’t have to visit or to know that very likely it comes with a significant amount of buy here links to dishwashers or headphones. Owners of these domains don’t need to possess any domain-specific knowledge either, they just need to repeat a specific set of keywords many times on their websites to earn its title (note to self: write a blog post that repeats the words ‘Vincent’ and ‘writes’ over and over again…). The same trend is happening in job searching as well: search for CRM jobs and you will find a search site dedicated to these jobs, the same for analysis, IT, sales, etc. etc.

The overal point is that the idea of search is no longer aimed at specificity, but has been supplanted by collections of results. The underlying thought is that search is overwhelming, we need curators, but these curators are not in it for the common good either. The Internet is a commercial place and there is little potential for blockbusters—rather it’s little pockets of money, best catered to by these mini-specialised-sites.

I feel there is a loss associated with this, but it’s hard to describe that loss in general terms. As I said, we are all sub-cultures, and each of us becomes happy in our own way. So my idea of discoverability may be less valuable to you.

The loss for me is the conversation, which would in the past come from other bloggers seeking commonalities (and traffic) by leaving a comment behind. There is this feeling of being one tree in a  very large forest, and when a branch grows, it does so quietly.

Granted, the world has changed. We all hear this phrase “In my day…,” and I’m no longer sure whether there’s even a point in reflecting because the “my days” continually seem to be replaced by new realities. The new reality of publishing a book is growing an audience before any publisher becomes interested. The same applies for venture funding (even though that is currently on a peak) and for many other areas. We each make our own luck and only the suckers stick to the traditional, passive path of expecting favours. But that too isn’t sustainable. An author with an audience doesn’t need a publisher anymore. A company can self-fund. The weirdest market is that of job searchers, who are expected to network to enter the hidden job market, but even that seems like a shot in the dark.

Traffic for a blogger has never been easy. From the beginning of time the story went that the more you give (in the form of comments and guest posts on other sites), the more you get back. This hasn’t changed, except that many blogs are becoming even more obscure than they were before. Instead, the “marketing” happens on LinkedIN and other social platforms.

I’ve always been in this space for the purpose and satisfaction of writing, and that will likely not change. But I’m more and more thinking that writing on a “blog” is about as useful to the world, as writing in a text file on my desktop is. We are cluttered with information and whether I keep the clutter to myself or throw it out into a noisy world, there doesn’t seem to be much difference. These may be the words of a tired writer (recovering from the two flus I mentioned) and should probably be ignored. They may also be true.

To be evolved…


On Publishing vs Platforms part two

When I linked to the Harvard Business Review article about hybrid Publisher-Platform strategies a few days ago, I didn’t actually say that I find the strategy a little outdated in this day and age. We have established platforms with huge audiences and we have publisher with huge qualitative content capabilities. Yes, everything changes, and yes, once upon a time we said great things about MySpace (arguably a hybrid strategy that failed) as well, but the trend is really towards platforms becoming (stable) utilities and publishers to embrace those now established mediums. Facebook’s and Twitter’s (and Google’s) ‘connect with’ buttons are everywhere, eliminating much of the friction of integrating services with those platforms (I forgot LinkedIN in this, also a big one).

Publishers are rising to the challenge, (hopefully slowly abandoning old media and) embracing publishing where people read stuff: not in glossies or old tree canvasses, but in a feed.

The missing part is targeting. Of the big three, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, only the last one is pursuing a clear value proposition: for professionals. Facebook asks me to add my CV on a regular basis (not going to happen) and Twitter is a little bit of everything and nothing. So now I have Harvard Business Review in my Facebook and on LinkedIN, one of those two is going to lose. This represents a dual effort that can only come out of a continuing uncertainty of where content will be read (Arguably, tablet and mobile platform-interfaces are adding to this developmental overhead).

The Publisher as a Platform strategy may seem outdated, but it’s clearly a desire to control both content and audience, something that may not be as frictionless using other platforms. It’s public knowledge, for instance, that Apple does not share much user data with app developers (thank you Apple), but I don’t know whether this communication break is common practice with other platforms. I assume that due to the business model (it’s free, but someone is paying for it, usually with our user data), it isn’t.

So why does a publication choose to embrace so many platforms if, for instance, Facebook encompasses a good audience already? It may be for a couple of reasons, some more relevant than others.

  • One would be hedging bets on the future of a platform: history has proven that nothing lasts forever
  • Two may be that the overhead isn’t as large as imagined: at least for the web-based-platforms the programming tools will be similar. Platforms also have an incentive to make building apps easier.
  • Three could be differing audiences: LinkedIN and Facebook clearly aren’t the same, there is some overlap, but there are also people that only use one of the two. Same with Twitter and Facebook.
  • Four could be relevance: There’s a reason why old media is called Old…
  • Five could be learning: about platforms, audiences, differing business models, etc.

The list is probably endless and my bet is that at least half were mentioned in strategic discussions about publishing on platforms.

With all these challenges, however, it makes less and less sense to reinvent the wheel, unless your content or your platform vision is truly unique. Medium was an example mentioned in the article I previously linked to, but even that is risking much by some of the changes it is making, namely opening up the gates to the masses (I assume it did this because the masses were not reading enough). I hate end these thoughts on Publishing vs Platforms with time will tell, but it always does. & the evolution of Link Aggregation

I probably started reading 5 or 6 years ago, but realise that in its near 17-year history, it has survived through some pretty radical changes on the Internet. Jason Kottke writes about this in a, perhaps inadvertently, revealing blog post on the topic of links—the essence of what makes the Internet the Internet.

I could write a lot about what I think defines Jason Kottke’s website as a go-to site for me. Yes, it’s not focussed on a particular topic-area (what are the liberal arts really, except everything), but generally the content is interesting, intelligent and, as a result, rewarding to read. I also appreciate the commercial direction that has taken. On a podcast-interview some years ago, Kottke said that he can’t have a similar sponsorship model to sites like Daring Fireball, because that site is focussed on a particular popular and profitable area (again, that indefinability of ‘culture’). Recently, took on a new sponsorship model revolving around Kickstarter projects, which seems like an excellent fit for the site and are ‘advertorials’ that I actually enjoy to read.

In the blog post that he entitled “The return of the remaindered links (sort of),” Kottke writes about the importance of links to’s initial growth and the subsequent commoditisation of links as the web evolved:

The links gave the site a velocity it didn’t previously have. I hadn’t really thought about it until I sat down to write this post, but that increase in velocity made it possible, more than two years later, for me to quit my job and do full-time. But the web has changed. Sites like Reddit, Digg, and Hacker News and services like Facebook and Twitter are so much faster than this one man band…trying to keep pace is like racing an F1 car on roller skates. So, I’ve traded that velocity for quality (or, if you’d prefer, fussiness). I no longer post 10-12 things per day. Instead I post 4-6 of the most interesting things I can share with you on that given day.

With Twitter, things are changing for him again, but I understand the following sentiment quite well:

As my remaindered links experience shows, going fast without a plan can be beneficial in unexpected ways. With different tools and media delivery channels available to me now, I wonder: how fast can a one-person site go while still maintaining that choosiness?

To translate this into something more innovation focussed, we see phases of Kottke’s development:

  1. One of several blogs on the Internet.
  2. An increase in content and audience through the aggregation of links.
  3. Rise of link aggregators (along with, I believe, changes in the way Google weighs them) leads to a devaluation of the link concept.
  4. Refocus of site on quality over quantity again.
  5. Rise of Twitter as a personal link aggregation site (previous aggregators had much less identity associated with them).
  6. Attempt to reintegrate that into the brand.
  7. Next…?

There is no telling if his experiment will work, but my bet is that as long as he associates it with his unique vision about what goes onto the site, it will be somewhat successful. It’s important to note that his current advertising model (just referring to the sponsorships) is long form and therefore perhaps less suitable for a site that posts short links exclusively, if that is a possible direction he is considering.

In the end there is no such thing as sustainability, at least not in the “stay the same and make money” sense. Everything has diminishing returns as the rest of the “competition” eventually catches on. The key is to balance experiments with opportunity cost analysis (risks of jumping on wrong (technology) bandwagon, of alienating audiences or paying customers).

I envision a world where filters are no more

What if this drama resulted in every newspaper (and weblog) publishing content that provokes… thought? What if by everyone becoming ‘the enemy,’ we all end up laughing about it becoming friends? What if…?

Je suis charlie

Publishing: Is free content an opportunity or a threat to scientific publishing?

Similar to last post from last Friday, there are other trends that are threatening the raison d’être of the traditional publishing model. This specifically being about publicly funded publishing, i.e. the scientific kind, being asked to become free content. What I find interesting is that this is not really for reasons of disruptive technologies like the Internet (even though Bill Gates is one of the initiators), but rather a much broader idea: that knowledge is important and must become free for the maximum benefit of societies.

The Bill & Melinda Gates foundation published a new manifesto / open access policy on their site a few days ago. It lists 5 stipulations that publishers associated to research sponsored by the foundation must follow:

  1. Publications Are Discoverable and Accessible Online. Publications will be deposited in a specified repository(s) with proper tagging of metadata.

  2. Publication Will Be On “Open Access” Terms. All publications shall be published under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Generic License (CC BY 4.0) or an equivalent license. This will permit all users of the publication to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format and transform and build upon the material, including for any purpose (including commercial) without further permission or fees being required.

  3. Foundation Will Pay Necessary Fees. The foundation would pay reasonable fees required by a publisher to effect publication on these terms.

  4. Publications Will Be Accessible and Open Immediately. All publications shall be available immediately upon their publication, without any embargo period. An embargo period is the period during which the publisher will require a subscription or the payment of a fee to gain access to the publication. We are, however, providing a transition period of up to two years from the effective date of the policy (or until January 1, 2017). During the transition period, the foundation will allow publications in journals that provide up to a 12-month embargo period.

  5. Data Underlying Published Research Results Will Be Accessible and Open Immediately. The foundation will require that data underlying the published research results be immediately accessible and open. This too is subject to the transition period and a 12-month embargo may be applied.

Of note, this is not a new movement. In 2012, the British government announced that tax-sponsored research would be freely accessible as of last year. The European Union followed suit, and some American institutes (the Gates foundation included) are requiring it too.

Having studied scientific publishing models for some years now, I believe that this will in fact become an unopposed reality. The reason being that scientific publishers are transforming into becoming providers of decision making tools for scientific advancement. They are still dependent on new publications, but having access to so much raw data means that they can create intelligence on top of that, making it more accessible to practitioners. That is becoming their new revenue stream, therefore reducing their dependence on the traditional model.

Whether this should be a universally accepted way of publishing, arguably it already has in some parts, since this and many other blogs are free to read. I have a feeling that book publishing is heading into a different direction, though still more and more cutting out the middle-man, i.e. the publishers. Where it leaves the latter and how this will translate to other publishing media is a big question I hope to get the answer to in the future.

On Writing: Nihilistic Characters

“It’s a trap!” ~ Admiral Ackbar

When you write a character without motivation, it can seem like you found an endless well of inspiration. Go left, go right, go back, go forward, but whatever you do, don’t explain.

But the risk you run is a frustrated and confused audience. The risk you run when writing such a character is that after a while you forget your original reasons for creating that character. Someone said—I may have quoted that person on this site in the past—that you must love your characters to bits. But a nihilistic character absorbs that love to the point of perfect osmosis, it passes straight through without giving the needed feedback to the love-giver.

I digress and it is time for some examples.

Most recently, I watched Matthew Mcconaughey in Interstellar. There is a scene that bothered me throughout the film, of him deciding to head into space and “save the world,” without really giving a second look at his daughter, which he leaves behind crying in her room. We witness his many adventures throughout the film, but we never understand what drives the character. He is as cold as the antagonist revealed later in the story.

In the book Leviathan Wakes (Book 1 in the Expanse series), we are introduced to a washed out detective Miller, who fits the very definition of nihilism. He loses some pretty important elements to his life (trying not to spoil it), but his emotions are non-existent, the only expression is movement of the character throughout the story. Which is fine, except that his choices also appear at random or at least as those of a very depressed person.

Exhibit 3 is Vanessa Ives in the TV Show Penny Dreadful (Amazon link), which I also previously expressed my admiration for on this site. What I liked about this show is the melding of different mythologies into a shared adventure. What nearly drove me out was Vanessa Ive’s descent into her own darkness, one entirely devoid of meaning. The character is haunted, ever since she was a child, by an image of her mother cheating and later invokes that pain onto her mother’s lover, by seducing his daughter Mina’s fiancé. That leads her to being possessed by some kind of devil and we witness the scenes of her combatting that demon.

The salvation to nihilism is some kind of overarching faith or goal. Interstellar’s goal is to save the world and for a father to rejoin his daughter. The driving engine for this is the protagonist’s thoughtless (nihilistic?) bravery. In Leviathan Wakes, Miller entire focus is on solving a case, which is what drags him out of the various messes he creates or is a part of. But we also see this drive to destruction, which is hard to digest. Vanessa Ive’s “engine” is her faith and the overal goal is save Mina, the woman whose life she destroyed at some point.

A character does not need to be loved and understood always, but he must have a meaning to his actions. Some of the examples above showcase that this meaning can be lacking and must be compensated over time. But it also risks to frustrate the audience throughout the story and absolutely must be paid off.

The new face of Publishing… through Facebook

(…and other visual social media platforms like LinkedIn)

I have long held a philosophical stance about Facebook, as the “social enabler,” or disabler in some cases. Many of its core audiences, me included, struggle with finding a good use case for the platform.

  • Regular users like me wonder what to share (especially in an environment where privacy is more and more valued) and whether your online friends aren’t over-/undersharing themselves.
  • Corporations struggle with integrating it into their marketing mix, especially if they are already engrained into other marketing channels.
  • News seems like the most logical use case for this platform, but comes with some problems as well.

There is a major risk with publishing on a social media platform: it positions regular users on the same level as corporations, publications, and advertising. Everyone becomes the competition.

My social media education happened on Twitter. It taught me to not confuse the newsfeed with an RSS feed, because you would soon lose oversight of the “real” people you were following. As a result, I was a slow adopter of Facebook as a newsreader and continue to be careful. Recently, as a fan of Harvard Business Review on a professional level, and inspired by a “social suggestion” from my friends, I decided to give it a shot after all, and subscribed to the HBR feed. The results were surprising.

It turns out the publication has figured out how to integrate Facebook as a publishing medium. HBR is a monthly periodical, as a print publication, and has both its website and mobile (iPad) apps as online alternatives. I was surprised at the content being shared via Facebook, which both felt relevant and premium (you can buy many of the articles as a PDF), and was infrequent enough not to bother. It takes a discerning editorial team to ensure that both the quality of the writing, the thematical content, and the mix are of a good quality to its audience. Somehow, likely to having a dedicated social media editorial team, HBR figured Facebook out.

It’s an encouraging development, but one positioned on brittle ground for the same risk factor I mentioned above. Facebook, its users and content providers are continually evolving and thus requires continuous attention to the engagement metrics and other qualitative aspects of each shared item. It is clear that social media is an investment, which is why so many companies fail at it. And, more importantly, the return on that investment must somehow be quantifiable also. It’s for every company or individual to figure out whether it is worth it.

What Facebook and other social media platforms must absolutely do is to make using their services more transparent. They cannot handhold publishers and marketeers as they publish on the platform, but they can provide accurate information about how they are positioned for each news item within the overal newsfeed. That, in combination with link tracking, and a both coherent marketing strategy and dedicated social media team, should make a big difference to social media success.

On that even-keeled conclusion, I am still happy to read HBR on Facebook, as well as a limited amount of other news publications (The Big Picture is a good one). I am very interested to see where social media and news reading continues to evolve to, as we are clearly not done.

In Movies: Scriptnotes talks Superhero Movies

Superheros are mainstream now, so like many of you, I have witnessed this pretty amazing blending of visual storytelling, innovation in the effects area, and allround blockbuster-money-exploding movie releases. The Scriptnotes podcast, in light of the recent “forecast” for when what 30 superhero movies will be released until 2020 (MarvelDC), is pretty insightful in explaining what “pillars” made all of this possible.

They begin with Brian Singer’s X-men, released in 2000, which was perhaps the first non-cheesy looking mainstream (!) comic book movie. He brought these characters on screen, focussing less on costumes and more on characters we care about.

Secondly, Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, released in 2005, which again brought a realistic, but hard-to-replicate gritty tone to the superhero scene. To me, this Batman is like the Indiana Jones of adventure films—an impossible character (in a good way) in a well-written adventure. If X-men was characters, I think writing is the key contribution here.

Third, Joss Whedon’ and Kevin Feige’s the Avengers, which really brought together the universe of these characters, much more so than X-men did. Craig Mazin says on Feige:

He’s like, you know, you have to go all the way back to like, I don’t know, Thalberg, and guys like that to find these really powerful, very smart guys that actually made like a good creator-like impact on the movie business. He may be our generation’s, I don’t know, whatever you want to call it, Zanuck or Thalberg. One of those guys.

… which I thought was really powerful stuff!

It’s hard to argue with John August and Craig Mazin, these two “pillars” of movie podcasting and scriptwriting, so I won’t. Like Lost or Battlestar Gallactica lead audiences into watching science fiction, something amazing has happened for comics as well. It’s nice to hear an analysis of what these contributing factors were and perhaps a discussion point for another time.

In Books/On Writing: Haruki Murakami interviewed

From the article:

Murakami has often spoken of the theme of two dimensions, or realities, in his work: a normal, beautifully evoked everyday world, and a weirder supernatural realm, which may be accessed by sitting at the bottom of a well (as does the hero of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle), or by taking the wrong emergency staircase off a city expressway (as in 1Q84).

It’s hard to find these kind of books, let alone write them.

Murakami’s style is simple, even apparently casual, on the surface, and Tsukuru Tazaki, like many of his previous novels, has divided critics into those who find it banal and those who perceive greater depth in its vividness and precision of imagery. Like most simple styles, of course, his is the result of lots of hard work. “I take time to rewrite,” he explains. “Rewriting is my favourite part of writing. The first time is a kind of torture, sometimes. Raymond Carver [whose work Murakami has translated into Japanese] said the same thing. I met him and I talked with him in 1983 or 84, and he said: ‘The first draft is kind of torture, but when you rewrite it’s getting better, so you are happy, it’s getting better and better and better.'” There is never a deadline for a Murakami novel – “I don’t like deadlines …when it’s finished, it’s finished. But before then, it is not finished.” Sometimes he can’t tell when he should stop rewriting, but “my wife knows. Yes. Sometimes she decides: ‘You should be finished here.'” He smiles and imitates his own obedient response: “‘OK!'”

Just as important, Murakami talks about readers:

How long does Murakami think the game of literature can last? “I think serious readers of books are 5% of the population,” he says. “If there are good TV shows or a World Cup or anything, that 5% will keep on reading books very seriously, enthusiastically. And if a society banned books, they would go into the forest and remember all the books. So I trust in their existence. I have confidence.”

If I haven’t reviewed 1Q84 on this blog, I should. It’s one of my favourite recent books, and I’m constantly looking for more like this. Equally so, but differently, I enjoyed his short biographical book entitled: “What I talk about when I talk about running.”

On Writing: The Ebbs and Flows of Moving Forward

While I’m specifically speaking about story writing, this is such a broadly applicable principle, that it could be placed into any category. When I speak of Ebbs, I mean those moments where you focus on understanding the underlying process. Flows are exactly what they sound like, everything is moving at a good speed.

For writing, I’m currently doing three things: writing in Scrivener on my Mac, writing in Daedalus on my Phone, and reading about how to be a better writer. Daedalus syncs to Scrivener via Dropbox, and I primarly use the phone to take notes and/or work on chapters. Scrivener is meant to be my production tool, but I find that most production takes place on the road, and I rather expect to do the finalisation on the Mac when the time is right. As well as maintenance / the act or prettying up, of course.

The Ebbs, to me, are contained within the transitions. There is a switching cost, to use a fancy term, that happens after you spend time in the Flow, suddenly come to a halt, and when you find yourself reorientating / searching for next starting point.

Very practically, I hate the way Dropbox syncs between these two softwares, creating duplicates, requiring some hacking in Scrivener, and a better understanding of that process overall. That is an inefficiency (Scrivener!), which creates an Ebb.

The other Ebb is new learning about production, during production. There is much to learn about writing, I find, specifically when it comes to narrative development and writing for the purpose of being read. Those pieces of knowledge force me to bring the writing to a halt and introduce new orientation points. Similarly, Scrivener had a learning curve in the sense of organising chapters, character backgrounds, etc., that I had to get past.

All of these are excuses of course. A writer should just write, and I often find myself wondering does a Steven King, Paul Auster, or a Nick Hornby do just that? Some interviews that I read suggest that they too struggle and often a good writing day is two good hours of writing, rather than the mystical 9-5 production mantra.

Flow could rather be described as the ability to navigate past the Ebb, wether through practice (likely) or outsourcing (possible). Food for further thought.

Software links:
Daedalus Touch for iOS
Scrivener for Mac & Windows.

火 – On Publishing: “Who, Exactly, Is Fueling the Vinyl-Records Renaissance?”

According to the Atlantic, it’s nostalgics. The article also briefly discusses what small part records play in the overall revenues currently collected by the music industry. At 3.3% annual decline, it’s not so bad.

I have to say, obviously there’s a nostalgia element to records. Who, except someone that has handled those large black vinyl discs in their past/childhood, would be open to doing so again. Playing records is a pain, involving the frequent getting up to switch from Side A to, possibly (for a large track list), Side D. But it also reminds me of a time when albums mattered. It doesn’t sound better, but it feels more special than an endless Spotify playlist.

I do think that all if this is an interesting analogy to book publishing in that consumers are essentially confronted with a similar situations (the endless www vs. paper books), and you have to wonder how that will continue to play out as well.

On Publishing: (Strategy) Thoughts about the Industry

An interesting blog post from Charlie Stross published a few days ago:. A lot of things resonated with me:

  • the need and challenge to foster talent over multiple years if not decades, vs. all other pressures
  • the opportunity cost between reading and various forms of (new) media ~ the ‘attention economy’
  • Amazon’s picking on an industry in distress

From everything that I’ve learned these last few years about publishing, as well as the evolution of industries and markets in general, all of this rings true and is really completely natural to happen over a longer period of time. Publishing has been around for a long time, we are talking centuries, and it’s surprising that the end-product has pretty much been unchanged. Production and distribution have changed, but the positioning (for lack of a better term) hasn’t. Books remain a collection of pages that require us to sit down and read them for a significant amount of time. There has been a shift of positioning in the sense of authority-based products to entertainment-based ones and a mix of both, but that’s it.

Since books are an intellectual product, it’s unusual to say the least. Take physical products like shoes or walking sticks (terrible examples, sorry), these you would expect to remain pretty much the same over time. We continue to have feet and people continue to have to lean on walking sticks in similar ways. But books are consumed by people that have changed significantly.

Gender equality of the workforce and decreased social welfare has caused a shorter time-span for concentrated consumption. New media has changed the choices in consumption to shorter, more passive, or more interactive. In other words, we can read tweets, watch/listen to content, and play/modify content. It shouldn’t be ignored that the Internet has also given rise to the easy creation of content, which, for me at least, represents a significant opportunity cost to consuming it.

If all of that weren’t enough,  when a player like Amazon shows up and wants to optimize the whole process, it creates incredible pressure on the traditional model with a lot of quality-related overhead. But as much strategic thinking has suggested over the last half a century, a lack of change, a commoditization of products and services creates opportunities for disruption.

In a fair world without back-room political-business deals, the only answer is to change the game. Many publishers are doing this, by focussing on added values like data-mining to create knowledge-supported decision-making tools. Others, but not many, go into cross-media production (think books-movies-games). The sad truth is, as Charlie Stross points out, is that there will always be a market for books and thus the services around it, but that demand is inelastic with little chance of growth. I know that there is more value to be had for a doctor to have an AI supporting his brain than to read a book and I do believe that we can safely evolve from books in the professional support arena. Is it better to watch ‘Of Mice and Men’ or ‘1984’ as a movie than read a book? Is it better to play DEVICE 6 than read a book? Those are the questions that we are faced with and may decide the direction of the industry in the near future.

As a producer, I have great fears about jumping into writing full-time, except that I have to keep reminding myself that it’s just a medium that allows for endless products. A writer can just as much envision a book, as (s)he can a movie, let alone an invention or a company. Writing coherent stories is one thing, the possibilities that come out of it are endless. I love publishing, I love books, and I will continue to do my best to produce my first and see what’s next. But just like everything I described above is part of a great journey, so is my or anyone else’s writing. Sorry to finish on that philosophical note, but that’s where I’m at at this time of night.

On Writing: External Influences on Storytelling

Inspirations for this post: I was reading an article about making games in a ******** up world (yes, that is the title), and wanted to not write so much about game development specifically, rather about the telling of stories and how this is affected by the world around us. I also read a recent interview with George R.R. Martin in Rolling Stone magazine, which says a lot about his influences for writing Game of Thrones. Particularly,’s quote from the article is telling.

Writers, essentially all humans, are influenced by the world around them. These can be events that are internal to their personal circle of friends, family, and work, or external events that affect a larger group of people, if not the planet. The first linked-to article brings forth some good examples, such as global warming, Arab Spring, and the Occupy Wall Street movement. And these are just “events” (if global warming can be classified as such) that have arisen in the last decade. Prior to this: The housing crisis, 9-11, the Balkan wars, the Cold War, numerous terrorist events, the Vietnam War, World War 2, and the list of course goes on.

The theory goes (not my theory) that each of these world events inspires a new wave of thematic story-telling. The interesting part is that this can be stories that are negatively focussed and others that are very positive. On the negative side you have dystopian stories and I would classify vampire stories into that. On the positive side you have super heroes and Star Trek (genetic engineering and evolved societies).

My interpretation for this contrast is an author’s perception about resource utilization. A story like Star Trek assumes a universe with infinite resources. The other stories assume finite resources and an eternal imbalance.  A small usage of energy will consume less resources but also be restricted to those finite resources that are nearby. A larger usage of energy will provide access to a greater scope of resources, but also consume more of them. So the balance will always be somewhat disrupted.

With finite resources, the question is two-fold: can we reduce our consumption of traditional or can we find new more efficient resources to consume. The reduction of resources is connected to the vision of “what if we don’t,” i.e. the end of the world. The finding or development of new resources is connected to stories like genetically engineered humans (super-heroes) coming out of a lab.

The human mind is of course dualistic (at the very least) and has the tremendous power to always bring up contrarian thought. A new intelligence can become The Terminator and cause the end of the world. A genetic evolution can result in vampires. The end of the world can become the beginning of another. This cyclicality is something we know from history and from nature and the belief that everything ends or dies is always accompanied with something else beginning or being born.

This of course views the process of story creation as always being influenced and not necessarily as influencing. But we also know that stories also inform and influence. I tend to focus on science fiction because it most closely related to technology and innovation (my field of passion) and I see scientists and engineers inventing many things that were first imagined in science fiction stories. I also see a reactionist piece of fiction being part of the process of working through a problem. Or to describe it differently, it’s the exploratory stage of solving an identified problem.


Once again, another reason to write, because it’s essentially about thinking through problems where there may not be an immediate solution, but it may very well fit into the overall process of problem solving.

So, while I love story universes like Star Trek and want to see more of them, you can perhaps see why I’m more drawn to the other kind of story telling that focusses on a prescient problem. I believe that many of the problems we face today is due to an over-mining of the planet. More people, more consumption, more pollution (and war!), more problems. The answers are what we as a society are struggling with. Is it external, Space Ship One type ventures that allow us to expand “affordably” beyond our suffering planet? Is it internal, meaning new types of fuel, new types of food, new types of [fill in the gap]? What I’m pretty doubtful being the answer is increasing human lifespan or building autonomous robots, though both could contribute to other solutions. Science fiction is an exciting field because it does work within the realm of trying to answer these questions, if not always based on the arduous work of engineers and scientists, but perhaps opening their minds to explore other new directions, not based on previous tried and tested means.

On Movies: Why do Remakes not work out?

Having just walked out of (The Amazing) Spider-Man 2… again, I felt like writing a little about the general problems in that story and how, I speculate, they came to be. THIS BLOG POST CONTAINS SPOILERS! 

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is like the Spider-Man 3 of just a few years ago. It’s overloaded with bad guys that lack any kind of real motivation of why they are bad. The funny thing is that this applies to every bad guy in the movie: Harry Osborn, Electro, Rhino. OK, Rhino was in this movie for 4 seconds so that doesn’t count. But both Electro and Harry Osborn were there throughout.

Harry Osborn’s motivation was a little more fleshed out, but only by association. His father suffered from a hereditary deadly disease, so Harry is scared and wants a cure. He’s willing to do anything to get it. But there is little about him that we know of. He was sent to boarding school when he was 10, he was Peter’s best friend as a child, he’s back and he’s sick. It feels a little light, only to provide a wallet to drive the action forward.

Electro’s motivation cannot even fill a paragraph. He’s a nutty professor that invented the electric grid the city runs on. Spider-man saves him once and tells him he’s important. Ever since then, he’s infatuated with this hero until he gets into an accidents that turns him into a monster. Spider-man confronts him and this infatuation turns into blind hate.

We also witness the doomed romance between Gwen Stacy and Spider-Man. Did it feel real? I suppose in as far as love is not rational, yes. Do people in love want to protect each other, break up, want to leave to another continent, then get back together? Yes. Do they mourn the other’s passing and then remember that love is timeless and empowering? Yes. Does Spider-Man go through some kind of evolution in that realisation? No really.

I’d rather rewrite this story than criticise it, to be honest. But I also wonder with all the talent in and behind this movie, why did it have to be so bad? The cynical movie-watcher will say: it’s simply a vehicle for product placement. Leave your brain at the door. I think it’s due to many factors and the most telling one is that Sony remade this story a mere half a decade after it was told. The pressure to make a franchise is so overwhelming that it wanted to present a bang, followed another, and another (action, drama, bad guy, bad guy, bad guy, bad…). It wasn’t an original story in the first placed, but what it lacked most was authenticity, something fresh that could’ve made it interesting.

I wasted 2 hours + the ticket on this movie. I recommend that you won’t do the same.

On Writing: Understanding the purpose of narrative and fiction

Imagine life as a big problem that can be solved. It doesn’t matter whether you’re scaling a wall with a hook and a rope, preparing this planet to migrate out into the universe, or figuring out how to raise your child the right way. Everything is composed of microscopic decisions, that can or cannot have a great impact. Everything is also affected by variables, things that change independently or dependently of your actions, that influence the outcome. Call it luck, call it gravity, call it politics; physical, meta-physical, and group dynamics tend to affect how easy we get somewhere.

We have perfect visions out there for what we want to do: I call it fiction, which is not to demean it, rather they lay down a larger target for us to aim for. We have imperfect visions, the examples of others, which themselves are affected by variables and decisions that are not found in every situation. Their reality is past, the fictional reality is what we imagine what can be achieved.

Take Jules Verne’s or Hergé ‘s stories about rockets going into space, which are some of the precursors to us actually going into space. Take the movie The Terminator, or Avatar, both of which paint frightening visions of a certain future (machines taking over, mankind destroying nature), as well as the promise of people rising up to the challenge. In similar fashion, take Schindler’s List or Anne Frank’s Diary as a warning and reminder that we are all precious. The list is literarily endless.

If fiction serves a purpose, so does narrative. When I look at a route that I want to climb, I think about step 1, step 2, step 3, etc. And then, I climb it that way. It’s better than not thinking or looking at all and then getting stuck. A more literal analogy is writing a chapter in a book. You can write without purpose and while it may be a nice chapter, it may not fit the logic of the story or have repercussions down the line. Planning and outlining is perhaps less artful, but the words can flow just as well with that, if not more quickly because you don’t have to do both at the same time.

Narrative is the way that we do things, fiction is what we aim for. When I write business plans or manage projects, it works in exactly the same way. We choose to believe in an ideal outcome (the fiction that we try to non-fictionalise), we invent and follow a series of steps that get us to that point (or at least get the ball rolling so that we move away from the non-ideal).

We tend to not see the forrest through the trees, but everything contributes, balances, disrupts, and destroys until we reach a new point. But we are not all that’s out there either, if you tend to see earth as an organism in the jungle that is the universe. It’s all just a series of attempts in that game called “survival of the fittest.”

With this cynical viewpoint that no single thing matters all that much in the greater fabric of things, it’s important to reinforce that idea of fiction (goals) and narrative (plans) serving a greater point. They give meaning to what we do, make us aim higher and think about what we do and how we do. They cause accidental and deliberate discoveries like nuclear energy (and weapons) and computers. The simple process of getting out of bed to do something, results in so many unexpected things that probably the most valuable thing that we can do in this world is to tell interesting and enriching stories to make us get out of bed.

And that is why I write.

On Writing: Karma & Finishing

I promised myself a thought piece a week, falling a little behind on those. This is going to be a lot about Karma, a little about Finishing, and how it connects to Writing.

Karma is that you get what you give. Karma is the idea that all actions have reactions and all outcomes could have been different depending on the choice that you make. Karma works with a delay, I like to think; it hits you next week or when you die surrounded by loved ones or alone.

Karma is stabbing your co-workers in the back because you thought it would get you out of the hole you were in and ending up in a cubicle in New York, in debt and alone. Karma is doing things quickly, badly, and dishonestly, and building up a reputation for all of these things. Karma is your father being a gambler and you taking a gamble to not be like him, but falling deeper or rising higher than ever expected (gambles can be good as well).

Karma is saving on employee benefits, having a demotivated workforce, and giving bad service to your customers. Karma is the opposite if you do the opposite. Karma is the most important lesson in life and in management.

Karma is not irreversible. It can hit you in the face and help you to change. Karma can also deceive, make cocky, and bring forth negative karma. Karma and human nature are intertwined, a helix of emotions fueling actions, actions fueling emotions.

I used some weird examples in this piece, they were part fictional, part dramatised. I like to believe that Karma is a real thing, though for every one yay-sayer, you’ll find five nays. It doesn’t matter what you believe or what you call this interplay between actions and outcomes, both positive and negative. What does matter is that every action you do has an outcome, every choice has a consequence.

Finishing is the process of completing an action or a series of actions that lead to the outcome. It should be an obvious point, but since a lot of people abandon what they started, including real people (that write) an characters in stories, it can make things fuzzy and frustrating. It’s perhaps not directly related to Karma (though everything is) and I choose to believe that not finishing = bad Karma.

Playing with the idea of Karma matters a great deal to writers. It allows you to categorise what happens next to the character that you are inventing. If every decision matters, from the amount of sugar you put in your coffee, to the number of coins you drop in a beggar’s hand, then you can imagine a future for your character.

That’s all I felt I needed to say about that. 

On Publishing: Harvard wants to enhance content with Wikipedia

You could see this as a positive move, Harvard crowd sourcing in order to produce richer content, or a negative one, Harvard outsourcing its research to Wikipedia. Let’s see.

You can read more about this on The Verge.

On Publishing: Kindle Single Criteria, March 9th, 2014

Some interesting limitation of the Kindle platfom, that I wasn’t aware of (emphasis added by me). I dated this post, because I may want to compare it later on as well:

We’re looking for compelling ideas expressed at their natural length–writing that doesn’t easily fall into the conventional space limitations of magazines or print books. Kindle Singles are typically between 5,000 and 30,000 words.

A Kindle Single can be on any topic. So far we’ve posted fiction, essays, memoirs, reporting, personal narratives, and profiles, and we’re expanding our selection every week. We’re looking for high-quality writing, fresh and original ideas, and well-executed stories in all genres and subjects.

The document also reads:

Each submission is carefully reviewed by our editors. Once your submission is received, we will read and respond within six weeks. If we are interested in your submission or pitch, we will provide you with further instructions on how to submit your title via Kindle Direct Publishing and any additional next steps.

I mean, it’s not surprising that they make the threshold high, but I guessed an element of crowdsourcing was in place. I wonder how many editors Amazon employs for this.

Lastly, the criteria:

• Length: 5,000 to 30,000 words

• List price: $0.99 to $4.99
• Original work, not previously published in other formats or publications
• Self-contained work, not chapters excerpted from a longer work
Not published on any public website in its entirety
• We are currently not accepting how-to manuals, public domain works, reference books, travel guides, or children’s books.
• No story collections.

In essence, they put up a lot of barriers, one of which is word length, another the time to publish, another the opinion of the editor(s), and finally the requirement of not publishing a Kindle Single elsewhere.

I think it’s fair, but also imagined to have a little more freedom in terms of re-publishing on, for instance, this website. I’ll evaluate some other options. This is more a matter of historical record than a real blog post about it.

The friendly new world of Publishing

Earlier this year, I visited a Nordic music festival, where I got to know some new artists that many people will probably never be aware of. It’s hard to break out in music, about as hard as writing, I imagine. I liked several of these artists on Facebook, just to be aware of new music releases and concerts. And last week, one of them published some news about a friend of her’s, that’s about to publish her first EP, and was giving one of her songs away for free to download. Of course, I listened to it, and noticed straight away a softness in the music that is so completely anti-pop, that you would never expect to see it published on a big music label.

The conversation has been happening for half a decade now, what social media represents within he cycle of pushing new items out to the public. I don’t think that these things can necessarily be put into a system, which is why the corporate approach of publish, measure, optimise, repeat, hasn’t worked quite so well. It’s just human voices, many of them, saying random things, some of which work better than others, and it’s the building of authority through consistency, boldness, and otherworldness that results in some being heard more than most.

After listening to this new artist’s single, which I like, I wanted more and turned to another artist that did get published more the traditional way. Why? Because I knew what I would get, which is the result of the predictability that comes out of such a system.

We are talking about an art form here, music, but this conversation could easily revolve around the difference between a bag bought on Etsy vs. one bought on Zappos. Do I want freshness and authenticity, or do I want reliability?

My view is that the corporate machine is best when working with existing creations, but not necessarily good at being responsible for creating them. The magic bright ideas that come to you in the shower, usually don’t appear while sitting behind your PC at the office. But the other side of the coin is that while a more bottom-up approach can be tremendously refreshing, innovating left and right, in the end there need to be systems in place that make these creations scale and sustain themselves. Which in turn results into a lessening of creativity or chaos (I write with a smile).

The difference between now and 30 years ago in publishing is that creativity can bubble up naturally, unimpeded by resource and time constraints. But to make it BIG, U2 big, it requires a machinery in place of many moving parts that allow fans around the world to experience what they love up close, whether it’s in the form of a professionally produced album or a sold out concert.  

Medium & Bacon

Another NaNoWriMo gone. It hurts less this time not to finish, mostly because I redefined my goals to just finishing when I’m ready. I’d like to throw some excuses out there, but excuses are like door handles, we all got them. I still think that general enablers must exist, but the most important one is always MOTIVATION.

Motivation creates time, time equals practice, practice turns into content, content provides feedback, feedback generates growth and/or change. It’s pop-psychological advice I’m writing here, because emotions, people, physical ails, the weather, all that can affect this process, in all likelihood will.

Let’s also talk about BACON, the thing that we want enough of to support our families and hang out with our friends around the globe. Bacon comes from finding the right MEDIUM, which is a match between your abilities and the marketplace. In other words, if your ideas turn into tangible product which holds value for someone, you gots Bacon.

In the Motivation-Feedback loop that I described, Medium is built in. We all suck when we start, but by practicing and receiving feedback, we grow and/or change to another Medium. Our ability to create tangible product either improves or our understanding why we must change improves.

So, about that Nanowrimo book I started writing… I have a clear vision of the end scenes, one that came to me quite visually in a dream. It’s frustrating to see the end, but to have to write a lot to get to those scenes. Part of me wants to just skip or do it in a different Medium (e.g. drawing, which I’m worse at, or movie-making, which I have no experience in, perhaps podcasting… all or most of these require the story or script anyway…). Writing this, the thought of a flashforward or of writing the last chapters first comes to me. Will finish the one I’m working on now and think about the other way.

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