Where Are the Writers?

22 March 2011 in Future of Publishing

Publishers are engaged in the digital conversation now in a way that even two years ago would have seemed unlikely.  It’s all happening, at last, and publishers are beginning to experiment with finding the right content as well as the right platforms for publishing in a manner that is native to digital technologies.  Ebooks are, at last, a given - a growing part of the market, yes, but at the end of the day, just another way to publish, no big deal (that’s skimming over all the masses of problems with eretail, royalties, DRM, etc, but that’s not what I’m talking about here).  What this means is that I can finally stop shouting the thing I’ve been shouting for what seems like forever - ‘STOP TALKING ABOUT EBOOKS, EBOOKS ARE NOT INTERESTING’ - and move on to shouting the other thing I always shout whenever given the opportunity:  CAN WE AT LAST TALK ABOUT CREATING DIGITAL WORKS THAT MAKE THE MOST OUT OF THE VAST POTENTIAL FOR NEW FORMS, NEW WAYS OF THINKING ABOUT STORY, NEW WAYS OF CONNECTING WRITERS WITH READERS, THAT THE DIGITAL PLATFORMS ALLOW FOR?’

Today’s explosion of capital letters was prompted by the announcement from FutureBook and The Literary Platform that they are co-hosting an event, the FutureBook Innovation Workshop here in London in June.  This is an entirely good thing from two good people, indeed two organisations, who are dedicated to thinking about the future of the book in ways that highlight innovation and experimentation.  The description of the day sounds great:  publishers will get the chance to ‘showcase their recent apps, enhanced e-books and e-books, and share best-practice with fellow publishers. In addition, the conference will provide a platform for publishers to meet with developers, with a “speed-dating” session aimed at putting book professionals in touch with potential digital partners’.  Fantastic.  I want to be there.

Except for one thing - no writers included.  No mention of writers, no mention of writing, no mention of stories.  I can see why this makes sense - this is an industry event aimed at publishers and developers, co-sponsored by FutureBook, which is an off-shoot of The Bookseller, the publishing industry’s main source of news and comment.  This conversation - about the future of publishing, indeed, the future of the book - is one that writers have been largely absent from throughout the past decade.  But this omission is symptomatic to me of the weird division that exists in our bookish world between the makers of content and the sellers of content.  I say ‘weird’ because it never ceases to amaze me how ignorant most writers are about the industry they work so hard to survive in;  that said, if writers are ignorant about the industry, most of us are even more ignorant about digital technologies. 

What would writers do at such an event - pitch their incredibly cool ideas for digital projects at the cohort of publishers and developers present?  Hmm.  Now there’s an event I’d like to attend.  I’ve got this great multi-platform idea - book plus web apps, growing its own interactive reading community…


Lee, 24 March 2011, 08:16 AM

Most writers who publish on the web seem to have conventional ideas about fiction. Now, there’s nothing wrong with conventional storytelling techniques when well crafted - after all, I read constantly! - but I agree that there’s an enormous and as yet untapped potential for new digital forms. The problem, from my own perspective, is that you need to be able to work as a member of a team (aka filmmakers) or to think visually and aurally as well as with words. Not easy.

Have you seen the work of Ander Monson? He is one of the few writerly writers who is using the web in interesting ways, particularly in the interaction between his printed books and his digital material. Here’s the link to his website:


I know of some readers who liken Monson’s work, rather dismissively, to performance art, but it need not be thought of in such a negative light.

Kate, 24 March 2011, 10:10 AM

Dear Lee -

Thanks for your comment, and for the link to Ander Monson - I don’t know his work, so will take a look. 

I think you are right, it’s the team aspect that is a barrier to some writers - though lots of fiction writers do work in forms that are more collaborative, as well as working alone on their fiction (for instance, if they do any screenplay writing, etc).  And there’s the tech skills barrier too.  Interesting.


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