Open publishing – A few questions left

This week is my turn to work with the students on De Montfort’s Online MA in Creative Writing and New Media, which I am very much looking forward to. But first, an apology: I had promised to put together a video lecture, but it turns out that video is a lot harder than it looks. I spent most of the weekend struggling with the technology, only to end up at 1am this morning with a video which was both too long and rubbish. I’ve thus concluded that I need to acquire a few new skills before I start making rash promises about video – I hope you’ll forgive me, but I honestly think those are 30 minutes of your life that you can do better things with.

Everything I would have said in the video has already been published, however, in the Open Publishing category of this blog:

But I’m left with a few questions.

  • What are the numbers? How have Penguin, Tor and Baen seen sales develop over the live of an open book? Do they have any information that would allow a comparison between downloads and sales?
  • Does open publishing prolong the shelf-life of a book?
  • Is success genre specific, and focused on internet-literate readers such as science fiction fans and tech books?
  • Do authors who open publish earn more overall? Do they get more requests to speak, or write for magazines or newspapers? Do they get other paid gigs alongside their writing?
  • Will the model work when we don’t need paper at all? Is open publishing a blip, viable only during the period within which ebooks are non-interchangable with paper books?
  • Do ebook downloaders buy more books overall?
  • What’s the relationship between audiobooks and ebooks?

There is, obviously, a lot more to say about open publishing and my curiosity is very much piqued by what I’ve read and written so far. I look forward to delving into the topic even more and look forward to everyone’s questions and comments.

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5 thoughts on “Open publishing – A few questions left

  1. Hi Suw,

    You asked: Does open publishing prolong the shelf-life of a book?

    I’ve been reading Katherine Hayles’ essay: “Flickering Connectivities in Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl”. One of the things Hayles points out is that if Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was still copyrighted, Shelley Jackson’s work would not exist.

    Beyond shelf-life, it seems to me that open publishing creates space for re-invention, permutations and re-readings. At it’s best, it has the potential to enliven books right off the shelf 🙂

    btw: there are actually quite a lot of interesting points raised in the text on the history of copyright/intellectual property …Although ironically, the Hayles text is copyrighted:-(

  2. Hi Suw

    I find the open publishing examples of Cory Doctorow and Lawrence Lessig really inspiring, and I’m thinking of having Tim O’Reilly’s lesson 1 ‘Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy’ tattooed on my forearms.

    But some writers and artists are more obscure than others (e.g. *some* of us De Montfort students) and it sounds like Doctorow and Lessig were both pretty well known (at least online) before they published their works. They also had major publishers.

    What do you think about self-publishing in relation to open publishing? Do you think self-publishers have more of a chance of reaching wider readerships/audiences these days? If so, what kind of strategies would you advise a self-publishing author or new media artist to engage in to raise their profile?

  3. Renee, I absolutely agree. There’s a lot more to open publishing than just making stuff available for free. It also opens up the door for derivative works which enrich our culture and provide inspiration for others. In the music world, we’ve seen mash-ups breathe new life into forgotten tracks and introduce older artists and bands to a whole new generation, and the same thing is more than possible in the literary world too. In fact, I just had a sudden notion: it’d be fun to take a bunch of out-of-copyright or Creative Commons licensed works and mash them up into a new story, taking only full sentences from each work to create the new.

    Christine, you’re right that Cory and Larry both had fairly high internet profiles before they published, and there’s no doubt that that helped them. But there are other examples of people who have been able to create a presence for themselves online which has then helped them to promote their books, or in some cases, actually lead to the book in the first place.

    So, I’m thinking people like Tom Reynolds who writes the Random Acts of Reality blog at Tom is an ambulance technician, and he just writes about what he does at work and his thoughts on the London Ambulance Service. Last year, he published a collection of blog posts in the wonderful Blood Sweat and Tea, published by Friday Books, and released online under CC. The book has sold very well indeed, far better than they expected, and whilst Tom’s not at the same level of fandom as Cory, his book grew out of his blog and has been a real success.

    So you don’t need to start off well-known for open publishing to work. If you work hard at a blog, for example, then you can build up a reputation as a good writer online, and then that can lead you to a publishing deal. It’s not a guaranteed route, but then, none is.

    Regarding self-publishing, there are a lot more print-on-demand services around these days, so self-publishing does not have to be the rip-off that it used to be, and for some people it’s all they want or need. There was a time I would very firmly recomment that people not self-publish because the vanity publishing press, as it was uncharitably called, was full of charlatans and conmen who’d demand you pay up front and you’d never see a penny back from sales of your book. New technologies change things dramatically, and now it’s all a lot easier, and as Amazon will list such books there’s really very little in the way of people who want to self-publish. But the problem is always going to be that your book’s unlikely to end up on the bookshelf at Waterstones, and you have to do all the promotion yourself.

    Personally, I think before you self-publish you have to think about what your motivation is. If you want to get picked up by a major publisher and see your book in shops, you probably don’t want to self-publish, although you might get a deal through open publishing. If all you want is a book with your name on, print-on-demand is fine.

    Regardless of what you do with your work, I firmly believe that every writer, of whatever ilk, should have a blog. You should be writing regularly on it, posting examples of your work, reading other author’s blogs, reading publishers blogs, and generally getting involved in the online community. It’s easy to do, and it’s lots of fun, let alone being a good way to boost your profile.

  4. Thanks Kevin, for drawing my attention to John Scalzi, a very interesting example of self-publishing online – and he made a reasonable sum from donations. Not bad for a self-published first novel. Also a good example of Tim O’Reilly’s ‘Lesson 3: Customers want to do the right thing, if they can’.

    Although I’ve been involved in online communities for a few years, I’m relatively new to blogging, but I agree with Suw, it’s really important for writers to blog. I’m involved in remix, a collaborative creative multimedia blog – – and we’ve recently been approached by a TV company interested in screening some of our work. It’s early days and I don’t know how it’ll pan out yet, but it was certainly the blog remix that generated the interest.

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