Wish I was going Bookcamping today …

It’s Bookcamp day, and I’m stuck in an office in Canberra. Boo hoo.

Philosophers on the future of the book are congregating in Brisbane as I write, preparing to make their pitch for what the Bookcamp unconference will cover.

This year’s special guest is designer and writer Craig Mod. Mod is a former product designer at Flipboard and the author of four Kindle Singles about ebooks: Hack the cover, The digital-physical, Post-artifact books and publishing and Books in the age of the iPad. Lucky Bookcampers getting to hang out with one of the world’s biggest thinkers on “emerging technologies, people, ideas, and stories in the fast-changing business of connecting writers with readers”.
Continue reading Wish I was going Bookcamping today …

Bookcamp

I’m heading to If:Book Australia’s Bookcamp in a fortnight’s time (and yes, I realise that sounds like the publishing industry equivalent of ‘band camp’. It’s not, honest. It’s far less salacious and potentially happily even more nerdy).

Bookcamp’s actually an ‘unconference’ that’s designed to bring together creative, bookish people from a bunch of backgrounds to explore books’ future. It will be ‘bottom-up, grass-roots, and collaborative’, i.e. entirely outside the traditional conference model box.

The theme? The emerging future.

Hmm. Lots to ponder there.

I went to If:Book’s last unconference (at least, I think it was an unconference) entitled The Reader. It was a fantastic day organised by a fantastic organisation that ‘promotes new forms of digital literature and explores ways to boost connections between writers and audiences’. As a side note, I love its logo and website design (I hope the If:Book team don’t mind, but I’ve included a small screengrab of their design here for reference. You can visit it in full at www.futureofthebook.org.)

If:Book BookcampIf:Book Australia was set up by outgoing Queensland Writers Centre CEO/incoming Brisbane Writers Festival Director Kate Eltham. If you haven’t yet heard of her, I’d recommend you rectify that now, starting by following her on Twitter: @kate_eltham. The Australian newspaper named her one of 10 Emerging Leaders of Culture way back in 2009, something she’s well and truly proved in the three years since. Eltham’s not only one to watch, but one we’d all love to emulate.

In fact, ‘digital champion’ Eltham was one of the few people the industry who didn’t completely freak out about the ‘death’ of the physical book at the hands of the digital one. She correctly predicted that there’d always be room for physical books and that e-books were just joining the conversation. What mattered, and what we all fall in love with over and over again, are the stories themselves—the container in which they come now just involves more choice.

But I’m getting carried away. The above’s not gush—it’s meant to be useful-background-information segway. That is, an unconference organised by an organisation involving Eltham is the kind of conference writers, editors, designers, publishers, and readers ought to attend—it’s likely to yield some groundbreaking and inspiring results.

The thing about unconferences is that they don’t have pre-determined programs. Instead, the website tells us, we participants will get to suggest topics and then be responsible for leading discussions and brainstorming sessions around them.

Sounds great, except that I’m rubbish at thinking of topics. Which is why I’m writing this blog. If you were me and you had the opportunity to put forward some topics you’d like tackled at Bookcamp, what would you recommend?

To give you some ideas, the unconference will also have a guest speaker—independent writer, designer, and publisher, Craig Mod, who divides his time between Palo Alto, New York, and Tokyo, and who has created a stack of impressive projects and publications.

His interests and work, his website tells me, are about digital books, publishing, and start-ups—three areas that are increasingly, happily converging. Like Eltham, he’s a ‘technology optimist’ who sees a bunch of publishing opportunities awaiting us, best summed up as follows:

The old guard is crumbling. A new guard is awkwardly emerging. Together, we can affect the shape of the new guard.

Which returns me to my previous question: If you were me and you had the opportunity to suggest topics you’d like tackled along the theme of ‘the emerging future’ at Bookcamp, what would you recommend?

It’s hip to be @BookSquare

Drop by @booksquare and check out the number of Twitter followers US book industry blogger and digital publishing consultant Kassia Kroszer has. More than 90,000 when I last checked. Wow.

Though perhaps it’s not so surprising given she has been writing about the impact of the digital revolution on the book industry since 1998, and blogging about it at Booksquare since 2004.

Kroszer is at the Melbourne Writer’s Festival this week as a guest of if:book, appeared at Bookcamp today at the Wheeler Centre and will be on the panel for a session called The Connected Book tomorrow at 5.30pm, before flying to Canberra for an ACT Writers Centre-organised event in Canberra on Tuesday morning (I’ll be there to introduce her in my capacity as a board member of the centre).

She’s usually based in Pasadena, California, just east of Los Angeles, and works in rights in the film industry to pay non-Booksquare bills.

Kassia Kroszer.

Kroszer is a young-looking 48 – “oy! old!” – proof that youth is no prerequisite for being a digital guru.

She led a panel at today’s Bookcamp unconference (the “un” means free-flowing, audience driven and Power Point presentation-free – attendees had a say in the event’s structure and an opportunity to lead a session themselves) along with if:book’s other special guest speakers, Kate Pullinger (UK) and Hugh McGuire (Canada).

You can scan the day’s Twitter stream via the hashtag #bookcampaus. The highlights for me were Kroszer’s opening session on the definition of the word publisher (little consensus here, other than that it’s about connecting readers with writing and that boundaries are shifting), and Kate Eltham’s discussion on social reading (bring it on – as I tweeted today, I found myself in tears on the bus from the airport over a heartbreaking passage in David Nicholls’ One Day, and would’ve loved to discuss with someone nearby instantly rather than looking around sheepishly as I pretended I had something in my eye).
Meanwhile, Kroszer answered some questions for me via email earlier this week.

How did you get into digital publishing consulting and blogging on the industry?

My background is actually motion pictures, an industry that has a lot of overlap with publishing, particularly when you look at the home entertainment business. I started Booksquare in 2004 after thinking long and hard about what I wanted to blog about – the last thing I wanted was a site that focused on the minutiae of my life, and as I looked at the other literary blogs already on the scene, I didn’t want to compete with them (and I am thrilled those bloggers embraced me into their community). Nobody was writing about the business of publishing, particularly the transition to digital at that point.

In 1998, I wrote my article on the digital publishing industry. I focused on a digital-only publisher and their business model. Since then, I have followed the business very closely, and, over the years, have developed strong contacts in the industry. Make no mistake about it: there are some really smart, really savvy, really creative people in this space!

I apply my knowledge of business, my experience in motion pictures (where applicable), and what I learn from my network of resources to what I do.

Do you earn enough from the blog and consulting to live comfortably?

I make enough from my site to pay its bills – my goal is not to make money from Booksquare. My husband (who will be at Bookcamp as well) has been doing web development – a form of digital publishing – full-time since 1998, and I have worked with him on major projects. Obviously, Booksquare is an example of publishing on the web, though other projects have been much larger in scope. My main source of income is consulting for motion picture studios; just as with publishing, this is a really interesting time to be in the business!

Is this ultimately what you want to do, or a stepping stone/part of a grand plan?

Since my high school journalism days, I have been very comfortable with a certain type of opinion-based non-fiction writing, and blogging is the best way for me to continue that type of work. I also write fiction (not as seriously as I should, but perhaps once the husband is done with his current book, I can pull back from consulting a bit and focus again).

I love writing and speaking about the publishing industry, mostly because I love learning about all the amazing things happening, putting them in context, and sharing with others. [Me too!]

How on earth did you attract so many Twitter followers?

That was pure dumb luck. For a while, Twitter was recommending people to follow based on areas of interest. I was lucky enough to be included in the book people section. A lot of people followed those recommendations (many of my good friends in the industry were on that list…we share our amazement at how this played out!). I think, also, there is a tendency for people to follow the people their friends follow.

That being said (and I cannot stress this enough!), having lots and lots of followers means nothing if they’re not engaged. Given the speed with which Twitter moves, I figure a very small number of people are paying attention to what I say at any one point in time (I also assume a lot of the followers I have are bots, spammers, and people who never actually use Twitter). I love it when people talk to me – and they do! The conversation is what makes Twitter great.

I don’t follow a lot of people, relatively speaking, because the people I follow are, well, prolific. I can barely keep up with them. Publishing people can out-tweet any other industry! But I do try to respond as much as possible, and often follow those who engage me in interesting ways, if only because I love fascinating people. One woman I followed because she was continually tweeting funny, pithy things at me. I read her feed, loved her style…and we’ve become good personal friends since she lives in Los Angeles (her first book was just released, and I’m so thrilled for her).

What’s your best tip (or tips) for someone hoping to build a digital community around their work/passion?

The number thing you have to do is work your niche. Identify what you want to do, and stick with it. Oh sure, you can go off-topic once in a while, but people are reading/listening/viewing – you communicate in the manner you feel most comfortable -because you have information they want. The second tip is to see those in your space as colleagues, not competition. Working with your peers expands your community; working against them contracts it.

Don’t assume you know everything, and be really open to feedback and other perspectives. There are some amazingly smart people out there, no matter what you do, and sometimes shutting up and listening is the best thing you can do to build your own name and reputation. You know the old saying about great artists stealing? It works here, as long as you follow through on the intent of that saying: make it your own, not a plagiarism of someone else.

Are publishers, full-time authors and booksellers doomed as per this grim piece in The Guardian?

There were some interesting points in that article, but I think the whole piece was a bit too, um, ill-informed. The mid-list is always dying, and those mid-list authors are rethinking their relationship to the publishing industry. They finally have options, and if publishers want to keep those authors in their develop pipeline, they need to figure out how to entice them back.

Likewise, it’s the job of booksellers to find their way in a changing retail market. I’ve talked with a lot of smart booksellers, and they get the world is changing…and they’re changing their world. There are also booksellers who cross their arms over their chests and say, “No, I won’t participate in ebooks!” They won’t survive the transition. The question for booksellers becomes a question of what they do, and how they can do it best. Ebooks are books, too, you know.

Charlotte’s posts on books, digital publishing and social media also appear on Twitter (@ebookish), Facebook (www.facebook.com/ebookish) and at ebookish.com.au.