Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Make it So - The Impossible becomes Possible

I read this fantastic book recently: Where Good Ideas Come From - The Natural History of Innovation , by Steven Johnson. I found it as a recommendation on a blog. It’s a science writer’s analysis of Innovation and what drives it. I read it because samples were intriguing, and because I wanted to really think about how I can be innovative – in my writing, in my career, in my life. I first purchased it on Kindle and read it in one sitting because I couldn't stop (crack for the mind, got to love that). Then I purchased the hardcover.

So, you’re thinking egg head bore snore, right? Wrong. There are many ideas he considers, but I want to talk about something Mr. Johnson calls Adjacent Possibilities, and relate it back to the revolution in publishing, the changing power structure between author and producer, because it really fits. And because if you have this framework in place to funnel thoughts, you might wind up popping out of your usual track and making some quantum shifts. At the very least, you’ll get wheels turning in a different way.

Adjacent Possibilities, basically, are the things that exist to make other things happen. Without electricity, for example, would the lightbulb work? Nope. We had to have some other things in play prior to the lightbulb making a meaningful entry onto the scene. If the curtain call came prior to understanding some basic electrical principals, the lightbulb would be a dismal failure. Or at least, an un-self actualized failure. Let’s bring that in focus for the writer. An idea must have the right time. If the idea is there, but it’s missing solid adjacent possibilities to help maximize or enable it’s impact, then it remains an idea, and sometimes a failure. Failures aren’t bad, they’re actually good, but that’s a discussion for another blog. Back to Adjacent Possibilities. Let’s talk about the prototypical mass publisher, Guttenberg, and what publishing and book release was prior to his appearance.

Bibles were hard to make. Time consuming. Expensive. So not a lot of folks had bibles. But some did. They were around. In circulation. But man, did you need to lay it in to make one happen. (Think Publishing of 5 years ago). Guttenberg’s around, and he’s an idea man, but he’s missing something: an adjacent possibility that when it appears, will change his life, bank balance and the world for ever after. Fast forward to the revolution in printing that allowed for mass production: the printing press. Enter the adjacent possibility. Guttenberg sees this and thinks, 'man, I can DO something with this technology'. He takes an existing product, a book called the Bible (an existing manuscript), and applies the adjacent possibility of this revolutionary new technology (e readers, e publishing platforms for author direct publishing, and the net/social media platforms that make marketing easier, faster and far more direct), and wham! Now bibles are getting out there, into the hands of many. These bibles are not as pretty in production value as the first bibles, but they’re bibles. Guess what? His audience is hungry for them. It’s this vast untapped demand. They like the price, the immediacy, it works for them. So both bibles exist in tandem now, but his is out and about, and here’s the turning point: publishing was never the same again.

Fast forward to today’s digital publishing revolution. The technology and convergence of so many adjacent possibilities (The internet, social medial, Print on Demand, Amazon, e readers, B&N, a recession causing a new awareness of cost containment in a buying public, blogs, instant exchange of information) has created an evolutionary leap no one could have predicted. In fact, I’m not sure where this will head, and what the final iteration will be but there is one fact we can’t escape: THIS IS A GAME CHANGER. The power structure is shifting, what will it become? Right now, large entities are slow to catch up so indie pubs are enjoying unprecedented opportunity. Will that change once the NY pubs figure out a way to maximize electronic and personal marketing strategies? Will top authors do the same? For example: Amazon gives passive publicity by rankings. Depending on price, or free, you can increase a chance of getting into a TOP RANKING. 99 or Free. I’m noticing more big name authors giving up freebies and 99 cent work. Will the combination of price and name squeeze out spots for the indie author, the way they did in the traditional model of ‘we have only so many slots for books, so we’re going with reliable producers vs. the unknown with the off the wall idea’? Or has the indie author carved a place that the large machine will never be able to remove, or duplicate in response? What about trad publishers like Harlequin opening up digital only press affiliates like Carina Press? What will happen when/if trad publishers give more digital % royalty to authors? Will we see more digital bidding wars for authors in the future? (already several indies have been picked up by agents and a few courted by publishers). What role will small press mainly digital publishers play, like Samhain Publishing, and how might that change? What will be the new measures of success? Will Print on Demand save bookstores, or be another coffin nail?

There are millions more questions. Like, as an author, why would I go with a traditional publisher vs. going it myself? As a publisher, how will I recruit and retain productive authors and what do I need to change in the existing model to stay not only competitive but out of bankruptcy?

I don’t know the answers. But I do find it all amazing. We are in the midst of a revolution.

For some additional thoughts on innovation and the ways to support and develop an innovative state of mind, read Steven Johnson’s book Where Good Ideas Come From - The Natural History of Innovation and visit his blog. You will not be dissapointed, and I bet it may trigger your own personal revolution.

For more on the state of the indie publishing revolution, check out Joe Konrath’s blog and step off from the many links there. I liken him to a war corrospondant. He's on the front line, reporting as the salvos fly, and has more voices speaking there than I could ever capture. He also has links to each side the revolutionary front, trad and indie. 

For cutting edge info on where digital publishing is headed, follow anything Angela James writes. She's a former Samhain editor and the current head at Carina. If anyone knows digital and impact to the industry, it's her. (She's on twitter, and facebook)

Now if I were really tech savvy, I'd give all kinds of link backs but since I'm barely beyond chisle and stone tablet some days, the links in the post will have to do. To those I referenced, thanks!

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