Peter Heller, author most recently of the novel The Dog Stars, says, “So writing for me is all about momentum.”
Love this insight:
“I write between a 1,000 and 1,100 words every day but I always make sure I stop in the middle of a thought, of a scene, of a dialogue, and it just makes it so exciting to start writing again the next day.”
Man is it easy to reblog, retweet, or share a link on any number of social networks. What’s not so easy is creating the content that gets reblogged, retweeted and shared. It’s not that it’s super hard, but it certainly takes more than the click of a button.
I’ve been thinking about this lately because of how I am spending my own time in front of my computer. The balance seems off. Too much reblogging and link sharing, not enough time writing and posting other types of original content. I’d like to get a better handle on the ideal balance between content creation and curation.
My gut answer to this is:
70% content creation.
30% curation of content by others.
Here’s how I would breakdown what really goes on:
80% curation of content by others.
20% content creation (on a good day).
I totally want to share and curate the content of others. I get the important role it plays in being a part of the digital conversation. I love discovering cool stuff online and then telling other people about it. I do get fulfillment from that. But not as much as I get when I actually create something of my own.
I can break this down by showcasing a couple of scenarios:
An ideal Saturday morning:
What I would like to happen: I wake up early, like 7:30 — the morning is fucking mine. I’ve got hours before the household gets going. I make some coffee, cut up some fresh farmers’ market fruit and eat it, fire up the computer, and immediately start tapping away at the keys. I only stop to refill my cup with coffee. About an hour in, I log into tumblr and post a photo, and reblog a few cool posts that are flowing through my dashboard from the many tumblr bloggers I follow. Then I log into twitter, reply to a few tweets, share a couple of links, and then close it up. This tweeting and tumbling and checking out various links takes about 20 minutes. But now it’s back to my doc-in-progress. I commence writing for another half-hour or so. I feel fucking great. I throw on my running gear, put on my headphones, head out the door, and run like the fucking wind. This day is mine, and it has just barely begun. Go. Go. Go.
A far-from-ideal Saturday morning:
I wake up at 8:30. I am pissed that I didn’t get up earlier, but lie there for another twenty minutes instead of rolling out of bed immediately. I have half a mind to just go back to sleep, because I’m exhausted, but after about two seconds of closing my eyes I realize this is just totally not going to happen. My jaw clenches down even tighter than it was already clenching. I finally crawl my way out of bed and a hint of a smile does streak itself across my bloated face as I begin to look forward to making that first cup of coffee, only to realize that there is no fucking coffee in the house. Fuck! I mean, Fuck! I throw on some clothes and walk to a nearby cafe looking like I haven’t slept in a week, and also, just got violently knocked off a bike. I decide to pick up a bagel even though I am off bread. Actually, I pick up two bagels (one for me, and another for me). I get back to the apartment and the cat is freaking out because he is hungry but thinks he is starving. I go to feed him and thank God there is one can left but fuck, I have to add “get cat food” to the list of things to do today. I go and fire up the computer. I want to get some writing done, so I immediately open up NYTimes.com. Then Slate.com. This leads me to google one of the writers, who has a twitter account, which links to her blog, which I go and check out, which leads me to some other sites based on this post she wrote that have nothing to do with the original article that initially caught my attention, and all of the sudden a half-hour has gone by. I tweet the link to that Slate story. I retweet a few tweets that are rolling along on my Twitter feed. I log into Tumblr. Whoa. Who took this cool picture of these flames in the desert? I reblog this shit and go check out more of the photographer’s work. Turns out he has a flickr account. I’m looking at this guy’s photos and the next thing I know I’m jumping around and looking at all kinds of photos taken by I don’t even know who. I recall that I’ve been meaning to post photos from my trip to India from back in February. Shit. Another half-hour is gone. I haven’t written a thing. I throw open an empty doc screen, and a wave of disgust washes over me. I write a few sentences, realize it is going nowhere. Staring at the terribleness is making things worse, so I throw open Tumblr and reblog a few more posts. Finally, I post one of my own photos. Of a sandwich I ate the day before. It was just okay. The picture is who cares. I don’t even know why I posted it. I realize I am hungry, even though I ate a bagel. Make that two bagels. I close down the computer and head into the kitchen, and start looking to see if I even have what I need to make a sandwich — any kind of sandwich will do at this point. As I am staring into the cupboard and realizing that there’s no God damn bread anywhere to be found, I think to myself, I didn’t get jack shit done. And the day is half gone. I think about going for a run, but flip on the TV instead. Nothing is on, but I don’t turn it off. I just sit there and click through the channels.
Obviously, I’d like to experience the ideal scenario more often than not, so here are some things I’m doing to help strike a better curation vs creation balance:
– Casually logging how I am spending my time in front of the computer, so I can get some better clarity of just how much time I actually spend curating vs. creating.
– Setting some loose parameters on how retweets, reblogs and link shares I’ll do on any given day. I don’t want to get too rigid here, but by establishing some guideposts on the numbers, I keep the amount of time I’m spending on this type of activity in check.
– Setting word count goals — at least 500 words a day. If I accomplish this, I can set aside my concerns about spending too much time on curating and not enough on creating.
– Another goal: at least one solid blog post a week. This used to be so easy — I was writing lengthy blog posts daily, if not more than once a day. I know what happened, and I don’t know what happened. I should probably write about it and try to figure it out. Maybe it will be a blog post. Because I have to write one a week now.
– Being strict about keeping only one window open on my desktop when it’s time to write, going so far as to turning off the internet connection when I can’t myself from popping over to some news site or amazon.com or imdb or who knows what I really don’t need to look up right at that moment but find myself doing it anyway.
– Also, I make a point of firing up the computer at appointed times with a very specific agenda. On Sunday mornings, for example, I wake up and write (and only write) for an hour. Once the hour is up, I head out for a run.
– This sounds silly to write, but I use a reward system as well. Here’s an example: on Sundays, I reward myself with a jelly donut if I’ve gotten up early, had a good writing session, and been able to get out and come back from a run before 11:30 a.m.
Overall, I don’t want to get too rigid in how I strike this balance. If I create a workplan that is too hardline, I’ll end up ignoring it. But I do know that I want tip the balance so that I am spending more of my time creating. This post is actually a good start, though of course now I’ll go spend some time curating around this subject. Let the battle for an ideal balance between content creation and curation begin.
Knopf and Tumblr have put together an amazing LIVE celebration of poetry featuring Poet Laureate Philip Levine, 2012 Pulitzer Prize Winner Tracy K. Smith, and two fantastic poets from the Tumblr community: Saeed Jones and Karolina Manko.
The event takes place on Monday, April 23, 7 pm, at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe in NYC. Open bar. Amazing poetry. Poet Laureate. Pulitzer Prize Winner. Poets from the Tumblr community. Put it on your calendar and come out to celebrate poetry with us!
Every year Knopf celebrates National Poetry Month through its Poem-A-Day program, highlighting an amazing poemeverysingleday throughout the month of April. This year, we had the awesome opportunity to partner with Tumblr to create a Tumblr blog with the specific goal of celebrating poetry. We’re featuring the daily Knopf poem, but we’re also showcasing poetry submissions from the Tumblr community. So check out the Tumblr blog — Celebrate Poetry, and be sure to submit your own poem(s).
The ascendancy of the ebook has truly reinvigorated the discussion about the viability of going the self-publishing route.
– So many screeds about “legacy” publishers.
– Publishers having to create powerpoint presentations explaining why they’re still relevant.*
– Countless articles about the millions Amanda Hocking made, first by self-publishing ebooks through Amazon, then by getting a monster book deal from a major publisher.
– Ever more manuals and articles which aim to show how you, too, can be a successful self-publisher — usually written by someone who has no self-publishing success under his or her belt (other than maybe the how-to works).
I’m all for this. It’s a great conversation to be having, but it’s not all that novel. I self-published a printed book about 10 years ago. The conversations and debates going on right now were going on back then. It was the dawn of the web, and since anyone could easily put up a website on the “world wide web,” the argument was that this new platform would allow us to reach the millions of readers out there and sell our books to them directly. There was no need for a “middleman.”
Technically, I suppose this was true. What’s also true is that millions of people did NOT buy my self-published book. That certainly would have been nice, but you know what? I still consider the whole venture a total success, and I will tell you why: because I learned a hell of a lot by doing everything myself.
In fact, the lessons I learned during that self-publishing experience have helped me throughout my career in publishing, which has included having a couple of books published by a major publisher, as well as working for major publishers.
That is the point that I want to make: you learn an immense amount of “on the ground” knowledge across the entire spectrum of the book business** when you self-publish, regardless of whether your project is a success or a failure. By doing it yourself, you touch all aspects of the process, down the the core levels. And all the things you weren’t aware of, don’t pay attention to, or forget about, those mishaps have a way of really sticking with you, once they come back to bite you somewhere down the line, that is. I would argue that these collective lessons — the good and the bad — will be invaluable as you make your way along your own, long-term, unique publishing path.***
*I can’t think of a way to make yourself seem more irrelevant than to make this argument with a powerpoint presentation.
**A business which is currently in a state of massive flux.
***Given all the options these days, in an ideal scenario, you’ll be able to mix it up — self-publish some works, publish experimental pieces with upstarts and new ventures, AND get books published by a major publisher.
I’m bullish on eshorts. Here are some reasons why:
I think eshorts open up a whole new space in the still evolving digital marketplace for written content.
There’s a definite need and desire for both fiction and nonfiction that falls somewhere between 5K and 30K words in the ebook format on digital readers. For fiction: something beyond a short story and edging up to the length of a novella. For nonfiction: longer than a magazine article, but shorter than a full-length work. There’s something about this length that just makes sense on a digital reader.
Eshorts are a good opening for writers to publish their own work in the digital space. It’s a good place to explore all the things you’re going to need to know how to do: produce an epub file, understand the retail procedures, environment and opportunities, and market a digital-only product.
The eshort form is inspiring new, exciting companies to enter the publishing space, like the frequently mentioned Byliner and The Atavist.
It’s also inspiring non-publishers to set up publishing operations, such as NBC News and TED.
I personally do not think it’s hard to publish an ebook. But there is a learning curve. Like anything, the only way to get good at it is to do it, over and over and over again. If you are also writing the content of the books, that’s not so easy, because writing a full-length work takes a great deal of time. Eshorts make this proposition a bit simpler. They take less time to write, there is less copy to edit, and the marketplace is a bit narrower in scope. Publishing eshorts, in short, is just a less daunting proposition. It’s an excellent point of entry to the business of publishing.
Writers are never short on longform magazine ideas. But there are very few magazines publishing long-form journalism or short-form fiction these days, and the ones that do are some of the hardest places for a writer to get his or her work published. The eshort marketplace allows a writer to pursue his or her idea and publish it all on their own. And possibly make some decent money.
Let’s face it — sometimes nonficiton full-length published books are padded. The reason for this is because in order to justify a work’s publication as a book (or rather, all the costs associated with bringing the work to the marketplace), it had to hit a certain word count (at least over 50K words). The stretch is obvious, and sometimes painful for readers. The eshort marketplace solves this problem by creating a middle ground.
Eshorts open up possible new revenue streams for newspapers, magazines, and other content producing organizations.
For established authors who fall on the more prolific end of the spectrum, eshorts offer up an opportunity to put even more works into the marketplace. With or without their publisher.
Speed to the marketplace will be improved. Publishers can take well over a year to get a book into the marketplace. Eshorts can be published in less than a week.
Will eshorts help serialization makes a comeback? Haven’t seen anything yet, but certainly this an opportunity for writers/publishers to serialize a work through the eshort channels.
The three main retailers for digital content — Amazon, BN.com, and Apple’s iBookstore — all have solid merchandising programs for eshorts. Amazon leads the pack with its Kindles Singles program, BN has Nook Snaps, and iBookstore has Quick Reads.
And while it’s true that most ebook reading and purchasing is happening through the Kindle, Nook and iPhone/iPad, with purchases for content coming from the companies associated with those devices (Amazon, BN.com, Apple, respectively), it’s possible that producers of niche eshort content may be able to sell direct (if they forgo worrying about DRM).
Eshort pricing — usually falling somewhere between .99 cents and 2.99 — helps establish an overall ebook pricing structure that makes sense. The price of full-length ebooks is currently in flux and one of the key issues for the publishing industry right now. But if an eshort costs $2.99 (at the upper-end), well, then, a full-length ebook at least has to cost more than that. I mention this because some readers feel full-length ebooks should be priced that low. Thinking long term, whatever prices are now for full-length ebooks, they will eventually come down. But eshorts, by inhabiting the lower-end of the pricing spectrum, establish an appropriate bottom.