Publishng: Thoughts on Transparency, Accessibility, and Putting the Public back in Publicity by Jim Hanas
During the team’s last conference call, we were talking about transparency—about how much of the backstage business of our publishing venture should be carried out in public. Should the process of this book coming together be, in effect, a reality show? At some point I blurted out, “I mean, does anybody really give a shit about this stuff?”
This got a laugh, but I should confess I was expressing an anxiety, not a conviction. There’s a lot of evidence that people do give a shit about this stuff and that (from a business perspective) they appreciate and reward enterprises and individuals that make themselves—let’s not say transparent, it’s so overused. Let’s say accessible.
Twenty years ago, box office returns weren’t news. Nobody cared. TV ratings? Same deal. People watched movies and TV shows, not the business of making movies and TV shows. Not so today. From DVD extras to The Apprentice, the cords and wires of entertainment (and marketing) are everywhere flying loose. Part of this has to do with new bandwidth media companies have to fill. They’ve got to put something there. Why not B-roll and byproduct?
It also has to do with the fact that we are all now, in some sense, producers. Everyone is in the media business, whether it’s via blogging, posting videos to YouTube, posting pictures online, or whatever. In what Henry Jenkins describes as“convergence culture,” the line between consumer and producer is eroding. It is very tempting—and exceedingly easy—to wring your hands about this. Everyone wants to be famous. No one wants to do anything useful. Oh my lord, all this content is of such terrible quality. Everyone wants to write a novel, but who wants to read one? I can go down this road and worry that media inequality is like financial inequality. The haves get the have-nots to support the rights of the haves by persuading them to believe that they will one day be haves too, even though the vast majority of them will not be. But I also have thispopulist bent that I can’t fully explain—life has not done me dirt—and I’m naturally suspicious of prior restraint, as it were, when it comes to access to the tools of creation. People have always created, long before the mass media, it’s just that until recently you had to “make it” to become visible. That whole layer of avocational creativity was out of sight and out of mind, and—most importantly—it did not compete with the sanctioned cultural entertainments.
Now it does. This, not piracy or anything else, is what really keeps media executives up at night. What if they just entertain themselves? And we will and we have. It’s just that it used to require a lot of cash to broadcast these entertainments to one another and now it doesn’t. The best possible interpretation of this sort of accessibility is that it’s totally fucking punk rock. No limos. No stages. The performer stands inches from the audience with nothing to hide and no privileges to protect.
Of course, shedding the stage is bound to cause anxiety and even backlash. Jason Pinter wonders if social networking kills the author mystique. Michael Tully recently created a stir by issuing the “Take-Back Manifesto,” calling for indie filmmakers to stop talking about the process of getting their movies made. “We believe in the mystery, the power, and magic of cinema, and we feel strongly that the more one reveals about one’s production—at least when it comes to this recent phenomenon of obsessive reporting and documenting of every step of the filmmaking process—the less powerful the impact will be,” the manifesto reads.
While I understand this point of view, my unaccounted for populism is irritated bydefenses of mystery and mystique. They sounds like scams. And while, yes, I probably set out to write in the first place in the hopes of getting some author mystique of my own, I think writing and writers will be better off without it. Already this seems to be the case from a practical point of view. J.A. Konrath? Never heard of him—until he made a big splash blogging about this self-publishing exploits.
All of these thoughts came to a head for me after reading Ami Greko’s thoughts on re-thinking book publicity a few weeks ago. She asked a series of questions, and I wondered whether I should answer them publicly or privately. Ami told me team members should decide for themselves. Now, the questions Ami asks—creating a list of potential partners or media outlets to target, for example—have traditionally been backroom stuff. Strategy. Secrecy. But why? Most of the contacts I’ve made in the last ten years have all grown from blog links or Twitter references. That’s how people communicate now. By talking to each other in public.
So, to answer Ami’s questionnaire: I think the New York art world satire of Brian’s book is priceless and the most accessible angle for introducing the book to a wider audience. I think we should seek out serialization opportunities. The Awl or The Rumpus would be ideal. I think their audiences would love Brian’s book. I can also imagine Electric Literature wanting to experiment with some sort of pre-release serialization. Even without partners, I think we should consider serializing the book on our own, running up to its release. (Or it could even be released midway through the serial for those who cannot wait to read the end.) I amconvinced that blogging has changed the way people read, and even become fans. Rather than punctuated releases every few years, blogs (or serialization) offer an extended experience and relationship with a writer or idea. Fortunately (for us) I think Brian’s book lends itself perfectly to this sort of treatment.
This sort of talk, out here in public, will no doubt offend more purely literary sensibilities. Some might think it is an example of, say, replacing “artistry with publicity.” That’s okay with me. We always minimize the publicity behind the art of the past, after all, because only the art survives. Plus, I think banging art into media and marketing and publicity presents the best chance we have at generating new forms that will keep artistry alive. Art with no audience is dead.