Dancing to Dirges

Depressing and happy things Tim says, sometimes while drunk

Monday, November 27, 2006

And then? Then there'll be a revolution! Yeah!

Okay, maybe not. But I've been thinking about independent stuff. Music, comics, publishing. Really, I've been thinking about music and comics, and that's led to me thinking about publishing. So I'm going to kick this out there. More of me thinking out loud than anything else.

Independent music succeeds. There are networks of people trading info about artists. Musicians have myspace pages to keep in contact with their fans, promote their music and distribute their merch. Just last week I bought a cd from a band in Durham, NC. I heard them on an indy music podcast, I googled their name, found their myspace page and bought their CD. Magic.

Independent comics succeed. The guys at PvP, PennyArcade, Questionable Content and ScaryGoRound (among many others) do this for a living. They post comics, those comics get read, books get sold along with tshirts and stickers and...so forth. They start in their garage, they move to an office, they hire staff. Success.

Independent publishing? I have to qualify my statement, because I'm thinking mostly of internet based success here. The successful independent publishers I know are mostly paper-based. Electric Velocipede, Lady Churchill's and so forth, they achieve some level of success, mostly through connections which translate into sales. But most of those guys aren't doing this full-time. And there are levels of success. I would count NightShade, Golden Griffon and Pyr as independent publishers. They're certainly doing well for themselves, but there's a fair amount of infrastructure behind those operations.

So. Can independent, web-based publishing succeed according to the music/comics model? John Scalzi is a great example. He was publishing his book online, one chapter at a time. It generated enough attention to get him a contract with Tor. Tor ain't small potatoes. But how did that buzz generate? How did he spread the word? Vexing. So can a guy, or a couple guys, publish good stories in an out of the way URL and build up buzz sufficient to become self-sustaining?

I think it all comes down to hubs of communication. Comics have sites like Top Web Comics, which aggregate websites and offer them up for voting. As people vote for sites they rise in the standings, more people read them, more people vote. Eventually you peel off from that model, just because you have enough of a fanbase to generate your own buzz. Your readers are getting their friends to read you, and you don't need the outside feed to build distribution.

I don't think the sf/f community has this, at least not on the literary side. We have blogs, sure, and a network of blogs, but that's widely distributed and kind of random. There's nothing centralized about it, dig?

Anyone who knows me knows about the Dead Channel. If you don't, click on that link over to the right. Enlighten. I've been thinking about the DC a lot recently, and what I can do to broaden its impact on the genre. I used to believe that just producing some of the best fiction on the net was sufficient, but that's clearly not the case. So what now. Where do we go now.


At 12:35 PM , Blogger The Editor said...

I know this isn't the point of your post, but...

I'm just curious why you think there's infrastructure behind Night Shade Books and Golden Gryphon (both run by two people) and not behind Lady Churchill's (which is part of what Gavin does full-time: Small Beer Press) or Electric Velocipede?

Also, Pyr is an imprint of a larger company, so it can hardly be considered independent.

To the point of your post, what comics and music have going for them is that they don't require a lot of committment on the part of the viewer (a song is about five minutes, it takes about 30 seconds to read a web comic, etc.) whereas web-based publishing asks for more from its viewers.

Scalzi works because he's fun. Because what he posts doesn't require a lot of committment at one time. Over the long haul it can be a lot, but the initial investment is small. Scalzi was 'discovered' by Patrick Nielsen Hayden, who is a compulsive blog reader, and I think that's how he found Scalzi. It also doesn't hurt that John's a fantastic writer. You can post a bunch of quick blog entries, but if your writing stinks, no one will come back.

It's the same thing that happened with House of Leaves. It was published online at first and eventually published in paper. Now Mark Danielewski is a BIG NAME and gets notice with every new project. He's a damn good writer.

You're absolutely right, there is no centralized channel. Maybe someone should build a Wiki. Or something. It needs to be written well and designed well, and often people who can do one can't do the other (yes, lots of people can do both; I'm an either or type, I'm talking about me so don't take it personally).

I don't have an answer...yet. When I do, I'll share it with everyone.

So far, the secret seems to be to work hard, for a long time, and be talented.

Not so hard, eh?


At 1:01 PM , Blogger Tim Akers said...

I like the idea of a wiki. It seems wise. But let me clarify, or something. When I said infrastructure, I'm sure part of that is me talking out of my ass. I'd forgotten that LCRW is part of Small Beer. I probably shouldn't have tried to make a distinction between folks like nightshade and LCRW. Mistake.

Let me restate it like this: It takes a fair amount of money to make something like Nightshade successful. You've got to buy good art for your covers, you've got to pay your authors, go to conventions, take out ads in the paper. As near as I can tell, Questionable Content got to where it is just by producing good content and word of mouth. And while there's no question that storytelling can succeed at the small press level in the paper world, I'm wondering how to transform that into success in the electronic world.

One thing I'm kicking around is audio. I sit here at work listening to podcasts pretty much everyday. Something like four hours of content a day, usually. What about a podcast that was basically any audiomagazine. Four or five different authors reading their stuff. I suppose that's what Escape Pod does, huh? Maybe not so revolutionary after all. Ah well...just thinking out loud.

At 2:01 PM , Blogger colin said...

I think the editor has got a very good point about commitment. Heck, I can't even find the time to listen to podcasts much. Maybe you need to have bite-sized chunks that will draw the reader into longer readings, or something. Sounds like a lot of work.

At 9:19 PM , Blogger The Editor said...

"Let me restate it like this: It takes a fair amount of money to make something like Nightshade successful. You've got to buy good art for your covers, you've got to pay your authors, go to conventions, take out ads in the paper. As near as I can tell, Questionable Content got to where it is just by producing good content and word of mouth. And while there's no question that storytelling can succeed at the small press level in the paper world, I'm wondering how to transform that into success in the electronic world."

You see, I think I need to keep on you about this. It takes a fair amount of money to make Electric Velocipede as successful as it is. And it will take more money to get to the next level.

More importantly, it will take more TIME to get to the next level. It's taken Night Shade nine years to get to where they are. It's taken Small Beer ten years to get to where they are.

Everyone wants something fast with minimal effort. It's ludricrous to expect that you can go online where costs are low and achieve success quicker than you can by producing a physical product without spending the same time and money you would on creating a physical product.

Maybe you could create a successful online content site if you spent the same money on authors and designers that Night Shade spends on authors and artists. Successful online sites have a lot of infrastructure, too. Questionable Content (which I never heard of before your post) has been doing this for four years. Another good example is something like Ctrl-Alt-Del, which has been going on for about five yeas. But the guy who creates it goes to all sorts of conventions and spends time and money promoting his site.

I don't mean to sound like I'm beating you up, Tim. When you see me posting somewhere like this and ranting on and on, it's because you've made me think.

I'd love to be able to create a viable online publishing venture. I don't know what it should be either. I almost feel like it should be some combination comic/music/audio/video/animation thing; like scripted YouTube installments with authors writing interesting, complicated plots that unfold over many many short videos.

Or something. :)


At 7:41 AM , Blogger Tim Akers said...

For my readers who don't know, the editor is John Klima of Electric Velocipede and Spilt Milk Press.

I think we're going on a tangent here, John. What I'm trying to get at is a clear examination of the success model of online comics, and then extrapolating on how that model can be used with online fiction. One of the most obvious barriers between the two is the nature of the content, which you've already touched on. It comes down to time commitment and ease of comprehension. It's easy to ingest a comic strip. It's much, much less easy to ingest a thousand words of printed text. That's the first barrier we need to overcome.

As far as the ease of publishing content online, I think you have that correct. But what interests me, what has me thinking, is that online comics and independent musicians have a system in place to distribute their content. Whether that system is some sort of meritocracy where readers vote on their favorite strips of the day, or a more decentralized network like podcast radio, where you have a bunch of people in their basements making hour or half-hour shows of their favorite artists, these are things that fiction doesn't really have. Something.

What I may be getting at here is that we may be approaching the point where we need to repackage the story. Maybe the next evolution of the story isn't the written word. Maybe it's something more internet friendly.

At 10:33 AM , Blogger The Editor said...

Sorry for not introducing myself properly. :-[

You're absolutely right Tim. I think for fiction to succeed online, it needs to change its packaging. It probably needs to steal from the current online comics/music conventions to become something more workable.

It also needs to become something that people look for online. I think people are looking for comics and music online, but they aren't necessarily thinking that they can find fiction online. I think that Sci Fiction was changing that, but then the plug got pulled on it.

Again, you've got me thinking.



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