2012 Is Going to Be Huge

Louis CKNear the end of 2011, folks got excited about the digital release of a concert film by comedian Louis C.K., which you could download directly from his website for just $5—so excited that, within days, he’d earned $1 million in gross revenue from the project. It was a prominent example of something that’s been going on, though mostly on a smaller scale, in the digital book world, as authors like J.A. Konrath and Lee Goldberg are moving away from their previous deals with publishing companies to self-publish or enter into new arrangements with Amazon, while an up-and-coming writer like Amanda Hocking could go straight to the self-publishing option and sell a million ebooks with no track record among readers, strictly on word-of-mouth (and can’t-resist low prices).

As Michael Wolf put it:

“No doubt, the vast majority of economic wealth is still distributed through large corporate media, but as new technologies enable artists to reach consumers directly through push-button creation and distribution, there is a movement afoot. Expect this movement to expand in 2012 as more artists take control of their own economic destinies and become part of the artist-entrepreneur generation.”

Or, to quote a Dean Haspiel post from early 2011:

“Bottom line: keep making original content and stop giving it away to publishers. If you’re going to give it away, then benefit from it… Exclusive content, destination points, and perceived value is the name of the game… Be armed with your stories and get ready. People love to read.”

I’m not a stranger to this territory; before I turned Getting Right with Tao into a print-on-demand paperback and e-book, I let folks download it for free from this website. And while I’ve been happy with the reasonable success of that book over the last two years, I’ve always known that much more was possible. And, in recent months, I’ve started thinking seriously about what my next steps were going to be.

Mike Monteiro’s “10 New Year’s Resolutions for Designers” offered a lot of inspiration; although I’m more verbal than visual, I’ve certainly had to think about the principles of great design since I launched Beatrice back in 1995, and the principles Monteiro discusses hold true across the spectrum of creative endeavor. Finding better problems to solve, learning to stop being your own obstacle, and staying curious enough to explore new avenues—these are the kinds of issues that I’ve been grappling with lately, and I think I’m starting to come up with some exciting answers.

One thing that I’ve circled back to over and over again during that thought process is Beatrice‘s origins as a collection of author interviews, and each of the projects I’ll be unveiling over the course of the next month or so reaches back to those roots, while pushing them into new directions. I realized how much I loved not just introducing people to the writers whose books I loved, but also talking to those writers about their creative processes and about their lives. Yet I didn’t want to simply fall back on the way I used to do that in the late ’90s. For one thing, the technology’s gotten a lot better; for another, so has my comfort with public speaking, and with participating in the media. (So there’s some hints about what might be coming up soon, right?)

While all this has been going on, I’ve also been taking another look at my friend Jonathan Fields’s Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance, as well as picking up the just-released The Circle Maker: Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears by Mark Batterson (who I’ve only met once, but greatly admire). These two books take different paths, but they’re addressing the same core problem: Whether you think of it as second-guessing yourself or second-guessing God, you need to stop the second-guessing and start the leaps of faith into projects that can change the world. And I say “you,” but I mean me, too.

19 January 2012 | housecleaning |

What’s In Your Ultimate Blogroll? (2012 Edition)

XKCD's "Startling"
Randall Munroe’s XKCD

Nearly four years ago, I wrote a post for GalleyCat called “What’s In Your Ultimate Blogroll?” I was riffing off a book called Ulimate Blogs where Sarah Boxer laid out some info on her 27 favorites. (The book’s still available, though as far as I know it’s never been updated; I wasn’t convinced by all her selections, but the attempt was certainly commendable.)

Then, a few weeks back, I was talking with a friend about some projects that I’m lining up for 2012 when I mentioned a post I’d recently read at one of my ultimate blogs, John Scalzi’s Whatever. My friend had never heard of it, so I started telling her who Scalzi is and what his site’s about; back in 2008, I’d described it as “a perfect example of how a writer’s blog can be a promotional tool without being uselessly annoying about it,” and that’s basically how I put it that night, too. (If you’re looking for a more detailed introduction, you’re in luck: Scalzi just wrote one.) Afterwards, my friend said something along the lines of how she wanted to know what the blogs I read every day are, which is why I’m revisiting (and revising) my ultimate blogroll and sharing some of those links with you tonight.

(Of course, I haven’t actually used a “blogroll,” in the sense of a list of blogs that I access through an active web page, in years—instead, I use Google Reader to keep up with blogs through their RSS feeds. But the metaphor still holds up.)

I follow a lot fewer book blogs than I used to, but I’m always interested in what Maud Newton has to say about literature and culture (and literary culture), and the romance fan blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books continues to teach me how to write about genre fiction with an authoritative passion. That’s actually the same reason that I’m a huge fan of Comics Alliance, even though I’m actually reading fewer comic books and graphic novels these days; editor Laura Hudson has put together a roster of sharp critics who challenge the sexual and racial assumptions of mainstream comics on a near-daily basis, but also aren’t afraid to give themselves over to the fun of great storytelling. When it comes to literary blogs affiliated with mainstream media institutions, the only one I admire enough to pay attention to regularly is Carolyn Kellogg’s Jacket Copy at The Los Angeles Times, although The New York Daily News launched a book blog in late 2011 called Page Views that I hope works out. (As for the other “corporate” book blogs, I count on the people I follow on Twitter to ferret out the must-read posts and bring them to my attention, though sometimes I’ll spot-check if I’m looking to see if anybody’s talking about a particular book.)

For professional inspiration, I keep an eye out for new posts at 43 Folders and Presentation Zen, and Seth Godin usually posts about once a day (sometimes more). Personal inspiration comes from my friends Gretchen Rubin (The Happiness Project) and Jonathan Fields.

Finally, when I just want to be entertained, the following webcomics never let me down: Randall Munroe’s XKCD, David Malki’s Wondermark, and Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant. Each has a particular type of “geek humor,” so there’s very little thematic overlap between the three, but they all “work” at a consistent level of excellence.

As I mentioned, these aren’t the only blogs I follow regularly, but they are among the best, and I encourage you to pay attention to any (or all) of them, and see for yourself what rewards that attention will bring.

1 January 2012 | housecleaning |

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