Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Stephen Fry: The Da Vinci Code of Twitter

So I took the plunge this morning and started twittering, because I've obviously got far too much time on my hands. (Anyone desperate enough to twitter up can find me @johnquirkbooks)

It's a bizarre concept. Like calling a bunch of friends, colleagues and contacts on a conference call and telling them your innermost thoughts, or that you're off down the pub on the piss. My problem is that most of my family and friends aren't interested in Twitter. The majority of them don't even know about Facebook, so there's no chance of them twittering.

Of course, one of the most intriguing aspects is the insight Twitter offers into the lives of those celebrities you choose to follow. I've picked a few authors, and that will do for now. Some authors I'd like to follow haven't taken the Twitter bait yet, and I've managed to avoid the temptation of following the exciting life of Britney Spears.

There's one celebrity who has pretty much raised the profile of Twitter single-handedly. Check anyone's page for who they are following and chances are you'll see a small pic of Stephen Fry. He's bloody everywhere. People new to Twitter are hearing about how Twitterific Mr Fry is... so they follow him to see what all the fuss is about.

He has quickly established himself as the Da Vinci Code and Titanic of Twitter - phenomenons that feed off the media frenzy created around them, creating an ever-perpetuating popularity. When the Da Vinci Code hype started to buzz, I had to read it to see what all the fuss was about, as did just about everyone. Same with Titanic.

But not this time. I'm not going to follow Mr Fry, although I do realise that by talking about his popularity I'm helping stir that big pot of Twitter buzz for him. I'm going to give him the cold shoulder. Should he deem me worthy of following in the coming weeks and months, then I may well return the compliment. But by Christ I'm going to play hard to get.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

From out of nowhere

One of the most common questions asked of writers is: 'Where do you get your ideas from?'

This generally applies to fiction, as non-fiction ideas, or subjects, seem far more clear cut - if you're writing a biography, for example, the genesis of the idea is (in most cases) obvious.
At least that's what I thought.

I was in bed last night, with my Muse snoring gently by my side, trying to fall asleep while last minute thoughts about a media training course I was running today flitted around inside my head. Then, from out of nowhere - and I mean completely nowhere - an idea arrives. It doesn't just sidle in with its coat collar pulled up around its neck and lurk in the corner. No, this one explodes. Eyes open, a real sitting-up-in-bed moment.

The birth of any new idea is met with a mixture of excitement and despair, as my growing list of 'to do' projects will soon dangle as far as the upper reaches of Hell. What's frustrating about this latest idea is that it's a non-fiction book - and I've told myself (and my ever supportive Muse) that once The Manx Giant is done and dusted, I'll be focusing all efforts on fiction.

But, damn if this new non-fiction project isn't enticing. It arrived fully formed, with bells and whistles. It's very much a concept piece, and - in my opinion - would be hugely commercial. It's got TV tie-in potential, a ready-made publicity campaign and I've spent the last 24 hours looking for the flaws in the idea. Not found any yet, other than some minor hiccups that could be easily addressed.

Ultimately, it's not time sensitive - other than if someone thinks of the same idea and steals my thunder. So for now I'm going to let it stew, look at it again in a few weeks and see if my initial excitement has been dampened.
As much as I'd love to get a proposal package together to fire off to agents, I know I need to concentrate on fiction, for the sake of my own sanity.

At this stage, it's imperative that the Muse doesn't find out about this new idea. If she hears it's non-fiction, and might delay completing Quackenbush (again), my life won't be worth living. Again.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Leave my damn Weetabix alone

Over at Litopia, there's only really been one issue up for discussion around the water cooler these last couple of weeks - Scribd, the online social publishing site, where 'tens of millions of people share orginal writings and documents...'

That's one way of describing it. Scribd hit the headlines when it was raised on the Litopia After Dark podcast - the panellists wanted to know how the hell so many published works seemed to be available for free download from the site. JK Rowling and Wilbur Smith are just a couple of big names whose work is, or at least was, available up until recently.

The story was soon picked up by The Times, with The Bookseller, Sky News and a host of others hot on the trail.

Litopia After Dark host Peter Cox invited Scribd CEO Trip Adler on to the show last Friday to put Scribd's side of the argument. At first, it appeared Trip had agreed. Good move, I thought. This man knows the importance of PR and the need to meet a challenge head on. In the next breath, someone claiming to be from Scribd joined Litopia and insisted Trip had agreed to no such thing.

Litopia After Dark went ahead, with Peter ringing Trip's number and the panellists - and an army of Litopians hanging about in the chatroom - looking forward to getting the Scribd side of things straight from the horse's mouth.

Sadly, Trip didn't show.

Given the publicity this issue is continuing to generate, any organisation worth its salt should have had a PR action plan quickly drawn up and been ready to rock and roll.

When facing such a situation, the best response from an organisation - or an individual - is to hold your hands up and take it on the chin. Stand up and be counted. Say, yes, we realise we have an issue - whether we were aware of it or not - and we're doing X, Y and Z to deal with it.
Indeed, if the organisation feels there is no issue, and that it has done nothing wrong, then it should come out and say as much. If there's one thing that will piss off the media and the public alike, it's a 'no comment'.

As someone who's in the process of establishing a small publishing house, the Scribd situation - hell, any kind of download site where authors, and publishers, aren't seeing any reward for their work - makes me bloody angry.

There is, in my opinion, absolutely no excuse whatsoever. Scribd can argue that this wasn't what it set out to do. It can say that its purpose was to give unpublished, or self-published, writers a platform to have their work read, and hey, maybe picked up by someone. And that's all well and good and worthy.

But in just two years Scribd has become a victim of its own success. It cannot monitor the sheer number of documents being uploaded to the site. It responds to requests from publishers to remove certain documents when those publishers bring it to Scribd's attention. But what use is that? Unless a publisher is employing someone around the clock to constantly monitor these 'social publishing sites' - and I've heard of one that does - they will lose money even if they are on the ball and spot indiscretions quickly. A book doesn't have to be available for long for it to be downloaded any number of times.

What Scribd - and other similar sites - should be doing is reassuring the publishing industry. They should be bending over backwards to get this issue resolved. They should be facing up to their responsibilities and not ducking the issue.

If they do that, they might just retain a modicum of credibility and, hell, maybe even benefit from it. The ebook is not something that's going to disappear, regardless of what traditionalists like myself, who need to feel a book in their hands, might hope. They continue to chip away, increasing in popularity year on year, and as such I don't have a problem. If they are here to stay, then we must embrace them and learn to accept them as part of the normal publishing business.

But as a writer, and a publisher, I want to see my damn money coming in. End of story. I've put in the long hours, I want my reward. Regrettably, that train of rational thinking doesn't seem to cut any ice with the likes of Scribd. The onus is on writers, publishers and agents to make sure they don't have any choice but to listen.

And the onus is on us all as readers. For Christ's sake, don't download published books for free. You might as well come into my kitchen of a morning and steal the goddamn Weetabix from under my nose.