The Big Bang Theory of Writing, Publishing and Technology

The new frontier lies not beyond the planets, but within each one of us.

–Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Biodynamics

Civilization is a movement and not a condition, a voyage and not a harbor.

–historian Arnold Toynbee

There are three basic skills that students need if they want to thrive in a knowledge economy: the ability to do critical thinking and problem-solving; the ability to communicate effectively; and the ability to collaborate….[We need parents who] elevate learning at the most important life skill.

–Thomas Friedman, New York Times (11/21)

Critical thinking, problem-solving, communicating effectively, and collaborating; all essential skills for writers as well as students. And if learning is the most important life skill, writers have to be perpetual students as well as teachers.

Technology’s Gifts to Writers

The ability to string words together that have the desired effect is a gift as well as a craft. Writing that delivers the value the author intended is a gift to readers worth more than what, if anything, they pay to read it. But technology is also giving priceless gifts to writers, among them the opportunities to

  • learn about anything on the Web instantly.
  • keep up to the minute on new developments.
  • write about more subjects. 
  • making your work immediately accessible to readers around the world.
  • find agents and publishers.
  • promote and profit from your work and your services in a grow number of ways.
  • communicate in the media your audience prefers.
  • collaborate with people around the world.
  • create and maintain communities of writers, fans, and people to help you.
  • accomplish these things without leaving your desk.

How to Thrive in a New Universe

The advent of technology was the Big Bang of a new universe that continues to voyage outward at an accelerating rate. Nobody’s in charge of it; no one knows where it’s going; and no one understands what it means. Publishing is a rapidly spinning planet in the media galaxy of that universe.

What does this mean to you as a writer? How can you plan a future that’s as full of uncertainty as it is opportunity? What do you need to do and have to thrive as a writer?

You need to

  • develop the crafts of writing, storytelling, and communicating online and off.
  • have literary, publishing, and financial goals that keep you passionate and motivated.
  • be a contentpreneur who keeps generating new work, balances commerce and creativity, is responsive to the markeplace, and takes responsibility for your success.
  • keep figuring out the fastest, most productive ways to use technology.
  • build the communities you need.
  • build your visibility while test-marketing your books.
  • promote your work and yourself.
  • stay committed to your future.

What an exciting time to be alive! Discover your future on the frontier of your unexplored potential. Find the stories and ideas that you must share with your unique voice, and give them to the world. And endowed with the gifts technology provides, you will thrive in this amazing new universe.

The Eighth San Francisco Writers Conference / A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community / President’s Day Weekend, February 18-20, 2011 / Mark Hopkins InterContinental Hotel on Nob Hill / Keynoters: Dorothy Allison & David Morrell / Pitch your book to agents and editors from both coasts / More than 50 breakout sessions / 100 presenters / Indie Publishing Contest /  / [email protected] / blog: / twitter: @SFWC /
facebook: / free MP3s at / open to anyone: a day of in-depth classes on Monday, February 21st

New! San Francisco Writers University: Where Writers Meet and You Learn, a project of the San Francisco Writers Conference / Laurie McLean, Dean / / [email protected]

Welcome to the Age of Living Books

There’s a New Yorker cartoon that shows a dejected guy, holding a brief case, who has just come home after work, and he’s saying to his wife: “Bad news. Hon. I got replaced by an app.”

As a writer, you don’t have to worry about being replaced by an app. But one way e-books can replace p-(rinted)books is clear. As screens of all sizes are returning our focus from words to images, e-books are reinventing reading and writing for new generations of book buyers.

Computer technology created the greatest revolution in publishing since the printing press. E-books are creating the next revolution by giving you two ways to write living books:

* E-readers connected to the Web can have links to anything that already exists and you and your publisher produce. This is an amazing opportunity for you to use an exploding multimodal universe to provide new ways to enhance your readers’ experience and entice Web-centric readers. Using links for footnotes and authors discussing their books are obvious uses.

* E-books can link to social media, the ultimate book club: a community of readers who can email you links to what they find or create to which you and other readers can respond. This conversation creates living books, endless works in progress that continue to improve and stay up to date.

Groupsourcing with Your Readers

,, is embedding videos in a wide range of fiction and nonfiction. But video is only one medium, and you’re only limited by your imagination and what you and your readers can find and create. In fiction and narrative nonfiction, you can embed links to music, photographs, or video to create a sense of the period and setting in which the narrative takes place. You can dramatize part of it to draw readers into your story and use the video as a promotional trailer.

Little, Brown will be releasing David Foster Wallace’s novel Infinite Jest with links to the book’s cultural allusions. Imagine how links can bring new readers to the classics by with definitions of words and the explanations of the cultures in which they were written.

Links empower your readers to contribute a video of how they used a gardening book, for example, and show the results. In addition to responding to what readers submit, you can decide whether to make use of what readers send in for your e-book or just let it be part of the conversation. Either way, readers will offer testimonials, which on the Web, are golden. You can also make your e-book interactive by including tests and assessments to which you can provide automated responses.

The author Dorothy Parker once said: “Brevity is the soul of lingerie.” It’s also the soul of writing on the Web. When you can download anything you want into your book instantly, you will need to build a list of links from something in the text, with one-line descriptions to help readers decide whether to click on them. This will prevent your e-book from becoming too long.

The collaboration between you and your readers can begin while you’re developing your book as a blog and articles, and giving talks. You can test the effectiveness of links as you integrate them into your text and change or add to them as you discover new links. Book buyers will benefit because they will always buy the best version of your e-book, which means that responses to it will continue to be more glowing, which in turn will generate more sales for your book and everything else you create.

Making your readers’ feedback part of a conversation makes them members of your book community. Building communities, online and off, of people you need to help you is essential to everything you do as a writer. And as social networks prove, community is one of the fundamental forces driving the Web.

Your readers will also ask questions and send ideas you can make use of for talks, articles, videos, and books that they will look forward to seeing. They will help you create your career and remain part of it as long as you serve them well. Indeed, everything what you write is your answer to the fundamental question: How can you best serve your writers?

Adding text to your e-book will change the pagination, index, and table of contents, so updates will require planning. But in time, new software will make it easy for you to insert changes whenever you wish.

A New Kind of Book for New Generations of Readers

E-readers and will continue to grow in quality and acceptance. They will become full-fledged computers with voice recognition. Computers will have the same information, whether you’re accessing it at home, in your car, or on your phone. Simultaneous translation of voice and text is coming.

Pricing and technical standards will emerge. But a unique, enhanced e-book that only you can write and that continues to grow in value justifies a higher price than just the text. Prices will also have to reflect the cost of creating and licensing content.

E-books will enable your books to do what only they can: provide the best, newest, in-depth information available in all media. However, don’t despair about p-books. You can list links in the back of the printed book by page number and update them on your Web site, and p-book readers can contribute to the online conversation.
Technology guru Ray Kurzweil predicts devices will be placed in our brains and “the Web will take over everything, including our minds.” But the longevity of technology is unknowable. Books have proven their worth for more than 500 years. As publishing visionary Jason Epstein noted in The New York Review of Books, printed books “will continue to be the irreplaceable repository of our collective wisdom.

But e-books will bring life to your books by bringing your books to life for new generations of readers. They are one of the most promising signs for your future as a writer. So keep writing and think links!

Learning to Kiss Change on the Lips

We owe a lot to Thomas Edison. Were it not for him, we’d all be watching television by candlelight.

–Comedian Milton Berle

A high-tech innovation can transform two guys in a garage into billionaires. The irony is that the big companies they build can’t innovate. No matter how profitable they are or how smart and creative their employees are.

Fear, size, jealousy, competition, how companies work, and the creative destruction of existing products and services help explain why innovation is hard for technocracies. So they buy innovation instead.

Thanks to techno-auteur Steve Jobs, Apple is an exception.  It’s driven by the vision of one demanding, relentless, irreplaceable man. Google understands the need to innovate or die, but its string of innovations have less impact and alienate companies whose territories they invade. Both companies also buy new technologies.

Technology used to advance in stages. There would be an innovation in trains, planes, and automobiles, and then they would remain at that level until the next innovation came along.

Today, we’re living on the vertical slope of technology trying to thrive during a time of accelerating change. The torrent of high-tech innovations is transforming publishing just as it’s transforming other media. But the larger any business, organization, or institution is, the harder it is to adapt.

In the eighties, writers were early adopters of computers. It took far longer for publishers to computerize. They had to create systems that were capable of both running a large business and carrying out the unique, complicated tasks involved in publishing every book. Publishers also had to integrate their systems so they could function together, a huge challenge that took years to accomplish and continues as technology evolves.

Paul Otellini, the CEO of Intel observed that: “It’s a lot easier to change when you can than when you have to.” As a multimedia, multinational conglomerate of one, you can innovate by changing what you write about to whatever

* most excites you

* is most salable

* you can most effectively connect with your readers about

You can change directions faster than publishers can, and you have more ways than ever to test-market your work to make sure you’re on the right track.

You have to balance building your visibility and credibility on subjects that you enjoy writing about and promoting with the need to be ready to take advantage of the next big thing.

You also have to balance change with stability, a growing challenge on the fun, scary, bewildering, exhilarating, accelerating ride during history’s most exciting century.

If you hang on tight, you can experience the thrills and spills as they happen and perhaps make a living writing about them.

Changes and innovations threaten the status quo, but they can also be an opportunity for

* changing how you work

* finding new ways to reach readers

* generating new sources of income

The future of writers who best communicate the perils and promise of life on Spaceship Earth is assured. I hope you’ll be one of them.

8 Paradoxes of Technology

Here’s an incomplete list of the paradoxes created by technology:

 1. The Internet simultaneously connects people to the world and isolates them.

 2. We are doomed to be in a state of information overload and information deficit simultaneously, and there’s nothing we can do about either of them.

 3. Computer technology was supposed to give us paperless offices, but it has generated more paper than any preceding technology.

 4. Technology creates “symbiotic antagonisms.” As former AT&T CEO Robert Allen once said of Microsoft: “They can be your partner and your enemy at the same time.”

 5. Technology can control everything except technology.

 6. Innovation enables technology companies to become and stay successful, but the larger they become, the less able they are to innovate.

 7. The faster technology gets, the more impatient we get with it when it slows down or malfunctions.

 8. The more time-saving devices we have, the less time we have. The logical extension of this is that one day we won’t have to do anything, but we won’t have the time to do it.

 (And yes, there’s a book in it.)

 A quarter of the world’s population, 1.7 billion people, are already online, so technology will continue to

  • Get smaller, faster, cheaper, and easier to use
  • Be ubiquitous, unpredictable, and disruptive
  • Become more powerful
  • Have more control over our lives

 But in its ability to help writers research, write, sell, promote, and build communities, technology is both the greatest gift to writers since the printing press and an inexhaustible source of ideas.

 More paradoxes welcome.

The Greatest Challenge Writers Can Hope For

Writing Before the Moment of Reckoning

What a great time to be a writer! There comes a moment of reckoning when the outcome of a process is decided. The planet is approaching moments of reckoning for meeting the challenges it faces.

Charles Darwin wrote that it’s not the strongest or smartest species that survive; it’s the most adaptable. The human family is going to have to adapt more in this century than it ever has. The less able government is to respond to the challenges we face, the more needed writers are to help mobilize the will and creativity we need to navigate the swirling waters of accelerating change.

You have more forms and media in which to communicate with readers around the world who need and want to hear what you have to say. What ou don’t have is a long time in which to do it.

We’re plunging headlong into an future that no one can predict, understand or control. Our future depends on finding effective solutions for climate control, the use of technology, the effects of globalization, religious and political extremism, and  regulating financial institutions.

Power corrupts. Business and government, prisoners of their own needs and systems, can’t solve our problems. This leaves the fate of the planet is the hands of individuals and institutions that can come up with new ideas for solving our problems and mobilize the public will to change.

In Hot, Flat and Crowded, Thomas Friedman wrote that you can’t stop 6 billion people all going in the same direction. Writers can play a crucial role in persuading people united by technology and shared problems to take the same path.

Apart from the problems the planet faces are the challenges of how to

  • Give individuals and institutions enough power to be effective but not enough to be corrupted
  • Integrate the ability to respond to rapid change and renew themselves into how institutions are run
  • Use reason to change the minds of people whose beliefs are not based on reason

Novelists and nonfiction writers are essential agents of change, providing ideas, stories, information, and inspiration to help solve the world’s problems. Blogs, articles, short stories, books, podcasts, videos, and posting to blogs, groups, and social media are all part of a continuing conversation. If you want to join the most important conversation on the planet and be part of the greatest challenge you can ask for, let this be your moment of reckoning.

Napoleon believed that humanity is only limited by its imagination. If we survive our follies, our future will be glorious.

If you need more convincing, read Soulwise: How to Create A Conspiracy of Hope, Health and Harmony by Dr. Phil Johnson ( It’s a life-changing, world-changing combination of advice, wisdom and inspiration that will help you find the path you were born to tread.

Comments and questions welcome.