Tuesday, May 26, 2009

In the Trenches

Do you "get" the internet?

Read this article: "Four People Who Don't Get the Internet", and add to the list. The same idea (with different examples) has been jostling around inside my head for a while. Mr. Miller (the author) uses the term "wild west" to describe the 'net, and I think the comparison is valid. The landscape is constantly changing...and lawlessness is the law of the land.

So, 1. what does any of this have to do with writing? 2. With the title of this post?

1. The democratizing effect of the internet has made content too cheap and easy to come by. If you haven't listened to Harlan Ellison rant about paying the author, I'll let you have a moment to head over to YouTube and watch his diatribe.

Back? Good.

I believe author's should be paid--believe me. But the 'net has spawned so many authors and makes it relatively easy to be "published" (goodness knows I wouldn't have anything published without the internet as a resource for market research at least), that the market is flooded with plenty of folks that will work for cheap (or free). Now, it may be relatively easy to be published--relative to the publishing world before Duotrope, Ralan's, and 'net based markets--but that doesn't mean it is easy to be published in high profile, quality markets. In fact, I'd argue the opposite. Those high profile, quality markets are shrinking (e.g., Fantasy and Science Fiction has gone to a bi-monthly publication schedule...what does that tell us?).

The internet has given us more noise. So many venues for fiction, each hungering for content--my head spins sometimes just trying to understand the changing landscape. You have to have a Twitter account...you have to use Facebook...MySpace...on and on. I could spend all day doing ancillary "writing" tasks that don't actually involve writing any new fiction, and still not touch on everything.

Stop the train, I want to get off.

2. The trenches. Did you read Miller's article? Big, hungry dinosaur-like entities want to find a way for the 'net to pay them like they've been paid for the past 50+ years. Think of Michael Lynton (Sony Pictures CEO) as their representative. The old world media giants are losing footing in today's new world media landscape. Ask any sixteen-year-old if he thinks it's wrong to download music for free. Poll fifty of them.

Do you think we can swing them back to the "other side"? Nope...sorry...that battle was lost long ago. Those sixteen-year-olds are going to fashion the new media landscape.

I don't want to be an entrenched dinosaur. I don't want to ally myself with them, either. But...and this is big...I don't want to be lost in the noise of the 'net.

In the end, I have to hope that quality content will win. I hope I can fashion a "voice"--my piece of the long tail--that has a place in this wild landscape. Like it or not, I believe the importance of 'net presence is here to stay.


Unknown said...

And of course there's how much time all the other venues take away from actual writing. instead of working on stories, we're checking out sites, updating our newsfeeds, adding myspace accounts. it's a strange world mr. aaron.

Cate Gardner said...

I both love and hate the net, and couldn't live without it now.

I often wonder if the net has influenced people to write who wouldn't have done so before, I suppose it must have. There certainly seem to be a lot more writers vying for space than years ago. Or maybe, it's just that we weren't all visible before.

Aaron Polson said...

Samantha - And I'm easily scared...

Cate - I think I would have given up on this whole "writing" thing had I started before the 'net.

Cate Gardner said...

Look into your heart - no you wouldn't.

Katey said...

Been thinking about this a bit lately myself, mostly thanks to that last post by Konrath. I think he kind of sums up my (more sanguine) thoughts on the subject with his viral marketing ninja genius.

What's good will always be good-- just that now it takes a little more active discernment on the part of the consumer, rather than the publisher, to get to it. I'd say that's a good thing. The good will make the new landscape theirs, like you say, and the dinosaurs will go the way of the fossil. Media Darwinism.

But quality is the most important step to making it yours, it seems. No one can have a doubt that this is the biggest asset, and god knows you have it in your favor.

Alan W. Davidson said...

What Katey says makes sense--the idea of "media Darwinism" and active discernment on the part of the reader. It's only been a few months since I started looking at sites to submit my short stories...and wow, what a difference. Some publish anything from anyone; some are more discerning. It doesn't take long to tell who the high quality sites are. I know where I'll be hanging out in the future.

The internet hasn't influenced me to write, but it has influenced me to submit my work. It is now quick and cheap to send stuff away.

Aaron Polson said...

Katey - Great Konrath post. I'm all about finding something to give away/sell too cheap.

Alan - The price associated with submitting work used to act as a gatekeeper, and not necessarily in the right way. Cheers to the 'net for that.

Cate - You're right, of course.

Fox Lee said...

As enticing as the variety on the net is, great fiction will survive. I remember when I discovered Korean Boy Bands (bear with me). I would be up for HOURS on Youtube watching anything I could click on. Then the rush faded and I honed in on the bands that were talented AND spoke to me: a grand total of two.

That's the great thing about the internet. Even with all the noise, we have a much bigger net for finding readers who get us and want to read more.

K.C. Shaw said...

There is a lot of white noise and clutter out there, not to mention pages choked with really annoying ads. I find myself visiting the same places almost daily and not venturing outside too much. I get my news/current events/pop culture from BoingBoing and Making Light, for instance, and sometimes follow links from their pages but more often don't.

Writing's the same, I think. People will find the sites that offer frequently updated content they enjoy and will visit often. I suspect that's the real reason why writers are always told to have a web presence. The sooner you get on people's "check this page frequently" list, the better sales you'll have later. That brings it all back to what you were talking about the other day, about online venues. I keep my website updated with links to my stories, and I hope I've got at least a few people who check back frequently for new links and who like my stuff enough to buy my books when they are one day published. :)

Brendan P. Myers said...

Fascinating stuff. Reminds me that somewhere in "On Writing" Stephen King remarks almost off-handedly about receiving the check from Jugs (or whichever of the many T&A mags he published in) for I think it was "The Lawnmower Man." The check was for something like $250.

At this point, I'm less concerned about being published in a "high profile, quality publication" than being paid even half what Jugs was paying for a story.

Jamie Eyberg said...

Like a lot of things, the price of labor has gone down as the labor pool has flooded. I remember when meat packing jobs in my area were good money (we are talking the early 1980's) It wasn't uncommon to have the packing people make upwards of 20-25 dollars an hour and good benifits. Then a flood of laborers came in and the current pay rate for the same jobs is under 10 with virtually no benifits. It doesn't seem fair but it seems to be the way things go. I do think quality will win out in this market and those that can produce the best quality work will be able to demand a price for that work. It might not be upfront like it used to be.

Sorry to have babbled so long. It has been on my mind as well lately.

BT said...

Good post Aaron.

'ancillary "writing" tasks' - trade mark that, buddy.

As long as we see the 'net as a tool to help us get to a better place, I can survive in the current noise.

Be selective in the markets you submit to.

Be realistic in your ability and constantly reassess as you improve.

Get feedback.

Write often.

Rinse and repeat...

L.R. Bonehill said...

Being a tiny voice in that constant hum of white noise is difficult to say the least, but what other choices are there? The pro markets are few and far between and generally more geared toward sci-fi and fantasy. Cemetery Dance? Great, but what are the odds? Especially with their somewhat erratic publication schedule.

As BT says it’s all about being selective. Research the markets; don’t settle for something that takes pretty much anything that’s subbed to them. If you do that, you may as well post all your work at your own blog or site. That’s easy, way too easy and above all pointless.

Any online market that looks good, that’s well designed and pays something (however small) at least shows that the writing there is of some value. That’s some sort of validation that the whole process of writing is worth sticking with.

It’s a long, long road and in many ways it’s getting easier to navigate, but in so many more it’s a lot more difficult too.

Rant over.

Benjamin Solah said...

I like the idea of the internet removing a filter in a sense, so that you don't have to be approved by people with credit to be seen.

I guess this poses more of a problem for journalism than it does for writing. So I like the fact that you don't have to read what some media big wig approves of you reading.

But then for the writing game the question becomes how do we get paid because I am still for writers getting paid.

...in the end I'd blame capitalism because it seems we're screwed either way but maybe we should avoid that debate :P

Aaron Polson said...

Natalie - Your Korean Boy Band example is excellent. (even if I'm still a little freaked out by the Korean Boy Bands)

K.C. - Ads are really annoying. Really cluttered websites are annoying. I'm doing the whining for May.

Brendan - pay is good. I'm also happy to build readers right now.

Wow, Jamie, the meatpacking example is pretty stark. But seriously, some of the "old timers" used to make a living writing short fiction. No one could do that now.

BT - consider it trademarked.

L.R. - my most recent issue of Cemetery Dance had ads in it that were 1 1/2 years old. Not a good business model. Rant away.

Benjamin - I'd blame captialism, too, but it seems we are all culpable, at times.