I'm in a fabulous session about novel-plotting at #WDC11 and I'm wearing my pink top. #amwriting
That tweet—from someone I kindly will not name—is what helped me find what I was looking for in publishing: A seat at the table.
I was at the Writer's Digest Conference in New York City in 2011, in one of the ballrooms in the Sheraton at Seventh Avenue and West 53rd. As I watched various tweets go by about this session on the construction of fiction, I was seeing not only "pink top" tweets go out, but also questions come in.
Be sure to check out recent installments of our writing and publishing series with Christiana Miller and Enid Shomer.
Who's leading the session on plot, please? #WDC11
Is any recording or taping being made of these sessions? #WDC11
What shade of pink? #WDC11
So in the next session—a panel of agents, as I recall—I tried my own approach. I made a template with Twitter-handle (@-symbol) "names" for the speakers. I took the short-name hashtag for the session that the conference organizers had chosen. I added a link to the conference site so people could find out more about the agenda and speakers. And I began tweeting the session as if it were a news conference or a campaign debate.Today in publishing conference scenarios, I announce the start of each session I'm covering. I tell Twitter hashtag followers who they'll be hearing from, who's moderating and what the topic of the session is. And then I produce a tweet about every two minutes—one per minute when things really get going. The result is that someone following from thousands of miles away (or sporting that fabled pink top in the room with us) can follow the arc of the presentation, a beginning, middle and end. Each tweet repeats who's speaking and an abbreviated representation of the session's name, plus the hashtag anchoring it to the conference at hand.
As my tweets go by, others riff on them, retweet them, counter them, question them, pooh-pooh them—it's all good. And it becomes a way for those of us both at a conference and far away to "be together" in the real-time fellowship of the digital across seas and continents and apparel.
For me? It's that seat at the table.
When I decided in 2010 to prioritize my writing, I looked for a way to find myself in this new career. Having made such jumps before (once from stage work as an Equity actor into arts criticism, for example), I knew I needed to find a contribution I could make in my new context. And I knew from working as a reporter that the best way to learn something is to report on it. I had landed right in the fraying center of publishing's digitally disrupted traditions, and it needed a journalist's touch.
Thanks to a generous offer from Jane Friedman (formerly of Writer's Digest and the University of Cincinnati, and now with Virginia Quarterly Review), I've been able to expand my coverage of the publishing industry through the weekly Writing on the Ether column she invited me to create more than a year ago. And from there, the Ether is expanding into more, and specialized venues.
My approach is always that of a critic. This may sound off-putting to some who think of criticism only in the consumer-review format. But genuine critical appraisal is never about telling folks what to buy or read, but to offer a point of view. As a Fellow with the National Critics Institute, I practice criticism as an evaluative interpretation of what's impacting the people of publishing—authors, editors, agents, publishers, designers, sales people, publicity and marketing specialists.
"The industry! the industry!"—as I refer on the Ether to these angst-ridden years of transition—now sees my live-tweets for days at a time, from major conferences including O'Reilly Media Tools of Change confabs, Digital Book World (DBW), F+W Media's StoryWorld, Writer' Digest, plus Screenwriter World, Books in Browsers, Publishers Launch, and DBW's Discoverability and Marketing Conference. There are new, specialized conferences in development for the months ahead, and I'm arranging to take this coverage to conference venues outside the States, as well.
With live conference "tweet storms" as the top notes, Writing on the Ether and its spinoff Extra Ether columns serve as a kind of basso continuo, the steady, interpretive, critical review of what we're all seeing and hearing on publishing's journey deep into a new digital regime.
What would I change? "Tweet." And "Twitter." The terms.
You don't do three decades of journalism in newspapers, television and the Internet, so you can announce "live-Twitter coverage" of the world's leading publishing events. But we're surrounded by corporate-cutesy brandings these days. The consumer, it seems, is thought to need the allure of "discoverability" sites with such cloying names as Jellybooks, BookieJar, Booku, Bookshout and Libboo to find something to read.
As Marshall McLuhan told us in The Medium is the Massage:
All media work us over completely. They are so pervasive in their personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical, and social consequences that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, unaltered.
That would have taken him two tweets.
Join me on the next conference outing's tweeterie and at Writing on the Ether. Even as publishing is being "worked over completely, it's a gas to be in the middle of it.
A journalist, critic, producer, and consultant, Porter Anderson (Twitter handle @Porter_Anderson) is the creator and writer of the weekly Writing on the Ether column for JaneFriedman.com. He is also a regular contributor with Writer Unboxed and with Digital Book World's Expert Publishing Blogs. Formerly with CNN USA, CNN International, CNN.com, CNN.com Live, The Village Voice, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Observer, D Magazine and other media, he accepted a diplomatic posting to Rome from the United Nations (Level P5, laissez-passer) for the World Food Programme in 2008. He has also served as Executive Producer with INDEX: Design to Improve Life, the Danish government's program in humanitarian design, Copenhagen.
Anderson holds a BA from William and Mary, an MA from the University of Michigan, and an MFA from Florida State. He has done special readings in psychology and the arts at University of Bath (UK), and is a Fellow with the National Critics Institute. He supports the Museum of Modern Art and WQXR's contemporary-classical live stream Q2 Music, New York.
Author photo courtesy of Jeff Cohen.