Yesterday, David Marusek gave us a final post on e-books that touched on future publishing models, distinguishing between the scarcity model of yesteryear and the abundance model (to put things in an optimistic light) of e-publishing to come.
Today, I’m inviting you to think with me about literary experiments, social media, and how the increasing connectedness in author-reader relations will affect what we choose to write and how we choose to write it.
I, for one, am preparing to embark on an experiment about which I’m more than a little nervous.
Two months ago, I jumped into researching and writing the opening pages of a new novel. Today, I completed one stage of a grant-seeking/fundraising process — engaging with the US Artists online fundraising platform (which Anchorage theater artist/puppet-maker Buzz Schwall just successfully used) — that required me to write up an early novel description.
The write-in-the-dark part of me says one shouldn’t share a project idea that is so new and raw (what if it doesn’t work out? what if someone steals the idea? what if my own ardor cools?). But then again, I got grants for both of my first two novels, which required me to make promises that I later kept, including finishing manuscripts and finding publishers for both novels. (The difference was, perhaps, that I was telling a small committee what I planned to do, rather than putting it out on the web where anyone could find it, immediately and forever.)
Here’s (in part) how I described my new work in a grant form today.
“The Expert,” a novel based on the life of Rosalie Rayner (1899-1935).
He was the founder of behaviorism and the most influential American psychologist of his day—a famous parenting “expert” who counseled mothers never to kiss or cuddle their children, and who went on to apply behaviorist principles to Madison Avenue advertising. She was the 20-year-old graduate student who assisted his research—and within a year, found her own career derailed when their steamy affair made front-page news in the East Coast newspapers.
John Watson is well known in psychology circles, but his second wife, Rosalie Rayner, the narrator of this based-on-real-events novel, is known mostly as a textbook footnote—a woman involved in scandal who retreated from her own career ambitions to support her larger-than-life, controversial husband before dying at the tragically young age of 35. Rayner’s own little-known story aims to shed light on the life of a 1920s Vassar-educated woman and mother–part of a post-suffragette, interwar, Jazz Age generation that looked to science, technology, and corporate slogans for expert answers on how to live.
There’s more to it, but that should give you a taste, and perhaps explain why I’m willing to talk about a novel that’s not yet written: because it involves ideas and issues and historical events that people can talk about even without knowing how I’ll write the whole book — what the voice will be, how the story will be shaped, and so on. There is a nonfiction hook, in other words, and that makes it a little easier to invite public participation in the process. Already, on Facebook, I’ve gotten some great reading recommendations and found out that a colleague grew up in Baltimore (I’d had no idea), where my novel is set. One quick status update and my resources have multiplied. If I dare to keep talking about the book as it unfolds, other people might point me to other resources and ideas. Potentially, some people — I hope, and US Artists hopes — will pitch in a little seed money to help defray the cost of research. A novel is not written by committee, but if I can get early readers excited and get some help along the way, why not try? The old big-publisher-advance model seems to be on its way out. We may have to invent new ways to get projects off the ground.
But I’m not trying to convince you. I’d really rather hear what you have to say.
We’re told, more and more, that readers expect that kind of connection to the author — not an inside scoop before a novel is written (as I am aiming to provide, if I don’t get cold feet) but at least an inside track on the author’s newest work, life, and thoughts. Is that too invasive? Are we dissolving boundaries that should stay strong? Or are we, as writers, forging connections that will help us weather a major technological shift?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on all this: talking openly about books (some kinds, anyway) before they’re written, fundraising for works in progress, using social media for research and building reader relationships, and whatever else comes to mind.
It’s our future, friends — are you optimistic, or wary, or like me, both?