Deb Vanasse: Publishing – It’s Bigger Than You Think

A short story by a relatively unknown author gets top billing with a major urban news outlet. Sounds like fantasy, right?

Last week, KGW Portland, opened 6 pm news with an author reading from his recently published speculative fiction, an unconventional short story set in the moments following a big Cascadia earthquake.

Disasters—even fictional ones—tend to pique interest, and people in Portland are understandably interested in a seismic event that could potentially destroy their city, but there’s more behind how this particular story got noticed. Author Adam Rothstein opted to publish “Five Minutes” on Motherboard, an online magazine and video channel. The first of a five-part series, the story opens on a page featuring an image that undulates the way the land does during a major quake, an effect you can’t achieve in traditional print or even in e-book format.

For the IBPA Independent, I’m working on an article called “Updates from the Digital Frontier.” As I interview publishing experts, it’s clear that much conventional thinking about when and how to publish needs to be refreshed.

When the meteoric rise in e-book sales slowed, sighs of relief sounded from many corners of the industry. Revolution over, frontier closed. We could all go back to business as usual.

According to digital publishing experts, nothing could be further from the truth. When pondering how to publish, these experts say, we should be thinking beyond the traditional book, either print or digital. We should be thinking beyond containers. We should be thinking instead about purpose and audience, and then about seeking the best means of reaching these, regardless of how unconventional. Rothstein, it seems, did exactly that.

What Marshall McLuhan asserted decades ago—that the medium is the message—applies now more than ever. But even as options expand, certain aspects of when to publish—and how—remain evergreen. The ability to view your work with a certain degree of objectivity is one indicator that you’re ready to think about publishing. Another is that you have a good understanding of your audience and purpose, allowing you to assess which formats and approaches to publishing will be most appropriate for your project.

Long ago, we used to say that when you could envision your book on a shelf, you might be ready to pursue publication. These days, that visioning might not involve a shelf at all. Instead, the best way to reach your audience and achieve your purpose might be via an app or an enhanced website. It might even be a short story that turns up on the evening news.

For authors who want to know more about their publishing options and how they can know when their projects are ready, Deb has written What Every Author Should Know and Write Your Best Book. She hasn’t yet figured out how to get these projects top billing on the 6 o’clock news, but she’s working on it.

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