The unfinished conversation now includes book publishing

Tomorrow, I’m a featured author at the University of Washington Libraries Literary Voices benefit dinner.  I’m still not entirely sure why I was asked to host a roundtable; compared to keynote author Erik Larson, I’m a Literary Whisper in the Wind.  When I protested, the organizers explained that my Independent America film work, as well as my Media Space TV show made me an author in their eyes.  Still feeling insufficient, I mentioned that I was working on this book-in-progress, would that be of interest as well?  They said absolutely, we’ll sell it at the event!  So I had to take the slim manifesto that has resided on Scribd and Amazon Kindle since February, and figure out a way to (a) add to it; (b) print it.

It’s been a wholly pleasurable endeavor.  First, the pressure of meeting an event deadline encouraged me to draw upon the ideas that I’ve developed during my Storytelling class this winter, as well as the number of Storyteller Uprising talks I’ve given over the past year.  I believe the book now makes a strong case for why “individuals, communities, companies and organizations” should harness the power of story to communicate.  And I was able to grow a beard while on leave to continue my work on the book.

Photo by Scott Macklin

Second, I was able to build a relationship with the University Book Store — one of the oldest, largest independent bookstores in the United States — to publish the print edition of Storyteller Uprising using their new Espresso Book Machine.  It’s a wonderful system, as it allows me to print copies when I need them (especially for when I give talks), as well as continue to add to the “unfinished conversation” — as Harvard’s Yochai Benkler refers to 21st century networked communication in The Wealth of Networks — when I want.  Copies for tomorrow’s event are printing as I write this.  Indeed Benkler’s own model of both selling his book, and making it freely available online is the one that I’m determined to follow.

I was an early adopter of film self-production and distribution with Independent America six years ago, and I continue to want celebrate and exploit disruptive content channels.  Next up for the Storyteller Uprising platform?

– Complete editing of the long-languishing Detroit Uprising film that was shot last summer as a teachable lesson in the crafting and implement of narrative through content.

– This short film, along with other content, will be incorporated into an “enriched” multimedia-infused e-book.  This is still nascent media, but I’m heartened to see Al Gore published his new Our Choice as an interactive, digital book on iTunes through the startup Push Pop Press.  Daring Fireball’s John Gruber raved about what this new software can do, and it’s exactly the direction in which I want to push Storyteller Uprising.  I hope to do so by the end of May.

– Obviously I’ve foregone book publisher advances (even as they dwindle) and the power of the publisher’s distribution network by opting for this more do-it-yourself route.  But my business model is different.  The subject matter that I deal with is fast-paced, and can’t suffer the year+-long timelines of traditional publishing.  When I give a talk, participants appreciate the opportunity to connect substantively to my ideas once the event concludes.  So in addition to my honorarium, I can now add revenues from the Kindle and printed editions.  I offer the free PDF of the book-in-progress via Scribd, but I also know that format and convenience are a matter of personal taste: individuals will opt to pay for a book they can hold, or something that they can easily download to their table or e-book reader.  Hence choices, and different price points (free, $4.99 Kindle, $8 paperback).

Books may be old-world, but they bring great credibility to entrepreneurs and professionals who wish to “burnish credentials and attract new customers” according to a Wall Street Journal piece on self-publishing.  Ultimately, it’s yet more content that we can create and offer to build trust and credibility within the communities we are trying to reach.  Neither its its ongoing production nor distribution requires a legacy media gatekeeper to serve as arbiter as to the sum of its quality or value.  Which is both a wonderful opportunity, and an incredible challenge: if everyone now has access to these communication tools, then the competition for attention has just gotten infinitely stiffer.