The third annual Tools of Change for Publishing conference from O’Reilly took place in New York City last week. More than a thousand people drawn from all corners of the globe and the industry — from publishers and authors to programmers and bloggers — convened to discuss and debate the future of the book.
Over three days of keynotes, tutorials, and sessions, several themes began to emerge and repeat; top among them were conversation, collaboration, and community. These themes are important for authors to understand because they signal a fundamental shift in how you will write and publish your work in coming years.
Conversation, Collaboration, and Community
The notion of “book” is evolving. In the last 500 years, “book” has meant a static collection of words, printed and bound between covers. Now, the e-book and Internet have changed all that.
The way it used to be:
- A book as an object, fixed in time and place
- The author as the sole authority
- A silent readership
What is emerging:
- A book as a process
- The author as one of many voices, the leader of a conversation
- A vocal and participating readership
Writing a book is becoming an increasingly public and collaborative process, one that involves readers from the start and encourages their input into the product. Readers are enthusiastic about being involved in the development of a book. Several conference keynoters made observations along these lines:
- Jeff Jarvis, author of What Would Google Do?, described how he had blogged about some ideas that had come up for him during his research for the book. His readers disagreed with his post and told him so. Their feedback reshaped the chapter that Jeff ultimately wrote and published in the book.
- Tim O’Reilly, CEO of O’Reilly Media, discussed O’Reilly’s Rough Cuts program. Through Rough Cuts, readers have access to some of the company’s books in draft form and are able to chip in with their comments. After these books are published, sales of the titles outpace titles that weren’t put through Rough Cuts by 2 1/2 times.
The theme of community and conversation also applies, not just to the development leading up to the book, but to the ongoing process of consumption that occurs after the book is published. Networks of readers connect through blogs and social media to review, critique, and advance the content.
Bob Stein from the Institute for the Future of the Book may have said it best when he proposed a new definition of “book”: a place where readers (and sometimes authors) congregate. Non-fiction authors become leaders of communities of inquiry, and publishers serve to help build and nurture these communities.
Here’s my visual interpretation of the book-as-process idea:
How are you working conversation, collaboration, and community into your authoring process? Leave a comment and let us know.