are you experienced? technology changes idea of author-brand

 

 

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Having lots of stuff doesn’t make you happy. Which is why there seems to be this growing movement afoot to get rid of as much stuff as possible. It’s like they say (although I’m kind of paraphrasing here): declutter your mind – and your ass will follow.

I think this taps into an ongoing sea-change in the culture: an emphasis on the collection of experiences over physical objects. One of the driving motivations of human beings isn’t the desire to own more stuff so much as the desire to feel more alive, and for past generations we’ve tried to feel more alive through the experience of owning lots of cool shit.

Technology (among other things) has rattled this paradigm. Have laptop, can travel. This gives us a level of mobility and freedom – provided we find a way to take advantage – that was previously unimaginable. In this kind of scenario, stuff no longer defines us. Stuff weighs us down.

Technology has transformed the way we think about music and books: two of the things that used to accumulate, for many of us, into massive physical collections. It’s not that we defined a record album or a novel as an object instead of an experience; there just wasn’t any cause to make those kinds of distinctions in the first place. The object was the experience. The experience came inside the object.

Music stopped being an object a while ago. And now we’re seeing a similar transformation with our reading material. A book no longer has to be in traditional book form in order to be experienced. The forms, in fact, will vary; the experience of the book, be it on your iPhone or iPad or Kindle or in print, will be what defines it.

An author-brand used to be a kind of object: an unchanging set of assumptions and expectations about the kind of book that the author produced, defined not just through the writing itself but the artful packaging of the books and where those books were placed in the bookstore (“fantasy” or “science-fiction” or “romance” or whatever).

What happens when we don’t buy books based on the covers anymore? When we don’t even go to the bookstores but buy them quite literally out of thin air?

As an author, you are defined through the ongoing experience that you provide for the reader. That is how you will catch new readers and maintain old ones. This experience has been severed from the physical forms of books and now exists as a kind of energy that moves between you and your readers via cyberspace, which will eventually become so integrated with daily life that it will no longer be referred to as ‘cyberspace’, or a separate kind of space at all. Your author-brand becomes a living thing that streams out to your readership who then reflects it back to you who then streams it back to them and so on and so forth.

What kind of experience will you provide for your readers?

How will they experience not just your novels, but you? How will they experience you in order to find your novels in the first place?

Sep 11, 2010
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7 comments · Add Yours

Great post, maam.

I find the “own less, live more” phenomenon endlessly fascinating. It used to be that only the few, the brave and big balled who would dare quit their corporate jobs for terribly paid but satisfying work. Now more and more people are doing that every day, those that keep their jobs want to work less hours. People in their twenties are especially prone to this search for experience instead of ownership, I think the NYT called that phase (the twenties) emerging adulthood (I don’t agree that old school settling down is a sign of adulthood though).

As for authors and more ephemeral author brands, how far away do you think that time is? It seems to me that people are still buying books (especially ones that cost more than a few dollars like kindle versions) mostly because they’ve read the author before.

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Love this post! It reflects a lot of what I believe, and what I’ve been thinking about lately.

This sounds so buzz-wordy, but I think the more authentic your writing brand is — the more true you are to your voice, the more passionate you are about what you’re writing — the more the experience of your story AND the experience of your brand will resonate. People will want to find out more about you because they love your stories. Their friends and networks will find out about you, because suddenly, *you’re* a friend of a friend. They’ll like what you’re showing as a person, what you’re sharing, how you listen. They’ll try your stories because now *they* like you.

I’d say the key is being diligent enough to make sure you’re writing quality, and confident enough that what you’ve written is worth sharing.

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You’re quite right. Everyone who owns a copy of one of my books came through me first. That means that that number is not a huge number but it is completely different to how I came to most of the authors I read growing up. I couldn’t have picked most of them in a police identity parade. Still couldn’t. And even those I could identify I still know very little about. I watched a documentary a couple of days ago on Whitman and can honestly say that I knew nothing about him. I personally don’t think you need to know the author to get his or her books – if anything it can be distracting and disappointing – but that’s the way things are going. People read blogs before they get round to books. Not always but things are changing.

I don’t think I’ve been inside a real book-store this year and maybe once or twice last year. In fact I do almost all my shopping online even groceries unless I run out of bread or milk. Then a quick stroll to the corner shop is quite pleasant. I’m still old school when it comes to books and CDs – I like to own them in a self-contained package – I’m not so fussy about films but I think that harks back to the fact that we tend to go to the cinema and watch a film once whereas books and music are more open to repeated readings and listening. I enjoy sitting in my office surrounded by bookcases full of books, CDs and tapes – I have enough tapes to fill an entire bookcase, floor to ceiling and as many CDs. I also have a black box that sits on the floor beside me in the living room with rips of CDs but I can’t help but feel that that’s somehow less. And, yes, I have bought both books and albums purely on the basis of the cover art. I think its demise will be a tragedy. But the bottom line is that pixels cost less than paper and that’s the way things well have to go. We have no choice.

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Agreed! The accumulation of stuff clutters the mind. There is much to recommend the purity of minimalism. I’ve been to homes that are bloated with collections of CDs and books, not to mention toys, tools, games, pets, and knic-knacs.

I admit to having all the same collecting instincts as everyone else, but fortunately the impending clutter eventually short-circuits my compulsion to collect. Technology, if used correctly, can lighten the load, enhance human experience, and improve opportunities for learning. Of course, you can become addicted to iphone apps, but still again better instincts should compel you to choose those things that really matter. For everything else, hit the Delete key. Your space needs space. There is power in peeling down to your skin, in traveling as light as you can so you don’t get lost in stuff.

I love the feel of a book, a beautiful package in the hand, but I always loved living in a book much more, so it doesn’t really matter what form it’s in as long as I can experience it. As a struggling writer, my goal is to give others an experience rather than a book.

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Really interesting post, especially your phrase ‘buying books literally out of thin air’. Although I love having beautiful stuff, and treasure books as objects, what is so special about them – and about music – is the experience of them. Authors and musicians I’ve enjoyed have always felt like friends, even though I didn’t stand a chance of ever getting to know them in the flesh, the way I feel I know them from their work. But now this is all changing. Exciting for readers and writers alike.

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The scenario you present sounds somewhat scary and sad, but increasingly the reality. Apart from the joy of owing physical books, printed material also makes for a better, more focused reading experience for me. Electronic reading on the other hand has me buzzing from one place to the next every few minutes. Of course, I don’t yet own an electronic reading device like Kindle/Nook, so I don’t know if reading on those matches reading a printed book. But the electronic invasion has certainly eroded my steady reading habit.

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This is a great post. You’ve really hit onto somthing important here. The last five books I bought I found via blogging and three of them I love. These books would never have turned up in my local bookstore. This really makes me think about what experience I’m offering. I know my novels have a certain quality, but I have to consider more what exactly that is and ask myself if my blog reflects that.

That particular quality, whatever it is, manifests in our writers voice and one of the great things about having a blog is that all that informal writing helps us to develop that voice.

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