A big part of my professional life in the last eight years has been about finding the best ways to create and share digital content.
In 2006 I went to a conference and heard the then-head of BBC online talking about their digital strategy. When talking about design, content and marketing he used a term which has stayed with me since: the playful web. In 2010 I heard Shelley Bernstein from the Brooklyn Museum talk about her approach to digital content. She’s a brilliant public speaker, and as ‘chief geek’ at the Museum she knows her stuff. Her lecture touched on many of their projects and strategies, but the main idea I took away was that it is fine to fail online, once in a while.
Digital technologies are ever evolving, ever changing, with the audience understanding more and wanting different things as time goes on. If we don’t experiment online, if we don’t try new things and test the waters, we won’t succeed. If things fail, it’s fine: we just need to make sure we learn from those failures, understand why they didn’t work, and keep this in mind when we start the next project.
Failure is hard when you talk about a creative project that you have invested time, passion and energy into. Failure is almost impossible when you have money on the table and investors demanding a return. But it can be useful to let go of the fear of failure, and allow yourself to creatively test your product, if you accept that experimentation could make you a stronger artist at the end of the day.
Last night I went to the final seminar in a series from the Scottish Book Trust on the future of publishing. It was a very encouraging evening, with the panel all in favour of writers using digital publishing platforms, and seeing a future where e-books may replace mass market paperbacks but beautiful paper books remain as desirable objects.
Allan Guthrie recommended self-publishing multiple projects at the same time to see what the audience embraced, by thinking of your books (especially series) as a pilot episode of a TV show. Joanna Ellis of The Writing Platform sees digital publishing as giving writers scope to have fun and play, to collaborate with others. Scott Pack, of Harper Collins, runs authonomy and sees e-publishing as a way to find your market and prove there is an audience.
Something I found particularly interesting was that the panellists all touched on this idea of playfulness and experimentation.
I’ve never been afraid of failure online, of trying something with digital content, discovering that it doesn’t work, and learning from that experiment. It’s something I’ve done with games, screenplays and audio writing as well. What if I use the same approach with books? What if I adopt a ‘playful publishing’ approach and accept from the outset that some things won’t work, while others will?
My plan for the next few months it to redraft a few existing manuscripts, hire an editor, polish them until they are shining products that I love and then, through e-publishing, experiment to see what characters and stories are valued by readers, and test what markets exist for my work. There will be no testing for typos, no exploiting myself or my readers, and no great expectation of money pouring in. There may be collaboration, and tears, and hopefully a better author sitting at this desk next year.
It should make for interesting times.