Monday, October 10, 2005

Tom Evslin: Hackoff.com

Well, my dears, there are days when I am just forced to recognise that I am not equipped to keep up and compete in today's fast-moving world. It requires, I fear, far more energy and smarts than I possess at this time -- more, I suspect, than I have ever possessed. So I think I will just sit here a while and watch while everyone else does their stuff.

These thoughts are prompted by reading a post on M.J. Rose's blog, Buzz, Balls, and Hype. M.J. is taking a short break, and various guests are providing columns in the meantime. One such came from Tom Evslin. And Tom -- I am really doing my best here to make this sound like a compliment, which I intend it to be -- Tom seems to be one of those fiendishly intelligent and concentrated persons that one occasionally comes across and who are, frankly, so smart that it makes one a little nervous. Not only smart but capable, it seems, of doing huge amounts of work. He ain't young, by the way. Retired, I believe.

Go over to Buzz et cetera and read Tom's column, entitled Self Publish or Perish. It gives a short biography of him, and explains his reasons for going into self-publishing. There you will see that he is a former CEO of a dot.com company and so understands a lot of the technical stuff that I don't.

The story is basically this. Tom had a ringside view of the dot.com boom and bust. He has written about that time in the form of a novel, entitled Hack0ff.com. And he is serialising the novel on a blog, in a form of writing/communication which he calls a blook. (Mixture of blog and book. Yes, I dare say you were there before me. Told you I was slow.) The term blook is not, apparently, an invention of Tom's. That honour belongs to others (whom he lists), but we may never know whose head it entered first.

Tom Evslin's novel (or blook) is decidedly innovative not only in the way he is marketing it -- online serialisation now, hardcover version early next year -- but in terms of its narrative technique. Few novels include graphs of stock-market performance and the like. So far, the first three chapters are online (the PDF versions may be the most convenient to read), with more to come on a daily basis.

Tom and I share one thing, even if we don't have equal smarts and energy. We are both convinced that blogging and the internet have changed publishing in ways which go much further than anyone in publishing seems to understand. And it is all happening fast.

If, as is clearly the case, many of the most talented and clear-thinking modern writers are publishing their own stuff for free, on the internet, as well as making it available in printed book form (which is, of course, still much the most convenient way to read a book-length text), then who needs publishers?

Do any professional publishers understand, one wonders, how precarious their position is? Is there anyone out there in Random House and HarperCollins and all the rest who is doing any thinking and planning? If so, they are keeping mousy quiet about it.

Tom Evslin is not an experienced novelist, and so those parts of his book which employ traditional narrative techniques are not as well constructed or as gripping as would be the equivalent from a writer with twenty novels behind him. So I don't actually think that this book is going to sweep to the top of the bestsellers.

On the other hand, the day will come when somebody does do the job. Sooner or later, someone will write a novel which, either by virtue of great talent plus experience, or through the grace of God, really hits the button with lots of online readers. Readers who will then rush out and buy a hardback or paperback copy; or, more likely, will simply do a few clicks over to Amazon and buy it. And they will buy said book in enough quantities, whether online or off, to make it appear in the Bookscan bestseller lists.

Once the trick has been shown to be possible, why should anyone crack their heads open on agents and big-time publishers any longer?

7 comments:

Luan said...

Hi Mr. Allen
I thought I would compliment you on your writing …it makes very interesting reading!! Since you post quite regularly would like to introduce our new free software - Qumana to you. It has some pretty great features. For instance you can drag-and-drop pieces of text and pictures while surfing and edit on the fly. It also features Technorati tags. You could download it from http://qumana.com/download.html hope you can try it out. You can email me at luanag@netscribes.com and let me know what you think of it. Thanks..Luan.

Kate S. said...

If the music industry is anything to go by, I suspect that the publishing giants will keep their heads in the sand for a while longer.

Sarah Greenberg said...

A friend pointed me to Evslin's blook www.hackoff.com. It is a good read for those of us who lived thru the bubble and rubble as he puts it. I especially like the faux company site that seems to be updated as the book is rolled out. The medium allows for so much more reader interaction! Fun.

Vince Vawter said...

I just returned from the well-attended Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, Tennessee, USA where I attended 13 sessions with authors, agents and publishers. I found it curious how little mention of the Internet there was and how electronic publishing, blogging, etc., were almost ignored. Authors seemed to love their agents and publishers. Everyone was happy. Perhaps the collegiality of the event was to blame for the lack of challenge to the status quo. It seems to me many writers who entered the book world in the traditional ways may have their collective heads in the sand. Perhaps I am only jealous.

Vince Vawter USA said...

Other thoughts and questions about self-publishing: I was with more than 200 writers and would-be authors during the weekend where the question of self-publishing arose. It seems the group was divided into two camps. One camp said: "Self-publishing is the same as giving-up. Those who self-publish are throwing in the towel and thereby recognizing that their work is inferior." The second group says: "The act of writing is all that matters. Publishing (self or traditional) is an after-thought of the entire process." I'm wondering what the GOB would say to these two groups?

MaryB said...

From all I've heard and read of late, self-publishing is already in full-swing (with lots of success stories). The traditional publishers seem to have their heads in the sand about it, though. There are a lot of good "how-to's" available that cover the self-publishing process, including hiring book designers and which method of publishing to use.

Once I discovered the idea of self-publishing (and that's it's not to be confused with "vanity press"), it lightened my angst load. It's so easy to get discouraged when writing - "Geez, it'll never be published, anyway, so so I even bother?" etc. The thought of having some control of your publishing and marketing process is very freeing.

Amazon, plus several of the large booksellers, have systems in place to deal with self-publishers now, which makes that big publishing mountain not seem so high. You still need a quality product, but it opens wide the doors for writers across the board, which is a very exciting thought.

Peter L. Winkler said...

I found the first chapter about as exciting as reading a corporate report. Fake press releases. Fake obituaries. Fake message boards with a built in flame war.

The problem with all of the above is that they make no pretense to any literary quality and have none. This is not an entertaining way to tell a story. Speaking of which, there was nary a hint of a story so far.

As to Evslin's claims about how he's participating in some revolutionary endeavor: balderdash. Ultimately, what matters isn't the delivery system for the book, but the quality of the book. And this book just isn't very good.