Monday, 20 May 2013

Digital Dandelions

More wonderfulness from Neil Gaiman. Watch it all, but the key point for today's purposes is just after the fifteen-minute mark where he starts to talk about being a dandelion.

Gaiman's idea is that in the new digital landscape, where the problem of monetising creative work is not about getting past the gatekeepers but standing out from the crowd (though this shift might actually be a bit of a chimera), what matters is exposure, and that exposure is best chased by diversification. Rather than committing monomaniacally to one project and frantically shopping it around to everyone who'll listen, you take on as many projects as you can sustain at once, in as many different fields as possible, reaching out to as many people as you can.

This suits me just fine - I'm a gallivanter by preference, and I enjoy having too many things to do with my time. It keeps things varied. Sure, I can focus like a madman when NaNoWriMo calls for it, but not for terribly long; I always find myself wanting to go and do something new after a few weeks, or months at most.

So I've started writing reviews for Liverpool Acoustic, a local music website. This brings me up to being four kinds of writer all wrapped up in one: author, blogger, academic and critic. Actually, depending on what counts, I can count six, since I'm also a lyricist and composer of music. All of which is great, if tiring - and there's a lot of synergy between all these different activities. Each of them is good training, one way or another, for all the others, and it's also feasible that there'll be some transfer of audience between some of them, too.

And this is a profitable business model in the long run (at least, it seems to be working extremely well for Gaiman), though perhaps it's wrong to call it a business model; it's not that complicated. It's just taking every opportunity that comes your way. Trying new things. Doing things because they're interesting, and not worrying too much if they fail to bring in any money.

It sounds, to me at least, like Heaven.

But there is one clarification that's needed. Gaiman contrasts being a dandelion with being a mammal. Mammals, he says, spend a huge amount of time and energy on each child. Dandelions don't care - they scatter their seeds far and wide, and don't worry if ninety or even ninety-nine percent of them fail to sprout. And if you're careful with how you interpret the metaphor, that's fine - the emphasis should be on not caring too much about the failures.

The thing is, I think not caring enough about our products is exactly the accusation being levelled at self-publishers by the trad establishment. The perception of us is that we're unprofessional and inexperienced, and as a result don't put in enough effort and produce work of lower quality. We're accused of generating a vast literary mess which produces very few flowers.

So we have to very careful to only take the best of both approaches. Being a dandelion doesn't mean being careless - after all, the dandelion's floating seed is a miniature triumph of engineering - it means not letting our failures discourage us. We need to be as professional and attentive as mammals, but as energetic and experimental as dandelions.

I can't think of a good metaphor for all that, though, so I'll just say 'Be digital-age writers!' and leave it at that.

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