Publishing Turtles

Over the weekend, I came across Hugh Howey’s listing of his publishing values. So, I decided to try the exercise myself. Turns out my ordering of things needed for publishing is somewhat different from his.

The exercise is to list groups/entities needed for publishing in order of importance. My first thought was that I agree with his arguments about publishers and booksellers not being the sine qua non that the traditional model claims. However, and I am genuinely confining myself to publishing, I have a different starting point.

1. Human Rights

Howey is spot on that an audience is critically important, but having people who want to experience stories is useless if they can’t because they have been CS gassed, imprisoned for the crime of not being a member of an invented social group, or suffered other infringements.

1. Human Rights
2. Readers
3. Writers

I agree with Howey that there have to be an audience and creators, so the next couple are obvious enough.

1. Human Rights
2. Readers
3. Writers
4. Functional Access

This is again where I diverge from Howey. Creating stories is very much harder without the support of editors and other methods of polishing, but it can be done. Whereas having readers and writers without a way for the story to travel between them makes even the perfect story purposeless. But this point also covers off other things Howey includes later in his list: retailers and libraries. In our current society, transfer of most things requires money so writers need retailers to make the money from their writing and readers who don’t have vast wealth need libraries to access some of the writing they want. But if we—for example—introduce Universal Basic Income then writers don’t have the same need to sell their writing, meaning readers don’t have the same need for libraries.

1. Human Rights
2. Readers
3. Writers
4. Functional Access
5. Functional Cataloguing

We’ve shown we don’t have to make writing a saleable product if we have the right world, so we no longer need to make a book fight for readers using cover art. We still want great cover art because more art is better than less, but we don’t need it. What we need instead is a way for readers to find books they’ll love. Friends, contacts, persons we follow on social media, all have different tastes from us and can’t be expected to just keep recommending books, so we need recommendations at scale; maybe this is a search feature, maybe this is recommendations from people we can expect to keep recommending books (which is where libraries come back into a system that doesn’t need a parallel “free at point of access” system for getting writing in the first place).

1. Human Rights
2. Readers
3. Writers
4. Functional Access
5. Functional Cataloguing
6. Gestalt Artists

Sounds swanky doesn’t it? But I couldn’t think of another more common title. Because I don’t accept the one-size-fits-all inherent in Howey’s premise. Typesetting, cover design, blurb writing, audio narrators, and all the other things that make a piece of writing more attractive to more readers in one way or another are all important, but which ones a writer needs will vary depending on what the writing is and what the writer can do themselves. Hence gestalt artists, the other people whose input combines with the writer’s to produce an expression of the writing that is more pleasing than they’d produce individually.

Beyond that, it gets hard to think of something that isn’t a previous category again. It’s certainly not as focused as Howey’s list; which I suspect some would say is the reason why I haven’t reached ten.

The other—potentially more vocal critique—is that I said it was going to be publishing only then led off with “human rights”.

But, that’s the core of both issues. Human rights is a publishing issue. In the same way that if one is listing qualities of foot protection, one is being—at best—short-sighted if one says the impact of shoes on good posture isn’t a foot protection issue. And once one has accepted a better world is the foundation of better publishing, one can only express the remaining values in terms of what purpose they would play in a better world rather than what job would achieve most in this one.

Because, if we do act as if it’s possible to treat publishing values as separate from wider values, all we’ll achieve is changing the current model of the interests of massive publishers and retailers run mostly by rich white men being most important with the model of the interests of writers who can step away from wider social issues being most important; which still ill-serves non-white, non-rich, non-male people at every point in the writing lifecycle.

Share Your Thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.