Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Dandelion Publishing is the Worst Idea Ever

Spring has arrived in New Jersey. Newark's Branch Brook Park is home to the the nation's largest collection of blossoming cherry trees in the nation. You can't go outside without being stunned by something living and beautiful. Also, the weeds like it. I spent Sunday pulling dandelions. They have long, deep roots, and they love depositing thousands of baby dandelions anywhere you try to grow anything else.

Which reminded me of the stupidest thing I heard at London Book Fair two weeks ago. It was in Neil Gaiman's "Dandelion" talk at the Digital Minds conference. Apparently Gaiman thought it went over like a lead balloon, but I was there and the London digital publishing establishment just loved it. You can watch it here:

Or (quicker) read the transcript at the Falls into Writing blog :
Mammals, which all of us are, I hope, put a tremendous amount of effort into raising our children, into what we do. Child – it’s, you know, a solid 15, 16, 17, 18 years. They go onto higher education.  It could be 22, 23 years, and you’re still raising these things. And you put effort and you put life into it. Dandelions don’t care. They just have thousands of seeds, and they throw them to the wind. And there’s a level in which, as time goes on, I’m enjoying throwing things to the wind. 
Two days ago, I was in New York, bored over lunch, and I started drawing on the paper tablecloth. And I just did a drawing on the paper tablecloth. And at the end of the meal, I was getting up, and my wife looked down, and she said, ‘Are you doing anything with that?’ 
And I said, ‘No, just leaving it behind for them to throw away.’ 
And she said, ‘We should do something with it. It’s a great drawing.’ So she stole it, folded it up, walked outside, put it under a rock by the restaurant, and twitted a photograph of herself putting it under the rock and the location. And she said, ‘You can retweet that. Some of your fans, somebody’ll find it. It’ll make them happy.’ 
And I said, ‘Okay.’ And we walked the 70 seconds to our hotel. Went up to our room. 
And she said, ‘Oh. No point in you retweeting it. Somebody’s already found it.’
and later:
The truth is, whatever we make up is likely to be right. It’s time for dandelions. Embrace the old as we embrace the new because we’re on the frontier, and there are no rules on the frontier.
The reason this is a bad idea for publishing, and maybe the reason Gaiman thought he had bombed, is that book publishing is all about suppressing the weeds and fertilizing the flowers. Suppressing weeds is fashionably called "curation" and the fertilizer is politely called "marketing".

It's only the dregs of publishing that makes money off of weeds. And dandelions are weeds in most contexts. The righteous publishers treat their books like children, and yes, they put lots of effort into them. My organic gardening friends assure me that dandelions are delicious in salads; by the same token, I have a friend who works at Marcal who assures me that books make excellent pulp.

Even the most inexperienced self-publisher knows that scattering seeds to the wind is a recipe for financial disaster in book publishing. A seedling book of the very best variety requires careful nurture. To think you can hide a masterpiece under a rock and expect anything other than worms is the height of narcissism.

Also, dandelions are spammers. Please don't be a spammer.

(To Neil Gaiman: the rest of your talk was just brilliant; if you want to unglue one of your books, we'll be happy to fawn over you like teenage beliebers.)
Enhanced by Zemanta


Contribute a Comment