Technology and Writers
For Writers: Using and Writing About Technology
It used to be that writers really only had to be able to flail through Word so they could write their books and mail their paper manuscript to their editor. Those days are over.
I’ve seen increasingly severe consequences when writers don’t understand the technology that’s transformed the business of writing.
Technology in Your Fiction
Then there’s fiction in which a writer embarrasses herself by getting details wrong. Not just a little wrong, but a lot. I’m hoping some writers will try to get this right. Here’s a couple of my posts about technology mistakes in fiction:
- Computers for Writers: Hacking 99
- Servers and server rooms.
Not Understanding The Digital Age is Disastrous For Writers
Self-publishing means that writers who used to hand over all the work after the writing to a traditional publisher are now doing that work themselves. Doing so means they make MORE money than if they were traditional publishing alone (or at all).
A writer who doesn’t understand the digital landscape is not going to understand the significance of the challenges traditional publishers face as their analogue based business transforms to a digital one. This matters. It really, truly does. No writer can make the best decision about her career if she doesn’t understand the basics.
I have seen writers wasting time and coming to wrong conclusions that materially affect their bottom line because they don’t understand this. I see publishers doing the same thing. The basic topology of the internet, with its robust, distributed system of servers, has huge implications for how analog publishing needs to transform in the digital age.
Right now, publishers are not making the transformation. They’re doing better than the music business did, but they’re not doing better enough (if you will). Instead, we see the CEO of Harper-Collins seriously suggesting that bookstores charge customers to browse. A corporate mind-set stuck in figuring out how to keep the business the same dooms the business.
For good or ill, publishing is now a digital business. Publishers already do print well. Fine. Keep your print business in place; it’s probably never going away entirely. But the digital side means NEW processes. It means leveraging what digital processes do well: automation and simplification.
You know what I’d do if I owned one of the Big 5 or 6? I’d ask for cash and go buy O’Reilly, and then I’d let that division re-provision my publishing process. From the ground up, because that only makes my print process better.
Good vs. Good Enough
Let’s take the process of creating a file that will upload to various vendors with the greatest chance of providing a good experience for the reader. By the way, this discussion is not about the story you publish. It’s about the reader’s visual experience.
I’m all about writers being able to upload a Word document. Not because the result is good, but because the result is “Good Enough.” Most writers need to settle for good enough because we don’t yet have tools that make it easy to create an elegant eBook without also knowing a lot about html and css. Writers should understand they’re settling and by and large, they don’t.
Sadly, “good enough” for the author disrespects the reader. Readers deserve an elegant, barrier-free reading experience and most often they don’t get that.
Every non-native upload of an eBook file comes with compromises. The “good enough” Word upload means authors may not understand why they cannot upload the Word document that comes with the results of a scanned book. This also means that when there is a problem with the result of a Word upload, the author is not equipped to fix the problem.
I guess the piracy one is too easy. Besides, most authors are so emotionally wound up about this that I have yet to see the actual facts have much of an impact.
How about this? I hear authors speculating about aspects of Amazon’s website. It’s pretty apparent they don’t understand how a website that serves up content 24/7 world-wide has to operate. In fact, it’s such a new problem that Amazon, in fact, has invented lot of the systems that achieve this. Google as well, of course. In fact, their acquisition of You Tube was (I’m willing to bet) as much based in technology acquisition as it was function. What You Tube did to serve up its content was revolutionary to scaling an application from Hey, a few users are here to, hey, there are millions of users here. Per second.
(Flying at a high level here.) Amazon doesn’t have one server. They have thousands. They have web servers, database servers, file servers and more. They have appliances that load balance these servers. There isn’t one hard drive in those servers, there are 10 or 20 or more– thousands– and they’re all redundant and talking to each other. There are backup systems in place. They aren’t all in Seattle. They’re all over the world.