Featured From the Archives: Elitism in the Arts

This week, I’m preparing for a presentation I’ll be giving with the brilliant Cait Spivey at the upcoming PNWA Writers’ conference in Seattle (and again at the Willamette Writers Conference two weeks later). I’ll post about it here after we’re done, as it covers a topic I think many of you will find useful, so if you can’t come see us do the talk in person, don’t worry. We’ll find a way to bring the talk to you. 😉

But as my non-fiction creative juices are currently tied up with those efforts, I unfortunately didn’t have time to create something new for the blog. Instead, I’ve opted to dredge something up from the archives that I believe still resonates (maybe even more fiercely) with today’s tumultuous world of publishing. And given that we’re heading into one of the heaviest periods of Twitter pitch parties and literary awards/contests, I thought it might be a good reminder to everyone preparing to brave those waters, as well as those of us bearing the responsibility of authority.

Elitism in the Arts

by Kisa Whipkey

Originally Posted on 3/28/14

No-one-can-make-you-feel-inferior-without-your-consent-Eleanor-Roosevelt-1024x946

This is a post I’ve dreaded writing, because in order to do so, I have to relive some painful memories. But I feel like this is a message that needs to be said. And so, though it comes from a negative part of my life, I’ll try my best to keep it positive. First, some raw honesty:

Throughout my creative journey, I’ve tried many different branches. And I’ve felt like an outsider every time. The writing community has been welcoming, but recently, I realized that the literary one is a completely different beast, and that I will once again be facing down the enemy of being different. This isn’t a battle that’s new to me, though. In art, I was ostracized for being too commercial. In the Martial Arts, I wasn’t traditional enough. And in writing, I’m not literary, coming from a film background rather than one in English. But, you see, the problem isn’t me. Those are all things I’ve been told, things that have created scars I’ll never fully erase. They’re not the product of a lack of ability, or talent. No, they’re the product of a phenomenon that should never exist — elitism.

People hold the arts up as this ideal place for individuality, where you’ll be free to express yourself without fear of judgement and prejudice. But those people are wrong. Rooted in subjectivity, the arts are actually worse than other industries. Instead of embracing the different, the weird, the innovative, they shun it, viciously tearing down anyone who dares to try something new, or becomes too popular. And who can blame them? People who do things differently risk the status quo. And we can’t have that. (Even though that’s the motto flying on our brilliantly-colored flag of creativity.)

Humans are pack animals, no matter what we’re led to believe. And nowhere do you see that penchant for cliques more prominent than in the arts.

I came face to face with it for the first time in college. (Now, you should know that I went to college at the ripe age of 16, so I was still highly impressionable.) There I was, testing my wings for the first time in what I thought was a safe environment to do so. College is all about experimenting, right? Finding one’s self, and blah blah blah. Well, I had the good fortune to find a college professor whose close-minded bullying nearly had me hanging up my pencils for good.

I don’t know the story behind what was happening in that woman’s life, but that also shouldn’t matter. She was an educator, someone entrusted to help mold the minds of our youth. And she abused that power. I was stuck with her for three classes that semester — color theory, figure drawing, and beginning painting. Things started off great. I’d never been exposed to formal art classes, so I was a sponge, putting my best into every assignment. (I’m also a perfectionist with a compulsive need to get A’s, so you can connect the dots on my level of participation.) She seemed to like me, and I did well in all three classes. Until one day, about halfway through the semester, when she asked me the fated question I would learn never to answer honestly — what kind of artist do you want to be? Stupid me, I told her the truth:

“I want to be an animator,” I said, not realizing that word was akin to the most vulgar thing in the dictionary.

She looked like I’d spat in her drink. She backed away from me, a completely disgusted look on her face, mumbled something snide and walked away. After that, my grades plummeted, she wouldn’t call on me during class, and it was like I didn’t exist. But the kicker was the final project for the painting class. The assignment was to create an abstract painting that had no clear top or bottom. I’d never done abstract before, but I did my best, following the assignment to the letter.

Like all teenagers, I was battling some emotional instability, so I tried to capture that turmoil in paint. Doesn’t get more “tortured artist” than that, right? Well, when it came time for the final critique, this woman took my painting to the front of the class, turned it on its side and said, “Oh my God, where’s Bambi?” (Yes, that’s a direct quote.) I’ve never seen a room full of young people so silent. I swear, they all stopped breathing, staring at me with wide eyes as this teacher continued to ridicule me in front of them all, informing me I had failed because clearly, I had portrayed a forest fire.

I left that class in tears, dropped out of school and gave up on art for the next five years. All because I’d made the mistake of uttering the “A” word.

That’s not the only time I’ve run into that kind of elitist attitude either. Over the years, I’ve been accused of plagiarism (because I happened to write a sci-fi story that featured a weapon mildly resembling a light saber), told I wasn’t good enough to amount to anything, and been patronized because I don’t do things by the majority norm. And I know I’m not alone. These kinds of experiences are par for the course in the arts.

You want to be a singer? Too bad, you suck.

You want to paint? Well, you’re not Van Gogh, so you may as well give up.

You want to be published? Every door will be slammed in your face.

Overcoming adversity is the very definition of being an artist. But it doesn’t have to be that way. So what if someone wants to play the violin with their toes. Or paints murals on street signs. Or writes something a little rough around the edges. It doesn’t make them any less of an artist. The different creative communities claim to be so welcoming and open-minded, but instead, offer only elitism and rejection. If you’re not the alpha of the pack, then you’re the scapegoat. Or worse, lost somewhere in the middle, amongst a sea of sheep.

What’s the point to all this? Simple — don’t let yourself fall prey to elitism. Words have power, whether they be said in jest or seriousness. And that power lasts. To those of us in a position of authority (agents, editors, publishers, teachers, etc.) I implore you to think about what your rejections do to the people who receive them. So it wasn’t your cup of tea. That’s fine, but be nice about it. There must be something good you can give them, some piece of encouragement and/or advice. There’s no reason to get up on a high horse and strip them of their dignity. It’s our job to be the mentors, to help people achieve their creative dreams. Falling into the pack mentality is easy to do, but if we all try a little harder to remember our humanity, and not our need to feel important, we can eliminate experiences like those I went through.

And for those of you who have suffered, or are suffering, under the sword of elitism, keep your head up. Just because one person says you can’t, does not mean you can’t. It took me a long time to get over what that painting teacher said, and I would have destroyed the piece if my mom hadn’t saved it. But I’m glad she did, because I no longer see the emotional turmoil it represented. I see a fire-breathing dragon. It’s a reminder of what I’ve overcome, and that it’s okay to fight for your dreams. So remember, as the great Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” We all have a choice. We can become victims, or we can become dragons. I chose to be a dragon, to fight back against elitism and approach my creativity with strength and resolution. Which will you be?

 

Abstract Painting

Untitled

by Kisa Whipkey

Copyright: 2000
All Rights Reserved

 

Editorial Myth-busting: Four Common Misconceptions About the Editing Process

This is a topic that’s been brewing in the back of my mind for a while, as evidenced by the precursor posts earlier this year (Publishing: The Industry of Disappointment and Editors . . . are People?). There are so many myths and misconceptions, so many horror stories out there regarding the author-editor relationship, that it’s no wonder debut authors approach the editing process with a strange blend of hope, fear, dread, and resignation. Editing gets lumped into the same category as going to the dentist or getting the oil changed in your car. It’s not fun, but you know you have to do it. And that’s unfortunate. Because, as Drew Hayes pointed out in his article, the author-editor relationship really should be a mutually beneficial collaboration.

But, as with most things in publishing, that fact often gets obscured by the divide in perception between what the process looks/feels like for the author and what it’s like for the editor. So let’s do some myth-busting, yes? Everyone loves myth-busting. Especially when there are GIFs involved.

Myth #1: An editor’s only job is to find errors in your work.

Perception: wrong

Reality: thoughtful

It’s easy to see how this myth began, since a large portion of editing does revolve around the finding and fixing of “errors.” But that’s far from the only thing an editor does. According to the many horror stories out there, editors are judgmental, cruel beings whose only mission in life is to lord over the ranks of poor, pitiful writer-souls the way Ursula does her garden of victims in The Little Mermaid. We badger, and bully, and shred a writer’s precious work until there’s virtually nothing left, laughing as we drag the carcass of words through the Meadow of Publication and deposit its ravaged husk into the arms of readers everywhere.

Now, I’m obviously being just a tad facetious with the hyperbole, but I’ve actually heard people say this myth out loud. A lot. And I suppose, to an extent, it’s true. We are paid to find and repair problems. But the reason has less to do with sadistic pleasure at proving others wrong and more to do with the fact that we’re an objective set of expert eyes. The reason authors need editors is because they’re too close to their own work. They know what they meant to say, how the story is supposed to go, what the scenes are meant to capture. An editor is a new perspective outside of the writer’s head. They’re your first chance to see the way readers are going to react, and they’re your last chance to fix things that would otherwise earn you the dreaded one-star Amazon review.

So while the myth would have us gleefully giggling as we circle every misplaced comma and typo, the reality is that we’re more like a safety net. It’s our job to help protect authors from reader backlash. Finding errors is only one aspect of doing just that.

Myth #2: Editors are the gatekeepers standing between you and publication.

Perception: Ghostbuter Dog

Reality:Teamwork

Ah, yes. This is one of the many myths that led to my earlier articles about the humans behind publishing’s massive facade of mystery. Querying authors tend to assume that agents and acquisitions editors are solely there to be in the way. That, much like that dog-thing from Ghostbusters pictured above, we’re mindless drones serving our masters by keeping perfectly qualified, brilliant literature from making it through the gates.

Now, this myth might hold a tiny shred of truth in it (acquisitions editors and agents do filter submissions for marketability), but it’s often perpetuated by authors who’ve acquired a plethora of rejection letters, and who refuse to face the fact that their book-baby might not actually be ready for publication after all.

The reality behind acquisitions is that agents and editors are looking for business partners. Publishing is a team endeavor, and it requires a lot more than simply being able to spin a good tale. So yes, we are gatekeepers in the sense that we have to be highly selective about who we end up recruiting onto our team (remember, publishing is a business, and what do businesses want? Money!), but we’re not gatekeepers in the sense that our only reason to exist is to guard the hallowed halls of publishing from an influx of mortals. Usually, if your book isn’t receiving offers, it means it either isn’t ready yet, you’re querying the wrong agents/editors, or it just might be better suited for a different publication avenue. (I’ll talk about those more in a different, future article.)

Myth #3: Editors make tons of money, so why the hell are they so expensive?

Perception:rich

Reality:broke

This one mostly refers to the world of freelance editing, since traditional publication paths don’t require the author to pay for editing out of their own pocket. (Giant red flag if you’re ever offered a “traditional” publishing contract which does ask this of you, by the way.) It’s also a topic I’ve covered before, and which the lovely Cait Spivey provided a guest post on.

The long and short of it is that editors really don’t make that much money. What seems like a hefty chunk of change to the author having to pay it, really equates to the oft-touted ramen diet favored by other starving artist types. In editing, dollars earned divided by time spent often equals less than some people flip burgers for. Which is why most editors edit because they love it, not because it rakes in bucket-loads of green.

Which brings us to our last myth — a misconception very closely tied to the reason editors walk hand-in-hand with authors in the “I’m Broke as F*&%” parade.

Myth #4: I can read my novel in less than a week, cover to cover; why does it take an editor weeks or months to edit it?

Perception:Spacecat

Reality:

Interesting

This is my least favorite myth to run up against as an editor, either freelance or otherwise, because it instantly shows me how little the person saying it knows about the actual editing process. Editors are, in fact, some of the fastest readers I know, because we’re buried under a mountain of manuscripts that would rival Mount Everest if they weren’t largely digital. But editing does not live in the same sphere as reading. It doesn’t. I don’t care who you are, if you believe that, you’re wrong. Very, very wrong. Editing is much like writing, if it must be compared to anything. And let me ask you, oh ye authors of the interwebs, how long did it take you to actually write your manuscript? I don’t mean the act of putting words on paper or screen, but the time it took from concept inception to the “polished” draft you’re handing your editor. If you say less than 3-4 months, minimum, you’re about as believable as that cat hurtling through space at warp speed.

The fact of the matter is that editing takes time. A lot of it. It’s not just a matter of reading an author’s words. You have to digest them. There’s a lot of analyzing, of listening and interpreting intent from reality, of diagnosing and curing storytelling diseases of all varieties, as well as the expected suggestions for proper grammar. Good editors will expend an impressive amount of mental energy crafting suggestions that can be as small as a single word, because that single word has to a) conform to the accepted rules of English, b) fit with the author and character’s established voice/style, and c) somehow solve/improve upon whatever was wonky in the first place. That’s a lot of pressure on a single word, huh? And editors do that for an entire manuscript! So you can see why it would take a significant amount of mental gymnastics to complete even a single editorial review, let alone the three rounds (developmental, line/copy, proofreading) that most manuscripts go through prior to publication.

So yes, it is possible to read something cover-to-cover in a few days to a week. But it is not possible to edit the thing in that time frame. It’s just not. Asking your editor to do so is inhumane, because it will inevitably require them to give up massive amounts of sleep, drink enough caffeine to make them twitchy as a squirrel in autumn, and otherwise shackle themselves to their desk until they collapse from sheer exhaustion. Trust me, I’ve had far too much experience with that particular scenario. It’s far better to realize that editing is a time-consuming process for everyone involved and plan accordingly.

Which brings us to the end of today’s post. These are four of the more common myths I’ve heard, but tell me, what are some other editing myths out there? If there are a lot more, perhaps this myth-busting business will become a regular feature. 😉

 

The Types and Importance of Queries

Scattered Books Photo

Queries. Pitches. Synopses. Three words that strike fear into every author’s heart. And rightfully so — selling your book to an agent or editor depends on your ability to encapsulate your story’s heart into a few simple sentences. For most people, that’s a nearly impossible challenge. But perhaps if we look at why this practice is necessary, it will help you understand how to do it. So, I’m going to show you what I look for in a query. Keep in mind that these are solely my opinions, and other agents or editors may look for something else, but if you plan to follow along with #REUTSsubs in the near future (I’m currently working on resurrecting that feature), this will give you a glimpse at the thought process behind my decisions.

Let’s start by looking at the three potential ways you go about introducing your work to an agent or editor. They are:

  1. The Traditional Query Letter & Synopsis
  2. Pitching in Person
  3. Elevator Pitches on Social Media

All three serve the same purpose — hooking your audience into asking for more. That’s a phrase I’m sure you’ve all heard thrown around in writing seminars, but what does it actually mean? In essence, it means you break through someone’s focus enough to grab their full, complete attention and get them to react. In other words, it’s a sales tactic.

Now, I know many of you just groaned. Sales is about as far from writing and creativity as you can possibly get. But the truth is, publishing is a business. There are bottom lines to be met, production costs to worry about, returns on investments that have to happen, etc. So when you send in a proposal (which, let’s face it, is what these things really are — sales proposals), what you’re really doing is arguing why we should become your business partner for this venture. And you’d darn well better be convincing. Don’t you think?

So, how do you achieve that? What makes a sales proposal appealing to the potential buyer? How do you turn indifference into “OMG, yes, I must read this”? Well, I look for a couple of key ingredients:

  • Interesting concept and premise
  • Unique attributes
  • Market potential

That’s it. Every time. Seriously.

Whenever I’m reviewing a pitch/query/etc, I ask myself the same three questions:

“Does this make me excited as a reader?” (This is more of a visceral reaction than a true question. Basically, I’m looking for that internal pique of interest, that “oooooo” factor.)

“What makes it different from everything else in its genre?” (The more specific the better on this front. Diverse cast? Unique twist or angle on the familiar? New setting?)

“What is it similar to/where would I put it on a shelf?” (This is ultimately the most important because it tells me A: where it fits within the REUTS catalog, and B: where it fits in the larger market and who its readership might be.)

All right, now let’s look at how you apply that insight, shall we? Because each type of pitch listed above is a slightly different opportunity to sell your work, and you shouldn’t use the same blanket strategy for each.

The Traditional Query Letter & Synopsis

First off, a query is not a synopsis and vice versa. They’re two separate entities used to achieve the same goal, but one is the lead singer, and the other is the band. You need both, but they serve completely different roles in the process.

Your query letter should be no more than 3-5 paragraphs, and its sole job is to pique the reader’s interest. It has to fit that criteria I listed above. It needs to give just enough information for me to tell whether or not it could be a fit for REUTS. So focus only on the most important aspects — the conflict and stakes that drive your story, sprinkled with a little info on the world/character and just a hint of what makes your manuscript different from the rest. Give me the heart of the tale; I don’t care about the rest yet.

Other things I need to know are genre, target audience, and comp titles (comparable books that might bear similarity to yours). Genre tells me where it fits in the bookstore and who it might appeal to, target audience tells me who I’m going to get to read it, and comp titles give me an instant snapshot of what to expect in terms of feel/tone/theme/style, etc. (One caveat on choosing comp titles: aim for ones that aren’t genre heavy-hitters, but that are prominent enough I’m likely to have heard of them. Also, the more unique the mash-up, the quicker I’ll be able to pin-point my expectations as reader.)

And that’s it. 3-4 paragraphs should easily be enough room to capture all of that, once you isolate the key things an agent/editor looks for. Your final paragraph should be about you, what you bring to the table in terms of experience, etc. Honestly though, most of the time, we kind of skim that info. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it to us, just that more weight is placed on the content of the story than your particular pedigree.

IF you’ve achieved your goal and hooked my interest, I’ll dive right into the sample pages (because a great pitch does not always mean great execution), and if those pass the quality test, I’ll check out the synopsis. A synopsis is a glorified outline. It tells me the highlights of your story in 1-3 pages. It should capture the emotions, the main conflicts, some of the character motivations, and the entire narrative arc. The details of your world, sub-plots, supporting cast, etc, aren’t as important; the structure of your overall story is.

Manage to hold my interest through all of that, and guess what? You’ve just earned a full manuscript request. (I’m pretty sure this is the process most agents/editors go through, but some of the particulars may vary a little.)

Pitching in Person

Ah, now, this is a whole different game — one part speed dating, one part American Idol audition, all rolled into a giant ball of anxiety for everyone involved. But it’s a very viable option if you have the chance. Out of 55 total pitches I heard at the Willamette Writers Conference last summer, I requested samples (and even some fulls!) of 48 manuscripts. The idea behind this is much the same as the process above, except you only have 4-10 minutes, if you’re lucky, and have to talk to an actual person. Terrifying stuff, for sure.

So what’s the key in this scenario? Be a human. Don’t stiffly recite your memorized query letter while you stare at the table. Engage with us! Take that query you wrote above and hone it even more. In a 10 minute pitch session, your pitch should take up no more than 2-3 minutes, max. Give us the bare bones, the core of your story, and then let us come to you. Think of it like baiting a wild animal; you don’t give away the whole dinner up front, you toss out some crumbs and lure us into the trap. Or, in other, less poetic words, give us time to ask questions.

A face-to-face pitch session should feel more like a conversation, and every agent/editor will hone in on something different. So leave yourself room to answer those questions. If you don’t, and you babble through all 10 minutes, you might end up not getting a request at all. Because that tidbit in the middle that you glossed over? Yeah, that was the one thing that agent/editor was looking for, and you didn’t give them time to find that out.

Your mission in an in-person pitch is simply to get that business card (See? American Idol golden ticket, right?) and a request to see more. That’s it. You’re not going to be signed on the spot, and you’re not going to give us your entire book on a silver platter. It’s simply the first step to a longer conversation.

Elevator Pitches on Social Media

Have you guessed the reason behind this order yet? It’s because they get progressively shorter and shorter. Much like pitching in person, an elevator pitch on social media should comprise the basics of your story. It should only contain the hook, the thing that is most likely to get people to stop and say “ooo, that sounds good.” You have 140 characters, so every letter has to count. Which is why you really only want two things (aside from genre/audience): the stakes/conflict, and what makes your story different. Again, you’re not trying to cram your whole book into 140 characters; that’s madness. You’re only trying to get us to want more. Which is why including that unique-factor is crucial.

To win this round, all you have to do is get a favorite from one of the stalking agents/editors, which then results in a submission of what? The first type of pitch: a traditional query letter and synopsis. It all comes back around to create a massive circle of Submission Hell.

But there you have it, a breakdown of both why pitching is necessary and my particular thought process for evaluating them. I would be remiss if I didn’t note that this article originally appeared on the REUTS Publications blog, and I have syndicated it here for a couple reasons. One, I realized I have yet to actually talk about queries over here, and I hate trying to rewrite something I’ve already written. And two, I wanted to bring that blog to your attention, in case you didn’t know we had one. As the Acquisitions and Editorial Director for REUTS, it’s my sometimes job to add helpful articles and info over there too, specifically in regards to a post series titled Adventures in the Slush Pile, which will showcase the query/response process in real time. So if you’re a fan of #tenqueries on Twitter, that might be something you’re interested in. And if not, then don’t worry. I’ll syndicate some of the more helpful articles here as well, when time and permissions allow.

Until next week, happy pitching! 😉

The 2016 Conference Circuit

Happy Friday everyone! While today is, in fact, April Fool’s Day, this post isn’t a joke. Trust me, my normal MO when I see April 1st looming on the calendar is this:

april_fools_by_xkari_chan-d5q3xbb

But it’s also a Friday this year, and I promised myself I would try and get back into posting more regularly. Which means I’m going to brave the prank-laden waters and send something out into the internet void. It’s not my usual style of article, but I still think it’s pretty cool. Or at least moderately helpful. So, here goes . . .

My 2016 Conference Schedule

(aka Where to Stalk Me)

Now that I’m the acquisitions director for REUTS Publications, I find myself involved in more conferences/workshops/book fairs. I also realize that many of you follow me because of that there job title, and might actually want to know about the various places you could come stalk meet me. So I’m adding a new page where I’ll list any cool events I’ll be attending throughout the upcoming months/years. Sound good? Good.

Here are this year’s current planned appearances (that sounds so weird! Like I’m famous or something. Haha. But I guess that’s what you call it?):

lakeflywriters_logo

 

May 13-14: I’ll be there manning the REUTS Publications table in the WWA’s Bookstore and Writer Services Market, so be sure to come and say hi! REUTS Pub founder and Creative Director Ashley Ruggirello will be on site hearing pitches that day, as well, in case any of you are interested. 😉

PNWA Logo

July 28-31: I’m super excited to be attending the PNWA Summer Writers’ Conference this year. I’ve heard great things about it, and I look forward to both accepting pitches from amazing authors like you and having the opportunity to participate on a few panels (including one with my good friend, Cait Spivey)! There will be lots of chances to find me at this one, so if you’re in the Seattle area, check it out.

willamette-writers-conference-logo

August 12-14: This will be my second year attending the Willamette Writers Conference as faculty, and I’m extremely honored to have the opportunity. If you can’t make it to Seattle to see my presentation with Cait, you’ll have a chance to catch it again here. We’ll be giving you tips on what to do after you’ve received an edit letter, how you implement suggested changes into a work you thought you’d already perfected. It’s going to be (we hope) insightful, and include things you might not have heard about the author-editor relationship, so hopefully we’ll see you there! (I’ll also be accepting pitches here again, as well as providing a few Advanced Manuscript Critique opportunities, so be sure to check those out too if you’re planning on attending and want to work with me.)

Boise Bookfest

October 15: The details of this one are still being worked out, but I believe I’ll be accepting pitches, presenting on an as yet undecided topic (likely regarding fight scenes in fiction), and potentially hanging out at a REUTS Publications table to talk all things books with whoever wants to chat. Maybe I’ll see some of you there?

All right, that’s all I’ve got this week. I do hope to see some of you at these events. Remember, I don’t bite, and chocolate is not required to talk to me but is always appreciated. Oh, and I have martial arts training, so maybe keep the stalking to the non-literal type? ‘k thanks, bye.

Featured From the Archives: Video Games — The Future of Book Publishing?

The post I was gearing up for this week, featuring a look at the way the author/editor relationship works, isn’t quite ready for the world (though you can catch a glimpse of the same insights in this article by author Drew Hayes). Which means, I had to do the dreaded archive diving again. Sorry!

Fortunately, I have the perfect post to pull back into the light and send through the reading circuit again. See, lately, I’ve noticed a resurgence of people talking about this very thing. Interestingly enough, it seemed to fade away last year, so I’m not sure what’s prompted it to resurface, but once again, I’m seeing people claim that video games represent the future of publishing. Rather than go over the topic at length again, I’ll just post my rebuttal to that assertion from November of 2014, because it’s still as relevant now as it was then.

So, I give you:

Video Games: The Future of Book Publishing?

by Kisa Whipkey

Originally Posted on 11/21/14

There are whispers in the halls of publishing about how the future of books will slowly evolve into the business model seen in the video game industry. But no one seems to be able to define exactly how that will happen, or which facets will be adopted. And frankly, I just don’t see it. In fact, I’d even go so far as to posit that the people spreading these whispers have little to no understanding of how the video game world actually works. I realize that’s a potentially polarizing assertion to make, but here’s why I think this: see, I actually come from the video game industry. I have a degree (that I rarely talk about) in video game art and design, and I’ve been to the Game Developer’s Conference multiple times. So I know how the video game industry works. And publishing is already structured similarly; there’s nothing left to glean from the video game industry that hasn’t already been incorporated into publishing, or vice versa.

But, just for the sake of argument (and because no one else out there seems willing to break this prediction down and explain it), let’s do a little compare/contrast analysis.

From where I stand, there are only four possible areas where the business models of the video game industry and publishing coincide:

  • Distribution
  • Interactivity
  • Production
  • Content

So let’s explore each one and see if we can’t figure out exactly what these vague whispers and predictions are talking about.

Distribution

Since I’ve heard these claims from people who are largely on the indie side of the spectrum in publishing, this is my top contender for what they’re looking at. And largely why I suspect people haven’t done their research. There seems to be a misconception floating around about the distribution channels involved in producing a video game. The assumption is that games go direct from the developer to the audience. That’s not exactly true. Even for casual games (otherwise known as the time-killing awesomeness on your phone).

Games, just like books, have multiple parties involved in the making and publishing of a title. It starts with a developer, yes, but that developer then has to secure the interest of a publisher (sound familiar?), and then said publisher needs to find a distributor to actually disperse the thing into the world. So, to simplify, it looks like this:

Game Developer –> Publisher –> Distributor –> Audience

And, in comparison, this is what traditional publishing looks like:

Author –> Publisher –> Distributor –> Reader

There are varying steps that factor into each that I’m not documenting (such as agents in publishing or outside investors in video games), but the basic formula is, at its heart, very similar. Even if you look at the indie side of things in both industries, the model is the same, minus one step in the middle:

Game Developer/Author –> Distributor –> Reader/Audience

Video games also struggle with the same divide between traditional publishing and indie, where the AAA titles (as they’re called) are the ones that are mass distributed to brick-and-mortar stores and garner media attention, acclaim, and the all-important exposure needed to succeed. While, on the other hand, the indie titles are left to duke it out for visibility in the digital jungle of the various app stores. Again, it all sounds very familiar, doesn’t it? So where is the innovation and industry-changing business model we’re supposed to be looking to for guidance? Not here, unless I’m missing something. So let’s move on.

Interactivity

This would be another possibility for what the self-proclaimed Seers of Publishing are predicting, and in some ways, I can see why they’d say it. But I still don’t think it will ultimately come to pass, and here’s why:

Video games are a very different form of entertainment from books. Both rely on the idea of escapism, of transporting the consumer to another world where they can step outside their own reality and immerse themselves in someone else’s. But the way they accomplish it is fundamentally different. Games are an active form of entertainment, requiring the user to literally interact with the game world. Books are passive, relying on the reader’s ability to visualize and imagine the words on the page as a real scenario. (Note that I’m basing this observation on a scale of interactivity, and not on the level of imagination/brain involvement required.)

So, in theory, if books were to go this direction, we’d need to increase the level of interactivity to simulate the gaming experience, right? Well, let me point you to these lovely things then, which already happen to exist:

  • Choose your own adventure books: Immensely popular with young readers in the 80s, these books required their audiences to put themselves in the character’s place, choosing how they would handle the scenario and seeing the immediate consequences of that action. Notice I said they were popular in the 80s, though. Meaning they fell out of favor almost as quickly as they rose. They still exist, but they’re rare and outnumbered, by far, by the more traditional forms of reading material.
  • Enhanced books/eBooks: Yes, this is a thing. There are experimental authors and publishers out there who are trying to find ways to bridge the gap between traditional print and multimedia. Some examples include Booktracks (which pairs a soundtrack with your novel, using auditory cues and music to create a richer immersion for the reader), puzzles deciphered while reading, and enhanced books that are almost more like apps, featuring animations and sound effects. Cool ideas, yes, but again, not very popular with readers.
  • Supplemental Materials: These are almost more marketing related than anything, but I’ve seen authors create real-life scavenger hunts and multimedia apps that go along with their story and world, engaging their fans in new and immersive ways. Essentially, they quite literally marry the video game industry with publishing, but not in a way that truly enhances the reading experience. It’s in addition to that basic action, rather than replacing/modifying it.

Which brings us to my point, the reason why I don’t see books becoming more like video games — books were never meant to be truly interactive. If anything, they compete with film for their audience’s attention, because film is another passive form of entertainment. Both of these mediums have always been about observing. Yes, they can affect us, making us feel emotions and form bonds with fictitious beings in ways that might have us wondering about our sanity, but their point is to detail observations, impart information, and deliver messages that transcend our day-to-day lives and make us empathize with, or understand, the world around us. Gaming is entirely different, more akin to physical activity in the way it engages the brain. You won’t often find gamers who spend hours mulling over the morality of murdering that NPC (non-player character) they saw appear on the screen for half a second. Because the act of gaming is about reflex, instinct, and less about deep philosophical thoughts and musings.

But that’s a conversation for a later day. Today’s point is that readers don’t necessarily want to interact with books. They simply want to read them. And until that changes, I don’t see interactivity becoming the hot trend publishing will steal from the gaming industry.

Production

Ah yes, production. This is where I most often see a lack of understanding about how games are made. There’s this underlying idea out there that games are easy to create, that the time invested in them is minimal in comparison to the profit. And just like my first point — distribution — that’s not entirely true.

The AAA titles — the big ones everyone hears about, the Halos and Dragon Ages and Skyrims of the world — take, on average, 3-5 years to produce. And that’s with teams of several hundred people. You have game designers, artists/animators, programmers, actors, PR/marketing/administrative staff, and sound engineers all involved, and it’s as time intensive as creating a feature film. The reason these are considered AAA titles is because they have budgets that rival cinema blockbusters. It’s no small feat to release a game of this scale, and with the advances in technology, gamers are becoming more and more expectant of this level of quality. Anything that falls below this often earns derision and ridicule.

The casual games (think the ones on your phone that most people consider mindless wastes of time) are less intense, but still generally require at least a small team of people to invest months or even years of their life into their creation. There are a few really astounding individuals that have found success doing it all on their own, but those are the exception, not the rule.

Now, how much of what I just said sounded familiar to all you writers out there? I’m guessing all of it. Because again, it’s not dissimilar to the way the book industry already operates. You have the Big 5 publishers (with the equivalent of blockbuster budgets) publishing a select few, super prominent titles, and guess what? On average, it takes 2-3 years from the time they sign you to the time your book is in stores. And then we have the indies, where the timeline is much shorter, but you still have a team of experts (editors, cover designers, formatters, etc.) helping you put out a product that is largely under-respected by the world.

So what’s to be learned from the gaming industry here? They’re fighting the same equality battle that publishing is, and frankly, they’re not doing any better than we are on that front.

Content

This is the last possible area that could potentially be what the predictions are talking about. But they have it backward. See, the divide between gaming and books isn’t being bridged because books are becoming more like games, it’s because games are becoming more like books. There’s a movement within the gaming industry to include stronger storytelling in games. Let’s face it, up until maybe five years ago, games were not hailed for their storytelling prowess. And that’s because 90% of games were written by game designers, people who focus more on what makes a game fun than anything else. They created the game mechanics (the rules) and built from there.

And then along came companies like Bioware and Bethesda and Square Enix, and suddenly storytelling started to become more important, leading to the employment of actual game writers. So now we have video games that actually include epic narratives with quality writing, bringing the worlds of literature and gaming one step closer together. But that’s not publishing noticing the strengths in the gaming industry and adjusting accordingly, that’s the gaming industry glomming onto the strength publishing already had — story.

Which brings us to the conclusion of our analysis. As you can see, for someone standing with a foot in both industries, this prediction of publishing turning into the gaming industry makes little sense. I simply don’t see the shiny new path these people are touting. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. If someone out there has a better understanding of exactly what this vague statement for publishing’s future means, I would love to be enlightened. Please share  your thoughts on this interesting topic in the comments. Do you see publishing moving toward video games, and if so, in what way? I’m sure I’m not the only one out there dying to know.