A Perfect Marriage: Social Media and Books

Looking back at my title, I see how it can be confusing at first, especially to those who only read the title but don’t read the accompanying blog post. However, I still stand by my cheesy title, because I think it encompasses exactly the event that spurs the writing of this post.

Continuing my exploration on digital media and its effect on the publishing industry, I’ve come across a really interesting story that shows how traditional publishing companies can use these new digital technologies to their advantage.

We all know that Twitter and Facebook have the ability to bring users with common interests together, regardless of location or time zone. The Superbowl was a perfect example, as stated by my fellow writer and digital writing classmate, Alison. Throughout the game, people posted live tweets to keep users updated. (You can read more about social media during the Superbowl on Alison’s post, here.) Twitter brings together people from various places, who have the means to hold a conversation across these time and space barriers, using Twitter hashtags, retweeting, and responding directly to tweets. But now, this unique sort of conversation that Twitter allows users to have is being taken to a whole new level, by none other than the book publishing giant, Penguin Group.

Penguin Group has taken to starting a book club on Twitter, using the hashtag #readpenguin to keep readers connected. Each month, Penguin will announce a book on their Twitter account and invite readers to share their thoughts via the #readpenguin hashtag. At the end of each month, readers will have a chance to hold a conversation with the book’s author, over Twitter. It’s basically a virtual book club. But this time, the book’s author is a guest at the book club. How cool is that?

This book club, in my opinion, really is the perfect marriage between new media and traditional media, between social media and print media. Publishing companies have jumped on the digital bandwagon, embracing the new opportunities that social and digital media provides. Twitter, and other digital and social media, gives publishing companies the chance to reach a much broader, larger audience. Through social media, publishing houses are able to hold book clubs that aren’t limited to a single location and a single time–users across various locations can be a part of the book club and can interact with members of the book club at any moment. Word-of-mouth is taken to a completely different degree, as readers’ thoughts on a book can spread much more quickly and can be received much more effectively. This combination of social media and books can also encourage others to join the book club and read. This new kind of book club is proof that publishing industries aren’t being beaten into obscurity by the advent of digital books and digital media. On the contrary, the best qualities of digital media are augmenting the publishing industry and, quite possibly, encouraging literacy by bridging the gap between social media and books. Perhaps the number of literary devotees (myself included) will grow, as publishing companies begin to embrace digital media and its advantages.

Nota bene: For anyone who is interested in joining Penguin’s book club, you can follow Penguin Group on Twitter via @penguinusa. The book for this month is called The Weird Sisters, by Eleanor Brown.

“A truly good book teaches me better than to read it. I must soon lay it down, and commence living on its hint. What I began by reading, I must finish by acting.” –Henry David Thoreau

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Want to be published? There’s an app for that.

Lately, I’ve been doing research on a topic that has recently captivated my interest: digital publishing. I love books, and digital publishing is something I want to learn more about, especially because of its effects on the publishing industry. I am in the process of writing a research paper on digital publishing for my digital writing class, and I’ve found some really interesting articles regarding the latest developments in digital publishing.

For example, Apple has produced an app, called the iBook Author App, that allows users to create their own customized textbooks and publish them through iBooks. The app was originally intended for teachers and educators as a way for them to create their own educational materials for students, but this app can also be used for other purposes. The app contains features such as templates, much like the themes found on WordPress, or design templates found on Microsoft PowerPoint, that provide a ready-made look for the book, with designated areas for text and/or graphics. The app was designed with a multimedia interface in mind. Not only do writers have the options of adding graphics to their books; they can also add widgets, including video, interactive 3D graphics, and interactive photo galleries. Moreover, the app was also designed with readers with disabilities in mind, featuring widgets that allow readers with vision impairments to be able to use the iBook as well.

Template feature for the iBook Author App

This app has truly re-defined the concept of the book and the way a book presents its information. However, with this new advancement in self-publishing, what does this mean for professional authors? As an intern at a publishing company, I have seen just how long and convoluted the process is for an author to publish a book. Merely having an idea for a book does not automatically convince publishers–publishers need various documents such as proposals and abstracts to see exactly what the author’s intention for the book is. Then, the proposal goes through an evaluation process to see if it will be successful. If a proposal gets approved, the author subsequently submits a manuscript, which then gets edited, and usually, the final draft of the manuscript is very different from the original first draft.

On the other hand, with the iBook Author app, the writer has complete control over how he or she chooses to present, argue, and write the book. The writer does not need to go through the process of getting approved for publishing, and he or she does not need to submit a manuscript to be edited. This app allows the author to be not only the writer, but also the designer, the editor, and the publisher. In traditional publishing, a production department is in charge of making a manuscript look like a book, choosing the book covers, etc. However, this app gives the author control over all of that. How will an app like this affect publishing companies, where separate departments oversee different aspects of a book? Will it affect jobs in these different departments, and in the industry in general? Will this lead to a difference in quality when it comes to books, because virtually anyone who downloads the app can publish?

However, there are some catches. As stated in this article, Apple’s license agreement states that if an author produces materials through iBooks and distributes them with charge, that work can only be distributed under Apple, and not anywhere else. Apple owns the rights to materials created through iBooks, but the author reserves rights to any materials created independently and not through the iBooks author app. Although the app provides a means for writers to self-publish, and even earn revenue from it, it has limitations that publishing companies do not have, such as its accessibility. Users who want to access a work created through iBooks need to have an Apple device, or a means to view the book through iBooks–unlike an e-book that can be viewed online, or even a print book, that can be purchased by anyone.

The iBook Author app opens up many new possibilities for those looking to publish, but as of right now, it looks like publishing companies are here to stay.

“The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest minds of past centuries.” –Rene Descartes

Digital Writing: Re-Defining Writing and the Writing Classroom

What is digital writing? How has it changed the writing process? How does it change our view of writing?

Writing has come a long way since its days of the stylus and clay tablet, quill and parchment, and typewriter. Digital innovations such as word processors, desktop publishing software, and even things like smartphones that can connect to the Internet have all helped to redefine writing, and specifically digital writing. Because Digital Writing Matters defines digital writing as “the dramatic changes in the ecology of writing and communication and, indeed, what it means to write — to create and compose and share.”

Digital writing is providing infinite possibilities for writers. Any writer, and anyone, for that matter, can have writing published by means of digital tools such as blogging software or social media websites like Twitter. Knowledge, ideas, and opinions are spread much faster and reach much more people because digital innovations have made it possible. And, let’s not forget how word processors such as Microsoft Word and desktop publishing software such as Adobe InDesign have made producing quality documents much more convenient, and in some cases, a more feasible endeavor. With the advent of word processors, it is no longer costly and time-consuming for writers to fix errors on a typewriter; word processors allow for continual revision, altering the writing and editing process. Moreover, features like spell-check and grammar check help catch errors writers may not, helping to ensure the production of a quality written document. Because of the convenience brought on by word processors, writers no longer need to consider external factors affecting the cost and time to produce a written document; they can simply focus on the writing itself. Desktop publishing software has brought on benefits of its own. Programs such as InDesign broaden the scope of composing, allowing a writer to incorporate graphics and other elements into a document to help communicate his or her message. Content-based website builders have helped reshape the role of the writer, also making writers website builders and designers. These new roles for writers require a writer to understand his or her audience and understand how to appeal and communicate to that audience.

In addition, digital writing has also slowly begun to take shape in classrooms. As a Professional Writing major, I can personally attest to this. Because Digital Writing Matters has listed various practices that improve writers’ development, such as:

  • Reinforcing the writing process–teaching students strategies for planning, revising, and editing their work; encouraging the practice of community-based writing; giving, receiving, and using feedback and peer review
  • “Studying the craft of writing, including analyzing how texts in different media are designed and how they function across genres, purposes, and discourse communities” (DeVoss, et al., 2010).
  • “Helping students analyze and understand the rhetorical situation for their writing, including how to think about audience, clarify purpose, and work with form and stance in order to cultivate in students the flexibility and strategic thinking that help them address new occasions for writing” (DeVoss, et al., 2010).

These practices have definitely been present in writing classrooms. Many of the writing classes I have taken have been project-based, providing opportunities to develop community-based writing skills and collaborative skills through group writing projects. In these group writing projects, one of the main challenges was to take several different styles of writing and produce a cohesive piece that sounded as though it was written by one person, that did not sound as though the various writing styles were competing with each other. These group projects were also usually semester-long projects, and my professors always encouraged the use of digital tools such as Gantt charts to keep track of our team’s progress on the project, and programs such as Google docs to have one place where team members would submit every project document and have way to share and revise without the messiness of emailing back and forth.

Even methods of submitting documents in the classroom became digitized. In my technical writing class, the class used an online discussion board to submit documents. We could access and view everyone’s submitted document through this discussion board, and during peer review, we would share our comments via this discussion board. The discussion board encouraged students to give and receive feedback, learn from their peers, and grow as writers.

Many of my writing professors also incorporated document design into their curriculum, which required the use of programs such as InDesign and an understanding of how to complement writing with design elements. Moreover, many of my class projects required the construction of a website. Learning to use content-based website builders, such as WordPress, and write and design for an online audience required an understanding of the rhetorical situation–of my audience and purpose, and use of writing and design elements to appeal to that audience. These methods taught students to adapt their style to the appropriate rhetorical situation and effectively capture their audience. Additionally, it allowed students to learn how various texts are designed for various purposes and media.

Incorporating digital tools with writing, both in and out of the classroom, has re-defined the role of the writer, the way students learn writing, and the ways in which writers communicate their message. Writers are no longer classified as the solitary figure with a pen and paper; writers are now instruments for spreading ideas and effecting change. Through digital writing, this has become more possible than ever.

“When I stop working the rest of the day is posthumous. I’m only really alive when I’m writing.” –Tennessee Williams

If you understood everything I said, you’d be me.

Most writers would agree that our reasons for writing hasn’t changed over the years. People still write to communicate, and people still write to share and preserve knowledge and ideas. What has changed is the way our generation, with all its digital and technological innovations, has influenced writing. These are the topics that this blog explores. However, I think a good place to begin this exploration is to introduce myself, talk about my passion for the written word, and discuss what I hope this blog will mean, both to you–the reader–and to me.

It’s always hard to find a place to start when talking about oneself. I’m sure this applies to many others. How many times have we changed the way we define ourselves? At various points in my life, I’ve wanted to be just about everything, from a paleontologist to a musician. Quite a career change, I know. However, I think I’ve finally been able to come up with a definition that I know won’t change.

My name is Ariadne Abby, and I’m a writer.

I’ve always loved writing, but it wasn’t until recently that I looked at my favorite pastime as something I could potentially turn into a career. And I want to say that I owe this change to the books I’ve read. In my sophomore year of college, as I found myself constantly being rendered speechless every time someone asked me what my major was, I came to the realization that my problem wasn’t that I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, let alone what I wanted to major in. In fact, I knew very well what I wanted to major in; I just couldn’t admit it to myself for various reasons. For one thing, I was always told by my family that “there’s no money in that. Be a nurse instead!” Don’t get me wrong; I have immense respect for nurses and physicians. I can only dream of having the same grasp on science that they do. I think they’re brilliant, but like any occupation, it takes passion to be able to do your job well. But when it’s widely understood that  certain occupations just aren’t as promising as others, it’s bound to sway one’s career choice. So, for a while, I looked for other majors that might be a close second to writing, that might also be more stable. Obviously, my search has proved unsuccessful, in that respect at least. It was unsuccessful because I didn’t find a close second; I didn’t even find a regular second, or a close third, whatever that means. But it was successful in that I didn’t have to find a close second; there was nothing wrong with my first choice at all. I realize I have digressed, though, so I’ll return to why the books I read changed the course of my college career.

I think it started with Boethius, who was a medieval philosopher. Most medieval philosophy works teach the same general ideas: Happiness is every human’s ultimate goal; everything they do is an attempt to attain happiness. Not just transitory happiness; true, lasting happiness. Happiness is defined by Boethius as “that which makes a man self-sufficient, strong, worthy of respect, glorious, and joyful.” Earthly goods, such as monetary or material wealth, power, reputation, or physical beauty should not be viewed as the ultimate end, or the end that leads to happiness. It should not even be a means to obtaining happiness, because these earthly goods are transitory, and they often lead a man off the path to happiness. For example, the more wealth a man has, the less self-sufficient he is, because he has to depend on external means to help keep his wealth safe. Because his wealth has become his only means to happiness, he constantly lives in fear of that money being stolen or lost.

Now, I’m not saying to just forget about money. In these times, money is quite necessary to live. What I am saying, though, is that we shouldn’t pick an occupation because it leads to money, because money won’t necessarily lead to one being happy. Although we don’t live in medieval times, the same idea that people’s actions are directed toward an attempt to finding happiness still applies. Moreover, the more you share material wealth, the less each person gets. When knowledge is shared, however, it doesn’t diminish; knowledge is the only thing that increases when shared. We all have our own niches, so it is our responsibility to share our knowledge–that’s how knowledge grows. When I read Boethius’s The Consolation of Philosophy, I learned that most of my apprehensions for declaring my major were not valid reasons to choose a different major. And now, here I am, doing what I love, loving what I do, and growing with each writing/literature class I take. Since choosing to be a writer, I’ve also learned that there is money in writing. Just probably not six figures. But that’s ok….Boethius would agree.

So, with all that out of the way, this blog will discuss many pertinent issues and topics in writing, such as how the digital age has influenced and changed writing, social media, and others. This blog will not only be informative and educational to you, the reader; I hope to learn a lot from it as well. I’d like to say I’ve remained pretty technologically and computer literate, but I think it will be a completely new experience to look at technology and digital media in light of writing. I hope that this blog will change the way people view writing. I hope that this blog will change opinions that writing is dead, that no one writes anymore, and that no one reads anymore. Writing is more alive than ever! Writing has the power to effect change, and through digital media, this has become infinitely more possible. Writing is no longer quill and parchment; it is adapting to the digital age, and digital media is revolutionizing the written word. So, thanks for taking on this digital writing journey with me, and I’ll see you next time!