While I was at RT, news broke that Tools of Change in Publishing is no more. Brian O'Leary, whom I met at ToC (and who, like many people in publishing, is my neighbor in Jersey), has a sharp post about the closing of ToC, and what it means for the people of the ToC community who gathered annually:
Even if you believe that traditional publishing “gets” digital (if there is any ambiguity: I don’t), what about things like self-publishing, or the primacy of web standards as a vehicle for creating, maintaining and disseminating content of all types? The most recent TOC in New York featured two widely praised, day-long workshops hosted by key players in the self-publishing and W3C communities. The hallway conversations alone were worth the price of admission. Who is going to lead that kind of dialogue now that O'Reilly has shuttered TOC?
You don’t have to convince me that maintaining a community is hard work. Sustaining a publishing community is even harder, because there is no one thing that people universally recognize as “publishing”.
But once you’ve helped make a community, you have an obligation to nurture and sustain it. If you decide you want to do something else with your resources, you still have to provide for its care and feeding. You don’t shut everything down without making an attempt to at least provide for its welfare.
The thing that made TOC valuable – unique – was its ability to cut across a range of silos and present ideas that mattered. Despite what O’Reilly claims, that isn’t something other events do or even try to do. The ones that come closest are the events that pretty much mimic whatever TOC did first.
Shutting down TOC is more than a disappointment. The decision calls into question much of what the company claims that it stands for.
As O'Leary said in his article, he wrote three books for O'Reilly, the now-divorced parent of ToC. An essay I wrote is in one of them – and I was a media sponsor for ToC for the past few years. I confess to being disappointed with this past year's ToC lineup, most notably with the number of panels that were promotion for a specific company's services and less about problems and solutions, ideas and suggestions, and innovations that continue to develop within the publishing industry. O'Leary's article helped me identify the reasons for one of the other reactions I had to the news that ToC was closing down: great, gaping sadness.
I agree with O'Leary that it is a shame that, instead of selling the conference, O'Reilly shuttered it and laid off the two coordinators, Joe Wikert and Kat Meyer. As part of that community, I am genuinely sad that it was closed without respect for the connections, the time, and the effort that we had made as part of that community, even as I was bummed by the tenor and experience of ToC 2013. I had high expectations for 2014 and had been thinking of potential topics to present and propose – figuring that, if ToC was not working for me, it's my responsibility to do something to help, and not just complain. I had some ideas for presentations about using technology to unite authors and readers in genre fiction, and had already begun reaching out to marketing and publicity folks to do a panel on low-cost innovations in book promotion. ToC was where I had ideas I'd never have thought of otherwise, just from being in the same group as so many curious, creative people. As O'Leary wrote, “The thing that made TOC valuable – unique – was its ability to cut across a range of silos and present ideas that mattered.”
So long, ToC. I'm sad to see you go. I hope another gathering of challenge and creativity can come close to capturing the Jiffy-pop brain I experienced at ToC in the past.
At the RT booksigning, I met Sara Ramsey, who was wearing adorable earrings - typewriter strikeplates of individual letters. She was nice enough to let me know that they're still available – though limited in quantity and selection – at Fab.com, a membership shopping site.
They're $20. And gosh, they're cute. I'd feel like a horrible person if I didn't share the link. Thanks, Sara!
Speaking of RT: thank you to the many, many people who forwarded me this link to John Scalzi's recap of his attendance at RT to receive his award:
I’ll note that as RT is heavily focused on the romance genre — a field which, by the way, has significant crossover into the speculative fiction and YA genres (and often both at the same time) — the author and fan attendance skewed largely female; while men weren’t entirely absent (there were male authors and fans, and spouses of female authors and fans) they were relatively rare. In the evenings, I would be hanging out at the bar with other writers and friends and I would look around and every other person around the table would be a woman. And I would go, huh, and then go back into the conversation.
This is something that I think might be worth noting out loud: At a largely female-oriented convention, as a man, I was never excluded, resented or made to feel unwelcome. There were folks who were surprised I was there, but that surprise was always “Oh! Cool! You’re here!” rather than “Why are you here?” And that, of course, is a salient difference. No one questioned my reasoning for being there, or suggested, say, that I was a Fake Romance Boy, or quizzed me about who my favorite romance author was or if I could recite that author’s bibliography to their satisfaction. I certainly wasn’t skeezed on. On the contrary, people went out of their way to ask me if I was enjoying myself and to let me know they were glad I was there. When I admitted ignorance about certain writers or genre details they were happy to expand my knowledge, and they wanted to know more about what I did and my own experiences as a writer. I met lots of new people and made new friends and in many ways it was one of the best convention experiences I’ve had in a long time.
This leaves wide open and hanging the question of why was it so easy for the folks at the RT Booklovers’ Convention, fans and creators both, to welcome a stranger of the opposite gender into their midst, while other enthusiast communities that skew male still have creators and fans who blow a gasket about women doing their thing in that genre. It’s not difficult to be welcoming and friendly. I wish the genres I am actively a part of could do as good a job of it as romance and the RT Booklovers’ convention did for me (and, I will note, the other men I saw at the convention).
Word to us.
On one hand, we do have our exclusionary practices, though they don't usually rest on gender. If anything, we pay too much attention to the men within the romance enterprise, and give their opinions and presence too much weight. But I remain very proud that another newcomer was welcomed and left happy.
Here, this will set some of your hair on fire: in New York Magazine, Kathryn Schulz explains why she hates The Great Gatsby:
I find Gatsby aesthetically overrated, psychologically vacant, and morally complacent; I think we kid ourselves about the lessons it contains.
None of this would matter much to me if Gatsby were not also sacrosanct.
I spent some of the early part of last week with Sarah MacLean, who told me that Gatsby is her favorite book – that she re-reads it annually. That is way cool. Me, I'm of the camp that wasn't too moved by it, mostly because of the distance Schulz describes. But then, I read it years ago, and was insufficiently moved by it that it never occurred to me to read it again. Regardless of my own reaction, I love hearing what people's favorite books are, and why they love them – and of what people's least favorite books are, and why.
Alas, the comments are a hotbed of “You are far too stupid to understand how great this book is.” Be Ye Warned. It can be so alienating to feel like you're one of very few who dislike something everyone tends to laud and celebrate without limit – and it's worse when your discussion of why you dislike something is met with insults. Tread carefully in the comments.