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Book Club Tue Apr 10 2012

In Case You Missed It: Mini Tools of Change

Yesterday's Mini Tools of Change affair at the Cultural Center was absolutely too informationally massive to give you a properly comprehensive account of the day. I will, however, attempt to provide the general gist of the all day whirlwind of publishing tech lectures, Powerpoints--one of which included a photo of a pizza with hotdog-filled crust--and eye opening dialogue.

O'Reilly Media's Tools of Change Conference, the non-mini one that is, takes place annually in New York, heading out on the road in miniature to bring the new fangled stuff of publishing to the discussion around the country. Yesterday's conference, put on in partnership with Chicago Publishes, hosted 250 publishing pros, writers, editors, newspaper folk, and more. Speakers included Chicago literary regulars like JC Gable behind The Chicagoan magazine, Doug Seibold of Agate Publishing, Dominique Raccah of Sourebooks, Nick Disabato of brand spanking new Distance, and Founder of the Read/Write Library Nell Taylor, among many others.

Clay Johnson, author of The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption, spoke on the topic of his book, which served to infuse the day's many discussions with a particular urgency. The diet refers to weaning ourselves off of what Johnson suggests is our country's dependence on media outlets that present diluted coverage on the national level that operates on assumption and inference rather than the facts of actual events. Instead, he says, we should focus our attention at the local level and work to effect politics at home.

"We industrialize agriculture and they produce what we want the most and it makes us fat," Johnson said. "We've also industrialized media, and these companies have a responsibility to create cheap popular media. These are the people who tell us what we want to hear not what we need to hear. If you're working under these guidelines the only chance you have of getting paid is to sensationalize and write as quickly as you can."

Johnson provided national scope for the importance of the work attendees and many of the other speakers do on a regular basis--producing much of the written matter of our generation, providing the narratives that we live by. Other speakers offered insights based on their experiences in the field.

Dominique Raccah took a technical, though unimaginably engaging, angle in her lecture about better publishing tactics. She cited The Lean Startup by Eric Reis as providing some of her inspiration to treat every book like its own startup venture.

"We started by thinking how to develop reader centric models developed around key verticals, which means based on your readers needs," Raccah said.

On this note, Raccah discussed several methods through which Sourcebooks is improving, including getting to know the target community of readers and developing books they want, plus creating a better (i.e. less frustrating) experience for authors. More than one speaker focused on generating online based discussion between authors and readers by posting pieces of books online before they are published to get a sense of reader response before too much time and money is invested in a project.

Though this account of the day is arguably bare bones, I hope it serves to provide some sense of the wonderful work being done in Chicago to fine tune the craft of publishing.

"Chicago gets this second city syndrome tying to compare itself to New York and it's really moot," JC Gabel said. "We deserve substance and style and there's never been a more interesting time since I've been alive, and I grew up here, than now. How can we make this different?"

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Book Club is the literary section of Gapers Block, covering Chicago's authors, poets and literary events. More...

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