Monday, December 16, 2013

Guest Post - Learning Lessons - by Roberto Calas

This week, I'm very pleased to have author Roberto Calas back for an utterly fascinating guest post on the history and state of writing and publishing. As the saying goes, 'History repeats itself', and Roberto is going to show us how much our modern age has in common with the 15th century. He is no stranger to the late Middle Ages, and so, without further adieu, take it away Roberto!

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Learning Lessons

"Nobody can understand the greatness of the thirteenth century, who does not realize that is was a great growth of new things produced by a living thing."
-- G.K. Chesterton


Never build your sand castle near the water line.

Sand Castle - Creative Commons
I think most of us learned that lesson when we were very young. The tide is relentless and it doesn’t give a crap about the things you have built. I’m a bit thick, so it took a lot of mini-tsunamis and crumbled castles for me to internalize that particular lesson. But I learned.

So, in 1998, I decided to leave my career as a magazine editor to go to art school. I loved writing then, as I do now, but I could see the rising tide approaching. The castles built by magazine and newspaper publishers were too close to the water line.

To use another water-based analogy, the vast lakes of magazines, newspapers and books were evaporating, like watering holes in the African savannah. Three of the magazines I had worked for were sold out from under me – acquired by dreadnought holding companies that stripped them of staff and resources and filled them with fluff that complemented the ads that were sold. Magazine distributors thinned, from hundreds to dozens. Writing and editing jobs started paying less than marketing internships. It seemed that no one wanted to read anymore. It was all about television and online video. About photos and images.

So I went back to school. Art has always been my second love, so I decided to try making a living of it. And for fifteen years, I did.

But a new tide is rolling in. The electronic revolution is reaching far up onto the shore, destroying even the staunchest of sand castles and making room for new ones. Writing jobs are more prevalent, and they pay more again. Editors are valued once more. It is a Renaissance. A Golden Age of the written word, and it reminds me of another time in history when writing spurred a rebirth.

Back as late as the 14th century, monks were the publishers. And like traditional publishers of the modern age, they controlled what was printed and what was not.

A Gutenberg Press in action
But in 1450, Johannes Gutenberg used a few hand-molds and some oil-based ink to break the monk stranglehold. His mechanical press ushered in a golden age of writing. It’s no coincidence that the Renaissance began shortly after he invented modern printing.

But like all technologies, the mechanical press was seen by many as a bad thing. Scribes went on strike, afraid they would lose their jobs to the printing machines. The lay people were, at first, terrified by the presses. Every copy was identical, which of course meant that the devil was involved. Gutenberg’s friend and partner, Johannes Faust, was arrested and charged with witchcraft. Fortunately, Faust escaped death and the mechanical press churned on.

We are on the cusp of another golden age now and, as in the 15th century, there is resistance. Computers are the new Gutenberg press, and once again there is a witch hunt.

The traditional publishers, the very same companies that drove independent bookstores and magazine distributors out of business, are asking for help as they, themselves are driven out of business. But who was there for the independent bookstores? Who was there for the mom-and-pop magazine distributors? No one. And no one will be there for the publishers. Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and the new galactic overlord of the Milky Way, said that “Complaining is not a strategy.” And he’s right. Traditional publishers had the chance to jump on new technology and lead the way to the second Golden Age of Writing. They had a chance to move their sand castles back as the water rolled in, but they chose to fight the new technology, instead.

Electronic publishing is as revolutionary today as Gutenberg’s press was in his day. Traditional publishers can no more fight this technology than the monks and luddites of the 15th century could stop the wild spread of the printed word. And in this brave new world of easy publication, lots of things have changed.

The author has become the publisher. Novelists can release their works themselves, delivering precisely the product that they want, and they can connect with their readers directly, in ways they could never do before.

Serial story-telling, one episode at a time, is popular again.

Novelists are getting feedback directly from readers, as soon as their novel is published.

And those novels are being published far more quickly, because novelists no longer need to rely on the lumbering machinery of the rusted publishing companies. No, the writer becomes the head of his kingdom, contracting out editors and cover designers and doing what he or she can for publicity. Voices that were always filtered and steered by dreadnought holding companies are no longer fettered. Ten million songs, each unique and unaltered, ring out across the Web.

And while the great castles of sand built by traditional publishers slowly erode, the new castles are being built in our homes, far from the sea.

Because even a child understands that you can’t fight the tide.

Roberto Calas is a published (and self-published) author and lover of history. His serial trilogy (The Scourge) is about a 14th century knight fighting his way through a demon-infested England to reunite with the woman he loves. And every bit of it is true except for the made up parts. Roberto is taking advantage of the new publishing tide to ask readers for help in publishing the third novel in his Scourge trilogy. Please have a look at his Kickstarter campaign for more details.

In addition to The Scourge series, Roberto has written The Beast of Maug Maurai (fantasy), and Kingdom of Glass (historical fiction in the Foreworld universe).

Roberto lives in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, with his two children, and visits the United Kingdom on a monthly basis to be with his fiancée, Annabelle. Sometimes he fights demons to get to her.


You can learn more about Roberto on his website: http://robertocalas.com.  

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I want to thank Roberto for taking the time to ‘stop by’ the blog, and for his thought-provoking words. Who would have thought – Gutenberg as an indie-champion! We do indeed live in exciting times of creativity, and Roberto is one of those fighting the good fight and giving us some great storytelling. If you haven’t read The Scourge or The Beast of Maug Maurai books, I highly recommend them. I’ve also just finished his short story, The Wages of Sin, and it’s a great read!

Be sure to check out Roberto’s Kickstarter link too. It’s a chance to help the story continue, and any measure of support will help this warrior of the written word to continue his campaign.

Cheers, and thanks for reading!
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