By now many of you will have received an email from Amazon letting you know about the new second edition of Avogadro Corp. I’ll say more about the second edition, but first a little background.

I wrote Avogadro Corp in 2009 as a first-time fiction writer. I wrote the first draft in December and finished with just a few minutes to spare before midnight. It slowly developed from a 27,000 word novella into a 67,000 word novel over the next two years as I took writing classes and learned a bit about writing.

I released it in November, 2011. I was delighted with it, as were many of the 50,000 people who ultimately got a copy. It received acclaim, won awards, and was even covered by Wired.

New Avogadro Corp Second Edition. Buy at Amazon.

New Avogadro Corp Second Edition.
Buy at Amazon.

But some feedback was critical of typos and grammar, and I grew as a writer, I really wanted to go back and fix some issues. So in January of this year I started on a complete rewrite. It’s still the same story it was before, but I added a little depth to the characters and setting and polished the prose. There are 3,000 new words of content, and it’s been copyedited and proofread by professionals. I think it’s much improved over the original.

In addition, it’s gotten a beautiful, new cover, thanks to designer and writer Jason Gurley.

If you’ve previously bought an ebook, you should be able to download the new second edition for free. We haven’t yet enabled nanotech-updating for the physical book, but you can buy a new second edition paperback that will look great on your bookshelf.

If you enjoy this new second edition, I could use your help spreading the word about it. (As I’ve mentioned before, I’m still juggling a day job and a family and writing, and would love to cross over the threshold into full-time writing. It will take 10 months to finish the editing for book 4 with my current schedule, but only 8 weeks if I was writing full-time.)

Here are some things that would help:

  • Mentions on any social media sites, especially those were tech people like to hang out: Slashdot and Reddit, in particular. Of course, Twitter, Facebook, and others are also great.
  • If you dinged Avogadro Corp a point or two on your Amazon review because of the typos or grammar issues (totally understandable), but feel the new edition is an improvement, please consider updating your review if appropriate. (You can find your own Amazon reviews here.)

If you need them, here at links to the Amazon version:

I hope you enjoy it, and I’d love to hear what you think. Send me an email or a message on twitter.

I’ve seen a lot of reactions to the tragedy of the celebrity photo plundering that affected Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, and many offers. Some condemn the celebrities who had taken nude photos and videos of themselves. Some condemn the culture of men who objectify women. Some condemn cloud computing. Some condemn the people who view the photos. Some condemn people with poor computer security.

I see all of these perspectives, but I think we’re also missing something bigger. To get there, I’m going to start with a story that takes place in 1993.

I was a graduate student at the University of Arizona studying computer science. It was a great place to be. Udi Manber was a professor working on agrep and glimpse, long before he become the head of search at Google. Larry Peterson had developed x-kernel, an object-oriented framework for network protocols. Bob Metcalfe, inventor of Ethernet, dropped by one day to review what we were doing with high speed networking.

I’ll never forget the uproar that occurred when we received a new delivery of Sun workstations. I think it was the Sun SPARCstation 5, although I could be wrong. But what was different about these computers was that they contained an integrated microphone. And that meant anyone who could get remote access to the software environment could listen in to that microphone from anywhere in the world.

Keep in mind that the owners of these computers were not technical novices. These were the people creating core components of what we use today: everything from search to TCP optimized for video. And they were damn nervous about people hacking into the computers and listening in to the microphone from anywhere.

Fast-forward about seven years, and I’m reading a series of books about cultural anthropology. (Yes, this is relevant. And if you’re interested, Cows, Pigs, Witches and War by Marvin Harris is a great starting point.) I might be a little loose on the specific details, but the gist of what I read is that when scientists studied indigenous tribes relatively untouched by modern culture they found that “crime” occurs at a similar rate across most tribes. That is, norms might differ from culture to culture, but things like murder and stealing happen in all tribes, and at similar frequencies. Tribal culture doesn’t have prison, so the punishment is being cast out of the tribe. Without getting into details, this is actually a quite strong punishment. Not only is social rejection itself powerful, but the odds of survival go down dramatically without the support structure of a tribe.

Now let’s ground ourselves back in the current day. What happened to Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, and many others is terrible. However, this isn’t an isolated occurrence. Stealing photos – and worse, much worse –  occurs all the time, to many women, and we’re just not hearing about it because they aren’t famous.

This 2013 ArsTechnica article, Meet the men who spy on women through their webcams (caution: may contain triggers), is probably the best overview on the subject of Ratters. The term is an extension of Remote Administration Tool (RAT). These are men (almost always men) who prey on women (almost always women) by first gaining access to their computers, then spying on them through their webcams, in the privacy of their own home, as well as going through their computer to find photos and videos. Eventually, compromising videos and photos exist, whether they are found on the filesystem or recorded by the ratter using the webcam. The ratter then uses the threat of sharing those compromising photos and video to blackmail the victim into recording yet more explicit videos.

Certainly ratters are awful people who deserve to go to jail for their crimes. And equally certainly there are great improvements we can make in our society in terms of how men treat and view women. And we can make improvements in our personal computer security.

However, if the tribal studies tell us that crime still occurs at a relatively constant rate, and if even some of the most technically sophisticated people fear their microphones being used to spy on them, then we know that neither criminal deterrents nor improvements in our personal computer security practices are going to be sufficient to completely stop such behavior.

So then what?

Well, now we come back to what Cory Doctorow frequently argues. Computer laws such as those around DRM inhibit computer researchers from making improvements into computer security, by making it illegal to reverse engineer how certain bits of code work. Spyware that originates from governments, corporations, and school districts is frequently subverted by computer hackers and ratters (in addition to being abused by the originators as well.)

Cory has also said that computer security and privacy is like potable water: With enough effort, individuals can capture, treat, and store their own independent water supply. But as a society, it’s far more efficient for the government to provide guaranteed drinkable water through municipal water supplies. Similarly, an individual might take heroic measures to ensure their security and privacy: long passwords, no cloud services, cover their webcams, avoid the internet whenever possible. But how feasible is it for every person to do this? And can we all maintain that level heroic effort? Probably not.

What we need is change at the highest level.

We need our governments to stop perpetuating the problem by spying on us, and instead take our privacy and security seriously. Instead of DRM, give us privacy. Instead of school districts spying on us, give us privacy. Instead of buying spyware from corporations to spy on us, make selling software that spies on us illegal.

Privacy and security is a problem that affects all of us, not just the celebrities that are the latest and most visible in a long series of victims.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000030_00039]I have three kids of reading age. When I finished Avogadro Corp, they asked to read it. A few thoughts raced through my mind: They’d probably be bored by it, or maybe scared. But I’d probably let them at least try to read it. Except that I’d used a lot of curse words. So I said no.

I wrote my second book, and they asked to read it. I had used less curse words, but I had a teen character who smoked and did drugs. Doh. I said no. I started my third book, and it has less curse words, no smoking by any of the main characters, but it had a sex scene I didn’t particularly want to explain to them.

Around this time, they asked if I was I ever going to write a book they could read. I said yes, and then didn’t get a chance to work on it for almost a year, although some ideas germinated in the back of my mind.

One particular memory: I’m a fan of Cory Doctorow, and I went to see him speak at Powell’s. He writes smart science fiction about the issues he cares about in real life: privacy, control over our data, the police state, and activism. Although I’d guess his largest pool of readers is adults, his books are definitely oriented towards teens, and making them aware of their power and influence in the world, and equipping them with the tools to make a difference. Only Doctorow can write a novel in which you learn how to encrypt your hard drive or install Linux.

At the Powell’s speaking event, Cory asked the audience “Do you want a reading or do you want a speech?” There was a unanimous cheer in support of the speech. Afterwards there was a question and answer session.

What really stuck in my mind was the teens in the audience. They made up maybe a quarter or less of the room, but they loomed large in my mind. These are the people Cory wants to reach. And during the Q&A portion, the teens stood and asked questions of Cory about privacy and jailbreaking phones and technology, which he addressed. It sounds sort of factual and ordinary when I describe it, but it was powerful to me in the moment.

I knew that if I was going to write for kids, I didn’t want to just write entertainment. I wanted to address issues in the same serious way that I address topics in my adult science fiction. Sure, robots and AI make for good entertainment, but I write the stuff I do because I think it’s important for people to think about it, and I treat it as seriously and accurately as possible.

So what topics did I want to address for kids? What is appropriate for the age I wanted to write for? I decided to focus on a few things:

  1. Logical reasoning. It’s a foundation skill every intelligent person needs. The format of a detective story is ideal for this.
  2. Building and manipulating technology. Kids love technology, but many are passive consumers. I want them to see themselves as creators, customizers, and makers. In the novel, the kids build an autonomous quadcopter for their science fair, then use it as a tool in solving a mystery.
  3. Judging the validity of information. Can you trust the source? It is true? How can we know? Being a critical receiver of information is important when we’re deluged with advertisements and dubious information all over the place.

I started working on The Case of the Wilted Broccoli in the fall of 2013, and published it this summer. It’s a kids mystery novel featuring an eleven-year-old girl detective named Willow who has to solve a mystery at her school when people start getting sick from the school lunch. Some of the inspiration came from The Boxcar Children, Nancy Drew, and Encyclopedia Brown, all much-loved books in our household. But it’s a story that embodies the principles I mentioned above.

I have one scene in The Case of the Wilted Broccoli about Wikipedia that my critique partners and an adult editor told me I should remove because it wasn’t necessary to the story. But I knew it wasn’t necessary for Cory Doctorow to explain how hard drive encryption works, yet he did anyway. I kept the scene in, and multiple kids have told me they loved it. Here’s an excerpt:

In class, their teacher reviewed the bridge-research assignment. “You’ve all picked your bridges, and you should have started your research. You have one week left to turn in the first draft of your report, which should be two pages long. And remember, no using Wikipedia.”

Linden groaned inside. Teachers were always saying they shouldn’t use Wikipedia, but he loved, loved, loved everything about it. He raised his hand.

“Yes, Linden?”

“We should be allowed to use Wikipedia,” he said. “Wikipedia is equally accurate and more comprehensive than traditional encyclopedias.”

“Anyone can edit Wikipedia. It’s simply not a credible resource.”

Linden’s felt his blood start to pound in his ears. He respected his teachers, but they weren’t always right. “But it’s been studied by dozens of researchers, and they’ve found it has high quality, even in specialized subjects. Even if someone puts incorrect information into Wikipedia, the editors usually spot and correct it within minutes.”

The teacher tapped her foot. Linden couldn’t tell if she was annoyed or amused.

She looked at the wall for moment, then turned back to the class. “Regardless of the accuracy of Wikipedia, if you all do your research using it, everyone’s reports will look exactly the same. Each person researching the Fremont Bridge will read the same information, and I’ll get back ten of the same reports. So no Wikipedia.”

The teacher’s point was good. But Linden knew some secrets about Wikipedia. Some of the best stuff was not in the main page for an article, it was hidden on the Talk page. That’s where the people writing an article had discussions. And if two people disagreed about a subject, the history of their arguments was preserved forever on the talk page.

That wasn’t the only secret, of course. The History link displayed every change ever made on a Wikipedia page, so visitors could know what had been deleted or added.

Linden had already started his research on the St. Johns Bridge last night. After he read the main article on Wikipedia, he discovered on the Talk page that there was a disagreement over whether the bridge should have an apostrophe in the name. Should it be written St. Johns or St. John’s? It turned out the bridge was named after James John, also known as “Old Jimmy Johns” or “Saint Johns.” Since Johns was his nickname, the name of the bridge shouldn’t have an apostrophe in it. And yet the main article hadn’t said anything about who the bridge was named after.

I hope that each book I write for children embodies more of these principles while telling an entertaining story that kids want to read. Some day I’d like to give a talk or reading and have kids show up to ask me questions about building drones or editing Wikipedia.

If you or someone you know has a child ages seven through eleven, please check it out and let me know what you think.

The Case of the Wilted Broccoli is a kids mystery novel featuring an eleven-year-old girl detective named Willow who has to solve a mystery at her school when people start getting sick from the school lunch. She and her brothers build an autonomous quadcopter for their science fair while investigating the food supply for their school. It’s available in paperback, and for Kindle, Kobo, iTunes, and Nook.

Last November, on a train ride to Seattle to see Ramez Naam and Greg Bear, I started book four of the Singularity series. Last Thursday, I finished the rough draft. I was very excited and did a little dance in my office. Of course, I’m not done. I’ve got to turn that draft into a cohesive story, polish that story into something that reads well, and get it edited, proofread, and then it goes into production (page layout, ebook conversion, cover design).

I’m excited to get it out, and I know other folks are excited to read it, but it’s still many months away from being available. I’m not sure exactly how long. It varies with each book, as I learn more, also depends on my work schedule. I’m making some small changes to my day job schedule that should give me more consecutive days of writing time, which will help me make steady progress.

For a few weeks though, I’ll be focused on other things: I’ve got to the second edition of Avogadro Corp fully out. I need to do some marketing work around my novel for kids ages 7 to 12, The Case of the Wilted Broccoli. I need to give a little attention to my Patreon campaign. And I’ve got blog posts I really want to write that I’ve put on the back burner while I worked on finishing the draft of book 4. At some point I also need to figure out a title for the fourth book.

But before the end of September, I should be back to work editing and revising.

This is just a quick note to say that I’m still hard at work on Book 4. I’m staying as focused as possible on getting the first draft done while I’m still able to write on a daily basis. During the summer school break, I can write every day. Once my kids go back to school, I only have two good writing days per week.

The good news is that I’m making great progress and the end is within sight.

Now let the quiet resume.

I’ve launched a Patreon campaign! Please consider supporting my writing with a small recurring donation.

What is Patreon? It’s a relatively new crowdfunding platform with some key differences from Kickstarter and its many competitors.

Kickstarter is about raising the funds for a specific project, like making a movie, or bringing a physical product to life. But Patreon is about supporting ongoing creation, like a webcomic, series of YouTube videos, or in my case, a series of books about the near future, artificial intelligence, and the singularity.

Patreon supporters, or patrons, make a recurring donation: either monthly (as in my case), or per piece of content.

Why support me?

Naturally, there are patron benefits. All patron supporters will receive a free digital copy of each book as much as a month before it’s published. There will be occasional bonus material, such as unpublished chapters and short stories. You’ll receive thanks, of course, and at higher donation levels, also receive signed copies of physical books, and at the highest level, an exclusive one-off patron creation.

But I hope you’ll also consider the benefits to my writing and my career:

Each new book requires an outlay of several thousand dollars in editing, proofreading, and design. In the past, I’ve made tradeoffs between keeping cost low and quality. With greater support, I can make each book the very best quality possible.

I would also like to write full-time. Today I juggle a family and full-time job, and squeeze writing into the little leftover nooks and crannies in my schedule. I’d like to give each book the full time and focus it deserves. Writing income is also lumpy: much of it comes when I release a new book. Monthly patron donations on Patreon will help level out my income.

If you loved Avogadro Corp, A.I. Apocalypse, or The Last Firewall, become a patron and help me create more works of even higher quality.

Using Social Media to Engage Younger Readers — Willamette Writers Con 2014 (#WillWrite14)

Kiersi Burkhart

@kiersi

http://prolificnovelista.com
  • Your brand
    • social media engagement is a long game. start social media engagement 1-2 years before publication.
    • Who you are. What makes your unique. What you write. Your career goals.
  • You will not see results right away. It takes time then starts to snowball. You want to accumulate some following by the time you launch so you can use that to drive initial sales.
  • Who are you?
    • You are curating yourself for this audience.
    • Who do you want to be? What’s the image you want people to have?
    • Sure, there are alcoholic children’s book writers out there, but that’s not how they project themselves.
  • The Cult of You
    • this is your ultimate goal
    • you want to create devotees or spokespeople.
    • you can’t individually talk to 10,000 people and handsell your book.
    • but you can talk to dozens or hundreds of people who are influencers, and each of those people can talk to their dozens or hundreds of friends. the net effect is 10,000 people reached.
  • What are younger readers?
    • Picture book, elementary, and middle-grade:
      • No direct marketing.
      • Indirect marketing to those with purchasing power
    • Young adult:
      • Direct marketing is OK.
      • They have money.
      • They have twitter accounts, and instagram. They are online.
  • Younger Audiences
    • Parents
    • Friends and family
    • Teachers
      • If you’ve got a book that belongs in the classroom, you want to talk to teachers.
    • Librarians
      • Place huge book orders. Both school and public libraries.
    • Grandparents
      • Have a lot of time online.
      • On Facebook.
      • have extra money to do book purchasing.
  • Young Adult
    • More than 55% of YA books buying power in adult hands
      • 78% of adults buying for themselves. (almost half of these are 30-44)
      • 22% of adults buying for teens
    • 45% of YA books are teens buying for themselves.
  • Social Media overview
    • Twitter (really important to connect with people)
    • Facebook
    • Goodreads
    • Blog / website
    • Edelweiss: a way for influencers to get books
    • Add-ons: instragram, pinterest, tumblr
  • Twitter – The Basics
    • Use keywords to find your community
      • YA, MG, picture books, author, location
      • Use has tags like #YALitChat, #MGLitChat
      • Aim small, not big. Big is not helpful.
    • Start a conversation.
  • Why Twitter
    • Direct interaction with your audience
    • Connect with other authors – your peers
      • Engagement, support, resource sharing, networking
    • Focus on delivering value in order to gain followers
      • Relevant links, personality, industry knowledge
    • Be You! Readers want to know the real you.
  • For my middle grade: what’s the value I can deliver to parents / teachers / librarians
    • food safety
    • where does the book take place
    • school lunches
    • mystery / thriller
  • There’s no point in promoting yourself to your twitter followers. They’re already following you. All you’re going to do is annoy them.
  • Twitter Tips
    • Use a twitter client like tweet deck or hoot suite
    • Create lists for:
      • writers/authors
      • agents
      • fans
  • Facebook
    • Be sure to create a public fan page
    • Be aware of your time investment
    • Pictures, links, personal status updates
    • Events — good for book signings, releases, etc.
    • Let your readers get to know you
  • Goodreads
    • A growing platform
    • To-Read lists create anticipation
    • Book / ARC giveaways
    • Review etiquette
    • Author Groups for established authors
  • Your website
    • primary brand
    • offers content readers will want to explore
    • interactivity
    • connection is key to your readers identifying with you.
  • Your blog
    • use your blog as a way to reach other bloggers
    • cross book promotion / mutual back scratching
    • let readers get to know you and your process
  • Book bloggers
    • teen book bloggers: perfect spokespeople
      • search teen on twitter to find them — not people who are blogging about teen books, but teens who are blogging about books.
      • they’re doing it to get free copies of books.
      • a close-knit group / community (get in with one, get in with the others)
      • themed blogging
      • engagement over time is key
  • Librarian Book Bloggers
    • Search librarian on Twitter or Google
    • Have a large community
    • Great way to reach parents & teachers
    • Also teacher bloggers, parent bloggers.
    • stackedbooks.com
  • Author bloggers
    • Connect with authors in the same category or genre
    • Already interacting with them on your blog / twitter
    • cross-promotion allows you to access to one another’s audiences
    • great if you can befriend an established author
  • Talking to book bloggers
    • Building your platform is a long game
    • start engaging bloggers far in advance
    • build a relationship before you need them
    • focus giveaways on bigger blogs / platforms
  • Word-of-mouth is king
    • key way to reach teens
    • find your influencers and make them want to talk you up
    • continue to interact and engage with them
    • create a street team
    • thank them with swag
  • Street Teams
    • Your street team are your spokespeople
    • other authors, bloggers, influencers
    • cover reveals, blurbs, excerpts, interviews
    • local influence
    • provide an ARC for reviews
    • ask your friends! don’t be afraid.
  • Talking with teens
    • remember being a teen yourself
    • take them seriously
    • treat them with respect, like you would any adult
    • talk with them, not to them
    • captive vs. voluntary audience
  • Talking with teens
    • Ask questions to engage
    • Ask for stories and tell stories
    • Keep the dialogue open and never condescend
    • Always reply to them. interactivity is key
    • Let them get to know you (backstage pass)
    • Be personal, not formal
    • If you’re going to use pop culture, you’d better be totally up to date, or you’re gonna sound old.
  • Should you go local?
    • Direct sales are inefficient
    • Only do it if you have access to influencers
    • Cost/benefit analysis of signings & appearances
    • Consider conferences like ALA or BEA

Amazing talk by Luke Ryan (@lukeryansays) on The Future of Media at Willamette Writers Conference. #WillWrite14

  • What’s broken, and the challenges ahead of it
  • How to fix it
  • What’s the future
  • The Challenges
    • technological dissonance: new technologies challenge their standard technologies, leading them to change their habits of media consumption or curb them altogether.
      • there’s DVDs and blue ray, and streaming video, it’s all so challenging. I’ll just wait.
    • disruptive technology: suddenly and dramatically changes the industry.
      • 8-tape to cassette tape were a transition technology.
      • vinyl to tape: also transition.
      • CD more disruptive: because it ate everything that came before it.
      • digital is totally disruptive: because it destroys everything before it AND even destroys the outlets that sold the old stuff.
        • no record stores, no bookstores, etc.
    • film:
      • revenue is slightly up. looks healthy.
      • but reality is that ticket sales are down.
      • it’s being made up by much higher ticket prices (from $5.80 in 2002 to $8.10 in 2012)
      • ticket prices disguises unhealthy underlying economics.
    • film – key issues
      • skyrocketing marketing costs
      • substantial front-end investment
      • massive loss of home video revenue
    • film history
      • Jaws: first movie to open in all theaters at the same time. never happened before. it was the first blockbuster.
      • So then every movie had to open that way. that created competition: multiple movies opening on same weekend.
      • so they had to increase marketing spend to get attention.
      • soon they were making little money in theaters, but they were making it up in home video sales
        • home video was as much as 90% of the total theatre gross, nearly doubling total revenue.
      • marketing spend: harold and kumar go to whitecastle. Made for $4.5M, marketing department spend $28M, killing profitability of movie.
      • because the marketing department commands more money, they have more control. so soon the movie-making decisions are being made by the marketing department: remakes, toy connected stuff.
    • with netflix and other services, nearly all home video sales dead. Frozen is the rare exception.
    • TV
      • median age: 51
      • even CW, which aims to reach woman 18-34: median age is 33.
      • young people are on instagram and snapchat.
      • age breakdown:
        • mobile video: teens
        • online video: 20s
        • TV: 30s and older
    •  TV key issues
      • loss of ad revenue via demographic decline and DVR
      • competition for short-form entertainment
    • Books
      • All book sales are declining…except ebooks.
      • Legacy publishing: sales stagnant. flat projected out.
      • self-publishing: up and to the right. continual growth.
    • Book Key Issues
      • decline in traditional distribution
      • competition with other forms of media
  • Traditional Distribution Systems
    • Creator -> Distributor -> Consumer
    • traditional systems are breaking down…
    • leaving room for new paradigms to take their place
    • Creator <-> Technology <-> Consumer
    • Not only does the traditional distribution go away, but it becomes a relationship instead of a push.
  • The Long Tail
  • Fan Strategy
    • Creating spreadable content that allows every different fan type to engage on a level that is pleasurable to them and profitable for you.
    • Fan types:
      • Skimmers, Dippers, and Divers
      • Skimmer: watch the series
      • Dipper: watch the series, read the book
      • Divers: watch the series, read the books, visit the communities, buy the costume, go to the convention.
    • The more passionate fans are your evangelists. So you want to develop skimmers into dippers, dippers into divers. The divers will create more skimmers and dippers.
    • Game of Throne – Five Senses Campaign
      • Smells of Game of Thrones: tweeting about it. (Mailed out)
      • Food of Game of Thrones: on social media about it. (in NY only)
      • It creates buzz, even though only a small subset engages in it.
  • Social Media Heft
    • One’s cumulative amount of influence and reach across social platforms allowing for strategic fan engagement and expansion of overall awareness.
    • Anyone can put digital stuff online. But how can we get attention?
    • How do people find what they like? “Well, I like what Julie likes, and Julie says I should watch this, so I will.”
    • In the future, this will be monetized. You’ll pay the content creator directly, and Julie will get a little bounty.
  • Hot Tub Time Machine:
    • took $4M out of marketing budget and used it to do free screenings for people with social media heft.
    • in response to study showing that people would see the movie only if a friend recommended it
  • Brands don’t want consumers anymore. They want fans.
  • Coca-Cola is kicking Hollywood’s ass, and Hollywood doesn’t know it yet.
  • Should Coke advertise? They don’t need to. They could make TV shows, shows that they own, that strengthen their brand at the same time that they now have an asset: they own the TV show.
    • Once Coke proves this out, everyone else will follow.
  • Traditional marketing: shoot out money hoping to hit eyeballs.
  • New paradigm:
    • Money goes into content, content goes to eyeballs, that generates money, which goes back into more content.
  • How traditional media will evolve:
    • Film
      • purchase of feature film companies by tech/telecom
      • Rise of new direct distribution indie film business
      • maximization of assets by blending with video game industry
    • television
      • networks become self-selective app portals
      • rise of second-screen technology
      • independent creator distribution through tablet and web.
      • those with the greatest social media heft will win.
    • books
      • digital becomes standard
      • interactive forms of narrative and illustration.
      • authors thrive on direct interaction with consumers.
  • “It is only forms that change, not essence.” — Ram Daas
  • Transmedia
    • Narrative built across multiple platforms that is designed to grow exponentially with as little repetition as possible.
    • Avoiding the repetition is key: if you make a movie and book that is identical, you haven’t given the fan anything new.
  • Velocity
    • 1. quickness and force of motion.
    • 2. rate of occurrence, action, or turnover.
    • The velocity of money is key to what makes the economy work. $5 sitting in your pocket does nothing.
    • The velocity of entertainment
  • Narrative leverage
    • Unique narrative lines across multiple platforms of entertainment.
    • platforms: film, television, games, apps, digital, social, merchandise.
    • world: a specific and contained system in which various entities attempt to thrive, occasionally in harmony, but mostly in conflict.
    • core story: the primary narrative off which all other story assets and platforms will grow. your core story is the trunk, and the rest of the platforms are branches off it. The core story will generally settle on one platform.
    • story asset: any sequence, character, or notion that has the opportunity to be broken out and used in a more expansive way across other platforms.
  • more successful transmedia franchises
    • sesame street
    • star wars
    • the bible (jesus tweets, churches, etc.)
  • building a transmedia franchise
    • find the world and characters you want to explore
    • find the platform best suited for the core story you want to tell
    • design a narrative experience across this platform
    • take stock of your story assets
    • take stock of your audience challenges
    • begin to build other assets across their most helpful platforms in terms of both story telling and audience engagement.
  • Marketing cost
    • one of the great strains to any entertainment platforms bottom line is the marketing cost that must exist.
    • Transmedia can replace that marketing cost with engagement, distribution, and world of mouth.
  • Film
    • positive: one of most popular. communal experience. can tell a story well and with the highest quality technical assets.
    • negatives: can only go so deep into the story. same experience. not interactive. very expensive.
  • television
    • positive: convenient/casual experience.e format allows for greater story depth. story evolves over time. relative high quality. less time per visit than film.
    • negative: only slightly more interactive than film. interrupted narrative: segment to segment, show to show, season to season. reliant on large following to remain in production. relatively expensive.
  • Books
    • positive: convenient and portable. immersive mental experience. can be enjoyed at the pace of the consumer. author has the greatest control of the content.
    • negatives: portable. time and thought intensive. largest cost-to-entertainment ratio among platforms. $30 hardcover for X hours of entertainment.
  • Games
    • positive: interactive, immersion. greater story depth. possibility of open world. can be monetized in strategic ways (e.g. virtual economy)
    • negatives: often requires physical skill. specialized delivery system (xbox), very expensive to produce.
  • Apps
    • Interactive. can be consumed as a snack. relative low cost. fun, addictive style of play. portable and live on necessary device. booming virtual economies.
    • negatives: lack of in depth experience, can be repetitive. hard to get noticed.
  • Digital
    • positive: in-depth, serialized story. more ability to have a social component. can be made for relatively low cost. Can be consumed from many types of devices. can be a snack.
    • negatives
  • Social
    • positives: high interactive. intimate connection between creator, story, and consumer. builds awareness and affection for little cost. can be a unifying guide between platforms.
    • negatives: a hard platform on which to tell a story. has to be deliver in small bits. requires consistent maintenance and interaction. possible to lose control of the message/conversation.
  • Merchandise
    • positive: a tactile experience. encourages interaction. highly monetizable. serves as marketing to those beyond the initial consumer.
    • negatives: takes up space, requires up front money.
  • Homework
    • Watch one of the great trilogies (lord of rings, star wars, the matrix)
    • identify all the story assets: write them down.
    • identify all the audience challenges (e.g. males under 25…how do i reach them)
    • do this for your own IP: develop a franchise bible
      • overview of the franchise
      • overview of the world itself
      • core story
      • platform-by-platform breakdown
      • summary of connective tissue between platforms
      • marketing strategies
      • distribution strategies/timelines
      • glossary of unique terms
  • There are no gatekeepers any more.
    • climbing up the long tail is not possible.
    • that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
  • Q: how to expand beyond the literary
    • Are you creating something that’s spreadable?
    • something that’s an easy engagement beyond what exists.
  • Franchise Pitch for AMBER book series.
    • (shown as a series of slides: title, cool image, descriptive text)
    • History of the Franchise
    • The Books
    • What makes it cool.
    • what’s special inside it.
    • FILM
      • here are what the three films could be. (and i’ve got one script for you)
    • TELEVISION
      • Here is what the TV show could be.
      • Non-repetitive to the movie script. Here is what you could build around it.
      • three different TV show ideas, playing off different story assets.
    • MOBILE
      • the games that can be played
    • INTERACTIVE FICTION
      • choose your own adventure games
    • SOCIAL
    • BOOKS
      • New books in the series
      • rights to do graphic novels
    • Strategy
      • a chart showing each of the forms of media along the left side, with a timeline across the top, showing connections between specific properties.

 

This year is a bonanza for singularity movies, starting with Her (great), Transcendence (fun, but didn’t deliver on expectations), and now Lucy.

Overall, I liked a lot of things about Lucy although it has a few shortcomings.

Lucy spoilers ahead. Spoilers. Did you hear that? Now is your chance to stop reading.

The basic plot from Wikipedia: Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is a woman living in Taipei, Taiwan who is forced to work as a drug mule for the mob. A drug implanted in her body inadvertently leaks into her system, which allows her to use more than the “normal” 10% of her brain’s capacity, thus changing her into a superhuman. As a result, she can absorb information instantaneously, is able to move objects with her mind, and can choose not to feel pain or other discomforts, in addition to other abilities.

I was expecting two things from this movie:

Great action scenes. This is a Luc Besson movie. Think Fifth Element, Taxi, District 13. Great action scenes and car chases are staples. Delivered as expected.

Good movie visualizations of posthumanism. The movie description and trailer indicates that Lucy gets super human ability, starting with the ability to control her own body, then other humans, and then basic matter. I think this was done great. The progression over the course of the movie feels logical, and the ending in particular, was spectacular. What happens to Lucy after she meets the professor felt spot on.

Those are the strengths. There are a few weaknesses.

10% of the brain. Lucy stumbled when it chose this concept of “humans only use 10% of their brain” as a way to describe what was happening as Lucy progressed to greater and greater capabilities. We know this is scientifically false. A freak nanotechnology accident would be more plausible.

However, I think it’s more useful to see this as metaphor: I’m guessing Luc Besson wanted an easily-understood gauge that ran from human to ultimate-posthuman. And what we got was a percentage number to stand in for that. So ignore the scientific correctness, and just think of it as a power gauge.

Philosophy. But there’s a bigger area in which the movie fell down. That’s in the philosophical underpinnings, which take up a significant amount of time, but don’t make a lot of sense. io9 described it this way:

When you’ve got a badass superhero with evil futuristic drug lord enemies, you’d better have a damn good theory about the meaning of existence if we’re going to take lots of time out to talk about it. And Lucy doesn’t. It’s like Besson read about the superintelligence explosion and the singularity, then decided to slather some soundbytes from What the Bleep Do We Know?! on top of what would otherwise have been a really compelling superhero story.

By comparison, The Matrix does plenty of philosophy about existence, but it’s tightly woven into the story and conflict. In Lucy, the philosophy has nothing to do with the conflict (e.g. the drug lords chasing her), so it can only be taken as a commentary on our world, and in that context, it fizzles out.

In Rolling Stone, Luc Besson said he wanted to do something more than just the usual shoot ‘em up:

The bait-and-switch aspects of Lucy — make viewers think they’re watching a trashy action flick, then thrust them into 2001: A Space Odyssey territory — shows the evolution of the 50-year-old Besson, who says he’s grown tired of the shoot-’em-up genre. “I’m not the same moviegoer or moviemaker as I was 10 years ago,” he says. “There are action films made now that are really well done, but after 40 minutes, I get bored. It’s all the same.”

Overall, Lucy was a lot of fun, and what happens to the character Lucy at the end is more plausible than what happened to Dr. Will Caster in the end of Transcendence.

Now I can’t help but imagine Luc Besson directing The Last Firewall.

From Inside the Artificial Brain That’s Remaking Google, a Wired article:

[P]erhaps half of the teams now using the Google Brain software are simply downloading the source code, tweaking a configuration file, and then pointing Google Brain at their own data. “If you want to do leading edge research in this area and really advance the state-of-the-art in what kinds of models make sense for new kinds of problems, then you really do need a lot of years of training in machine learning,” says Dean. “But if you want to apply this stuff, and what you’re doing is a problem that’s somewhat similar to problems that have already been solved by a deep model, then…people have had pretty good success with that, without being deep learning experts.

And:

“Google is not really a search company. It’s a machine-learning company,” says Matthew Zeiler, the CEO of visual search startup Clarifai, who worked on Google Brain during a pair of internships. He says that all of Google’s most-important projects—autonomous cars, advertising, Google Maps—stand to gain from this type of research. “Everything in the company is really driven by machine learning.”