BookCamp Toronto 2009: Decompressed, Rejiggled, Steps Moving Forward

BCTOBookCamp Toronto took place a couple of weeks ago and there’s a tonne of really great breakdowns, recaps and analysis already written about the event.  I don’t want to trip on anybody’s coattails here, but, well why not?… before I get into my own thoughts on the matter let’s get down to some old school linkage theft!  That’s theft, not piracy.  Maybe it’s just borrowing or perhaps it’s just redirection.  Either way, just take the links below and do with them what you will!

Mark Bertils, one of the organizers of BCTO09, has compiled many of the relevant links on his blog here.  I spoke with Mark during the BookNet Canada sponsored lunch break as we sat on the grass in the sun and I could tell that the creative wheels were already spinning in anticipation of next year.  Great guy and I think that you’ll see a leaner, meaner and more focused BookCamp Toronto next year.  Looking forward to it.

1)  Some preferred links from BCTO09:

Malle Vallik on Listening to your Customers, Datachondria with a visionary take on the networked book (this is crucial reading), Kevin McFaul attended my Death to DRM session among others and has an interesting take, at least one of the ‘national’ newspapers attended the event, James Caldwell has an excellent rundown of some of the more technical sessions including some amazing pics, BookNet Canada blog is pretty much essential reading any day of the week, the masterful John Maxwell breaks it down, Bronwyn Kienapple takes on Mitch Joel in a steel cage match, Mark Blevis was an enthusiastic participant and session leader, the Torontoist had a nice article, too, but no list like this is complete without the thoughts of Monique Trottier from her Break the Spine blog.

2) My thoughts:

Universal Success: Any comments that I make about BCTO09 are completely contingent on giving massive props to Hugh McGuire, Mark Bertils, Mitch Joel, Alexa Clark, Erin Balser and everyone else who helped to organize this event.  They did an amazing job and I think that we all have to tip our hats to the trailblazers.  Not to be forgotten are the session leaders and all the participants who spoke up and engaged the topics and people in the room.  Well done.  Exciting because the day was a success and BCTO10 should be that much better.

Organizing the Unconference: I’m not a backend technical guy.  Not by a long shot.  I love the wiki formula and I love that much of the future of the book is dependent on developing technologies and weird digital stuff that I only vaguely understand.  It’s humbling to know that I have only a fraction’s fraction of an idea about what’s going to happen in the future of the book.

That’s good: uncertainty will be my guiding light.

However, I would say that the BCTO09 website needed some front-end designer-style love.  If it hadn’t been for the kind guidance of Julie Wilson I wouldn’t have had any idea what the hell was happening on the website, how to sign-up and/or navigate my way around.  I think that I understand why the organizers chose to go with the pbworks/wiki thing but I think that it acts as a kind of barricade to the uninitiated – and in an unconference where one of the dominant themes was ‘making new connections’ it seems like there’s an opportunity to increase clarity next time around.

It was an excellent mix of people from the book trade, outsiders, technologists and the occasional revolutionary walking around with an armful of old James Taylor records (that’s the only time anyone will ever use the words James Taylor and revolutionary in the same sentence.).  An unconference like this runs the risk of having too many well-helled publishing types who are trained to avoid risk, experimental ideas or the future at any cost – *cough* there’s a joke in there somewhere *cough* – and it is perhaps the greatest success for BCTO09 that there was a healthy cross-section of people from many different points of view sharing thoughts publicly.

Managing Expectations: The last thing that anyone wants is for BCTO to become a publishing industry shindig.  It’s important for the focus of the event to be on new ideas and the technologies that are available to change and enhance what the book can become in the future.  BCTO represents an opportunity to explore the landscapes of future contact between writers, artists, designers and readers and we need to keep that in mind for next editions of BCTO and its ilk.  Like it or not many of the new developments are going to come from areas outside the traditional publishing industry.  The industry will either adapt these new ideas over time or it won’t.  It cannot be anyone’s concern whether they do or do not.  The purpose of every session at BookCamp is to explore.

I think that it’s important to emphasize participation among all attendees.  It would be useful for all session leaders to engage everyone in the room – not easy, I know – and for everyone in the room to feel free to lend their ideas and thoughts to the discussion.  It’s natural for some people in the room to steer the conversation and to contribute more because of their experience and enthusiasm for a topic but maybe all participants can take it upon themselves to keep the conversation going and open new lines of inquiry throughout the sessions.

3) Next Steps:

I had the good fortune to have a few discussions with the likes of Raincoast’s Dan Wagstaff, Steven Beattie from Quill and Quire and the ludicrously talented book designer Ingrid Paulson during my time in Toronto as well as many other people.  One of the recurrent thoughts that kept coming up was: now what? – as in, “We’ve had this great day full of discussion, new thoughts and ideas and my mind is spinning but I can’t help but feel like there’s a lack of direction about what to do next.”

Fair enough.  Excellent point.

I would like to pose this idea to anyone out there who’s interested in participating and will put it to the folks at the Vancouver Technology and Publishing group here in town.

We form an experimental publishing project whose focus is to take an unpublished manuscript through every step of the publishing process from a call for submissions through to production of a physical edition of the work.  Along the way, at every point within the process, the project will seek to utilize new ideas and technologies in the service of bringing a truly modern piece of work to the world.  Every step would be documented on a website and would be open to input from anyone interested in the project.

It’s going to take me a little while to put the blueprint for this project together – that will be another post for later this week – but I would say that it could be a really exciting and illuminating exercise.

For instance, are there new ways to approach the acquisitions process?  What does the editorial process look like if you start to incorporate the idea of the remix to chapters?  If you take isolated pieces of the work and pass it along to another talented artist or writer and give them the freedom to reimagine it, what becomes of the text?  Can this kind of remixed text find a home within the original text?  And, can we explore the idea of file sharing from a marketing/promotion angle not to mention a dissemination angle?  What about the notion of ‘pay what you can’ for a digital text?  That’s not even touching on any number of other more technical aspects of experimental book publishing.

Those renegade sensibilities of open-mindedness, sense of adventure and instinctual trust will be essential characteristics for everyone involved – from the writer straight on thru the rest of the team.

Obviously there’s so many more possibilities than just these – this project will be about reimagining the process and tinkering with the parts.

I think that there’s something to be gained from trying this and I hope that we can start this project in the next couple of months.

4) BookCamp Vancouver:

That’s right, there’s rumours going around that a group of ne’er do wells on the west coast are beginning to organize a BookCamp of their own.  In fact, they may be meeting in a Gastown bistro on this coming Monday night.  And, if the whispers in my ear are true, there’s a good chance that I’ll have more information about this event some time next week.

5) And I’m Out:

Great work to everyone who organized and participated in the first BCTO.  The bar has been set pretty high but so long as there’s people who are seeking newer, better ways to engage the technologies and ideas of today and tomorrow – in the service of readers and creators –  I have complete confidence that these events will get better every year.

Sean Cranbury is the Executive Editor of Books on the Radio. He's also Founder and Creative Director of the Real Vancouver Writers' Series. Sean is General Manager at the legendary Storm Crow Tavern and consults with literary arts organizations on digital communications strategies.


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