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Arthur Plotnik chats about publishing’s Internet dance

Arthur Plotnik was kind enough to answer a few questions directly for Down the Writer’s Path. This segment is part of an interview that will run the rest of the week. Plotnik is the author of the newly released, Spunk & Bite: A Writer’s Guide to Punchier, More Engaging Language & Style. Copyright Vikk Simmons, 2006.

The Internet is a vast, growing force that the publishing industry has been slow to embrace. Do you see the Internet having any impact on language? Is it a positive or a negative force? What do you think about text messaging?

Deep questions, and I’m not the deep sort. But the industry’s Net-groping seems pretty hot and heavy to me, considering that every major publisher is invested in Internet publishing projects. But if they’re stuck at first base, it’s over how to sell the value of virtual publications. It’s hard enough to make people buy a tangible book, so shiny and cuddly, convenient, portable, giveable, keepable. But outside technical publishing, even with sites that draw advertising, very few publishers are cashing in on packages of digital content—not in a medium whose concept is the free exchange of free expression.

What publishers have to offer, over free Internet writing, is value-added content. What value do they add? Screening and editing. Theoretically, a publisher has separated the wheat from the chaff and refined it to the highest quality. That’s why busy readers in search of excellence—excellence of form, language, and style as well as content—still pretty much go to books. Add these values to the Internet’s strengths—vitality, currency, and interactivity—and there might be a product worth paying for.

Internet affects language by changing it faster than pre-Internet usage ever did. It pours seas of new words and slick locutions into the vernacular, and many of them stick. It pushes trendy locutions into Cringeville in a hurry. But I don’t think it changes the principles of forceful or elegant writing. Such writing dazzles as much in pixels as it does in print.

Text messaging leaves me cold. But that’s just I, who agonize over words. If I were 19, messaging the young woman with the compelling tattoo across the café, I’m sure I’d dig it.

As a follow up, how do you think today’s writers should approach all the many and varied opportunities the Internet affords, particularly given its enticing instant publication gratification?

Step up and choose your level of interaction. For example:
—If money isn’t the whole point, commit to being an Internet author, exploring every possible publishing site and concentrating on those that offer the best framework, editorial service, and exposure for your writing. Create your own appealing site to help showcase what you’re doing throughout the medium. The goal: What you want to say gets out there, well presented and permanently findable. You are heard.

—Use the Internet to build the “platform” that print publishers are demanding these days. Disgustingly, publishers now want you to have an audience in hand, a following, before they’ll take you on. Put some of your work on a writing-community site and/or your own blog. The friend-making machinery of such sites as MySpace.com can help you recruit followers in a flash. Use the “viral spread” techniques of the Net (two mentions leading to four, etc.) to get your work noted or linked to—to build the Googleability of your name. If you’re writing nonfiction, work the online communities in your subject field.

—Focus on publishing in print, but use the Internet to supplement what you do there, as well as help promote it. Want a good example of an author’s site so helpful and engaging that it warms you to anything else its author does? You’re looking at it (“Down the Writer’s Path”).

For more on Plotnik’s views, read last week’s interview conducted by Brigit Ganske. Check out Spunk & Bite and see for yourself why so many are praising Plotnik’s latest work. You might also want to check out his website, Spunky’s Blogrr, and, his official bio. If you haven’t already, read my review of The Elements of Authorship then return for more soundbites from the Great Plotnik!


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