On Thursday 30 May, I went to the Futurebook Innovation Workshop, organised by The Bookseller and The Literary Platform. It was a fascinating afternoon of talks from a wide variety of speakers, and one person that really stood out was Bobette Buster, a Hollywood story consultant who gave a talk on the mechanics of storytelling. I took copious notes, as I normally do, and posted them here.
Unfortunately, whilst recovering from my partial oophorectomy I had an email in from Miranda West, publisher at The Do Book Company who published Buster’s book, asking me to remove the post. West said that “the post shares many of her [Buster's] key concepts – which will be appearing in her next book – she has asked if you would please take the post down. Her view is that in parts it is more a transcription of her talk, rather than review/comment.” That’s a shame, because the talk was great and certainly a good advert for Buster’s book.
I want to be clear, though, that when I write up talks, I do it in good faith. For years now I’ve taken detailed notes of talks that I find interesting and share them via one of my blogs, not just so that those who weren’t there can get a taste of what they missed, but also to promote the work of the speaker. This is the first time in 11 years that I’ve been asked to take down a blog post and, whilst it makes me sad, I am obviously going to respect Buster’s wishes. It is, however, the second time that I’ve had someone query my blogging recently, and both times have been after publishing-related events.
I suspect my experience is down to a clash of cultures: the publishing industry doesn’t seem used to having bloggers attend their conferences in quite the same way that the tech industry is, my previous stomping ground. In fact, in tech, conference organisers often woo bloggers, giving them free entrance to the event and sometimes even paying for their travel and accommodation in order to get coverage. The idea that your talk might be blogged, in considerable detail, as well as recorded and put online, is par for the course and speakers prepare with that in mind.
When delicate conversations need to be had, the standard is to hold a conference under the Chatham House Rule, which states that:
When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.
But the applicability of the Chatham House Rule is always, always stated up front, clearly, to all participants, and reiterated as needed.
Publishing industry events need to get to grips with bloggers attending, because it’s only going to happen more and more. That means that speakers need to be aware that their talks may be blogged, tweeted, Facebooked and disseminated in many other ways online. They need to be careful to ‘sell the milk, not the cow’, to make sure they don’t give everything away. Think about what it is that you’re promoting. Is it a book? Then give people the hook, don’t tell them the ending. Is it your consulting service? Then prove your understanding of your subject, but don’t give them your framework. But whatever you do, don’t assume that because you are communicating via the spoken word that it’s ephemeral. Don’t share stuff you don’t want to be made public.
And event organisers need to either make sure that speakers know that blogging and other forms of dissemination might happen, and that they should adjust their talk accordingly, or be clear with the audience that the event is being held under the Chatham House Rule. If they really want to batten the hatches down, then tell the audience that no form of communication to people outside the event is allowed at all – that might be a bit extreme, but there are situations where that is entirely appropriate.
However, for conferences where essentially anyone can come, the default position should be openness. The publishing industry already suffers badly, in my opinion, from a lack of openness. Lack of communication is allowing, even nurturing, the development of extremes of opinion which neither represent reality nor help the industry develop. We’re seeing too many simplistic, bimodal sets of opinions, for example that traditional publishing is bad and self-publishing is good, or that copyright is too weak vs copyright is too strong. If we had a more open and honest discussion about these things then we’d be more likely to reach a better understanding of what is workable and beneficial, as opposed to what is ideologically drive. Conferences play an important part in such dialogue, though obviously the problem is much, much broader.
In my years of covering tech events, I never once felt that I had to check beforehand about whether or not blogging was allowed. After going to just a handful of publishing industry events, I now feel that double-checking ahead of time with the organisers is the only way to avoid such unfortunate outcomes.
To my readers: I apologise for taking down a post that I know many of you found interesting.
To Bobette Buster: I apologise that my well-intentioned actions were contrary to your wishes.
UPDATE: Reading this back when I’m no longer operating from within a haze of painkillers, I realise that it might come across as a direct criticism of The Bookseller and The Literary Platform, which is isn’t. They did a fabulous job of organising a brilliant and fascinating afternoon, and had no way of knowing that there was a problem brewing. Instead, this post is a call to action to the whole industry to consider events as public and on the record unless very clearly stated otherwise.