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What’s The Big Idea Behind John Scalzi’s Big Idea?

john-scalzi-bigidea.jpgYesterday afternoon, during a panel discussion led by senior editor Ron Hogan, science fiction author John Scalzi told the audience about the launch of Big Idea Authors, a new website based on a series of guest essays that had been running on Scalzi’s own blog over the last year. (As we explained shortly after the series launched, “authors discuss one of the central ideas that drives their book, and how it factored into their writing.”) A few hours before that panel, we talked with Scalzi about the new site and how it came about.*

Scalzi was quick to note the decline of book coverage in the mainstream media in recent years. “As an author, that concerns me,” he acknowledged. “As a person who wants to tell people about books, it concerns me… [Newspapers] are cutting back on the things that their readers actually want to see, and it’s stupid.” We agreed that if traditional outposts of “book culture” could not be preserved, it was imperative for publishers, authors, and readers to create new outposts—but the feature had already proved so popular, both among readers and among authors wanting to participate, that he didn’t want it to overwhelm his personal blog. So he put together a business plan for a site that could publish a “Big Idea” every weekday, along with author interviews and publishing-related articles (similar to the PW “Soapbox,” we surmised), with the consistency (in both frequency and quality) to attract a meaningful audience—which he believed firmly it would. (He mentioned FiveThirtyEight.com and Cute Overload as precedents for websites that attracted large audiences by rapid word-of-mouth among readers who found the content interesting enough to link to over and over; the likelihood that many of Scalzi’s 40,000-plus daily readers might join the new site’s audience doesn’t hurt.) It’s really quite simple, he said: “People who read online want to read in other places.”

Scalzi asked Subterranean Press publisher William Schafer for feedback on that business plan; Schafer responded by offering to invest in the website and become its publisher. Scalzi will serve as executive editor, with day-to-day editing handled by Subterranean production director Yanni Kuznia. All three hail from the science fiction world, but as with the original series of essays (which will be ported into the new site), Scalzi promises that the coverage won’t be limited by genre. “We want to have an open door policy in terms of what books we talk about,” he assured us. “We want to get the whole range.”

*Why, yes, this would be a good moment for a “full disclosure” moment, but we imagine you grasp the situation. Think how we feel, with house style compelling us to write about first-person-singular events in the first-person-plural and refer to ourselves in the third person.

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