‘There’s Never Been a Better Time To Be A Writer’
You’ve read that line, of course, we all have. Sometimes here at Writer Unboxed.
I’ve seen this mantra frequently over the past few years in blog posts, conference reports and news items. And I don’t disagree there’s been a lot to celebrate.
This is the author Roz Morris, based in London. She teaches courses in writing and editing for The Guardian, as well as in Zurich, later this month in Venice.
But from what I see right now, this time is also tougher for authors than ever.
Indie authors feel it in their book sales. Hands up, who is in a forum where the chief discussion is “what can I do about my dwindling sales?” “Anybody else had a dismal month?” “Should I drop my book’s price, put it on Kindle Unlimited, write something more popular, send out more emails, spend $$$ on a marketing course?”
Morris is not just talking about independent writers, either:
The traditionally published authors I know are faring little better, with shrinking advances, ill-supported launches – even the authors who have awards to prove their worth.
I used a bit of this material from Morris as we announced this week an all-new, issues-oriented conference for writers in London: Author Day from The Bookseller and The FutureBook is on the 30th of November and we’re programming it for both traditionally published and independent writers as well as industry players. We want that mix.
One reason that the amalgam of voices is so important to us as we put together Author Day—and as we talk about writers’ and their business every day—is that a strong current of promotion runs through almost any position someone takes these days on the question of publishing and authors.
This is not anyone’s fault.
The market for ebooks has pretty much gone flat. And so we have a problem here…. There’s a glut of high-quality, low-cost books, more books than readers will ever possibly be able to read. —Mark Coker
We are deeply commercialized cultures now. We are programmed to produce and promulgate hype. We get it early. A few decades ago, that lemonade stand you and your siblings threw together just said “Lemonade” on it, right? This summer’s lemonade stands proclaimed they offered “The World’s Best Lemonade.” I saw this in a small town on Long Island. Cute kids. Scary branding.
And as we move around the Internet, our communications prairie, we’re pretty much forced to engage in self-branding. Once the province only of marketing mavens, now simply to be effective on Twitter, you need a practical bio, not a joke; a good picture, not a greasy-faced party shot; a professional handle, not that silly thing you did in college. Particularly as the various social media become key vehicles of author branding, you have to think about messaging.
- Are you on-message?
- Do you even know your message?
- Have you targeted the right audience with it?
- Have you reached that audience with it? Is that audience listening?
And soon, so soon…hype.
Merriam-Webster describes “hype” as “promotional publicity of an extravagant or contrived kind.”
That’s pretty useful for my provocation for you today. But I’d like to hype that description itself, blow some more colored smoke up an asterisk right beside it, soft-shoe my way around some late-summer garden maze with you to a place safe enough—is there such a place anymore?—for us quietly, secretly to concede that the way we talk about pathways to publication nowadays?—are thorny with hype.
The Drive to Persuade
Somehow, it has become all but impossible for us to declare an affinity for anything without feeling that we must back the car over all disagreement.
Morris’ column is a case in point on this because she, in her own commentary, doesn’t demand that others align themselves with her opinion.
In fact, what she reveals are cracks in the frequent boosterism (hype) we hear in favor of self-publishing. She writes:
Last week I was having an email conversation with a wise author friend. As we confided our worries and frustrations, I felt we were describing the state of the author 2015, and were probably echoing many other conversations going on behind closed doors.
So I thought I would open those doors. Come in. Come and see how authors are thinking about their careers right now. And see why, in spite of the rotten state of the book market, we keep the faith and stay true to our standards.
See what she’s doing there? She’s offering us something a bit less bombastic than “The World’s Best Lemonade,” isn’t she? She’s saying that all is not happy in the state of independent publishing (and how could it be? this is still life on Earth) and she’s not giving up her regard for the effort and the concept.
This is far more valuable than happy-talk group-think, an especially cruel and misleading form of hype.