No, this is not about talent vs. skill.
Let’s just set that aside for today, shall we? There’s no need to engage the ineffable this time.
“Like toadstools,” one seasoned observer called it in a note to me recently — this sudden proliferation of “author services,” especially the ones there to teach you, instruct you, train you. They’re everywhere, these kitchen-sink companies, and many of them seem to be peddling (or claiming they do) parts of the job we’re not even sure can be taught.
Today’s provocation is about this booming industry on all sides of us. And about expectations in a tight market. Expectations that it can all be learned.
It’s prompted by a recent column at The Bookseller in London from the literary agent who writes for us there from time to time as “Agent Orange.” As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m not fond of this use of a pseudonym. But I have verified that this is a prominent, working agent on the UK scene. We’ve spoken about this. And he or she writes (very well) under that pen name because she or he fears retaliation. The industry might strike back.
In Vanity fair?, Agent Orange is, as usual, supportive of writers. (After all, the job is to advocate, negotiate, and agitate for them, he or she is a literary agent.) But those many, damp-eyed, Kleenex-clutching “never been a better time to be a writer!” people among us — and they do love that exclamation point — might be heard gasping with alarm at Agent Orange’s opener:
On the face of it, it is paradoxical that while it’s never been easier for authors to get their books into print, there has never been a worse time to be an author.
The explanation for what she or he means:
Author earnings are down and the number of writers able to make a living out of their work is at an all-time low. But perhaps that is because there have never been so many people making money off writers.
[pullquote]There has never been a worse time to be an author. — Agent Orange[/pullquote]
Granted, there are opposing viewpoints we respect here. Hugh Howey and “Data Guy,” for example, have issued their sixth quarterly Author Earnings report. They’re focused on proving that a career in self-published ebooks is viable, remember. And they again see what they interpret as ample evidence to support their promotion of this route as a worthwhile alternative to traditional publishing, writing:
What does this report show? Higher ebook prices from publishers continue to erode their market share of ebook sales. Drastically. When you read industry reports on the health of ebook sales, keep in mind that these reports are discussing a mere 14% of the ebooks that show up on Amazon’s bestseller lists. That’s it. Indie ebooks account for 26%. Daily unit sales of self-published titles are now greater than the Big 5 publishers, combined. And indie authors are taking home more earnings from readers every day than those same authors, combined.
Some of us, however, are detecting a tonal shift in the independent sector’s palaver overall. [Read more…]