As someone who believes that our planet would be better off with the eradication of the human race (preferably through a zombie apocalypse), being asked to be sociable, even if in cyberspace, leaves me a little bit cold. Unfortunately, writers are being told constantly that they do not exist if they lack an online presence, and my course requirements mean that I have to step out of my shell, creating my own website,as well as blogging and twittering. One wonders how on earth Dickens, Austen, Dahl, et al made it without iPads.
Amongst the doom and gloom reports about the death of the pulped wood book, to be replaced by e-readers (I’m tempted by the Kindle myself), there are also obituaries being written about traditional publishing. The current process is writer pens novel, fires off manuscript to agents, agent thinks it worthy and sends to publisher, publisher agrees and assigns an editor, editor makes notes, writer amends manuscript, publisher publishes novel and find shop shelf space (or Amazon link), reader thinks the cover looks great and buys it (taking the book home or downloading to their kindle). It isn’t perfect, but there is some attempt at quality control, a filtering process, if you will. So, how else can it be done?
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There’s self (or vanity) publishing for starters. This has been around for hundreds of years, and publishers such as Lulu and Grosvenor House have taken advantage of digital innovations with print-on-demand to reduce costs and attract those authors who have received a constant stream of rejection slips, can't face being rejected, or simply want to see their novel in print. Here, there are no guarantees of quality for the reader, and no guarantees of success for the writer. In fact, without considerable marketing, the overwhelming chances are that the author will make a loss on the deal. Of course, Kindle self-publishing improves profitability, but faces the same marketing issue: how does a reader get to know about your fantastic book?
Of the ‘new publishing’ thinkers, one voice being given air time is former CEO of Soft Skull Press, Richard Eoin Nash. His approach is one of connection rather than publication, and to that end he has started up Cursor, a publishing brand made up of several genre-based imprints, which themselves consist of a community of writers and readers. Depending on the level of engagement there is a subscription fee, which to the cynic might sound a little like vanity publishing. The benefits to the successful author (whatever that means, community-wise) have not been worked out yet, so we wait with baited breath.
There are other avenues to pursue: website publishing - through subscription perhaps, iPhone app selling, and podcast production on iTunes. All of these, like vanity publishing, require the author to have the right contacts in the right areas, which for already-published or well-known personalities is fine, but for anonymous lone wolves like me, it’s a mysterious and dangerous world. Surely all this leads to is the publication of talented PR folks, not talented authors.
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In terms of my course requirements, I’m blasé about the website idea – I simply don’t understand why someone who isn’t published needs a website, and even if I had a bestseller, why would a reader want to visit my website? Just buy my books, damn you. Twitter I enjoy; some of the people I follow have great links, but it’s really a tool for procrastination, and no-one follows me anyway, so what’s the real point. Blogging is perhaps my favourite: I can mouth off (I have an opinion on everything), and I get to write, which is what I love doing. It's a shame then that I'm being judged on how many words each blog has rather than how good/bad (delete as applicable) the blogs are as pieces of writing.
Let’s be realistic, I’m blogging to my family and one or two UCF students only. No-one of any influence is reading my tremendously pithy mini-features with hilariously-captioned photos, and despite following many other blogs, and leaving generous comments with a link to my own blog, I have just four followers – all UCF students. Like financial matters, social networking is a complete mystery to me, and frankly, it’s taking up real writing and reading time. Until I’m able to write as a career, thus freeing up the fifty to fifty-five hours a week I spend working in brain-dead automotive manufacturing, I have no interest or time in gathering a network of ‘friends’ in the pursuit of a lottery's chance of sales; I'll be sociable because I like someone. I'm a writer, so when it comes to selling my work, I'll leave that to the professional sellers.