Friday, 4 February 2011

Authors: e-network or die? (part 3 of 3)

Part 3: Where do I go from here? (or, who says I can write anyway?)

'Nuff said (image: Charles M. Schulz)
So, the futurologists (otherwise known as sellers of online services) want me to own some serious cyber real estate, but agents (otherwise known as the gatekeepers to glory and riches) assure me that the writing is everything. What should an aspiring novelist (otherwise known as a manic depressive) do? I'm still not convinced much has changed from the traditional route for a new author; it really depends on that writer's personality.

Those garrulous, social types who, in the past, wrote lots of letters, spent all day on the telephone, and all night at the pub can do so using the new technologies. In fact, they can be BFF with thousands of people they'll never meet. Stephen Fry is a prime example: he would do what he does socially even if he wasn’t famous; he just wouldn’t have two million followers on Twitter.

If an unpublished, non-celebrity author can generate that kind of following, then great; I hope someone tells me when it happens. Claims of similar success in the music industry involving MySpace, such as The Arctic Monkeys, proved to be false.

If I'm honest, I really enjoy writing the occasional blog – it's a bit like coughing up phlegm on the brain. But even if I had the inclination, I just don't have the time to spend cultivating a Facebook or Twitter following worthy of mention. Actually, even if I had the time, I wouldn't know where to start – I'm simply not a naturally social animal. Does that really mean I’m doomed to be left off the bookshelf?

My time is limited because I have to work for a living – long hours, and I’m trying to come to the creative writing party in middle age. I'm not in the industry already, so I can only write in my spare time; and remember, the writing is everything, so that’s my main objective. The second authorial priority is reading. Why would you want to write if you don't read? And if I am going to enter cyberspace, it's likely to be for research.

I have nothing against people who like to build up a friends list the size of Wales, in the same way that I ignore fat, middle-aged men who buy sports cars. But I rail against those who wish to force me to do things their way for no good reason. I write because I find immense pleasure in doing so, but I don’t tell everyone that you have to write to find pleasure. I wouldn't expect someone who enjoys bungee jumping to tell me it’s the only way to have fun; I'd tell him to go and jump off a cliff (bad example).

My advice to new authors? Write. Write what you want, how you want, when you want, for whatever motivation you have. Write it to the best of your ability because that’s what an agent wants to see. If your instinct is to network, then do it. If you're an old curmudgeon like me, don't (people soon catch on and unfriend you).

If the futurologists are right, then we’ll only be able to buy books (and e-books) written by authors who are internet sensations. But I’ve yet to see anyone equate ‘socially popular on the internet’ with’ talented at writing a pageturner’. I really hope they’re dead wrong.

Let me know what you think.

I'd like to thank those agents who generously offered their time and thoughts to help me make sense of this issue. Rest assured, I'll be knocking on your doors in twelve months time with my manuscript. We'll see how bloody generous you are then.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for commenting on my post over at NO RULES.

    As usual, I think the truth of the matter lies somewhere in between. The principles I would set down:

    1. If you want to publish your nonfiction book with a large, commercial house, then you need an online presence. Period.

    2. If you want to publish your novel with a large commercial house, you can distinguish yourself by showing (in some way, either online or offline) that you'll be an active marketer/promoter of your work.

    3. If you don't care about commercial publishing, and you're interested in small presses or literary journals, they probably will not care about your online presence.

    Where I see the most heartache is with authors who want the the New York style publishing deal, but also want the luxury of focusing only on their writing. Most publishers these days expect the author to be an active partner in the marketing of the work. Also, as more and more reading shifts to digital editions/formats, having an online presence will become more meaningful, too.