Okay, I admit it, I got into this game long enough ago that my first words were scribbled on white tablets, with mistakes scratched out and arrows drawn to indicate where whole passages needed to be moved. Later, I typed stories on a manual typewriter, keeping copious amounts of Wite-Out on hand. Later, because an IBM Selectric typewriter was too expensive, I bought a Brother’s typewriter that could actually “delete” up to 300 characters using Wite-Out tape. Then, in 1987, when my mother died, I inherited her IBM PC. One of the first, it had 256K of RAM and a 1.2 MGB floppy disk drive.
Jump forward 30 years and I’m typing this at 33K feet in the air on a Surface Pro 2, on a Southwest flight to Seattle, while hooked up to the internet. I could be watching a movie, but instead I’m blogging—and extolling and lamenting the direction publishing has taken with the advancement of technology.
Don’t get me wrong. I love technology.
Now I can correct my mistakes, move passages around in my documents, delete unwanted text OR accidently save the new paragraph of my latest novel over the master file of the book due next week, with no backup and only the hope of piecing the book together from the pages I’ve sent the critique group over the past year or year and a half.
I can also research anything. With a few keystrokes, I can pull up the weather in Kazakhstan, a picture of Kiev in March OR I can get lost surfing the information highway and lose entire days to finding a plant that grows in the Amazon and smells like a zombie to make stinky car “air-fresheners” for my much younger brothers who love The Walking Dead.
But, while the benefits of technological advances are obvious, they come at a cost. Digital publishing has changed the face of the industry.
When I locked down my first publishing contract, a writer’s only options were through a traditional publishing house or a vanity press (the dinosaurs’ equivalent of self-publishing on the internet). And, just like today, there were some self-published who made it big. The difference—back then, if you didn’t hit, you ended up with a basement full of boxed books you couldn’t sell instead of being 2,996,254 out of three million on the Amazon list.
Today, the list of large traditional publishers has decreased to five. And while the number of small publishers has increased somewhat, the number of people digitally self-publishing has skyrocketed. The tendency of many of these authors is to put their books for sale online for $.99. No doubt many of these are quality books—well written, well edited, and well received. However, a large number of these books are not worth the pennies paid.
For that, the industry has suffered. Advances from traditional and small publishers have not increased. In fact, advances have for the most part have decreased, along with the value placed on writers.
Why? In my estimation, it’s due in large part to the sheer volume of material for sale out there; due in large part to the sheer number of “writers” whose primary interest is not to make a living writing, but simply a desire to see their work “published.”
Additionally, the digital world has become one in which a writer must not only find a venue for their work and have a dynamic website, but also requires a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Amazon and Goodreads. It’s not enough just to write a good book, a writer must now master the art of social networking.
Does this sound the diatribe of a “dinosaur?” No doubt. But it’s the reality of the world anyone who still dreams of making a living writing is faced with.
So, what’s a dinosaur—er writer—to do?
1. Suck it up! This is the reality and it’s not going to go away. We must learn to master technology, learn to utilize the web, learn to social network. For my part, I asked my kids to help me. Who better to show me the ins and outs of Tweeting and Tumbling?
2. Write a great book! and don’t trust Wikipedia. Put your new found technological skills to work, and fact check. We may be fiction writers, but a truth runs through it.
3. Publish well! Not your choice if you go with a traditional publisher, but there are things a self-published writer can do. Invest in an editor. (Note to dinosaur: this is not the time to turn to your kids. Hire a professional.) Design a great cover. Solicit some great cover quotes. Value your work. Price it like it’s worth something. Sure, take advantage of the discounted promotions, but for the most part, don’t undercut the market. In the long run, that only drives down the value of the product.
4. Enjoy it! There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing your book in print and having someone who's not related to you read your book and love it. Bask in the moment. Share the excitement! (Note: we’re back to social networking here).
5. Start the next book!
Chris Goff is the award-winning author of five environmental novels and a new international thriller series. The bestselling Birdwatcher's Mystery series was nominated for two WILLA Literary Awards, a Colorado Author's League Award, and published in the UK and Japan. The backlist of the Birdwatcher's Mystery series was re-released by Astor+Blue Editions in November 2014 and a sixth book in the series A PARLIAMENT OF OWLS is scheduled for October 2015. DARK WATERS, her first international thriller, will be published by Crooked Lane Books on September 15, 2015. For more information, please visit Chris’s website.