Introducing the 21st Century Author

I met someone over at podiobooks, a podbook author. Having amassed a large following with her podbook, she’s getting ready to self-publish it as a print book. Under normal circumstances I would caution her against it, but as everyone knows there is no such thing as normal circumstances in publishing anymore. She’s actually going to do the thing right by hiring an editor so her product is going to be a cut above the self-publishers we have known in the past. I can’t really say she won’t end up with a good book.

I no longer engage in the self-publishing debate since it no longer matters. My podbook friend is only one of many who are enjoying publishing success by finding an audience via the Internet and then making a book to sell. I can’t make a judgment on whether or not that’s good. For one thing, everything is nice and democratic now. We no longer have to go through the gatekeepers (agents, editors, and publishers) in order to get what we want out there, to get our voice, saying what we want it to say, heard.

In some ways, though, things are more restrictive. The 21st Century author is going to have to be a different person from the intellectual loner of yore. Used to be if you had an idea, the gatekeepers were there to recognize and shape your idea for the public. Now if you want to be an author, you must be popular. Authors that sell are those that figure out how to use social networking to get followers. Publishers that say they are interested in taking on “fresh, new voices,” are generally looking for young people that have half a million friends at Myspace. Awards are nice and all, but how big is your platform?

If you’re already famous, you can get published nowadays and become famous.

So what will happen to the person who, instead of e-partying, sits down and actually thinks about something? Someone who engages in the kind of thoughts that are not mere regurgitations of the thousands of other people’s thoughts known as the Internet. This person has the kind of thoughts that are purely organic responses to the world and how it is. Someone that is such a social misfit, they can’t possibly see things from someone else’s viewpoint.

More importantly how is this person going to get published? And please don’t say the “Small Press.” I’m sure the small press is the answer somehow, but these days the small press is sort of like the independent movie makers. A lot of them are small and independent because they couldn’t make it in New York or Hollywood. So in the end they’re looking for someone young, pretty, and fast the same as the big boys. They care no more about the content in the books they publish than do the name brand publishers.

I’m quite sure this has been an ongoing problem, but somehow today it feels different. Worse. Writers are constantly told: get out there and blog. Get yourself on the Internet. Stay in touch with your readers. Keep your webpage fresh. How can anybody maintain a quirky point of view when they’re hanging around their pals all day. Especially when they’ve got half a million of them?

In the end, maybe all of our art will be a group effort. Again, no judgments. It will be inoffensive and pass all censor boards. It will reflect the concerns of the masses. Topics covered will be of immediate importance to the world. Trends will be considered and incorporated into the text if that will help it “go over well.” In other words we’ll all be writing prime time TV show material.

Sue Lange

Sue Lange’s bookshelf at BVC

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Introducing the 21st Century Author — 8 Comments

  1. quote:

    I’m sure the small press is the answer somehow, but these days the small press is sort of like the independent movie makers. A lot of them are small and independent because they couldn’t make it in New York or Hollywood. So in the end they’re looking for someone young, pretty, and fast the same as the big boys. They care no more about the content in the books they publish than do the name brand publishers

    end quote:

    I have to disagree Sue, if anything I think The Small Press probably care a hell-of-a-lot more about the content of the books they publish because of the huge expense incurred in publishing that piece of work and their limited budget. (Well, I’m talking about the ones I know and use in the UK, perhaps the USA is different)

    Everyone would like to discover someone young, pretty, and fast, it’s only human nature. I’m sure all publishers would like to come across another J.K.Rowling and get her signed up and that’s including Small Press. But to say that SP will take anyone on and print anything, regardless of the content is naïve. The funding just isn’t there for that type of across the board publishing. They have to know what will give them the best returns on the small budget that they have. That’s why they are – small – Press.
    Categorising them the way you have done makes me feel you are doing them a disservice somehow. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been published a number of times by such entities?

    Oh, and by the way, I’m not young, pretty or fast (the opposite actually!) and I’m not J.K.Rowling’s successor either… mores the pity *sigh*
    Regards,
    Bob

  2. Bob,

    You’re right, I did generalize to a fault. There’s small press and then there’s small press. It’s a huge category that covers a lot of territory from self-publishers to fairly big houses. It is sort of silly to describe the entire small press in one little quip.

    Hang in there, Bob, and good luck with your work.

    Sue

  3. “How can anybody maintain a quirky point of view when they’re hanging around their pals all day. Especially when they’ve got half a million of them?”

    Neil Gaimon manages it.

  4. Big time authors are in a different realm when it comes to online presence and publishing. Of course, some ignore it or fail to participate in it to any degree, but in general, they have a built in audience, so the effort is not in networking and garnering wider readership. They want to expand readership mind you (who doesn’t?), but the branding is already there. They don’t have to focus on that element so much, and can turn their attentions to other elements. Whole other ballgame for new and aspring authors.

    Trying to build an online presence, network with other readers/writers, etc. takes time. It can take a LOT of time. If, like me, you have family responsibilities and are going to school, and want to write, the time left to spend in the blogosphere is small. I think you are likely right in some ways, Sue. The traditional image of the lone writer, holed up somewhere for hours a day crafting their stories is gradually fading away. Technology is really changing the face of publishing and writing now, and the pace of that is only going to increase in the next few years. Those “new, fresh voices,” i.e. young, and having time on their hands to play with, will be desired because they will be able to focus on and achieve success online. It’s certainly challenging, a bit discouraging, but also hopeful, because there sure are a lot of opportunities out there that did not exist before. The trick of course is being able to take advantage of them.

  5. Yeah, have to chime in about small presses. The issue with small presses is money – they just don’t have a lot of it to publish as much as they’d like, but often when they do it’s unique and interesting. So writers are facing mainstream houses that don’t take chances and small houses that can’t afford to take chances. One of the major reaasons self-publishing is losing its stigma.

    That and the fact that people are spending more than half their time online creating content, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, blogging, or whatever else, so publishing via an online platform seems less alien.

  6. I want to cheer and cry at the same time. I share the qualms and see at least hints of the possibilities in the new reality of electronic writing, small presses, and other options. The e-world offers more opportunities for those who find the way to use them. Filtering systems exist though they take untraditional forms in the face a floating readership that might love or hate but at least usually knows decent writing when they see it. (Though I’m sure they don’t always appreciate the literary Picasos and uniquely quirky writers that might stand out better in a traditional publishing world). Still the opportunities aren’t for everyone.

    After reading many pros and cons of blogging and web presence and all, I decided to try it (a web site with a blog) with a New Year’s resolution of posting a blog, a story scene, and a creative non-fiction essay (mostly pieces of a growing collection from writing classes and minor life events in my computer files) a couple of times a week. Even that much cuts into my writing time (and I have a day job that pays the mortgage). My brief forays into other social softwares have left me wondering how to let anyone knwo my blog is out there to be perused, how to make contact with those half million friends without blowing the bank on my time and energy and ever more limited private life.

    For me, writing is still The One Thing, publishing the hoped for dream, but publishing isn’t a possibility if the writing is just twitters.