Author adrift?

Every 21st century author's dilemma: 'Where's the start? Where's the finish?'

Every author I work with these days seems to be struggling with two issues. The first: ‘how do I start?’ is as old as writing itself. The answer’s as easy and complex as breathing itself, so I’ll skip that one, as this is a brief blog, not a book, and go on to common question #2: ‘when am I finished?’

The honest answer is never.

Never, that is, if you’re interested in reaching as wide an audience as possible with your work. Never, if you can wrap your head around the notion that once you’ve completed the manuscript, the fun’s just begun. Not only will editors and designers, printers and binders, marketers and distributors, reviewers and readers all lay a hand (or a thought or a comment or a boot) on your original intellectual property. These days if you stop at the book, — no web presence, no social media outreach, no seminars, teleconferences, workshops, speeches, etc. — you’re likely not going to teach all those eyeballs you were hoping the reach.

Why?

Because increasing numbers of your potential audience are looking elsewhere for their literary/info fixes, looking (and listening and watching) to your competitors on other platforms, many of them virtual, some of them live.

The good news though for all of you out there who dream of one day being published, who love the smell, the touch, the weight, the sheer implication of the book, is that it — the book — remains, at least psychologically, the single most important arbiter of taste, intelligence, wit, knowledge, and who’s smart and who isn’t in the world.

You’ve written a book on pig farming in Saskatchewan? Watch those invitations to speak at 4H conventions come rolling in. Be ready for lots of interviews on programs like Good Morning Moose Jaw and Canada A.M. The simple point is that authors today should consider the book the first and necessary step towards carving out an expert position on whatever it is they’ve written about. Sex. Drugs. Rock n’ Roll. The Tea Party. Labour & the Trade Unions. Whatever.

In order to accommodate this broader approach to what it means to be an author, naturally what we consider publishing must change, must broaden its horizons as well. Publishers need to start treating authors as sources of multiple intellectual properties (including the author her/himself). Think of the book as a pebble and the world as a pond — traditional book publishing creates the pebble and tosses it into the water. The new publishing approach needs to ensure the pebble is shaped and thrown so it causes ripples when it hits the surface.

Ripples=publishing success; sinking straight to the bottom, not so much.

This will of course fail to register with most traditional publishers. And most POD (print on demand) “publishers,” who aren’t really publishers at all, are too busy stealing candy from babies and sucking checks (and cheques) out of trailer parks to care.

So something new will emerge. It always does. And somehow, somewhere in this newness, a model will emerge that is going to revolutionize the publishing business, revolutionize it in a way that is obviously, honestly, transparently good for writers and readers (and listeners and watchers and audiences) alike.

Just keep your head above water and keep paddling, all you authors out there. I suspect rescue is near.

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