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, I inherited my mother’s IBM PC. One of the very first, it had 256K of RAM and a 1.2 MB floppy disk drive.
Jump forward 30-some years and I’m typing this at 33K feet in the air on a Surface Pro 2, on a United flight, 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 accidentally save the new paragraph of my latest novel over the master file of the book due next week. (Yes, with no backup, and the only hope of piecing the book together is from the pages I’ve sent my critique group over the past year to 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” (a process similar to self-publishing, except without the myriad of services today’s self-publishing companies offer). And, like today’s self-published authors, some vanity authors made it big. The difference being, back then if you didn’t hit, you ended up with a basement full of boxed books you couldn’t sell.
Today, the list of large, traditional publishers has decreased to five, the number of small publishers has increased, and the number of people self-publishing has skyrocketed. Readers are being deluged with books, and as cost of paper goes up so has the cost of books.
For that, the industry has suffered. Advances from traditional and small publishers have not increased. In fact, for the most part, advances 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.
Consider, on Amazon there are over 50,000 titles classified under “mystery, thriller and suspense.” The average author’s book sales are shockingly small, and the chances of having your book stocked in an average bookstore is less than 1%. And it seems, rather than adding to overall book revenues, digital sales are replacing traditional book sales.
What’s that mean? That more and more of the responsibility for marketing falls on the writer. The reality is, it’s no longer enough to write a great book. In this technological world, a writer must also master the art of social networking: Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Instagram, Pinterest…
Does this sound like the diatribe of a “dinosaur?” No doubt. But mostly it’s the plight of anyone who still dreams of making a living writing.
So, what’s a dinosaur—er writer—to do?
1. Suck it up! This is the reality and it’s not going away. As writers, we must learn to master technology, utilize the web and conquer social media. Whenever possible, we need to get help. No, not psychological. Technological. (One benefit of having so many kids.)
2. Write a great book! and don’t trust Wikipedia! We must put our newfound technology skills to work and fact check. We may be fiction writers, but truth runs through it.
3. Publish well! Not necessarily in your control if you go with a traditional publisher, but there are things a self-published writer can do. Invest in an editor. (Note to fellow dinosaurs: This is not the time to turn to your kids, your mother or your best friend. Hire a professional.) Design a great cover. Solicit some great cover quotes. Value your work. Price it like it’s worth something.
4. Enjoy the process! There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing your book in print and having someone, unrelated to you, read your book and love it. Bask in the moment. Share the excitement! (Note to fellow dinosaurs: we’re back to social networking here).
Which is precisely where I am in the cycle! With eight published novels (my four unpublished novels make up their own blog), Number Nine is well underway. I’m at the place in the book where I question whether it’s ever going to amount to anything; how I’m ever going to tie up all the loose ends; and where I’m convinced its total dreck. (Note to fellow dinosaurs: This too shall pass.)
Writer or not, we all face challenges in our professional lives. What are some of the things you come up against?
I send gratitude from a fellow dinosaur! And am thrilled to hear about the progress of your new novel. I can't wait to read it!!!! I loved your philosophical take: "suck it up." Yep, we can't change this situation, but we can look for the bright spots and go for them. There's one guarantee — a poorly written novel has even less chance of reaching readers today than it did 30 years ago because of the vast number of available titles. Talent, ideas, and craft — and a really good editor — are even more vital today.
Hear, hear! I thought of something else as I realized this was being posted today–I hate it when they update the software. Half the time I don't think it's an improvement. It just forces us to learn the program all over again. Of course, once I master it, I'm usually happy. That said, I'm still using Adobe Photoshop 7. Not sure the next computer will recognize it.
Chris, I had to re-read the part where you accidentally lost your work, and cringed each time! I've lost paragraphs here and there, maybe a few pages– but never an entire book– and I remember how devastated I was over that (seemingly small in comparison) tragedy! Since I switched over to Scrivener, it's not so much of an issue, because it has a Drop Box feature. But before Scrivener (and even after I started using Scrivener/Drop Box), I will email a Word doc of the book to myself, sometimes each night, but at least once a week or anytime there are significant changes. That way, I know if anything happens, I can go to my email program and find the latest version.
Chris – great post — about technology, I left a comment several hours ago, but somehow it "disappeared" – so I'll try again! You wrote about how some authors turn to self-publishing which is easier now on Amazon by getting your story properly formatted, have someone design a cover, arranging your publication on Amazon, setting a price. But guess how many aspiring writers did that? Last year it was up to 1.1 MILLION. Question is: how do they all market/publicize their books? How do readers find a book they want to read in midst of all of that? Technology — all of it — can be so daunting!…Karna Small Bodman
I wrote my first books on a word processor that was only a word processor, nothing else, with 8” soft floppy disks and a dot matrix printer the size of a small refrigerator. (Yes, it belonged to my employer.) I thought Microsoft Word was the most wonderful thing in the world, largely because it could automatically move text to the next page when it got too long. Originally I had to do that manually, with cut and paste functions.
Wow, I’m old!
You’re still doing better than me. I can hardly make heads or tails of Photoshop!