From February 5, 2013
An excerpt from my series of Ether for Authors columns on publishing at Publishing Perspectives, appearing Tuesdays.
Table of Contents
- Tick-TOC: Optimism Ahead
- What We Leave Behind: ‘There Is No Midlist’
- But More Optimism: An International Startup Showcase
Tick-TOC: One Week To Go
It would be enough to know simply that the eponymous Tim O’Reilly is going to give the opening keynote address, himself, next week at the O’Reilly Media Tools of Change for Publishing Conference, or “TOC,” in New York City. O’Reilly hasn’t made an appearance onstage in recent years at the flagship conference.
But what will pique the curiosity of many is O’Reilly’s February 13 title: Some Reasons for Optimism.
On the previous day, authors, as well as others less central to the new paradigm of publishing, will have followed the February 12 inaugural Author (R)evolution Day program closely. (It’s hashtagged #ARDay on Twitter. TOC is #TOCcon.)
And while that daylong author conference-within-a-conference is focused on the needs and resources of a new class of entrepreneurial writers, no group may be more ready for “some reasons for optimism.”
Bookish is LIVE! Discover a new book & check out author exclusives from Michael Connelly, Elizabeth Gilbert & more! bookish.com
— Bookish (@BookishHQ) February 5, 2013
After all, you can only get all goose-bumpy so many times hearing, “This is the best time in 200 years to be an author!” — while handling the R&D, the writing, editing, design, marketing, distribution, and sales of your own inventory, yourself. Authors are having to beat their own papyrus on the hoods of their cars, as is.
So it’s no wonder that practical and good-natured but serious comments led the exchange in last Friday’s tweet-chat with speakers of the upcoming Author Day program. Chat participants were adamant in their concern, their healthily skepticism about much guidance today for authors online and off.
- Entrepreneurial writers, they were told, must have their goals and strategy worked out well.
- “Indie” publishing is not actually independent, but requires team, community alliances.
- One of the toughest tasks is assessing which marketing tools are worth investment.
- Authors must “keep up, stay in tune, get educated.”
- Writers must develop a kind of “internal” manager to be sure they retain control of their work.
- An agent-manager for writers should function in “radical advocacy” of the work.
- Editors must understand the author’s vision. And without good work to sell, marketing is useless.
Many of these points can be found in tweets retained in an Epilogger file tracking #ARDay and #TOCcon from Friday (February 1).
Authors are a group of workers whose business “muscles” have largely atrophied, as conference co-chair Kristen McLean puts it in her Author (R)evolution Day, the Manifesto. They have labored, or prepared to labor, in an industry that largely took the workaday details away from them — along with the rewards. Now they’re grappling with a lot to learn very fast.
The third of three Friday-afternoon tweet-chats with speakers at this authors’ conference is planned for February 8 at 4 p.m. ET, 2100 GMT, with Peter Armstrong of Leanpub. The theme this week is “Lean Publishing for Authors.” And in the Author Day program, Armstrong joins a panel titled “How To Put it Together: Choosing a Production and Distribution Service.” Use hashtag #ARDay to join the chat, hosted by conference co-chairs Kat Meyer and Kristen McLean. If you miss the chat, you can review the tweets and other pre-ARDay/TOC materials on our Epilogger tracker.Back to Table of Contents
What We Leave Behind: ‘There Is No Midlist’
Before leaping into the do-it-yourself (but-hire-help-when-you-need-to) challenges of the self-directed writer, it’s worth noting Shawn Coyne’s meditation on what’s been lost in a once-structured world.
So how can a book-a-year genre writer — stories that abide the conventions of only one particular genre category—make a living these days while improving her craft? She has to do it all herself — write the book, blog about writing the book, blog about promoting the book, tweet about the book being available, etc. — until such a time that a big publisher comes in and makes an offer she can’t refuse.
Coyne is author Steven Pressfield’s partner in the Black Irish Booksself-publishing venture. (Turning Pro is the new program’s first book, a Pressfield follow to his own The War of Art.) Coyne is a veteran of more than 20 years in formal, big-house publishing. One of the few drawbacks of his frequent presence at Steven Pressfield Online — he writes entries in the “What It Takes” column — is that it’s hard to find a simple bio on the guy. His career has taken him from Delacorte Press to Dell publishing’s Expedition line, to St. Martin’s Press and Doubleday (where he acquired Pressfield’s Gates of Fire). He set up his independent publishing company Rugged Land Books in 2001, and since 2007 has worked largely as an agent-manager.
And in his essay No One Cares, Coyne is reacting to a question put to him.
I was asked how one might become a writer who makes his living with a Big Six publisher. Not a flavor of the month big deal first novel writer, nor a blockbuster bestselling novelist, but a blue collar, book a year, kind of writer. Writers that used to be referred to derogatorily as “midlist.” The ones who once were a vital part of the business.
He was asked this by writers who, like the #ARDay tweet-chatters, aren’t taking easy answers. “The ‘just work hard on your craft’ line is not very helpful for people twenty years younger than I,” he writes, “like the ambitious guys who were buying me dinner.” Coyne describes writers from the viewpoint he had of them as an acquisitions editor.
They weren’t getting rich, but they were able to make ends meet and do the thing they loved without having to do much else. There was no Internet so they didn’t have to maintain a web presence or respond to people from Facebook or Goodreads or any of that. They wrote in a vacuum and for the most part were able to write whatever they wanted without having to worry about cultivating an “audience.” Their work spoke for itself and because there were limited book racks around the country, just getting an annual place in one of those pockets threw off a little green. Once these writers were chosen to fill a slot, while they never coasted, they could make a living.
Hello??? — Patrick McEnroe (@PatrickMcEnroe) February 4, 2013
Not so much today, of course.
The Big Six aren’t in the midlist business anymore. They aren’t “growing” writers out of their paperback original mystery or romance or horror programs like they once did. Plenty of great writers came out of those gardens…Elmore Leonard and Harlan Coben and Janet Evanovich and Lawrence Block and just about every bestselling romance writer came out of them.
What’s changed? The same tectonic market forces that have enabled entrepreneurial writers:
They aren’t doing it because there is no mass market $7.99 paperback business anymore. Readers who want a fix of solid standard genre don’t have to buy a disposable paperback anymore. They can get it for $.99 or free as an eBook today. And free just isn’t a very good business model for a legacy publisher.
This could be important reading, both for authors headed for the Author (R)evolution Day conference in New York on the 12th, and for others struggling to grasp what’s possible today — and what isn’t.
— jonny geller (@jonnygeller) February 5, 2013
We focus so relentlessly at times on the pressures writers face today to find their footing as self-starting (and maintaining) business people that we can forget to take a moment and clarify just what’s not available. And not coming back. Coyne does us this service:
There aren’t “slots” anymore in big six book publishing. There are full court press “we’ve got to get Barnes and Noble and Wall Mart to come on board or we’re sunk” books. You can’t throw anything out there and see if it sticks. It will get ignored. Period.
At 3 pm we’re launching our new 4 pt series feat music culled from our open call for new music straight from composers bit.ly/XqKmuv
— Q2 Music (@Q2music) February 1, 2013
— Matt Marks (@mattmarks) February 1, 2013
But More Optimism: An International Startup Showcase
At the risk of giving you an Ether-esque whiplash here, the industry! the industry!is simply in the grips of some very up-and-down emotional constructs these days.
One set of ideas comes from Kassia Krozser in Tools of Change 2013: What Excites Me Right Now. She starts with an interesting comment that resonates, somehow, despite the log-flume feel of the business’ recent months:
In many ways — while I know there has been exciting innovation — I’ve felt like we’ve been at a standstill. (Or, to misquote my friend Eoin Purcell, publishers feel like they have this whole digital thing sorted. Done and done.)
Krozser does allow, “It is hard to run your core business while transforming part of it into an R&D operation. Particularly when “the future” is something nobody can define.”
But she points to Tools of Change’s annual Startup Showcase on February 13 (1:40 p.m. ET), where the conference gives “groundbreaking startups a chance to show their stuff to the world.” This is one of the elements of TOC best aligned with the O’Reilly Media mission, sorting out innovation-incoming, if you will, while it’s still being developed. While the prognosis for the many startups popping up like mushrooms around publishing isn’t always great, this kind of recognition — and healthy industry curiosity — is an important feature of a tools-and-technology-based vision.
Krozser singles out Arthur Atwell’s Paperight among the 10 finalists in this year’s showcase:
We talk about publishing, particularly here in the United States, as if it is something we can take for granted. As Arthur Atwell, the brains behind Paperight demonstrated, in places like sub-Saharan Africa, there is a serious challenge in getting reading material to people who desperately want it. Local bookstores, much less Amazon, aren’t even potential solutions. Atwell and his team instead utilize existing infrastructure to deliver reading material to readers. And by “existing infrastructure”, I mean telephone lines and copy shops. Customers purchase legal, low-cost books. Publishers and authors get paid. Information is shared. Goals are accomplished.
There’s a quick video here, urging merchants to “turn your copy shop into a book shop” demonstrating how the Paperight program works. And she holds out some much-needed hope of happier purviews to come:
I think you’ll have your entire perspective changed by what Paperight is doing.
Main image: iStockphoto: Sergey AK
Join us for the rest of this column at Publishing Perspectives.
Ether for Authors: What We Leave Behind