The Dreaded Training Debate: What If It Can’t Be Taught?

Image - iStockphoto: JvandeMerbel
Image – iStockphoto: JvandeMerbel

 “Like toadstools,” one seasoned observer calls it.

It’s this sudden proliferation of “author services,” especially the ones there to teach you, instruct you, train you. They’re everywhere, these kitchen-sink companies, and many of them seem to be peddling (or claiming they do) parts of the job we’re not even sure can be taught.

Provocations image by Liam Walsh
Provocations image by Liam Walsh

Today’s provocation is about this booming industry on all sides of us. And about expectations in a tight market. Expectations that it can all be learned.

It’s prompted by a recent column at The Bookseller in London from the literary agent who writes for us there from time to time as “Agent Orange.” As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m not fond of this use of a pseudonym. But I have verified that this is a prominent, working agent on the UK scene. We’ve spoken about this. And he or she writes (very well) under that pen name because she or he fears retaliation. The industry might strike back.

In Vanity fair?, Agent Orange is, as usual, supportive of writers. (After all, the job is to advocate, negotiate, and agitate for them, he or she is a literary agent.) But those many, damp-eyed, Kleenex-clutching “never been a better time to be a writer!” people among us — and they do love that exclamation point — might be heard gasping with alarm at Agent Orange’s opener:

On the face of it, it is paradoxical that while it’s never been easier for authors to get their books into print, there has never been a worse time to be an author.

The explanation for what she or he means:

Author earnings are down and the number of writers able to make a living out of their work is at an all-time low. But perhaps that is because there have never been so many people making money off writers.

Granted, there are opposing viewpoints we respect here. Hugh Howey and “Data Guy,” for example, have issued their sixth quarterly Author Earnings report. They’re focused on proving that a career in self-published ebooks is viable, remember. And they again see what they interpret as ample evidence to support their promotion of this route as a worthwhile alternative to traditional publishing, writing:

What does this report show? Higher ebook prices from publishers continue to erode their market share of ebook sales. Drastically. When you read industry reports on the health of ebook sales, keep in mind that these reports are discussing a mere 14% of the ebooks that show up on Amazon’s bestseller lists. That’s it. Indie ebooks account for 26%. Daily unit sales of self-published titles are now greater than the Big 5 publishers, combined. And indie authors are taking home more earnings from readers every day than those same authors, combined.

Some of us, however, are detecting a tonal shift in the independent sector’s palaver overall.

Gritty, not giddy — the party hats are coming off

Image - iStockphoto: GnomeAndi
Image – iStockphoto: GnomeAndi

There are hosts of literary types out there, people who regard themselves as being on the side of the angels, who happily and repeatedly dip their hands into authors’ pockets.In exchanges I’m privy to these days, there seems to be less “We can all publish now!” euphoria than before, and more concern about discoverability under that stupendous overhang of output, the “tsunami of content” enabled by digital means.
If you’re watching the darker edges of that forest closing in, you know what Agent Orange means with:

The people who really make money out of gold rushes are the ones selling the shovels. And there are many shovel sellers. This century has seen hosts of companies springing up offering editorial, design, marketing and publishing services. Some good, some bad: all expensive. There are now endless digital vanity presses (sorry, DIY publishers) such as Author Solutions, about which Penguin Random House is now so silent. When did publishers think it would be a good idea to begin selling their “services” to work on books they clearly did not believe had any potential in the marketplace? At least in the past it was clear who the vanity presses were.

That’s an important point. And it’s right for every author to ask how he or she can expect to be found by an audience when walls of new titles get only higher on all sides every day.

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By Porter Ander­son

Writer Unboxed: The Dreaded Training Debate: What If It Can’t Be Taught?

Read the full post at: Writer Unboxed



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