Tuesday, February 20, 2007

When the Message Needs Another Medium

One of the curses of being an author is that you have tons of ideas. This may not seem like a problem, but these ideas tend to occur to you at rather inopportune times. You're having a shower when a flash of brilliance strikes, and you root around the floor for a pen to scribble it down on some toilet paper. You're grateful that you're stopped at that red light so that you can find a lost receipt under the seat to use to store some more fodder for a future writing opportunity.

Many of my ideas for my books have come to me this way. My first two books are about marriage. To Love, Honor and Vacuum was written to help women who feel like they are holding the entire house together and nobody appreciates it or seems to want to help. We have this mistaken idea in Christian circles that domesticity will be a form of bliss for all women, and when it's not, it can be a big burden to bear. My second book, Honey, I Don't Have a Headache Tonight: Help for women who want to feel more in the mood, talks about exactly what it sounds like. My husband liked the research.

My next two books were quite different: one was a compilation of my syndicated parenting columns, and one was a short grief book. My agent really thinks I need to stick to marriage. I need to build my name recognition to sell more books in this area.

But I'm increasingly wondering if writing books is the best way to get the messages that God gives me across, anyway. More people receive my weekly column (now in about 85,000 households) than have bought my books. It's quite likely that my columns are more widely read than my books. I certainly get about ten times as much email in regards to the short, 700 word snippets that I write than the 250-page books that I love, that I birthed, and that took so much of my time. And at my speaking engagements, more and more women are eschewing the books in favour of the CDs of recordings of some of my previous messages and conferences. They want something to listen to, rather than something to read. But even those who do want to read seem to read in a different way. My website now has about 300 unique visitors a day, with thousands of daily hits, and almost a thousand people have signed up to receive my free weekly ezine.

I look at these trends and wonder what the future is for writing in Canada. If we are to reach Canadians with the messages that God has given us, I don't think we can be confined to books. People want their messages in small, easily consumed bites. It's a hard adjustment for an author to make, because we like writing. That, of course, is why we do it. Also, how does one make money on the internet? We're only starting to figure this out, though I know some writers who make so much advertising money in their ezines that it has become as lucrative as writing books.

I don't want to give up on books, because I think Christian publishing is so important in Canada. But the idea of what constitutes Christian publishing, I think, is shifting as people want downloadable material for their Palm Pilots or iPods, and not just a book they can leaf through. Personally, I could never read a book on a Palm Pilot, but it seems that there are many who prefer it that way.

It used to be that writers were loners who would retreat to a lakeside resort with only a typewriter and let God give them inspiration. Today we need so much technology it's overwhelming. And we need to stay on the cutting edge, something authors aren't necessarily known for. But this year, as I've been lamenting the future of my authorship, and wondering why God isn't opening more doors for more books, I've slowly been realizing that He's opening doors with speaking, and with the internet, and with audio sales, which can reach a whole different crowd.

These things, of course, are circular. As we authors become known on the internet, our book sales will increase, and bookstores will benefit from that. But more and more we need to think beyond the bookstore and into other areas of writing. It takes more time and a different part of our imagination. But in the future, perhaps the ideas that God will be sending us won't just be about what to write; they will be about how to say it. That's a different kettle of fish altogether.


Deborah said...

Most interesting Sheila.

I think I've reached far more people with my journalistic articles (and earned a lot more money) than I probably ever will with my novel The Defilers.

I realized this past year that if I had to churn novels out as a product at the clip of one or two a year, there are easier ways to earn a living.

Stories are stories whatever the medium, and even good nonfiction relies on storytelling in its anecdotes and overall structure.

When I was in television, I worked with a team of people, using pictures, words and sound to tell stories.

Now I mostly use a notebook, a computer keyboard, and a digital camera.



Belinda said...

I totally agree Sheila. Writing is about communicating a message--that's what matters.

I still think there's a special place for a really good book that nothing else can replace, but to be closed to all of the other ways of sharing the ideas that God drops into our minds, hearts and souls, would be to miss many opportunities.

The fact that I check this blog daily, as well as a group of about five others, is telling. I don't get barraged by advertising--I know I'll find something worth reading in a sphere I've narrowed down to my own interests.

I love the interactivity of a blog--the fact that reading the comments in response to a blog post only adds to the pleasure of reading it in the first place.


N. J. Lindquist said...

Great article Sheila. I, too, am wondering where we're going. And thinking what other down through the ages have felt as the things they thought they understand changed dramatically. Change is constant - we just have to move with it and not get stuck thinking the box we know is the only one.

N. J.

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