Monday, November 02, 2009

The movement to re-engineer writers - Lindquist

Writers—especially those who aspire to write books—are currently being told that the publishing industry is undergoing a massive change. That they need to take control of their destinies. That publishers expect them to sell up to 65% of the print run of their books. That it's only going to get worse.

As if it wasn't already difficult enough for us poor struggling writers who mostly just want to know that someone out there somewhere enjoys or benefits from our words!

I've watched enough CSI to know what it's like to be buried alive, and I feel somewhat like that. Terrified. Gasping for air. Hoping for someone to save me, but not sure there's any reasonable hope. Wondering if the joys of writing, and the delight of being read, are worth the agony of trying to be published.

I made a list of key things the typical aspiring author needs to do these days. I may be missing a few.

1. Be aware of all of the market trends (current topics, genres that are popular, etc.).

2. Know which agents and publishers are looking for what.

3. Stay current on new ways to publish. Should you give away your internet rights… look for a publisher who does ebooks... decide whether to go with one who does POD... go along with the Google settlement or not....

4. Read the work of others writing in your genre or niche and be able to tell your agent or publisher how your work compares to theirs.

5. Write several books each year that are not only unique and current, but also so well-written that they will barely need any editing by the publisher.

6. Create a “platform” by becoming known as an expert in your area of choice by writing articles or short stories for magazines, blogging, appearing on radio and TV programs, speaking to groups all over North America, actively appearing on the internet in relevant or popular social media sites, and doing everything else you possibly can to ensure that when your book actually comes out, it will sell lots and lots of copies.

What do I think of these expectations? Well, let's just go with "unrealistic."

I see four primary issues:

1. Psychology. The majority of the authors I know (and I know a lot of authors) are the very last people you’d want to hire to do publicity. Sure, there are exceptions, but a whole lot of them are sensitive, shy, introspective introverts. Being with people for a long period of time exhausts them. Talking about themselves and their writing terrifies them. “Selling” themselves or their books embarrasses them. Yes, they believe in what they do. And they think their work is good. But they don’t want to have to tell people it’s good. They need other people to tell them! They thrive on being told that someone wants to read their work.

I've been at mystery conventions and other conferences where authors were in the washroom literally throwing up out of nervousness because they had to be on a panel in a few minutes. A panel set up to help them become better known to readers who wanted to know about them. Not a difficult venue.

2. Finances. Most writers barely make any money at all. What's the average? $5,000 a year or something? Which means they either have an inheritance, a spouse with a real job, or another job themselves. Even in the best case, assuming you're an author who's able to focus on writing without having to starve—where do you find the money to do all the marketing you're supposed to do? Do you know what an ad costs in a magazine? What a really good website designer charges? The cost of traveling to do booksignings or attend conventions around the country? Sure, you can do things on the cheap, and hire your second cousin's son to do your website, or do it yourself, but the truth is that you usually do get what you pay for.

3. Time. If you want to write well, you have to focus on writing. And rewriting. And reading. And thinking. And writing some more. You can’t write well if your mind is spinning with all the other things you “should" be doing, like tweeting and posting on all the social media sites and keeping your website up-to-date and writing blogs and reading other people’s blogs so you can write comments so someone else will see your comment and check our your blog....

Unless you're writing something that meshes with the blogging and tweeting, doing all those things is going to make it ten times harder for you to write—especially if you’re writing a novel or a complex nonfiction book.

Plus you likely have other responsibilities, such as a family, parents, friends, etc. There simply aren’t enough hours in the week to do everything that authors are currently being expected to do. It defies logic.

4. Skillset. Not one of us has all of the skills that are needed to write, market and publicize a book. Sure, most of us can do a little bit here and thee. But no one will ever do everything well. Or, if we force ourselves to work at getting good at it all, the chances are excellent that we’ll become so exhausted we’ll simply burn out. Writers need to understand that this is a business, yes. But trying to be a one-man or one-woman business isn't going to make you successful. And the bottom line is that in order to do quality work, writers need to be able to focus on writing.

So where do we go?

As the publishing industry goes through major changes (see, I believe writers need to work together to take on the responsibility of forging new paths for themselves. I don't think the answer lies in trying to become one-person publishing machines. But neither do I believe writers can afford to be as naive and dependent as many have been in the past—taking whatever contract is offered and being thankful just to get our work in print. Instead, I believe we need to seek out a new model that will help us all achieve our primary goal: to write something worthwhile that will be enjoyed by or benefit other people.

It's a new day. Let's talk to one other and throw out ideas and then work together to find a new model that works.

N. J. Lindquist


Violet N. said...

Wow you've spelled out the situation well. I especially appreciate some of the thoughts in your concluding paragraph e.g. "I don't think the answer lies in trying to duplicate the past by becoming one-person publishing machines."

Anonymous said...

Hi there...I agree with Violet about spelling out the situation well. The comment that really hit home for me was about the psychology of an author. You are so right because it describes me to a Tee. I'm relieved to hear that I am not alone. I find it quite difficult to go from a sensitive, shy, introvert to an outgoing extrovert trying to market my book in a public forum.

Anonymous said...

You're right Nancy. We do need to work together to find a better plan. What will it look like?

Kimberley Payne said...

Oh darn. I was hoping you would give us the answers!!!

N. J. Lindquist said...

I think we have to work together - think outside the box - to come up with something new and workable.

Of course, there are many reasons why people write, so what works for one person may not be the answer for everyone.

But I do believe that this calls for teamwork. We are far stronger when we pool our resources. Not only will we come up with better ideas that way, but we'll have the capability and variety of skills to actually do something with them.

I'll be continuing to throw out ideas and to ask others to do the same at

Steve G said...

This article yells out "Job Opportunity". Talk about a vacuum; if the right person came along that was able to see the bigger picture, to network, etc, and do more than just blog tours, you would have a full-time job right there. This is the role of a publicist, but I have yet to see good ones interested in more than just already famous authors. If all they do is online, they are missing the point, and just doing what everyone else is.
If most Canadians are pursuing the self-publishing route, what they need to do is get together and hire a co-op publicist for them all. Let writers write. We need a non-writers to jump in and fill the void being left by traditional models.

N. J. Lindquist said...

I think there needs to be a larger vision from many more people. Is this really just about a small group of people who like to write having a way to keep doing it, or is this about a much larger group of people having a voice that emanates from those with the talent for writing, but which is valued, encouraged, strengthened, and kept vibrant for future generations by the entire community?

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