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Sunday, September 29, 2013

The New Modern Author Who Doesn't Write Anymore

There was a piece in the New York Times about an Indie songwriter who has turned her back on the grind of promoting herself to become a writer. She was lucky enough to score a book deal and a newspaper gig and ends with saying that at least in the writing world the middle is still holding. Nothing could be further from the truth. The modern author today is in hell. Hell. The demise of the bookstores and the rise of the digital book have conspired to produce an environment where the lone author doesn't stand a chance. But he or she will die trying.

The schemata of the recent upheaval has broken into two distinct worlds. Indie and Traditional. These two worlds are separate but the have a common bond. No human can fulfill the expectations of either. What has happened? Well it is what has happened to everything. The digital age presses everyone down to the Lowest Common Denominator in the relentless drive to lessen cost. This has been horrible for the author. You are now competing with people literally giving their books away. But lets back up and figure out what happened to the traditionally published author first.

I was traditionally published. I had the contract, the advance, the dinner with the agent and publisher in lower Manhattan. I had traditional media. People. NY Times. NPR. USA Today. Radio and television and newspapers. The book came out and you promoted it with media and book signings. Simple. I still pushed a lot on my own. I was considered a self promoter when not many people were. It was like shooting fish in a barrel. Then I ended up with a long break. I could not get a book published while publishing imploded for ten years. When I returned with a small press the world  had changed. There were now Indie authors.

Shoot whoever came up with that term. People now self published like mad because all you had to do was upload your book. Social Media moved in. The Indie adopted a much different strategy than the traditional authors. They had no fan base. No readers. But they had the Internet and Amazon. Two swords. Give away your book. And publish all the time. I mean all the time. Like every two weeks. Gaming the Amazon algorithms was what it was all about. If you publish then you go up on the just released ranking. If you continue to publish you stay there. And if you give away your book you get readers enmasse who download your book for free. These are the twin pillars of the new Indie publisher. Quality is not an issue. Quantity is.

Take the traditional side. A book comes out. No support. No bookstores left standing. You are in with the Indie Authors. It really doesn't matter what you have done before because price is king. The Indies are dumping their books out there at .99. Or Permafree. And you have just had your book come out after waiting a good year or two and you cannot discount to their levels.  Now you are on social media all the time. You are constantly checking ranking. You are not selling. Why? Because the Indies have gone to the bottom of the market and flooded it.

Now you say well literature will win out. Not in the digital age my friend. Yes.  The mega sellers will still have their audience. But for mid list authors it is like you never published a thing. So all you can do is market until the cows come home which is like spitting into a hurricane. My Indie friends will say well that is because you are not doing it correctly. Newsletters are king. Blogging is king. Long lasting social media relationships are king. Build your brand. Find your audience and produce a series that the reader can go back to like the Rocky sequels. This is the strategy. And publish. Publish. Publish.

But literary writing is not write on demand. You need to take some time and time is what you do not have because you are on eternal promotion all the time. And I am considered to be very good at it and I do get the trade reviews. The Indies don't care about reviews. They don't really sell books. There are a hundred authors who make very good livings off of zombies, trolls, vampires. It is the market publishing never saw because it didn't exist. Siloed readers who like a certain brand no matter how obscure. But I am talking about the few.

Most authors cant find any readers now. Why? The noise of all those self published Indies megahoning every day drowns them out. Literary writers are not used to that. Even the Indies are drowning each other out. How many tweets can you read that say READ MY BOOK. After a while it becomes noise. You let the work be your megaphone. But this is not the case and so you go on combat footing and work twelve  or sixteen hour days looking of the elusive readers. You are literally online all the time. And for all your work your ranking might dip but then it goes right back up. And worse that translates to a few books sold. It is a soul deadening process.

So back to that musician who made the jump. She ends like I said saying she has found sanctuary in the literary world. I would say she did not find a safe harbor in the literary world. She found a Lilly pad in a millpond that even now is taking on water.
The Pitcher

Books by William Hazelgrove