Digital Age Authors & The Ugly Truth About "The Good Old Days" of Publishing
I travel all over the country to teach writers how to create a brand and build a platform, and it never feels like work because I love preparing each of you for success. Yet, every audience has at least one (usually at least three) of a certain type of writer— the one who resents having to use social media. And they almost always sit in a spot where they can glare at me and interrupt and tell me I have the brain of a monkey who’s head was crushed in Wal Mart’s automatic doors.
Hey, can’t please everyone.
I Didn’t Make the Rules
Every industry has been modernizing since the advent of, I dunno…BUSINESS. Farmers relied on horses and plows until a seriously cool invention, THE TRACTOR. Scribes were a tad ticked with the invention of the printing press, and anyone who worked in an office in the 80s eventually had to learn to use a copy machine, then a computer.
Time marches forward and so does technology. Griping about it just wastes time and creative energy, and the “Good Old Days” weren’t all that great, at least not for most writers.
Ugly Truth About “The Good Old Days”
The old paradigm of publishing resembled a Banana Republic economy. About 5% made boatloads of money. Another small fraction made a decent living, but most scraped by and never made enough money to write full-time. As of 2004, only one out of NINE traditionally published authors ever saw a second book in print and 93% of all books published (traditional and non-traditional) sold less than a thousand copies (per Book Expo of America statistics).
Also, traditional publishing (sans social media) had a LOT of limiting factors.
First, if a writer experienced success in one genre, this writer was required to write that genre until he burned out or died. Why? The only way an author could create a brand was the books. Readers followed the genre.
Yet, when an author builds a social media platform, the author becomes the brand. Audiences follow the writer and his/her voice. Since they feel they “know” the author, they are far more likely to read out of genre. Maybe they’d never read a historical romance, but they love the writer so much, they’ll give HERS a try.
In the old paradigm, age was also a huge limitation. Agents were hesitant to sign up a seventy-year-old writer for a three-book deal. Yet, this doesn’t jive with reality.
Boomers reinvented youth in the 1960s and economic success in the 1980s; they are not about to do their senior years by someone else’s formula. According to a 2005 survey by Merrill Lynch, more than 3 in 4 boomers say they have no intention of seeking traditional retirement. ~Microtrends, Mark Penn, page 30.
A large percentage of writers have waited until the kids are out of the home and out of college to begin pursuing their dreams of being authors. They’re also writing books they’d like to read. Romance novels with a sixty-year-old protagonist finding love, not a twenty-two-year-old. Is traditional publishing ready to invest in older writers writing drastically different books?
Maybe. But if not? Now there are options. Seventy is getting younger every day and the emerging e-commerce marketplace doesn’t care how old we are or how many books we write.
Good is No Longer Good Enough
I recently finished an amazing business book by Bob Pritchett, and this particular segment stood out for me:
We live in a world of abundant, affordable quality. The days of getting ahead by doing a good job, building a good product (writing a good book), or providing a good service are over. Your business needs to be exceptional in some way, or it is doomed to drift forever on the sea of homogeneity. Fire Someone Today, Pritchett, page 195.
Can a writer survive just writing books? Sure, humans can also stay alive eating grasshoppers and doodlebugs (though I have not tested this theory). I don’t know about you guys, but I’d like to do more than just survive. And, to be blunt, as the market shifts toward globalization and e-commerce, writers who don’t make the transition will eventually go extinct.
Just ask Martha. She used to work retail and refused to let go of carbon paper machines when taking credit card transactions. Word on the street is Martha was last seen eating grasshoppers.
The Steep Price of Stagnation
For the first time in human history, authors are making six and seven figures without New York’s involvement. More writers are able to write full-time because they’ve embraced innovation. When we just want to write books we hand off a lot of work to other people. This means a lot of people get paid before WE do.
In the traditional paradigm, an author makes about $1.07 (before taxes) on a $10 book. Why? Because the marketing department, sales department, literary agents, bookstores, and truck drivers don’t work for Skittles. Barnes & Noble is a business, not a charity, and they expect payment for placing our books on their shelves.
If we want to traditionally publish, we can. We just have to sell A LOT more books to make good money. How do we do this? We need a brand and a platform that is capable of driving sales. Jenny Lawson’s book Let’s Pretend This Never Happened was traditionally published and hit the NYT best-seller list.
But Jenny Lawson is also The Bloggess and her blog has roughly 2-3 MILLION visits a MONTH. She also rules Twitter. When she tried to hold a “Meet the Author”? The sheer volume of her fans crashed Goodreads.
THAT is a noble goal. ***Note to self: Must crash Goodreads.
If we indie or self-publish? Readers don’t pop out of the ether. For the moment, traditionally published authors do have an advantage of being in bookstores. But, as I mentioned, a lot of other people need to be paid to make this happen. Indies do enjoy an advantage of making more money per book, but we need to step into a lot of those “outsourced” roles that gobble up the traditional author’s royalty check.
Yes, it’s more work, but it can be fun work. Selling more books means more money. More money means we get to do what we love for a living.
I’ve worked many years to create a system of building an on-line brand in a way that is fun, simple, and leaves plenty of time to write. WANA methods are also resistant to any major shifts in technology (changes in algorithms, Facebook going the way of MySpace).
I’m NOT a technophile and have almost no clue what most of the buttons on my dashboard actually DO. I’m a writer and I want to write…until I am 110 and then I’ve left instructions to be cryogenically frozen and then defrosted in the future :D. I might even write Fifty Shades of Polydent just to embarrass my grandkids.
What are your thoughts? Are you an older writer who’s excited about the future? Do you like the idea of writing books you would like to read? Have you ever eaten a grasshopper and lived to tell the tale?
I LOVE hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of August, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
Since it was such a HUGE success and attendees loved it, I am rerunning the Your First Five Pages class SATURDAY EDITION. Use the WANA15 code for 15% off. Yes, editors REALLY can tell everything they need to know about your book in five pages or less. Here’s a peek into what we see and how to fix it. Not only will this information repair your first pages, it can help you understand deeper flaws in the rest of your manuscript.
My new social media book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE. Only $6.99.
WANACon, the writing conference of the future is COMING! We start with PajamaCon the evening of October 3rd and then October 4th and 5th we have some of the biggest names in publishing coming RIGHT TO YOU. If you REGISTER NOW, you get PajamaCon and BOTH DAYS OF THE CONFERENCE (and all recordings) for $119 (regularly $149). Sign up today, because this special won’t last and seats are limited. REGISTER HERE.