beleatkeeney (beleakeeney) wrote,

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So, should we try to be like rock stars?

The last few months I've been reading some wide perspectives on the State of Publishing today and some solutions that various people have suggested. It's made me stop and think about what I write, why I write, and if earning a living from writing fiction is feasible anymore. In just the past month, Haworth Press announced it's being sold off, its fiction division in limbo as of this writing; Triskelion officially declared bankruptcy, leaving its authors and readers out in the cold; Mardi Gras and Silk's Vault are in some similar turmoil right now; and a recent survey found that many Americans only read four books a year.

Cut here, 'cause this is gonna be long.

For a fledgling fiction writer, these are some grim sound bytes. I think publishing is going through a big change right now, and we won't see the final shake-out for another ten years or so. Maybe less. The basic business model of print publishing--offset presses with high costs for start-up, print runs determined by what's really just sophisticated guessing, and a returns policy that boggles the logical mind-- is defective. It's no longer sustainable, so print publishers are going for the Hollywoodized Big Bestseller that no longer allow for the nurturing of new authors.

That's not to say that there aren't small presses in the game who do an able job of assisting their authors, but small presses have their own limitations with distribution, marketing clout, and capital to fund book campaigns. The author I know who are with small presses come nowhere close to earning a living from the work they do with those presses. For many of us, writing has to be a part-time gig because we have that pesky chore of actually Earning a Living.

The book that helps crystallize the big picture here is "The Cult of the Amateur: how today's internet is killing our culture" by Andrew Keen. Keen posits that sense of entitlement engendered by the "cut and paste" online culture has effectively destroyed over two hundred years of copyright protection, and that the concept of intellectual property rights is being trampled into the dirt and spat on. And it pisses him off.

As someone who hopes to earn *some * money from her writing, this is creepy stuff. Keen is especially derisive of Kevin Kelly, the senior editor/maverick of Wired magazine. Kelly is a proponent of the Web 2.0 where everyone shares everything with every media and the creators of the "content" (note it's not called art here, ahem), are supposed to just give away their work and hope to earn money from "performances, access to the creator, personalization, add-on information, sponsorship, periodic subscriptions..." (Keen also takes some delight in noting that Kelly has published several books for which he received substantial advances. Why doesn't Kelly just give away *his * books? I wonder).

There's a bit of an analogy to be made here with television and radio. After all, commercial TV and radio stations sell advertising space around the content of show writers and song writers. The product has its own artistic merits but it's been sold and packaged to appeal to a certain market. Fiction has long had the subscription model in place with magazines and books asking consumers for money to access the "content". Sorta like cable TV. I'm old enough to remember the initial response to the idea of HBO. Who would *pay* for tv shows? Well, we all know how that turned out. And it must be pointed out: all those writers are getting PAID. Show writers get a salary or fee; songwriters earn royalties. They're getting phucking something for their work.

But the subscription model for fiction is dying. Print book sales are down; print magazine sales are down; in fact, traditional media overall is taking a nosedive. Publishers, newspapers, radio and TV are all riding errant horses that sometimes end up at the wrong end of the track, and sometimes they just stand in the starting gate, shaking under the saddle.

E-book sales are up and I think that will only increase. Once a solid, cheap, reliable reader gets to market, the generation that has grown up downloading, file-sharing, text-messaging, and you-tubing, won't think twice about having a reader. Some authors, like JA Konrath, give away their previously unsold material for e-readers. Konrath sees it as a valuable marketing tool. He's one of the new breed of writers for whom marketing and promoting is a given and admits it takes up more of his time than the actual writing. He's in stark contrast to the Olde Days of writers like J.D. Salinger or even the more recently successful Thomas Harris, who doesn't give interviews, write for magazines, promote on Youtube, do signings or readings. He's the last of his breed, I fear.

So, are we going to have to imitate the musicians who are giving away their music in the hopes of attracting a good concert tour? It's a totally different media with totally different goals. (And please don't think that I'm some fossilized Old Fogy who doesn't appreciate a good rock show. I've lost a noticeable part of my hearing because I went to nearly 50 Aerosmith concerts over the years. Between them, Motley Crue, and Guns-n-Roses, dude I have seen me some concerts :>). But a book is not a concert or a song or as ethereal as music.

But my question is: is this the model we writers will have to follow? Are we going to have to be more and more accessible and interactive? Do we want to be? Is earning money from advertisements clustered around our product the next wave? How can we make the changes in publishing over the next decade work for us and not against us? I'd like to hear some suggestions for solutions; what's the best way for fiction writers to stay the course over the next ten years as publishing struggles through these changes?

Here are some of the articles and discussions that got me to thinking:
any of JA Konrath's blog entries about marketing here:
The Cult of the Amateur is available, ironically, through online bookstores:).
Tags: publishing, rock stars and writers
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