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Is the Digital Revolution Good for Writers?

November 12, 2010

Writers must now play a part in promoting their work and this demand has been boosted by the advent of the digital age: a writer needs an author platform, such as a blog with a tribe of followers, plus a presence on social media. Promotion online is becoming more important than face to face or old media promotion. And what is being promoted is often no longer a “book” but electronic content available online.

Is the coupling of digital publishing and authors promoting their work bad for writers? Agent Sydney (on her blog Call My Agent!) says:

I believe that what’s changing in the industry is going to be very good for authors, as a whole, and obviously better for some authors than others. It will be great for authors who understand that they need to connect to their readers, whether they do it through social media, live readings, open dialogue. This is, in a way, a return to the original forms of storytelling: in a cave, perhaps, or around a fire, with your audience right there in front of you. It’s going to suit some authors very well, and others not so much. But it was ever thus.

That sounds cosy. I like the idea of storytelling around a fire. But it’s easy to think of past great writers whose work would have been lost if connection with one’s audience in ways additional to their writing had been required of them. Can you imagine Patrick White on Twitter? Or J D Salinger on Facebook?

I’m still ambivalent. Obviously I’m trying to build my own author platform with this blog, maybe not very effectively, because marketing, networking and promotion is not my thing. It’s not what I’m good at, not what I enjoy. I’m willing to give it a go, but I know of good writers who want nothing to do with it, who just want to sit at their desk and write. On the other hand I can see the attraction of interacting directly with readers.

Writers may also worry about their work no longer being contained in “books”. But Agent Sydney says digital publishing is good for writers, although not for those publishers who are still focussed on books. She says it’s the stories and content that matter, not books. By shifting the focus to content, we are also shifting it to the author of that content. When our stories can reach readers digitally, containing them in a book-as-object is no longer necessary. Writers can quickly adapt to that change, because “the story is everything … the story is what they want to see released into the wild.”

Still thinking about that.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. November 12, 2010 3:19 pm

    I think it is, because it will open new markets. And, hey, the New York Times is going to start counting ebook sales early next year, so we will even know how they are selling. But I don’t know if the focus is being shifted to content, because hasn’t that always been the focus?

  2. Bryce permalink*
    November 14, 2010 9:58 am

    You’re right, the focus has always been on content for most writers and readers. But in the past publishers have had to deal mainly with books – producing and distributing the physical objects – and many are still focussed on that. Agent Sydney says: “If sales reps are selling books, they mainly need to focus on the book. If they have no book to sell – if you take away that object – they’re left with stories/content created by the author.” That, she feels, will be good for authors.
    And I agree with you that the digital revolution will open up new opportunities for writers. It’s just that when I look round at the thousands of old-fashioned artefacts called books on my library shelves, I will feel a bit nostalgic when the shelves are empty and all the stories are on an electronic device. I’ll adapt, but it might take me a while.

  3. Claire Wood permalink
    November 25, 2010 2:17 am

    I remember at the Brisbane Writers festival the issue of digital books arose and Jostein Gaarder said the important thing was for writers to write and let the publisers worry about how to distribute the books. I know this sounds very simplistic but I think it’s at the core of the issue. I think some writers are very social animals and do well interfacing with their readers and some don’t. As a reader I really have no real desire to interact with the author. I may be curious about the person about the words, I may be interested to know their influences or some aspects of their biography, but the authors I’ve always admired most would be the very ones I’d shy away from – include that crusty old misogynist Patrick white there, as well as Graham Greene, Kate Atkinson, Thea Astley – the list is almost endless. I think writers festivals are a lot of fun but really they are not necessary for a good writer to make their mark.

  4. Bryce permalink*
    November 26, 2010 10:52 am

    And yet I envy that social animal Jostein Gaarder for his skill in interfacing with his readers.
    Perhaps the trend to author involvement in promotion does not apply to writers at the level of Patrick White, or those who hit on a winning formula, such as JK Rowling. (Am I the only person to ever mention White and Rowling in the same sentence?) But there does seem to be increasing demands on other writers to promote their own books by networking, internet platforms etc. In their submission guidelines, some publishers now ask the writer to describe how they would promote the book, and even to list media and corporate contacts that may be useful in marketing it.
    I wish it were not so, not so much for me, but for new but shy writers who have the potential to approach White’s level.


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