‘The Writer in the Digital Age’ – The Writer’s View

I wrote yesterday about my observations of a discussion on the proliferation of independent publishers hosted by TLC at the Free Word Centre last week, from my perspective as a reader.  Today I thought I’d reflect a little on what  I learnt from a writers point of view.

I think there are many, like me, who continue to strive to achieve publication by the ‘traditional’ route.  I’d like to engage an agent to sell my novel to a mainstream publisher.  I’d like to receive an advance (no matter how modest) and I’d like to be able to walk into a book shop on a High Street in a town I’ve never visited before and see my beautifully printed novel on the shelves.  I’d like to know that people I’ve never met have read it and connected with it in some way, and that they could appreciate it as a piece of work into which I had poured a great deal of time and effort.  If they wanted to buy it in digital form, that would be OK too, but deep down, it wouldn’t give me the same visceral thrill.

Even as I type this, I know it’s a romantic dream from a time that is nearly over; and I know the likelihood is that I will have to compromise on some, if not all, of it.

Many of you may be thinking  just get on with it.  It’s so easy to publish it yourself.  But I hesitate at that advice.  I’ve worked very hard to write it, and invested a great deal of time and effort in it, and so I want it to go out into the world as well dressed and as well presented as I can possibly achieve.  No matter how much I believe in it, it will still need copy editing, proof reading, and then, when it is finally ready to go, it will need the engine of publicity to make sure that it doesn’t disappear amongst the piles of other books being pumped out into the world.

Listening to the discussion last week about the growth of small independent publishers in the UK, confirmed to me that, while the business models are changing, broadly the same steps in the process of publishing a quality novel remain.  What is changing is the allocation of the risks and rewards.

Under the ‘traditional’ model, broadly, the agent handled all the business affairs, negotiated contracts and advances and royalty rates.  The publisher invested in the author, buying the rights to the book, having it edited and proofed, and then printed and marketed.

In the new world of Independents and Self Publishing all of those elements, the contracts, the money, editing and publicity are still all there, it’s just much more likely that it is the writer who will have to bear most of the upfront costs, hopefully, in return for a greater share of the sales revenue.  But without an agent, or any business savvy, the scope for losing out has increased exponentially.

It is in this environment that people are trying to form their own networks of skilled practitioners, of freelance editors and designers, to work directly with writers.  Byte the Book, which was represented at the talk, is one such example, running networking events for people interested in the new publishing universe.

But at the end of the day it’s a business, and if you want to succeed you have to adopt appropriate business strategies, which, you’ve guessed it, include working out what is the right way to brand yourself in the market…….. I’m just going to have to rid myself of that mental image of a lassoed calf squealing as the smoking branding iron is applied to its rump.

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