By Catherine Rudy, Mar 24 2013 6:43PM
WHAT A WRITER CAN DO TO HELP THE INDUSTRY
You say you are a writer and that’s great. You sit down for hours a night and bang out words on a computer, spilling your heart and soul into whatever project you’re working on. You believe your work is of great worth to share with the world, and you may even be right. But how do you get it out to the general public. This isn’t a rant to tell you how to do that. If I knew, I’d be able to get every work we support to the right readership and brag about it. But I don’t. There’s some secret formula I haven’t figured out. But that isn’t the issue I want to discuss now. I want to talk about how you’re going to save the writing industry.
“Me?” you ask. Why should you do anything to save this flagging industry. Unless you’re a published author (through the traditional houses) and have seen significant return on your investment of time and effort, you probably don’t think it’s your responsibility to help the failing book market. You would be wrong. You want to reap the rewards of mass distribution of your work, you better start thinking about how to beef up the demand for them. And don’t be fooled by prospectives that show how book sales have increased. Everyone knows the market is a numbers games. You can tweak anything to look either like it’s in a deficit or profit. However, the matter still remains that less and less people are reading for leisure and buying books. Many of them are buying second-hand books because they’re cheaper. If you’re all about the royalties, this hurts you. I look at it as another person who has enjoyed what you have to share, regardless of how they acquired it.
Those of us in the industry—writers, editors, publishers, booksellers, and educators—should be worried that there is a decline in what the future holds for us. For the most part, educators will always have to teach children how to read, but there lies the problem. What happens when teachers discover that children no longer want to read. Their students want to play video games or watch television. Or just text mindless dribble on social media sites. A teacher’s job has just become a lot more difficult. He must discover other ways of reaching a child. He has to pique a child’s interest in reading. If you are an educator, take a peek at the Wolf Pirate Project’s Reader Appreciation Class on the web site. It’s a pretty comprehensive curriculum about instruction on reading.
The problem for booksellers is obvious. No demand, no need for supply. Simple economics, end of story. Let’s move on to publishers, who find themselves in the same position. Booksellers don’t have so many people to sell to so they reduce their inventory. They order less books from publishers. Publishers become more discerning on what they invest money in. Whereas they were once putting out a hundred books because the demand was there for them, they are now putting out eighty. Other factors come into play, as well, on a publisher’s end. Printing costs go up. New taxes now put a demand on a publisher’s operating methods. Employees are let go. A work’s profit margin takes the hit. Marketing budgets get tight. Less books are produced. More books are only seeing ebook status, which is equivalent to the death knell to its prosperity. Yes, it’s in electronic form, but it’s virtually stagnant in distribution if there’s no heavy marketing to expose it.
Jump now to editors. They’re one of the employees that get let go in the budget cuts. Less editors now work in a publishing house to ensure quality control. Whereas the remaining ones had a week to editor a book, they now have three days. Someone has to pick up the slack. Sure, they’re still good editors, but if you rush perfection, you get mistakes. I’ve seen it plenty of times in books produced by the big publishing houses: grammatical mistakes, spelling errors, and mistakes in continuity. I’ve even seen cases where the main character’s name changed to something different in places. Astounding, you say. No, not really. It’s hard to edit a book to the end and catch all the typos and mistakes a writer makes. And yes, he makes them—in droves.
Which brings me to writers. How do you fare in this flagging market? Isn’t it obvious. Haven’t you already experienced the drawbacks of a failing industry where readers are dwindling? Your work gets rejected by the publishers who count. Who are they, you wonder. Let’s name a few so you get the gist. Random House, Penguin Putnum, Berkley, Daw, Ace, and others. These are the ones we deal with at The Wolf Pirate Project. These are the industry greats who can get books out through distribution. Forget the small presses. They don’t get the time of day from distributors, who decide what books get peddled to bookstores. You didn’t know that? Surprise, surprise. You thought you only had to write a book and it would get published. No, that wasn’t the case. For one, good luck getting published by a large house that can do part-and-parcel of all the marketing and distributing for you. If you have been picked up, fantastic. You are one of the blessed. But for most writers, no matter how exceptional you are, you might not find a home for your work. Not to sound depressing, but that is a fact. You turn to the smaller presses or, God forbid, a subsidiary (one where you pay part or all of the printing process), thinking that just getting the book printed will save your writing career. Oh, not so. Many of these presses, especially the subsidiary ones, will only offer your book online at their web site. Yes, they will tell you that they will make your book available on Google and Amazon, as well, but you can do that yourself. Still amounts to no sales unless you have your book marketed to the public; which, of course, will be something they offer for an extra fee (heavy traffic through Internet search engines, which is not real marketing). Or—and here I cringe—if you send them your contact list, they will send advertising material to everyone on it. If you send them your contact list, you are only giving them a database to spam your friends. Don’t do that to your friends. So, what do you ultimately do. How can you change the industry?
You can’t. Not alone. Everyone has to do their part. You have to start with the basics. Encourage reading in others. Start with your children if you have them. Don’t shove your lovingly created book in their hands and tell them they’ll love it; let them pick what they want to read for themselves. Yes, it might kill you to see your own children read someone else’s book, but at least they’re reading. I have yet to have one of my children read one of the books the Project supports. Is that an embarrassing admission? It is on the surface. But, think about it. Reading is a personal choice. What you choose to read is based on what you want to read. You browse through a bookstore for books you want to read. The same is true for everyone else. If your book doesn’t pique their interest, there’s nothing you can do to make them read it. Maybe your mother will because she’s your mother. Or your sister, but chances are your spouse won’t. If he or she does, cherish him or her forever; they are the exception to the rule. The point is you can’t pick someone’s book for him to read. Choosing a book for yourself is like picking out your own clothes. Would you let your mother choose your wardrobe? I wouldn’t.
Be content with encouraging readership in others, regardless of what they chose to read. They might not want to read your book, but another writer’s child might want to read it. If more people encouraged reading for pleasure, there would be more demand for books. All different types of books. You would have an audience out there that might find your work interesting. This is only a tiny step in the right direction, but with the amount of aspiring writers out there, if everyone got just one person interested in reading, there would be thousands of new readers in the world. Once you’ve hooked someone on reading, they generally talk about what they read. They might even change another person’s mind about reading and convert them, as well.
This brings me to what I ultimately want to get at. This is for you writers out there. I want to be absolutely straightforward with you. What I have to say may not be what you want to hear, but you should listen. This is important. For the future of the industry, for your children, and for yourself. You need to get over yourself. You are not God’s gift to the literary industry. No one takes that prize. You may be a great writer, but you are not above partaking in the pleasures of reading yourself. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from writers that they don’t have time to read. I only shake my head and rue the fate of this industry. If the world’s writers don’t read, what’s becoming of the state of our literary culture? How can you expect anyone to read your book when you don’t read any yourself? Reading is extremely important for a writer. You need to keep abreast of current trends in literature, familiarize yourself with your fellow writers, learn what attracts a publisher’s attention, and keep in touch with the working of proper grammar. Let’s be honest; I know why you don’t want to read someone else’s work. You’re envious of them. Their book bears the distinguished mark of a big publishing company’s logo on the spine. It’s not fair. They got published and you didn’t. They have some special in or know the publisher. I can’t say if that’s true or not, but the fact is, they did get published. They got in. It’s hard to be happy for them when you’re still on the outside looking in, wishing you were there. Out of spite, you stop reading. You immerse yourself wholly into writing because it’s the only thing that gives you pleasure. I want to tell you that you shouldn’t do that. For one, you’re setting a bad example to your children, the same ones you want to learn to read for pleasure so they might grow up to read your work. Secondly, all writers (or those without the special connections or celebrity to be published simply because) start off in the same boat. It is inevitable that some will grasp the brass ring. They’ve worked just as hard as you have but got lucky. They hit the right publisher with the right story at the right time. Give them some kudos for their accomplishment. If their work is up your alley, read it. It would behoove you to know what gets published. And remember, each book sold is another statement to the industry that it is still alive.
Let’s get right down to it. Writers need to be more supportive of each other. Not on the surface, fake-listening to each other, waiting for an opening in the conversation for when they can start talking about their own work, but actually communicating with each other. Start praising each other for their accomplishments and congratulating them if they get published. Ask to read their work. Buy their books (don’t just take the free copy). Become friends again, not nemesis. This is a dog-eat-dog industry to begin with. Fighting amongst yourselves will only see its demise. If we each do our little part in trying to revive it, we might see some reward came our way.
I, for one, am trying to do my part. I founded The Wolf Pirate Project to help writers learn to hone their craft. We offer editing for free if you’re willing to undergo the grueling experience of the Writer’s Workshop (and if you have tough skin to be critiqued). We give out books for free. We have writing classes to guide you through what editors and publishers are looking for. We even have a reader’s appreciation class to help parents and educators help others learn to read for pleasure. I even write these rants to be brutally honest with you, so you aren’t deluded in your writing career. Not everything is pretty, but I won’t lie to you. Other than all that, what more can I do? I’ve done my part to help this industry. All I’m asking is that you help as well. Turn just one person onto reading and start reading yourself. Take time out of your busy schedule and rekindle what you once loved to do. Escape from the troubles of the everyday world by immersing yourself in a story that takes you to different lands, ones you didn’t create yourself. Indulge a little.
1. May 10 2013 5:24AM by Craig Crawford
I've always found that reading adds logs onto the fire of creativity. I write, then take breaks to read. I do think it's re-energizing to "hit the books" because as a writer, you don't have to figure out where your characters are going and why, or if it makes sense. In reading you get to ride the coaster and it's a nice change of pace.
I agree--with movies and video games it's a whole lot less effort--you can squeeze in a two hour movie any ole' weekend afternoon, and video games you can pull up on your phone or pod or system. In this present society where immediate gratification is king (and queen), it's hard competition for books.
However, books let you immerse deeper into a story, and ultimately you do get more bang for your proverbial buck. In the end, you're right, we have to invest in the industry we want to get a job or career in.
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