Thinking outside the traditional writer’s box

There’s a big debate going on over at Pennwriters right now between those who have been published traditionally and those who aren’t about which writers “should” do.

The old guard insists that if you want to write novels you must get them to one of the five big houses, get the publicity machine and promotion. Of course this means you have to get an agent. If you’re a writer who has tried to do either, chances are 99 times out of a hundred, it’s just not happening.

The old guard then cites the urban legends of authors who just kept sending out until sure as heck, that 101st letter did it. And maybe they did. More power to them.

Over the last year, I’ve been reading a lot about the state of publishing, and indeed about the world of communication in general. Time Magazine did a whole series of articles about publication in the digital age, and their conclusion is that the traditional routes are no longer exclusive.

Lev Grossman’s article says that “Publishers Weekly (PW) predicts that 2009 will be ‘the worst year for publishing in decades.’ A lot of headlines and blogs to the contrary, publishing isn’t dying. But it is evolving, and so radically that we may hardly recognize it when it’s done.”

But at the same time, newspapers are closing their doors, magazine and book publishers alike laying off staff, and paying markets, in the way we have always thought about them, are drying up.

Also at the same time, the whole concept of access to the masses has changed. Once upon a time, you needed to be cherished by Harlequin or Doubleday to even have your book see the light of day, unless you wanted to type out versions on your old Royal typewriter, one at a time, to circulate them. The Internet has changed that game.

Now authors have options. They can self-publish through Lulu.com or iUniverse, or epublishers which pay a royalty for books available digitally, or in print books.

Writers don’t need the fancy publicity tour, either. Authors like CJ Lyons and Christina Katz, aka Writer Mama, do  tours online by guest blogging in as many places as they can. Cost? Your time. The Internet has millions of outlets to reach the people who want your work.

Many professional artists are choosing non-traditional routes to promote work they want to do, and it’s starting to make headlines. Musician Jill Sobule found the traditional music business wasn’t working for her–and didn’t get money in her hands– so her latest album was funded entirely by donations from fans, and giveaways.  Screenwriters like Joss Whedon are thinking outside the box with projects like Dr. Horrible’s Sing-along Blog, which first appeared on the Internet for free, but only afterward started collecting revenues.

Communication venues like Twitter bring the celebrity even closer to fans.  Time this week has a story about celebrity Tweeting that shows how Shaquille O’Neal, Levar Burton and John Hodgman all use Twitter to connect  directly with regular people. Email and forums bring artists directly to their public, for the kind of one-on-one connection that sells readers, just as it sold Barack Obama to the American people at election time.

So we can all dream about that blockbuster sale, movie rights and New York Times listing right out of the gate. We can even work at it around busy lives of work, parenting and other distractions for 40 years. Maybe some of us will get it.

But in the meantime, don’t you have something to say? Maybe instead we should be out there exploring the new digital publishing world, meeting our readers, and sharing what we have to offer.

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10 thoughts on “Thinking outside the traditional writer’s box

  1. Yes the digital environ has been evolving and dissolving slowly but surely the traditiional print press. For some time more the print world and publishing do remain there, do coexist there.

    But digital world doesn’t mean loss of personal humane touch and feeling. That personal line has to be enhanced irrespective digital or print environ. A live human can never be replaced by any means – that should be the punch word for the digital world to evolve and explode.

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  5. Thanks for the link!

    Wil Wheaton, who was one of the Twitter accounts I linked to, published his most recent book through Lulu and has blogged quite a bit about what a good experience it was – far better, according to him, than his past experiences with “real” publishing houses.

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  7. Great, informative post. I’ve wrestled with these issues in recent months, and it’s part of what influenced me to start blogging. The publishing world is definitely changing.

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