Writer’s Revolution

I just read yet another article about the future of publishing. It seems every where I look, every blogger, every writer’s site, every publisher’s page, there is article after article all about the same topic – what is the fall out of the self-publishing boom going to do to the industry?

I say, less than we fear and more than we hope.

We saw a similar scenario with the music industry when downloading music made the industry re-evaluate itself. Everyone was terrified that CD stores would shut down, that record labels would collapse and that the individual artists would suffer great financial losses.

Yes, the music industry has changed a lot and downloading has affected and shaped how we listen to music and how we share music with others. I realised the other day that I used to listen to a lot more music. I thought about it for a while and came to the conclusion that this was because the technology I use for music listening has changed dramatically in the last few years. I don’t own a CD player any more and all my CD’s are in another country where I had to leave them because of their ridiculous travel weight. So, I have a library of music on my computer and various drives, but my iPhone and iPod are older models and its too difficult for me to bother trying to get music on them. I feel like I have to upgrade all my gadgets all the time just to be able to listen to something I bought on a CD four years ago. I have to upgrade everything…my phone, my laptop, iTunes, constantly in order to simply play my music.

I can’t be bothered buying new CD’s because;

  1. I don’t have a CD player and
  2. Shopping on the street is so time consuming and shops are stocking less variety making it harder to find what I want. Often I will go into a store to find something, can’t find it and think…”Oh, I’ll just buy it online.”

We are being encouraged to work more hours, spend less time engaging in society, purchase everything possible online and stay at home.

We see it in the film industry too. Everyone is encouraged to update their home viewing system with giant televisions and 5.1 home surround stereos. Don’t go see it at the movies…download it, stream it, purchase the television series after it airs and then you can control when and how you watch things. Certainly not after you have done your extremely long hour day that prevented you from having the time to go out and see a film in the first place.

The focus of consumerism is shifting away from community, away from the public sphere and into the individual space. Also everything is shifting away from the accumulation of physical possessions and towards transitory ownership. Renting, streaming or purchasing something that is floating somewhere in a cloud of digital ether rather than being a tangible – in your hand – object.

I think that there will always be a certain percentage of the population that will reject this and want to own physical objects. Humans are collectors by nature. People want to feel the pages of a book, or to read through the dust-jacket of a vinyl record. Just as there will always be a percentage of the population that want to get everything for free, pay for nothing and cheat the system. Ultimately, most people want to do the right thing I think. Most people want to pay artists for their work in whatever format they offer it.

The online emphasis of our consumer marketplace can be seen as a threat to the old ways of doing things in person. There is less importance placed on the act of seeing a real live band of musicians, buying a book from a shop or going to the theater. However people seem to be sharing their thoughts ideas and creative experiences more than we used to. Because of social media, people are in many ways a lot more involved with introducing their friends and family to things that interest them. Science, current affairs, politics, art and culture are shared across the internet more now than ever before. So, we artists now have an opportunity to communicate directly with our audience, bypassing the old chain of command.

The old pathway to releasing a book was – Author>Agent>Editor>Publisher>Bookstore>Reader.

This is being replaced increasingly by a new model – Author>Internet>Reader.

The new model won’t immediately replace the old, nor should it, but it will certainly mean a period of adjustment for publishers, writers and readers.

We are seeing a shift away from the publishing houses having all the control over what gets published. The writers are taking the reins of their creations. Also, while self publishing will increase in popularity, so will work for freelance editors/ marketers/ proofreaders etc.  The publishing houses are already using the sales through Amazon and Kobo to look for their next publishing deal. The successful self-published author appears to the publishers as a marketable bet to make a deal with.

For people such as myself, living in far flung places such as New Zealand or Australia, it is even harder to enter the traditional publishing system since we are so far from that is seen as the cultural hub of the USA and Europe. Getting overseas to attend festivals, conventions and seminars is out of the question for most of us. It is extremely difficult for us to go and meet agents/ editors and publishers in person also and with the development of the online industry in recent years, it simply unrealistic to pretend that our small local market would be sufficient to sustain a writer’s career. We have to look globally and I think that the rise of independent publishing as an equal and respected avenue for authors to take will enable this. The previously unnoticed corners of our beautiful and diverse planet will start to have a voice in a global network of independent authors, where every writer now has a chance to let their work be seen.

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Life is Learning

I finally mustered up the courage to send my manuscript off to someone for an editorial pass. A momentous step indeed. Not so much because I feel this is a step towards success as a writer, but because it’s a step towards me taking my work seriously and accepting that I need help in order to get better and better and continually more betterer at writing.

As you can see, I openly admit that I have a lot to learn. I realise this will be a long haul.

As much as I would like to be an instant success and receive great acclaim for my writing, I know this is not likely to be the case. I wish I had some magical powers, some mystical bardic charm that enchanted anyone who read my words, enticing them to throw money and accolades my way. But I have been down this road of creative discovery before and I know better.

I remember when I first started playing guitar, I wanted to be good right away. I wanted to be able to express all the musical ideas that were in my head and it was frustrating to have to wait till I was any good to do so. The poetry and the melody  was trapped within me and I had no musical skill or language with which to express it. The thought that it would take me years to be any good at guitar was so daunting at the age of 18. I was in such a hurry to express myself and achieve greatness. Of course, time flew…as it does…and playing guitar comes relatively easily to me now. Though, strangely enough, I do not seek greatness as much as I seek fulfillment and satisfaction. I know that ultimately, there are more important things than living up to expectations of others or following markets and trends. Being comfortable to express myself is my main priority, even if that means not producing something that is seen as marketable.

Right now, I’m experiencing this same beginning phase with my writing and while I think it’s important for me to constantly strive to be better, I can’t get lost in worrying about what other people will think of my work.

Ever since I was a child I have loved writing and though I have always kept it up, only recently have I started to take it seriously as a skill to be trained. My wordsmithing muscles are just like my guitar fingers and they need constant exercise. And just like learning an instrument, I need to be more comfortable with the language of storytelling. I need to learn from others about the rules of the craft, just like when learning music, you have to know how the rules work before you can bend them.

There is no better way to do that than to get someone else to help you. A teacher, a mentor, a friend, someone outside yourself who can form an opinion about your art. It’s time for me to take on another step of learning by opening up myself to constructive criticism.

It is also important to realise that we are never too old to learn and never too old to receive advice. When I used to teach guitar, I often would take on mature age students and I was surprised at how many of them felt embarrassed about picking up the guitar in their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s or whatever! They all had a touch of shame when they first sat down and admitted that they were probably too old and should have had lessons years ago. The only shame they should feel is for thinking that their age should determine the goals they set for their life.

There is nothing, I repeat….nothing, better in life than finding a way to express yourself, be it through art, through music, through writing, through exploring, through conversation, through your day job even. Communication is the essence of human experience and it is never too late to pick up a new tool, take a few lessons or ask for help or advice when discovering a new way to create the art of your life.

How many of us out there have ever put off doing something we dream of for ages, only to find out that when we finally make that leap, it wasn’t as hard as we thought it would be? What dreams do you have that you prefer to keep as abstract goals rather than tackle the challenge of actively seeking to realise them?