As a professional writer, something that really irks me is when I hear other writers whining about how the digital revolution is going to be the death of the artist. This type of attitude was recently on display in a Guardian piece entitled “From Bestseller To Bust: Is This The End Of An Author’s Life?” that shined a spotlight on a few authors who’d experienced some commercial success with their books only to be confused, confounded, and all but left behind by the rise of the Internet.
Rupert Thomson, an author featured in the piece, said that one of his worst fears was that he would “have to stop writing.”
“That’s something I’ve had to face in 2013.”
Couple that with a recent Huffington Post op-ed from second-tier crime novelist Lynn Shepherd. In that piece, Shepherd actually said, “if [Harry Potter author] J.K. Rowling cares about writing, she’ll stop doing it,” apparently because Rowling’s foray into writing for adults is crowding other aspiring authors out of the market.
Comments like these make it easy to see how the general public could think us a whiny, miserable lot.
What’s so amazing about the pity parties we now see, is that bestselling authors, who are by-and-large brilliant at research and the written word, seem like deer in the headlights when it comes to actually using their skills to find alternate means of support.
They act like a job as a future fry cook is inevitable, all because technology had the audacity to move their cheese.
The Internet is a marketplace with thousands upon thousands of sites looking for content. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that 25 years ago, I would have never been able to wake up in the morning, sit down in front of a computer, and make enough money to support a family of three. Today, I can, not because there is anything brilliant about me, but because I noticed how the market was reshaping itself, and I decided to pursue online opportunities.
And that hasn’t prevented me from writing fiction.
In my career, I write about everything from real estate and divorce to movies and music. Along the way, I’ve learned how to work with content management systems (WordPress), photo editing software, and HTML. My entire job is content creation, but all those additional skills make it possible for me to be marketable in the 21st Century. Incidentally, I’ve also written a novel and am well into a second.
I’m in love with the process and know that no matter what happens in life, I’ll still be doing what I’m doing now in another 34 years, if I’m lucky enough to have that much time left on the planet.
That’s why it’s hard for me to fathom how some writers are such defeatists about the future. Instead of making it their own, they retreat into the “artist” side of themselves and bemoan the agonies and injustices of not being able to enjoy the same way of life simply because the game is no longer familiar to them.
These are bright people, but they don’t realize they can hire a professional editor to help them pound their books into shape. They can hire a good cover designer for $200. They can learn how to ready a .mobi or .epub file in about an hour and then upload to a site like Kobo or Amazon, while taking a 70 percent royalty. Furthermore, they can demand better terms from their publishers and not allow themselves to be roped in to non-compete clauses that prevent them from writing for someone else or on their own while a book is in print.
They can also embrace the blogosphere and start contributing to new and/or popular websites in exchange for payment.
For writers, the job market has never been better.
But to hear them tell it, the sky has fallen, and the world needs to feel sorry for them.
Authors need to learn from entrepreneurs, period.
Successful entrepreneurs don’t make excuses. They gauge their talents, make note of their limitations, and then use their creativity to find a way around any obstacles.
They don’t whine about not being able to do what they love. For them, that isn’t even an option. And it shouldn’t be for anyone.