Writing is the easy part. Anyone can write. You can do it at your own speed and your own schedule. It may take a long time or require a thousand revisions before its ready but eventually, as long as you stick it out, you will have something that you are confident enough to say ‘Yes, this is ready to be published’.
Then comes the hard part.
Once I had finished my novel I began my first forays into the real world of publishing. I did all the research; listing agents and publishers and reading up all the tips and hints on how to get ahead of the game, and began cataloging all the options available to me to get my work published. (In truth I was actually doing all of this well before I was even being close to having a finished manuscript, in for the purposes of this post we can skip the realistic time frames, can’t we?)
And the one thing that you learn about the publishing world of the past ten years is that is has changed. And what changed it? The internet!
For years book publishing was an elite world guarded by a series of Gatekeepers. Aspiring authors had to fight their way through those Gatekeepers in order to ‘make it’. If you wanted a career as an author? They were the ones who judged whether you were good enough. It was entirely their decisions that got your book printed and into shops. If you were rich you could perhaps self publish, but for mere mortals the Gatekeepers were all powerful, controlling the pathways to publishing.
But now things are different. The internet, as it was wont to do, came along and changed everything. No longer are writers shackled before those gates. All it takes is a blog and a moment of your time to get anything you want online. The rise of ebooks means you no longer require any financial outlay at all to get published. All you require is a little word processing knowhow and an online platform, and you can distribute your work all across the world.
The judgement of the agents and publishers is something you can choose to avoid, if you so wish. You are in control. The only decision maker on getting your work out there is yourself, if that is how you choose to make your way.
But not all of this is great for the struggling author. While you can look at the Gatekeepers of old as insurmountable barriers to publication justly bypassed, they were also a filter for quality and a safe and sure way of getting your book seen. They were also Knowledge Keepers. All you had to be able to do was write and then, with the luck of the slush pile, they would help you with everything else.
The digital revolution may have made it easier to get your book out there, but it has also made it harder to make it big. And when I say big I’m not referring to becoming the next J.K. Rowling. My definition of ‘big’ means earning enough money from your writing to live; being able to dedicate yourself to your writing without having to worry about whether you can eat as well.
With everyone able to put their work out there into the great public space that is ‘online’, it becomes harder and harder for someone get noticed. There is so much content out there now that agents, publishers and readers have a ridiculous amount to choose from.
And just because someone can publish online, doesn’t mean that they should have. I am a member of a few online writing communities, and I have read things that are just terrible. The author has obviously deluded themselves into thinking that that their work is of a high enough quality to publish, but it’s obvious to any other reader that it is not. I don’t want to start throwing stones around this glass house, as I could well be one of those poor saps living in their own world, but all this sub-par work out there just makes it harder for the quality writing to get noticed.
And so the industry has adapted. Today, if you want to get noticed you have to build a name and a readership for yourself before you can get any sort of interest from publishers. That burden has now fallen to the author themselves. The first piece of advice any and all writers guides give aspiring authors today is “build yourself a brand”. Facebook, Twitter, blogs, all of it. If you want to get published you have to get people reading your work, and to do that you need to gather attention to yourself. With so much work out there publishers want that extra assurance that they are backing the right horse. If you can build a readership with no professional marketing or advertisement skills, that is the sign to them that your work is enough to invest in.
But here’s the kicker. Not everyone is a tireless self promoter. What if you just do not have the time? What if you just don’t know how? I am sure that there are wonderful writers out there who have created ground breaking work, but who have no knowledge of how to use the internet to promote it and will therefore never get the chances lesser, but more tech-savy, writers manage to find.
The bottom line is, if you want to get your work out there and make it as a writer it’s just as hard as it used to be. Don’t think your blog and the fact you can email submissions will mean a faster track to the big time. Don’t let it grind you down. Just be prepared for the fact that in today’s market we’ve got to be able to do more than just write.
Don’t get me wrong. I think that publishing is in a much better place now we live in the online world. The creation and proliferation of media and culture is so much better now, and opportunities are rife. The Gatekeepers had their place, and they still hold a vast amount of power, but now things are open we have so many more options to go for what we want.
Just don’t think that it will be easier. It will still take a lot of work to make your name.