It's weird that writers, most have whom have never made anything like a living out of their work when it was printed on paper, are now being drawn into fretting about how publishers are going to earn a crust in the digital future.
Shouldn't they be concentrating on all the wonderful things they can now do for next to nothing online?
Writers have clung on for too long to a knackered notion of how their world works which considers publishers to be the arbiters sitting in judgement over who is or isn’t a ‘real’ author. In the absence of serious money, writers remain fixated with getting published in what they consider the proper places. Meanwhile vanity presses feed on the rejected and ignorant, selling them the pretence of publication and a batch of books to gather dust under beds.
The Amplified Author of 2010 (term coined for authors engaged in the social web) can sit at her desk and speak directly to her readership through a blog, can expand that circle of readers gradually by using Twitter and other social networks, can find an active readership interested in offering criticism and ideas, can publish work through print on demand and put it on the global bookshelf of the web, can set out her stall of publications and services on a website where she can also offer to run workshops, teach, write reviews, perform; she can take her work to publishers and broadcasters able to give detailed evidence of who her readership is and what they think of her work. Once she makes it into print, she can use her own energies and laptop to promote her masterpiece.
Yes, the skills of editing, design, marketing will always be needed. No, it may not be the mainstream publishing houses that futurewriters will turn to for these, infact they may not see themselves as part of literary culture at all, but simply as the makers of good apps. Whatever they call their work, makers will pick and mix the range of skills, resources and people they need to help them, and these will include the means to curate a continuing relationship with the community of readers which forms around their work, plus the means to illuminate their text with images, sound and film.
This is far more than viral marketing and a spot of digital enhancement, these are thrilling forms of literature in their infancy. We need writers and artists to be exploring these on their terms, not simply agreeing to jazz up their texts to be flogged on the IPad.
It’s not just the newcomers who are becoming attracted to this new model of Amplified Authorship. Today’s bestselling writers are well aware that they could deliver direct to their readership. Some delight in the joys of blogs and networks, and those with no personal desire to tweet or blog are beginning to see why they might need someone creative to do it for them. All are realizing that these digital days the reputation of a writer may be gained from publication by an established publisher, but it remains the property of the author who can take that capital away again and use it to create their own ‘brand’.
We are all local authors now, sitting at desks alone but in contact with a network of others who help us spread our words. With all this talk of the Big Society – which so far amounts to the Big Anxiety that funds and services will be axed – if:book is setting up a new kind of hub for writing in the community.
The first Unlibrary is based in Hornsey Library, London, where we’re helping to establish a co-working space in the building linked to a social network run on a voluntary basis and aimed at local freelancers, entrepreneurs, small publishers plus writers established and emerging.
The axe hovers over libraries because today our laptops are seen to provide us with access to a wealth of free material – but we need libraries more than ever, not just to bridge the digital divide for those without wi-fi, but to be somewhere we can all bring our laptops for guidance on how to get the most from the web, and to share our responses to what we find.
In Hornsey, local authors Andrea Levy and Romesh Gunesekera are as supportive of the Unlibrary as the volunteers who run free workshops in the library. You can follow the Unlibrary's development on our blog, www.bookfutures.com and www.ifsoflo.ning.com , our network for those exploring digital possibilities for literature.
When a nearby bookshop was threatened with closure recently, I and many friends were deeply alarmed. Why? We mostly buy books online or in bigger stores, and, to be honest, it’s not a great shop – no events, no encouragement to have exciting conversations about books with staff or fellow customers, yet it still symbolized a great deal. Now it’s time to create a Future of the Bookshop, a new kind of bookspace, designed to complement what’s available on line, informed by how we really lead our cultural lives now, providing real and virtual space in which to browse, meet, dream – and even buy, because we do enjoy owning and paying for things sometimes.
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