Saturday, 9 February 2013

Has the author's role changed in the digital age?

I attended the first Writing in a Digital Age conference organised by The Literary Consultancy (TLC) in 2012. I had just come off e-publishing my first novel and was flush with the adrenaline of going Indie. I went because it was the first time I had come across a formal platform uniting traditional and Indie publishing. I also had the opportunity to speak about my own adventures in e-publishing as part of the audience story time session. Had I perhaps attended something like this prior to self e-pubbing, I would have picked up clues that may have softened the learning curve I went through doing it on my own.

I believe that when you are Indie you have even more responsibility to be 100%. You gotta tick all the boxes. Whether it is the story writing technique, the editing of the book, creating professional looking book cover or using clever & economical marketing techniques to get the word out, you have to be just that much better than a traditionally published author, so you stand out. You have to be an authorpreneur. I come from a formal marketing background so it made the part of putting myself out there to sell the book, a lot easier. 

Rebecca Swift, Founder of TLC, is lead organiser of The Literary Conference : Writing in a Digital Age, 2013. I had the opportunity to ask her some of the questions I often hear discussed among writers. Hope you find this useful:


a. Has the role of the author changed in the digital age?

It's an interesting question, what is the role of author in the digital age - what is the role of an author anyway? To entertain, inform, delight, educate, stun, move and many other things - by the written word?  Posed like this it makes me think that the role of an author hasn't changed - as an author must really have an impact on a reader, and therefore the reader must really want to read the book, and gain by doing so. With so many people able to self-publish, it begs the question - what do they consider their role to be? Is it self-serving, i.e. for their own benefit as they want to see their words in print? Or is it really for the benefit of a readership?  Or perhaps people don't know - but one good thing is that the ease of self-publishing can help people explore and find out if they have readers, and where they might be in the world. 

Another aspect of being an author traditionally, is to have a voice which the public might come to respect - on the grounds that you are writing things that people are interested in hearing about. In this sense, writers such as David Gaughran who is coming to the Conference, or Dove Grey Reader the wonderful blogger / reviewer, are performing the old role of being literary ambassadors and commentators, but within the digital environment - which more old-fashioned literary commentators might not fare so well in. 

Sometimes it seems that there are two ways of communicating now - off line, and online - and the online world has its own infrastructure and networks, and will continue to throw up new roles for new kinds of writers - well, old fashioned writers but valued for different ways of thinking and different kinds of skills. And some of these will go on to make an impact in the offline world - which I suspect is often rewarding; and vice versa. 
Rebecca Swift,  Founder of The Literary Consultancy

b. How is 'TLC's Writing in a digital age?' useful to authors?

There is a baffling amount of information circulating on and offline about what it takes to self-publish well. If a writer is coming to this world new, without experience of what it usually take to make a good book, then they can disadvantage themselves by pushing out work too quickly - simply because it's now possible to do so (after all, every tweet sent is a form of publication today.)  We hope to save people writing a good deal of time and energy, by introducing them to contacts, ideas and practical considerations that they might need to know. 

TLC's Writing in a Digital Age Conference aims to open those wanting to, or thinking of, self-publishing to the conversations available about factors to consider. Our Masterclass intends to cover, for example, what different kinds of editing are and their basic principles (i.e. structural editing, copy-editing, proofreading - and so on),  how a writer might try to grapple with search engines to help get their book noticed, and how to think about marketing generally. Then there is also the million dollar question: should you be self-publishing at all? Or should you hold out for the commercial book deal that may come your way if you hold out a little longer, and write one or two novels that will become your practice books. 

Should people self-publish in order to find an agent?  There are so many factors, and whilst the answers are often still up for grabs, there are examples that can be drawn upon to help people find the way that works best for them. 

c. Which are the most exciting trends/ shifts in publishing you noticed since the last conference? What is the focus of the 2013 conference?

The focus of 2013 is what does quality mean in the digital age - both in literary terms, but also in terms of those that are providing services for indie writers. A major example of a shift, that we'll discuss, is for example the launch of Archway Books and we've programmed the writer / blogger David Gaughran which we're excited about http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2012/11/28/simon-schuster-joins-forces-with-author-solutions-to-rip-off-writers/  What does this mean for publishing and self-published writers?  Are indies just being used as cash cows to conglomerates, or is there something of real value on offer? 

How has the internet changed the meaning of Vanity publishing forever? Another interesting organisation is Conference associate http://allianceindependentauthors.org/.  Orna Ross who founded it is making waves championing indies - but also championing high values across the board in terms of how well people write, get edited, and all else to do with book production, design and dissemination. Orna will be joining us as part of the exciting Canon Tales event, in which she will show visual images that help tell the story of her passion for books, writing and publishing. 

Other exciting trends are how random results can seem - such as the fact that 50 Shades of Grey outsold even the best mainstream bestsellers!  Whatever one thinks of the writing, this poses a challenge to traditional publishers - and we look forward to seeing how some of them are reacting, and what lessons it offers indie writers.  

Find out more about www.literaryconsultancy.co.uk and become a Literary Adventurer www.literaryadventures.co.uk
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