Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Churning Out Books in the Digital Age

The world of publishing is changing rapidly and I think, for the most part, that is good. The industry was bloated, wasteful, expensive, and an environmental disaster. The move to eBooks, the competition from those who can now publish their own works or create their own boutique publishing company, means that even the best authors need to avoid complacency.

Ready to be pulped. A shame we can’t plant them and replace the trees.

But there are inevitable side effects to this new shift.  One such phenomenon was spotlighted by Julie Bosman, in an article entitled: “Writer’s Cramp: In the E-Reader Era, a Book a Year Is Slacking.” Ms. Bosman gathered any quotes from other sources mentioned in this post.

In the previous model, writing a book a year was considered impressive and many A-list authors struggled to achieve this level of creative input. Now, however, with an audience thirsting for more, and having instant accessibility with eReaders and falling prices, publishers are demanding more from their authors, often in the form of short stories, articles, novellas, and often as not, another full length novel.

It is all about presence on the Internet and publishers are demanding that their authors are out there. It is not just books, but a social media presence. Authors are expected to be on twitter, blogging, Google+, Facebook, giving interviews and blog tours.

“It used to be that once a year was a big deal,” said Lisa Scottoline, a best-selling author of thrillers. “You could saturate the market. But today the culture is a great big hungry maw, and you have to feed it.”

Ms. Scottoline is now producing two books a year, doubling her writing output, and this is often fueled by a fear that readers won’t hang around waiting for the next book, but will move on to the next author.

Publishers are often demanding short stories to be published in between novels and prior to a launch, especially when a series is being produced over several years.  Lee Child, who writes the successful Jack Reacher thriller series, publishes these short stories in digital-only format.

“Everybody’s doing a little more,” said Mr. Child, who is published by Delacorte Press, part of Random House. “It seems like we’re all running faster to stay in the same place.”

Apparently publishers have discovered that a $0.99 short story will drum up support for a new eBook at $12-15 or $25+ for a hardcover. Given the impulsiveness in eBook purchases (if you like one book by an author, you will drop $20 to buy several of their older books) providing a welcome rise in sales of earlier books.  

That can translate into higher pre-order sales for the novel and even a lift in sales of older books by the author, which are easily accessible as e-book impulse purchases for consumers with eReaders.

But where is the balance between asking for more from authors and seeing a decline in the quality or level of creativity from authors? And are we going to see more burn-out from our top authors? And, I can’t help wondering, whether this is why we are seeing a rise in ghostwriting?

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

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