Adapted from the blog WRITERS AT WORK
December 6, 2011
REGARDING THE EMPEROR’S NEW CLOTHES
By Sandy Asher
Back in the day – you young’uns need to know this – writers wrote. Editors acquired, edited, guided, supervised, and championed books, thereby building careers, their own and those of their writers. Designers designed. Publishers published. Marketers marketed.
Writers, the foundation supporting everyone else’s work, could be hermits living on mountaintops and delivering revisions by trained burro. Writers could be old, young, attractive, homely, or complete mysteries writing under pen names.
While children’s writers were rarely sent on book tours, they were encouraged to visit schools and libraries, present at conferences, and lead writing workshops. (“Encouraged” is the operative word here; not “forced” or even “expected.”) A book that garnered three or four good reviews got an ad in relevant journals. Often, invitations to present came through the publisher’s marketing office, and the publisher paid the author’s travel and lodging expenses, especially to large conferences, where autograph sessions at the publishers’ booth were a given. So was dinner.
Children’s books stayed in print for many years because publishers knew it took a long time for reviews, awards, and word of mouth to move a title from shelf to librarian to teacher to parent to child. Publishers also knew there’d be a new audience every few years as each group of children aged and moved on. Backlists were valuable assets.
Enter the corporate “tailors.” (Young’uns, here’s what you’re up against.) Writing, editing, and reading have remained pretty much the same. Librarians, teachers, parents, and children haven’t changed either. But publishing has been turned upside down. Marketers now make choices formerly reserved for editors – and writers are expected to do their own marketing.
Writers now maintain websites, blogs, and Facebook pages, create bookmarks and postcards, tweet, produce trailers, hire publicists, and/or join speakers’ bureaus. Publishers pay for none of this, no matter the expense or time involved. Oh, and there are still those school and library visits, conferences, and workshops, also unsupported by the publisher — except for best sellers, top award winners, and celebrities, who get the ads and dinners as well.
Titles that do not immediately sell briskly go out of print in the blink of an eye, and writers who don’t generate enough “firepower” with their first and second books don’t get to build careers. So writers-who-market are under far more pressure than marketing departments ever were to get the word out and to get it way out, in front of the hordes of other writers attempting to friend, blog, and tweet their way to . . . survival.
It is what it is, and it’s not going back. I understand that. But I still have to ask whether the emperor is wearing any clothes. Is this furious effort on the part of writers actually selling enough books to keep work in print and careers on track?
I fear not.
But even if so, how much time and energy are left for writing more books?
Hello? We’re writers. Writers write.
Check out the interview with Sandy here!