It’s been a while since I wrote my Twitter profile (go on, read it), but it’s one I’m still quite happy with, at least until this week, when a perceptive follower (thanks Derek!) asked what the ‘breakthrough moment’ it mentions would actually look like to me. My first reaction was to reply ‘a book deal’ because isn’t that what I’ve wanted since starting my first novel in 2003? Isn’t that what any writer of full-length fiction really really wants?
But hang on a minute. That ambition was born eight years ago. In that time I’ve written a lot, learned a lot and changed my work status more than once. Then there are the changes sweeping through the publishing industry. Maybe it’s time to take another look at the Holy Grail of the novelist and see if it’s still measuring up.
A book deal, if you ask me, gets its cachet of ultimate accolade on two counts.
The first is recognition, the second recompense. Recognition, that is, of my
work, beyond my personal circle or group of peers. Recompense as a way of
measuring success is arguably part of recognition. Of course it also has the
huge advantage of paying the bills. Signing with a major publisher gets my work out there and the money coming in. QED.
But is it that simple? I’ve met lots of authors who have had book deals which have fallen short of expectation, leaving them still waiting for the breakthrough moment. There are also rumblings from a number of acquaintances with very respectable deals about the money being less and the work on marketing and platform building taking much longer than they expected. And there’s the nub. Every publisher from the big six down asks authors to use social networks, build platforms arrange blog tours and book signings. A contract with a publisher no longer means sitting back and waiting for them to sell the books. Aside from distribution to bookshops, most marketing is in the hands of the author. And big publishers will still make healthy advances, but probably only if you already have a huge public following or some other claim to fame.
Looking back over eight years I can also see I’ve achieved quite a lot already in the way of recognition (shortlistings, prizes, the odd publication) and while in
charge of a commercial golf blog, for a while I even had a small income from
writing. More importantly, partly as a result of work interests but mainly
because I think it’s fun, I have ended up already building a platform here, on Twitter and to a lesser extent on Facebook.
I think you can see where this is leading. I would still like the vindication of
a book deal – and the bigger the better. On the other hand, there are now many
more ways to skin the publishing cat. With the huge success of e-readers, e-publishing is becoming the norm, and in the e-publishing world, the line between commercial and self-publishing is increasingly fuzzy: new models are evolving all the time in which author, agent and publisher may share or swap roles.
To sum up, the audience is out there, the technology to reach it is readily available. The income might be modest, but it would be mine. The future, some might say, is in my own hands. So what exactly am I waiting for?