Since Eugene posted her article on the fight between authors and reviewers I have been reading quite a bit of articles about the bullying debate. As I read the blogs and comment threads I couldn’t miss the harsh tones and the aggression in the notes. I reflected on my impression of authors as a child, as a teenager and later in life when I first published. The kind of image that I am getting now is nothing like the one I had originally.
I always saw authors with a little mystique. You know their work, a few sentences about their lives, but they basically kept a low profile. Authors weren’t plastered over the national Enquirer. Their web pages spoke more of their body of work than their lives. There was a kind of nobility that I associated with the profession. And yes, I remember at first when I said I was a published author, people were impressed. Today, just a few short years after my first publication, being a published author seems to have very little impact on anybody. What I get is the reaction, “I’m thinking about publishing a book too.” Wow, what a shift!
Could the accessibility to publishing offered by Indie publishing be hurting the author image?
Once ago few authors got their work published because they had to go through very selective publishing houses and vanity presses were seen as second class at best. While authors promoted their work with book signings, tours, interviews and readings, they usually kept a low profile. When a reviewer reviewed their work, the author remained silent, whether that reviewer liked their work or not (for the most part; I know there are blatant exceptions). Because the publishing houses excluded so many and self-publishing was such an expensive venture, a few things happened, that affected authors and the industry both positively and negatively:
1. Much fewer writers got their work published
2. Potentially great books were overlooked
3. Being a published author placed one into an elite group of published authors
4. Most authors made little from their published books; yet money did not appear to be the greatest driving force, but the craft itself
5. The author image was one of mystique, respect, and accomplishment
With the Indie revolution where anyone could publish anything cheaply the landscape changed. The author is no longer just the creative mind behind the art, but the marketer-in-chief, the publisher, and CEO of his brand. Author visibility increased. There is a fervor to get one’s name out there and the driving force is to make writing lucrative. The more blogs I read, the more I hear authors discussing the money aspect of writing and the less I hear of the love and passion of the art.
The biggest change I see, though, is the image. Being a published author is no longer for an elite few whose work is bought and marketed by major publishing houses. And even the publishing houses expect authors to do the majority of their own marketing (so much for the mystique). I’m seeing contentions between publishing houses and right reversion played out publicly in blogs and on websites. There is such an increase in competition for the market that even the offer of a free book has no appeal. Contests have few participants. Fights between authors and reviewers are hurting the image of both author and reviewer, and since many reviewers are also authors competing for the same markets you have to wonder about the integrity of some reviews.
Though I’m partial to that image of the author as an artist with a low profile, I know I have to embrace the new image of the author as the CEO and Marketer-in-chief. But doesn’t that just tarnish the image? Doesn’t it make you feel like part of that group that my mother would refer to as “wash your foot and come”?
Now this essay is by no means intended diminish the great contributions and work of Indie authors or publishers, but to merely examine the impact on the image of authors in this new landscape. I would love to hear your opinion on this, whether you agree or disagree. Does the accessibility afforded by Indie publishing hurt or help the author image? And what exactly is the author image?