What Does It Mean to Be an Author in Today’s World

by Jeff Ayers

What does it mean to be an author in today’s world?  Five years ago, it started with the blessing of an agent to represent you, hopefully proceeded to an investment from a publishing house, and ended with a physical copy of the book in your hands.  You could walk into a bookstore or public library and find something you wrote sitting on the shelves.  I had that wonderful feeling when my Star Trek book was published in 2006.  Since then, however, the game has changed.  

With the Internet explosion, information can reach the reader instantaneously. With the release of the Kindle, the Nook and other e-reader devices, the book paradigm has also shifted.  Now authors have the opportunity to make their works available to the general public without involving an agent or publisher at all.   

A lot of the current e-book market consists of self-published works distributed by the authors.  In the past, the words self and publishing put together signified books of lower quality.  Valid or not, the stigma of not being distributed by a mainstream publisher gave that impression to librarians, booksellers, and literary agents.  That view of independent publishing has radically shifted as well with the advent of easy publication through the web. 

This whole new world is forcing me to change my thinking.  I have a novel that is circulating among several publishers.  While I wait for either acceptance or rejection, I’m writing my next book.  This is the “hurry up and wait” method of eventual publishing success or failure.  Now, I could self-publish my novel and get it to readers almost immediately electronically.  In doing so, would I hurt its chance for possible future success in mainstream publishing?  Who knows? 

There are a bunch of advantages going the e-book route.  The Internet has made it far easier for authors to reach their audiences directly through social media and online marketing. The readers gets their books faster, and the cost of production is drastically decreased.  But I can’t walk into my local Barnes and Noble and see a physical copy of my work on their shelves.  I also won’t see it at my local library. 

It is also difficult to loan a copy of a digital book to a friend.  I’m constantly recommending great reads and loaning out copies of my books.  Kindle recently made this easier with the announcement that books could now be borrowed on the device

from your local library.  I have already taken advantage of this wonderful new service.  Prior to this change, if you wanted to borrow e-books from the library, another e-reader device was required. It is nice to see Kindle jump on board with libraries to make this service available.  I’ve lost track of how many people I’ve helped borrow books on it. 

With that in mind, not everyone is tech-savvy.  Most of the patrons I see have no knowledge of e-books at all.  For the ones that do, not a day goes by at the library without me having to show someone how to properly use their e-reader and successfully download library materials or purchased e-books onto it. I hope to see in the immediate future companies like Amazon and Barnes and Noble work in their communities to teach technologically challenged adults how to use e-readers.  Libraries could also teach classes.  A little training would pay off in increased sales of devices and books, a win-win for everyone. 

Amazon.com is now selling more Kindle books than print books.  I wonder if Barnes and Noble have similar results with the Nook?  Still, the copy you can hold in your hands is not going away anytime soon.  iTunes changed the music industry forever, yet you can still get a CD copy of your band’s latest work.  Though the e-book world is only going to continue to expand, there will continue to be a market for paper for some time to come. 

What does the future hold for the publishing industry? I foresee more integration between mainstream and independent publishers creating a book distribution system without the distinction of how it was published. Libraries will need to refocus on how materials are selected for inclusion in their systems, since selection is primarily review-based. Book review sites and magazines will have to shift their priorities as well.  The physical book might be endangered, but the written word is here to stay.

Jeff AyersComment