Thursday, 18 January 2018

Authors in the Digital Age by J D Peterson

The digital age. Love it or hate it, the digital age is here to stay. Do you remember when you got your first home computer? Your first smart phone? In the past 25 years we have moved into a time when nearly all homes have at least one computer, and cellphones are a fixture in our world. Correspondence, business, entertainment and nearly all aspects of our lives are input into our digital files.
                                                        To me, as an artist, the digital age is a double-edged sword.
I first encountered this creative shift as a singer-songwriter and recording artist in the mid 1990’s. Music went from being recorded on magnetic tape to being stored in a digital computer file. MP3’s, a compact (and poorer) version of the original recording, made distribution, copying – and eventually pirating – very easy. I could create a professional recording at home with minimal cost.     

And, just like writers, I was responsible for mixing and mastering my songs, manufacturing the CD, completing cover artwork, and the final kicker – distribution and marketing. As authors, we are faced with similar changes as the world permanently shifts into the computer age.

But it’s not all bad.
On the one hand, drafting ideas into our computer programs has made writing easier – particularly for formatting, editing and rewriting. Maybe J.K.R. likes to write by hand, but not me. Give me the speed and freedom of the keyboard any day to a cramped hand! Computers give us the ability to research ideas with information at our fingertips, readily available to explore on the world wide web. In the digital age we can publish our own books and retain total creative input, as well as a larger portion of the profits.
            But, the freedom to publish in the digital age doesn’t come without its complications. Learning new programs, uploading to various distribution channels, creating social media profiles, blogging, email lists, video trailers… on and on and on. These have become the job of the independent digital age writer. The responsibility for promotion, marketing and distribution has landed squarely in our hands and make no mistake, it is a full time job.
           
Many of you excel in these areas. For me, marketing has created an entire new area of focus for education. To complicate matters, the landscape is constantly changing. New marketing websites with new ‘rules’ for promotion, as well as an ever changing array of social media platforms have created an entirely new job description for the writer in the digital age.
            Those that have mastered the challenges have gone on to do well. Some have developed computer programs or written books on marketing to help those of us that need guidance. Many writers have done so well in the digital age that they’ve launched businesses, creating an income solely by helping independent authors publish books and/or find promotional outlets and distribution channels.
Lately, I’ve heard complaints from writers whose novels have been pirated, some in foreign countries. Again, this is following the pattern of events for musicians. My album “Rhythm of the Dream” is on iTunes, but I was informed by a fan that Spotify had several tracks in their library – without my knowledge or consent. Add ‘protecting against copyright infringement’ to the list of duties of the modern writer.
            Finally, I must mention the issue of a real product vs. a virtual product. Alas, the digital age threatens the physical enjoyment of holding a book in our hand; the smell, the weight, the texture of
the paper. Welcome to the world of ebooks. Remember music album cover art? Oh, the joy of the 12” visual 'canvas' of an LP cover. The excitement of opening a new vinyl record and quickly checking for lyrics and more photos on the inner sleeve. LP records aside, when is the last time you bought an actual CD? For now, the printed book is holding it’s ground, but e-readers are growing in popularity. If we look again to the music industry, we get a glimpse of the possible fate of the printed word.
            Gaining new readers in the digital age can be exciting. Now we can reach people outside of our immediate city, state – even country. In an effort to gain readers many of us give away our books for free. I will gladly give my ebook in exchange for a review, but if we continue to offer books free, we run the risk of devaluing our work as authors. Again, a double-edged sword of the digital age – how to gain readers in a deluge of novels without devaluing our work.
            In the end, as a writer and musician, the digital age has enabled me to explore my creativity and produce products without the confines of traditional publishing. But, quite frankly, I’m exhausted from the work of promotion, marketing and distribution – and it distracts me from focusing on my writing. As a creative muse, these areas of the publishing industry are not my strong suit - but I plow along, learning and implementing new knowledge to increase awareness of my novels while trying to increase sales.
Admittedly, knowing that marketing will be a huge part of any completed novels, has dampened my excitement and enthusiasm for the modern day business of publishing as an indie author. Such is the life of a writer in the twenty-first century digital age.






3 comments:

Fran B said...

All you say is true.and most writers (not all, I have a writing friend who is a whizz at marketing as well as being prolific) find the self-promotion and techy marketing at odds with their introverted, solitary, creative selves. I think of marketing and promo as WORK; creative writing (novels, short stories, memoir pieces, poems) never feels like WORK - I feel in the right place fulfilling my purpose, whereas I have to force myself to do the marketing and promo stuff.

JD Peterson said...

Good to know. Thanks for the feedback Fran.

Enid Richemont said...

Where are you physically? Bet it's somewhere remote, but if it's London, I need you, because I'm currently hung up with e-publishing, and as for self-promotion - aaaargh!