Publishing for the Digital Age?

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to attend the NCBPMA
Conference on Publishing in the Digital Age: Renaissance or Revolution. The
panelists were established techies who utilize modern social networking to
bring more attention to their professional work. One of the panelists, Matt
Stewart, explained his publishing success story through Twitter.

Matt Stewart wrote a book about the French Revolution, but
due to the recession he couldn’t get a publisher to take on his book. So,
Stewart turned to Twitter in order to raise interest in the novel he worked so
hard on. Stewart would tweet pieces from his novel on to the website. After
some time, Stewart gained many followers who eagerly waited to see how his
stories would unfold. At the time of this blog’s publication, Stewart’s
TheFrenchRevolution twitter account had over a thousand followers.  Since Stewart gained so much public
attention with his effort to get his book published, a publisher finally came
forth and took on Stewart’s novel. What a lucky break for the budding writer.

Stewart was just one of many people dreaming to become the
next literati. But through social networking he was finally able to get what he
wanted–literary attention. The whole time I was at the conference, I couldn’t
help but wonder if these days anyone can get published through social
networking. Now, I have never read Stewart’s book and I am sure it is a
noteworthy one. However, it does concern me that this sets a precedent where
lackluster writers can get published just because they garner public
attention.  While it is fantastic
that there are ways that legitimate writers can gain attention, there needs to
be a distinction between quality literature and public interest in an under
dog’s story. Otherwise, the quality of works that publishers put out will
greatly decline because frankly not everyone is meant to be a professional
writer.

So the question remains: does Twitter seem a viable resource
for budding writers or should people still rely on publishers for the novels
that line their shelves?

Comments

  1. Thanks, Molly, for posting this insightful and thought-provoking glimpse into publishing in the digital age. So much of publishing is driven by bottom lines, not literary quality. Every publisher loves an author that will go out and actively promote his or her book; as an acquisitions editor, I can tell you that if an author has demonstrated an ability to market himself or herself through media connections, events, and sites like Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc., it’s definitely a plus, and I’m sure our sales and marketing staff feels the same way. George, our sales and publishing guru at Heyday, once directed us to an intriguing article (I believe in Publisher’s Weekly) that talked about how Stephenie Meyer tirelessly built and interacted with her fan base through her website and MySpace in the days just after her novel was published instead of merely relying on her publisher to spread the word. It goes to show you that sensations don’t magically happen and aren’t always solely a result of the efforts of a dedicated and connected sales and marketing team. But boiling it down to bottom lines seems hard-hearted and doesn’t tell the whole truth. As our publisher will tell you, publishing is, at its best, a dynamic interaction with–and, sometimes, creation of–communities of people: the book is only a part of this–a launching point, something to rally around, a celebration, an educational tool. Readers who love good, literary writing (a rather subjective point, in any case) are only one of many communities of potential book buyers out there. I love good writing, but it’s not the only reason I’d buy a book. The cult of authorship is not exclusive, nor should it be. I think most published writers will tell you that publishing in and of itself is only satisfying up to a point: it’s the engagement with their readers that is the real reward–intellectually, emotionally, professionally, and, yes, financially (sales = royalties!). I would encourage any writer with a project–whether or not s/he has a publisher, whether or not s/he is likely to win a Pulitzer for his/her writing–to follow Stewart’s lead and find, if not create, the communities that will support his/her project. Congrats to Stewart!

  2. Nice job, Molly.

    There are a lot of very good writers producing quality work on blogs and Twitter, but it is still a publisher’s responsibility to separate the wheat from the chaff.

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