The fate of publishing is a hot topic of conversation. Are books dead? Will the iPad revitalize the industry? Will ebooks make bookstores obsolete? There have been pricing battles at Amazon, content wars at Google, countless articles discussing what will, might, could happen to traditional and e-book publishers regarding bottom lines, production costs, inventories. From a business standpoint, flux sums it up. There's much to be lost, or potentially made.
But, who's writing about the writers? Without them, there wouldn't be books. They are the idea generators whose hard work, hopes and dreams are poured into the pages of every book thumbed through in a store or glanced at online. Each book in the world started as a spark, a concept and was mulled over, pondered, conceptualized. Every one of them took time, energy, effort, imagination, sometimes blind faith in the face of rampant negativity (yes, that was a personal note), to bring it to someone's attention. Proposals were written, agents contacted, editors pitched. And far more often than not, there's rejection to contend with.
But, to be published, to be listed at the Library of Congress, to have a page at Amazon is a thrill. Somehow, when that first crisp copy arrives, the countless edits, cover issues, missed deadlines, confusion, frustration, pain, drama, and anxiety are generally worth it. At that point, the publisher takes over with advertising and marketing support, helping the book find it's way into the world, hopefully to find healthy sales and a home on their backlist. Authors
are supported, nurtured, groomed. Tours are booked, displays are created, campaigns are launched.
Oh wait, that's not how it works anymore. At least if you're not already a best-selling author.
At the moment, authors now take on many of the roles publishers used to fill. My latest book, FLOW: the Cultural Story of Menstruation(with Susan Kim) came out last November and I found myself, almost overnight, working as its full time publicist, something I had no experience with whatsoever. While my publisher was terrific--they created a stunning book I couldn't be more proud of, contacted the media, and followed up on every lead I came up with, I did a huge share of the work. FLOW has a website and a Facebook fanpage, I have personal ones as well and do maintenance and updates on all. I'm on twitter every day and have amassed thousands of followers who enthusiastically shared FLOW's saga. I wrote, art directed, and produced promo films, which reside on their own youtube channel. I blog every single day. I also took a deep breath, forced myself to overcome shyness and unease and asked everyone I know, who they knew and how they could help me. That led to a launch party at Rizzoli's, an appearance on Dr. Oz's radio show, an entire segment on The View--Whoopi closed the show telling the audience they needed to buy FLOW for everyone they know. That appearance created a 12,889% jump in Amazon sales that day. Grassroots supporters took it on, with book bloggers writing reviews, challenging their followers to read it, running independent contests. I did online, radio, and print interviews, local and national TV, guest blog posts, book signings, even a college lecture. Except for Oprah recommending it as a book pick, or a New York Times review, it would be hard to imagine a more fantastic launch towards a successful
And yet--six months later FLOW's been pulled from most bookstores to make room for new titles. While sales have been slow and steady since publication, the term "best-seller," or probably even good seller is in no way applicable. My agent and I parted ways months ago and my publisher's not asking to see what's next. After all the hoopla and press, energy expended and book hype created, I'm back to square one, hoping someone will take time to look at my next proposal and want to make one of my ideas a reality.
Here's the deal: authors are more than business plans, projections, catalog copy, sales conference fodder. These books we slave over are our creativity, our vision, an extension of ourselves. But in this environment, an original and important idea, a beautifully designed package, great reviews, media interest, fan support, and PR around the clock don't cut it.
I'm having trouble starting on my next project, not sure I can handle the reality of publishing's questionable future, the shifting marketplace, the endless hats I have to wear besides that of writer, and the ego crushing reality of how difficult it is to be heard these days.