Since this is a new word, definitions get rather slippy. The way I’m using it here refers to building a self-brand as an internet-enabled published author.
So why do I think it’s all a nonsense? Experience, mainly. I worked in the publishing industry for almost a decade. Now, on top of that, I’ve self-published three fiction titles, ‘authorpreneured’ them extremely hard, and then had them picked up by an indie publisher who is already making light of my hard work.
My conclusion: authorpreneurialism is as twitch-invoking, skewed and disingenuous as it sounds. It’s a great way to start out. But it can’t be anything other than this; at least, not for me. To illustrate why, I’ve hit on a metaphor. I’m sure others have come up with the same (it’s a big world). But it’s the best way I can think of to explain what I mean—and it’s called “the digital sea”.
The Digital Sea
The digital sea is this:
- The digital sea is not curated.
- The digital sea never says no.
- It doesn’t mind if your book has been professionally edited, or not.
- It cares nothing of page layout or the niceties that make books easier and more pleasurable to digest.
- If you’ve used parenthetical marks instead of emdashes it cares little. It still doesn’t care even if such a choice makes the reader choke and wish for dry land.
- It accepts every drop of water from the sky and turns it the same kind of salty.
But raindrops like to fall. It’s what they do. So they will, and it’s a fact of life.
It’s gravity, don’t you know?
Of course, as soon as they’ve emerged from the bottom of their cloud device these droplets regret it big time. They’re falling next to dirty raindrops for a start, so that doesn’t show them in their best light. Once distributed into this sea, they aren’t even raindrops any more. They’re just the sea. Oh no!
With internet-enabled publishing, unlike the majority traditional sector, every digital raindrop battles for recognition in this massive sea of value entropy. Raindrops have value. Being ubiquitous, the sea has none. Losing distinctiveness, raindrops lose their value. There’s also nowhere special to shelve noteworthy artefacts and so, as time goes on, everything dissolves into one—everything matters even less.
One Makes One’s Bed
Ros Barber puts it better than I can. Self-publish? No way.
When I did start out and self-publish I was OK with it. I wasn’t self-publishing to make a fortune. I wasn’t even doing it to pay the bills. I was doing it to learn and develop a passion, leaving questions of sustainability and dreams of better for later.
But soon enough my suspicions were confirmed (at least for me): print-on-demand paperback releasing, either through an internet-enabled distributor or an internet-enabled company doing the same, and eBook releasing is all a great apprenticeship. But it’s not financially self-sustaining. If someone says it is, then I’d be highly suspicious.
Where Value Is
The ugly truth is that the book trade needs heavy curating. Gatekeepers do that work. A lot of the time, this involves saying “no”. ‘No’ isn’t sexy. ‘No’ isn’t available right now like a ‘like button’ on social media sites. The traditional book trade excludes. Exclusion isn’t sexy either — but it’s how the book trade has any value. No exclusion, little value.
Inclusion and always a yes: valueless entropy. The sea.
Exclusivity and most often no: valuable, better result.
Just like raindrops, we’re going to fall.
Authors will publish. Our egos demand it. It’s possible, so we’ll do it. Fact of life. If we can’t do it one way, we shall do it another. If not today, then tomorrow. The digital sea is here to stay.
What that means is that we all have a sea, and yet we all yearn for dry land.
But what can we do?
We can be honest with one another about how we are doing. We can be real about our own expectations and what internet-enabled options will or won’t give us now and tomorrow. Since they’re also aware of other ways in which authors’ incomes get eroded, perhaps we can also support our country’s author trade unions too. After all, we like it when agents and publishers support their respective trade bodies.
Dreaming of Disrupting the Disruptors
Authors likely can’t provide the digital leadership necessary to return any value to the traditional sector lost since the advent of the internet (of which there isn’t a massive amount, but there is some). This must come from elsewhere. For what it’s worth I for one am sure someone out there could claw back some. Since I highly doubt anyone will ever pick this up and run with it, and I have it on good advice the idea might well be very flawed, I shall just finish off with the scenario outline of one idea.
- A reader buys a physical book.
- The bookshop gives the reader a free download code.
- It’s the only way the reader can access the best self-published content today. Other webstores seem to carry less ambitious content for some reason.
- The bookshop doesn’t like doing it, but if readers can only access good eBooks and print-on-demand paperbacks through bookshops it’s good news for bookshops because readers might think to buy a print book first.
- An author self-publishes a book, print-on-demand and eBook. They choose their platform wisely. Only one platform (a non-profit backed by publisher trade unions and agency unions) shines out for those who want to go professional one day. It’s a tough decision. Other platforms could be more lucrative. But they don’t want to cut off their chances making it to the big time, so that’s where they put their work.
- With their next book they submit to an agent. The agent’s website stipulates that they do check which platforms previously self-published authors have used. Author breathes a sigh of relief.
- Ambitious authors know what to do.