September 15, 2011
I’ll Have a Tall, Non-fat Magnum Opus. Hold the foam.
Picture this. An author forced to write his masterpiece in pieces because A) in order to generate revenue, the publisher needs eyeballs hooked on his story for as long as possible and B) once the installments are finished the publisher can sell the entire work as a single volume and double his money. To add salt to our poor author’s wound, he’ll need to keep up with the publisher’s schedule and he’s probably not getting that great a cut from either the installments or the finished book. In fact, our author is probably just a few coins shy of welfare and is more than likely glad for the work—any work. A sad testament to our day an age? Only if you’re talking 1859.
Welcome to the world of Charles Dickens. The scenario described above was his, though you might have noticed how strikingly similar it is to ours. Today, an aspiring author wishing to sell his or her novel to a publisher comes up against the following harsh reality - very few people are willing to shell out an average of thirty bucks for a book, especially one written by an unknown author.
So what’s an aspiring Dickens to do?
Not fret, according to Molly Barton, president of Book Country, an online community for genre fiction writers, and VP of Digital Publishing, Business Development and Strategy at Penguin Group Online. “Stories don’t have to be ‘mainstream’ to succeed…storytelling of the future will be targeted to audiences that have a clear and expressed interest in that particular sort of content. Writers will continue to become more keenly aware of the depths of their chosen niche as they become as accurate as possible about whom they’re writing for and how to reach those people.”
In short, Dickens didn’t have a choice because there was no social media to speak of; no audience to reach out to other than the one the publisher chose to deliver. Dickens, arguably one of the greatest writers of all time, was at the mercy of the man paying the bills. Today “the man” is us. We’re an insistent lot and we like our lit like we like our caffeine - made to order. For those able to deliver, the world is their oyster and traditional publishers can all go to hell. For those who can’t, well, there’s always a job at Starbucks.