• Writers’ Conference panel talks of the future of the written word
By Naomi Klouda
While today’s readers carry a shorter attention span in America’s high-speed culture, the “brick and mortar” of books likely won’t go away soon.
That was one of the messages at the 10th-Annual Kachemak Bay Writers Conference talk “Where’s Writing Going?” on Sunday, as publishers, agents and writers gathered to discuss ways for writers to find themselves a home in the future of literary publishing.
E-based social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, along with the electronic books made available online, increasingly define modern communities of readers and writers. Writers can use those to reach readers eager to connect, said author Dinty W. Moore.
“Whether you like it or not, the future is coming,” said Moore, author of “Between Panic and Desire,” “ The Accidental Buddhist,” and the writing guide, “The Truth of the Matter: Art and Craft in Creative Nonfiction.” He also is editor of Brevity.com, a website for creative nonfiction.
The panel included managing editor of University of Alaska Press Elisabeth Dabney, literary agent April Eberhardt, book editor at Harper-Collins Jennifer Pooley, and Stephanie Elizondo Griest, award-winning writer of “Mexican Enough: My Life Between the Borderlines.” The discussion was moderated by Bill Roorbach, author of seven books and winner of the Flannery O’Connor prize in short fiction and the O. Henry Prize.
The work of satisfying voracious readers by supplying good writing is still part of the literary landscape, Dabney said, but the modern tools “are supplemental — not a replacement.”
Still, today’s books do tend to be shorter in length, and more lead time goes into getting one published in a highly competitive market. Publishers must find ways to grab readers’ attention or the book won’t sell. And while the “fat book” is facing an evolution of still being needed, maybe not all of it is needed at once. Online marketing can offer up the fat book in pieces, so that readers can buy whatever portion they need at the time, or all of it for their permanent library, Dabney said.
“The brick and mortar of books aren’t going away on Kindle or through electronics,” Dabney said. “Readers are selfish. They want every avenue, whether that’s on iPod or Kindle or an old-fashioned book.”
Pooley advised writers to follow the reader. Today, the potential exists for writers to weigh in at book clubs, answer readers’ questions via e-mail, or speak to them on blogs, because “every reader is important.” Given the reality of competing with many sources of reader attention in a fast-paced world, communicating with readers becomes crucial.
Elizondo-Griest writes hand-written thank-you notes to readers, librarians and bookstores.
“If you really want to get someone’s attention, write them a note,” she said. “I think ‘thank-you notes’ save the world.”
This helps make for closer-knit communities of readers/writers that then ensure writings are read. Twitter and Facebook acquaintances can become every bit as important as other nurturing community contacts.
“Because they took the time to follow me on Twitter; because they got to know me, they were buying my books,” Pooley said.
A successful writer takes the time to care about individual readers’ questions or issues enough to acknowledge and respond, even if the note back is brief.
The optimistic talk didn’t sidestep the frightening new frontier writers are finding in the modern marketplace. Writer and moderator Roorbach asked panelists what happens to the pay issue? How do writers get compensated for their work if readers can find it for free online and they don’t have to go to the bookstore?
“I’m paid less now than I was 10 years ago,” he said. “Publishing is a business, but writing is not.”
Brevity.com editor Moore pointed out he doesn’t get paid for his website, nor do his writers receive compensation. What they do get is the satisfaction of getting their work out there more quickly, and contributing good writing to the body of e-literature. The market for “literary” writing has always been a small one, he said.
Publishers pay royalties on e-books, Pooley pointed out. Look for the avenues that fit modern needs. One innovation that has caught attention is geared to fit the time-crunched modern reader. Dubbed “One Story Magazine,” the small press puts out one short story every three weeks. Pooley said she subscribes to it, receiving it in her traditional mailbox.
“This is making the short story more accessible, and it’s wonderful to receive it in the mail,” she said.
Self-publishing is also paying off, noted Eberhardt. Some 750,000 books were self-published last year, a large fraction of the entire body of new titles making their entrance. As an author-advocate, she is working on a creating a website to market such books by creating an A-List recommending titles.
“That’s a vetting process as well, meaning we as agents are recommending your book,” she explained. “It presents many options to get work out there more quickly so that you get paid more quickly.”
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