**UPDATE** Wanted to mention that this post made the current edition (3/2/11) of Ed Bajek's Publishing News Twitter-zeen. Ed features some really cool #publishing content, and I'd recommend following on Twitter. You can check it out here. (I'm under the #publishing section.)
It's Tuesday, the most useless of all days. (Unless you count leap year ... LAME) Fortunately, I'm not going to let the dregs of the week stop me from sharing a little of my brain with the helpless masses. (That's you!) You see, I'm afraid I've been thinking --A dangerous pastime, I know ...
If you immediately thought of Gaston from Beauty and the Beast, you win the Cool Award!
Writers tend to twist in the wind during the best of times. Uncertainty, self-doubt and fear aren't negatives when you're a writer; it just means you're starting to take yourself seriously. After all, if you aren't sharing your work, you're not VERY serious about it, and if you aren't the least bit nervous about letting other people read your writing then you're a machine. And you know how we feel about machines around here ... THEY'RE GOING TO KILL US ALL!!!
Back on topic: If you mix in a little industry turmoil and a few changes to 'The Path' to becoming a a so-called legitimate writer--well, let's just say I've seen headless chickens with more grace under fire.
I'm like so many other aspiring writers. I want a solid footing for my dreams to launch from. I need to know that I can not only reach the stars, but somehow stay in orbit once I'm up there. Unfortunately, an already winding path has become mired in deep fog, and clearly seeing the destination is no longer possible. In fact, just anticipating the next bend in the road has become a challenge.
Where will my chosen profession be in 5 years? How about 1? Will I be helped on my way by a professional, or will I do as so many are doing and make my own way? Will I even have a choice? Interestingly enough, I'm not even sure this kind of thinking is limited to aspiring writers. I read so many blogs of longtime authors trying to resurrect their careers and find some sort of foothold in the morphing industry.
As a fan of history, I tend to look to the past when future answers are elusive. While I'm certain the publishing industry hasn't ever quite faced a change like the current one, some of our artistic kin have. I think we can look at the music industry, the art business and the movie industry for a few landmarks to indicate where this old trail is taking us. Today I'll talk about the music business, and in coming posts I'll examine the other two.
MUSIC - The First Frontier ...
I was perusing a recent issue of Sound + Vision magazine (it's a mag for tech geeks and Audio/Video nerds--like me!), and stumbled across this excellent interview with Smashing Pumpkins singer, Billy Corgan. If you aren't hip to the 90s grunge music scene, you should know 'the Pumpkins' were alternative music icons from the decade. They had numerous hits and were prone to doing experimental rock albums in a time when it wasn't welcome.
You see, by the end of the 90s record companies were looking for radio-friendly pop (think 'NSync) and wanted bands to focus on creating 'sure thing' music that would inspire teens to purchase Compact Discs. The myopic thinking was a result of this called the Internet, which was starting to catch on to the point that many people had it in their homes. Some people were even choosing to consume their music digitally. It was a turbulent financial time for the industry, and it simply wasn't prudent to take risks.
(Does any of that sound familiar?)
Fast forward 10 or so years. The Pumpkins didn't make a lot of music in '00's. Like many bands they lost members, weren't interested in shifting their musical sensibilities with the times and simply got old. Corgan is now 43. I guess your perspectives will change some from the age of 25 to 40. At any rate, Corgan still wanted to make music, and with the social media boom started by MySpace, he saw an opportunity as so many musicians have. It was a opportunity to go directly to the fans.
When asked about it by S+V interviewer Mike Mettler, Corgan responded, "You build your own world with your own rules. And people will visit it, believe me."
How profound is that? You carve out a spot, and do what you do. The people that want what you're offering will find it, and those that don't won't. The thing is, in the modern music business this is simply how things are done. Are there record companies still around? Sure, and they're still responsible for most of the music you hear on the radio. But I have to ask: how many serious music listeners get their content from the radio as opposed to 10 or 15 years ago? I'd wager not many. Most of the music aficionados I know go directly to their music of choice via iTunes. They listen to what they want, when they want, with their portable music players. They rarely set foot in a store to browse for music, and instead rely on word of mouth and iTunes suggestions to find new music.
Don't get me wrong, the music business has definitely had its share of casualties in the transition from mainstream to global-stream (so to speak). Major record companies have downsized, and obtaining their support as a musician is more competitive than ever. The adjustment hasn't been easy for the artists, either. Particularly when it comes to defining success. It seems a big record deal and a multi-city tour are no longer the industry standard of success. Or as Corgan states in the interview, "How do I ascertain success in the modern era? I just feel it. I have to feel it."
So here's what I propose. Let's learn from the music business. As writers, perhaps we need to re-think our definitions of success. Maybe success is more fluid than what we've known in the past. For some, it will undoubtedly be the same; you'll be a success when you land that agent and see your book on a shelf. For others, it might mean having 1,000 dedicated readers online who lap up every .99 cent offering they upload to Amazon.
While many have decried the Internet as depersonalizing, based upon what Corgan says in his interview, I think just the opposite has happened. The Web has deeply personalized everything. Artist no longer need to strive to reach everyone. They simply need to reach their fans.
In the end, maybe the path to publication isn't quite so clear, only because there are now several paths to choose from.