Author empowerment

<p>Get a roomful of authors together and they moan about their publishers.&nbsp;&nbsp; Having been on both sides of the fence, I feel entitled to comment, and to raise the issues of why many authors feel disgruntled - and what some are doing about it.<br />
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Many authors find the world of publishing alienating. Buyers' markets permit eccentric or arrogant behaviour, whether you are trying to get into a concert, school or find a plumber likely to be over-subscribed. The London Book Fair is not a good place for an individual author to try to sell a manuscript, but one still winces to hear the way those who have the temerity to try get spoken to.&nbsp; <br />
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Dominatingly metropolitan, publishing is packed with people from a rather limited gene-pool, who agree with each other. And they are so hard to read: the polite expression of interest that is really a brush-off. They are slow to admit that any pastime they do not themselves enjoy is widespread &ndash; hence the age it took them to understand that daytime television is a legitimate (and frankly enjoyable) pursuit, and not the last refuge of the illiterate.<br />
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Authors understand (ish) that today marketing budgets are pooled to raise the profile of those titles likely to do best &ndash; but resent their being awarded to those who don't do the writing bit themselves. Book production can be agonisingly slow, but crucial decisions about the viability of individual writing careers are taken with undue haste. And because the UK book trade has the world's best retail information, it's hard for the author to argue. The chance to slow-build a writing career is gone.<br />
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The long-term effects of publishers' rather patronising attitude towards their major resource is being increasingly resented &ndash; and worked around. A new age of author empowerment begins.&nbsp; <br />
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Given that they generate most of the ideas, authors are in a strong position. Disintermediarisation (disruption of the traditional means of delivery) is widely discussed. The general conclusion is that it's those who hold the raw materials, or add a processing stage that cannot be replicated by others (or not quickly) who are in the strongest position.&nbsp; In this case, authors.<br />
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The democratisation of information provision means that authors who have even a modest understanding of technology can fight back, and challenge their share of attention and budget; direct how their work is seen both by their publisher and the wider world.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; <br />
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The modern reader wants to interact with their favourite authors, rather than simply absorb. Authors who have a website, blog, use message-boards and reply to emails create communities &ndash; who enthuse on to others. There are off-the-shelf website packages, and the price of paying someone to do it for you is falling.&nbsp; All you then have to do is update; in your preferred medium of the written word.&nbsp; For the author tongue-tied-in-public, it's a lot less terrifying than speaking at literary festivals.<br />
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Often authors end up doing things better.&nbsp; When writing introductions for Kingston Readers' Festival events I tend not to consult publishers' websites &ndash; too standardised and too old; often a repetition of copy they gave Amazon. Instead I look for the author's own site, and here find the quirky information I need. Nor do I bother asking publishers to send me a review copy &ndash; they invariably forget. Instead I ask the author (quicker, and I know it will arrive because it is in their interests to make sure it does).<br />
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All agree that there are just too many books in print - hence our delight in 'mediated content' such as the Richard &amp; Judy promotions. But what's to stop a well-connected author setting up their own recommendation by emailing a producer?&nbsp; Or coordinating their own suggested reading list for the market they approach? Groups of writers working together can do this to particular effect.<br />
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Some authors use these new skills to negotiate a better deal or change publisher, others to experiment with new formats. Publishing online through a blog often brings instant feedback &ndash; and the personal validation of finding that others feel as you do. Most authors' dream is still of an international deal with a famous publishing house, but there are many more reasons for writing (to show your family what an interesting line you come from, to set the record straight, to talk without being interrupted). Some authors find a true home with a passionate independent house, and all the time self-publishing is getting more sophisticated &ndash; and because for them the author is the customer, they tend to be very pleasant to deal with.&nbsp; <br />
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If publishers access this skill and determination, and work with authors more effectively, what a tremendous resource for book sales.</p>