Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self. Cyril Connolly
A response to “Would the Bard Have Survived the Web?”
by SCOTT TUROW, PAUL AIKEN and JAMES SHAPIRO
I am a member and admirer of the Authors Guild, and I understand why the Guild is challenging the new technology changing the book publishing industry as we have known it. In my opinion, however, this change is for the better.
I write for two reasons: to discover who I am and then to share what I’ve discovered with as many people as are interested. In the words of my favorite writer, James Baldwin, my writing may hurt or offend my readers, “but in order for me to do it, it had to hurt me first. I can only tell you about yourself as much as I can face about myself.” I’d also like to think that my writing does what Baldwin says it should: “excavate the experience of the people who produced [me].”
I have had twelve books published; most of which are now out of print. I intend to republish some of my titles because a market still exists for them, just not enough of a market to matter to my New York publishers. By using the new technology to print copies as they are requested (Print-on-Demand), I can sell books via my website so long as I want. Or sell them as downloads to e-readers. My first book was self-published in 1986 when established publishers were not interested in my material for other reasons. Even then, without the Internet and POD, I sold more copies of the book I published myself than any major publisher sold of the titles they brought out. From that experience, I concluded that no other producer of my work will put as much effort into promoting my books as I will. Now that technological advances have made it easier for me to access potential customers, I am delighted.
Amazon and Google don’t frighten me because I am not a profit-making corporation. I see those two greedy behemoths as hatchets chopping away at the icebergs that have controlled the passage between creative artists and their audiences. I am happier for the greater exposure Amazon and Google provide for my work than I am concerned about abuses of copyright law. I know I live in a capitalist culture where “property” is nearly as sacred as life itself, but I want my “property” to reach as many eyes as possible. Major publishers’ need to satisfy stockholders and burnish bottom lines and that has always left “midlist” writers like me starving for attention and royalties. We “midlisters” don’t have much to lose from changes in the industry. Who knows, this may be the best thing that’s happened for us in a long time.
I do understand why the best selling authors are disturbed; they actually get rich from their books—by sales to readers and/or from movie options. They stand to lose significant income. However, some of us are writing more for satisfaction than remuneration—writing primarily for the love of it because the money has not been forthcoming. Consequently, we are not panicked that someone may copy a passage from one of our books and share it with other readers. In fact, I welcome it. The more people who find what I write compelling enough to share, the better I like it.
I predict that the new technology will open more opportunities for the majority of writers, just as the digital era has increased opportunities for musicians, news broadcasters, and political dissenters. In an experiment, Louis CK, a comedian, put out a brand new standup special, made it easy as possible to buy, download and enjoy, free of any restrictions. He wondered if, “Everyone [would] just go and steal it? Will they pay for it? And how much money can be made by an individual in this manner?” According to his web site, within a few days, Louis had sold enough downloads to recover his production costs plus.
The first people to feel the pinch as technology creates these new openings are not the creative artists, but the people in the middle who have controlled the artists’ access to their audiences. Eventually (and that could mean within the coming decade), most writers will create their work and sell it directly to their audiences either via the Internet or as they speak and/or perform before live groups. Sounds promising to me.