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INEVITABLY, there has been considerable emphasis throughout this book on publishing for profit. It is an important and valid objective for writers and publishers to generate income--either big bucks, or just sufficient income to continue a love affair with their vocations. But for virtually all poets, and also for most writers in other categories, the need to write is not primarily motivated by expectations of significant monetary rewards. Almost any other occupation pays better!
Comparatively few active writers spending more than 15 hours a week on the craft earn their livings primarily from their words; some estimates put the proportion at well under 5%. Millions of others take writing seriously as a leisure pursuit with little, if any, thought of monetary gain. Most writers accept that it is unrealistic to expect to make significant money from writing--just the supply-and-demand economics of the publishing industry make that a near impossibility.
Writing, along with painting and music, are universally popular creative pursuits, nonfiction writing included. You do not have to be working on a novel, poem, or short story to be creative with words. Some of the highest-quality writing these days is to be found in nonfiction works rather than bestselling fiction.
Amateur painters and musicians seem more ready than writers to accept that the creative process can be a satisfying end in itself. An exhibition in a gallery or a public performance are attractive possibilities, but not the prime motivation for painting or for mastering a musical instrument. In contrast, virtually all writers feel the need to be published!
Publishing does more than just create an end-product. It gives a sense of purpose, a focus and a climax to the whole writing process. The fact that it is so difficult to publish in print is responsible for much of the frustration and disappointment that writers may experience--a cause-and-effect chain reaction that just keeps making things worse. The popularity of writing increases the demand to be published, which steadily reduces the chances for even commercially viable manuscripts to get into print.
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However straitened a writer's financial circumstances might be, if you have had manuscripts accepted, you know that the thrill comes from the news that your creative work will have the opportunity to be seen by others and that consequently it is perceived to have merit. The size of the advance and royalties are important, of course, but the champagne comes out to celebrate the very fact of publication.
For many writers, the challenge of organizing thoughts in a creative process that captures them forever would be sufficient reward if there was a tangible end-product that could be shared with others. There are rewards beyond money that represent the very essence of writing and are too often forgotten in a society where money is the universal measure of merit. The frequent assumption is that writing that has a monetary value placed on it by going through a commercial publishing process is the only really worthwhile writing.
This attitude is spreading through many important fields of human endeavor. Advancing a career in academic and scientific research is becoming over-dependent on the professional prestige associated with publishing reports of one's work. Now that commercial criteria have become important factors in much scientific publishing, the publication of research becomes more important than the research itself, as professional eminence is accumulated by researchers prepared to play the game of diverting much of their effort toward the publishing objective. Grants and big salaries go disproportionately to those who publish and publicize prominently, while much worthwhile activity is being devalued because it is not published.
Electronic publishing could transform this situation, with researchers able to disseminate their findings directly to colleagues through unrestricted information highways (Fig. 17-1). Their readers will have sophisticated search facilities to ensure that they are not swamped by the resulting information torrent, and the lack of peer review might not prove as big a problem as some adherents of traditional publishing maintain.
If for no other reason, the advent of electronic publishing is a milestone cultural event. It must help to change contemporary attitudes about monetary values associated with print publishing. For the first time, a form of publishing is not dominated by the
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overwhelming financial considerations of producing and distributing in print, with the consequent need to generate large revenues.
Attitudes will also change from the present perceptions that self-published works are inferior because they failed to meet all the criteria for commercial print publication. The Author-Publisher Enterprise in the United Kingdom is so successful in enhancing the image of self-publishing that secretary John Dawes says they risk their resources being swamped by "aspiring writers" eager to get themselves into print. As the message spreads that author-publishing per se is valid, interest in electronic publishing accelerates on both sides of the Atlantic. Electronic publishing is the most practical way to cope with the demand from literally millions of writers to publish in any form available to them, especially one with such strong cost advantages.
Because of the dominance of financial considerations from the very earliest days of print publishing, the rejection slip has become a symbol of failure and frustration for writers everywhere. The very
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term "rejection slip" has become an established part of the vocabulary of writing, a form of misleading shorthand for a piece of paper that is usually just a convenient and economical means of reporting a decision by an individual or a small group of people. A rejection slip simply means that a particular work does not conform to a set of criteria. That criteria might have little to do with creative quality, but is weighted instead heavily towards corporate profitability.
When you consider the harm that rejection slips do to writers, they should carry a warning notice, like cigarette packets! If a Surgeon General took seriously the emotional well-being of writers and society's need to nurture writing talent, we might see rejection slips carry such wording as:
Warning! This rejection slip could be harmful to your health and creativity. It does not necessarily reflect any qualified, literary, critical assessment of your submission. It is only an expression of our opinion that we cannot make sufficient money out of publishing it for profit.
The negative impact of the rejection slip is amplified for the author because it might well be the only response he or she receives to hundreds or even thousands of lonely hours of effort. It is easy for authors yearning for some form of recognition to lose sight of the fact that rejection by a commercial print publisher is a subjective decision. The rejection slip should not automatically be viewed as a judgment, a failure. It might not even reflect an informed opinion.
Indeed, most rejection slips are issued for manuscripts that never even go through a proper editorial decision-making process. It is quite likely, particularly if not being handled through an agent, that a rejected manuscript is judged on no more than a cursory editorial glance because of the volume of works submitted by writers seeking to be published.
Even the most responsible, caring publishers with editors actively seeking and nurturing worthy writing talent can do little to change this unsatisfactory situation. Therefore, there is more than adequate room for conventional, commercial publishing to cohabit congenially
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alongside electronic author-publishing. Such self-publishing electronically can be either for the same profit motives that dominate print or for nonmonetary rewards.
Writers can now stop bleating about the deficiencies of the print publishing industry; they have been given the technological edge to become the agents of change. Writers can create opportunities for their works to be published successfully through the new electronic media.
While these opportunities for a writer to publish for profit, for pleasure, or both, are guaranteed, success or failure now becomes far more the writer's responsibility. This can be beneficial, because writers have greater incentives than ever to make their work the best it can be. Also, more direct contact with readers should make writers more conscious of their needs, and consequently less self-indulgent. Even if you are not looking to make a profit from your writing, you must hone your skills at capturing and holding your readers' attentions in the increasing competition for their time. Persuading a reader to spend time with your work can be as challenging as getting them to spend their money.
As we say farewell to the tyranny of the rejection slip, authors must now come to terms with the remaining reality: rejection by readers. All published writers have been at least partly protected from reader criticisms by the skills of their editors!
With few exceptions, the revenue generated by the vast majority of electronic author-published works will be a minute fraction of the gross sales of even a modestly successful commercially printed title. This presents another challenge to established publishing values. Successful electronic titles can generate higher returns to the authors from far smaller receipts than would print editions. The drastically reduced production and distribution costs, and the fact that the lion's
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share of the revenues will not be absorbed by the retailer, printer, publisher, and agent, permit lower prices to readers and potentially higher net receipts for authors. The other side of the coin is that the risks and actual costs of production, marketing, and distribution fall directly on the author. Even if drastically reduced, these can still be significant.
The knowledge that they will actually be able to publish will provide the stimulus for many would-be writers to get started, and help remove temporary blockages during the actual process. In print publishing, the likelihood that most books and poems would never get beyond the manuscript stage has been a tremendous disincentive to start or complete a work. The present and future certainty that what you write can at least end up in a permanent, readily reproducible, published form provides enormous encouragement.
We should see major changes also to that artificial distinction between "published" and "unpublished" writers, which in print gives an often unfair competitive edge to writers who have managed to get published at least once.
I have had the good fortune to have been published many times in a 40-year career, but that does not exalt me and my work into some elitist category. I know that there are unpublished writers who turn a neater phrase, create more meaningful characters, construct better plots, and communicate technical information more effectively than myself. That they have not had the time, the opportunity, or the good fortune to "get published" does not diminish the quality of their creative work one iota. If "published writers" are ever tempted to get arrogant because the system has worked for us, we should think of such enormous creative talents as Vincent van Gogh who were rejected by their contemporary marketplaces, but have created enduring works.
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Electronic publishing levels the playing field for the writer who has not been able to get into print for reasons other than poor-quality work. It should make all writers realize that each work must be judged on its own merits. In electronic publishing, writers will not get published simply because of what they have got into print previously.
The new media will have enormous cultural significance in making possible the dissemination of works with minority appeal, unusual structures, great length, or those which for some other reason are impossible to publish profitably in print. The book, which has been so crucial for the cultural evolution of our species, can now expand and develop without the artificial constraints imposed by the rigidities of commercial print publishing.
In addition to writing now being subject to fewer financial restraints, it takes on new dimensions of creativity, also. If your book might benefit from music, audio effects, moving pictures, or sophisticated hypertext references, you can explore these complementary areas of authoring right on your desktop with very few monetary or practical restrictions. To illustrate these principles, consider an example of how just one writer is being creatively empowered in his work by electronic publishing.
Gary Scott Bryant, of Newbury, Massachusetts, was one of the first writers, who, when he heard of this book project, was so hungry for the information that he contacted me and said, "I must have it." Since then I have gradually learned more about Gary's writing, and have been helped to realize just how wide are the horizons now open to a creative writer.
Gary's authoring project is unusual, but the principles he is using apply to virtually any category of writing. The former U.S. Navy submariner began writing after a near-death experience made him reappraise his values and what he wanted to do with his life.
"Now I live to write--it's as simple as that," Gary says. "I do any jobs that I can find that will enable me to continue writing, because I need to write to express the truth."
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For 12 years, ever since his experience, Gary has been working on a book called "Seventh Sojourn" that has developed from an autobiography into an epic of nearly a quarter-of-a-million words in which he explores an enormous range of religious and mystical concepts. He worked and saved so that he could go to the Middle East to research first-hand, and then write with greater perception about ancient Egyptian beliefs.
Gary's writing led him in directions where he needed to expand his text with music and pictures. So, after working initially with the Writer's Dream software, he went on to expand his creativity with other multimedia authoring programs.
Fascinating as it is, there are no print publishing categories into which Gary's massive project can readily be accommodated so that its commercial potential can be evaluated. Consequently, no acquisitions editor is likely to offer him a contract; he's just not playing by the rules of commercial publishing. His book does not make a likely candidate for conventional book marketing plans. The salespeople would not even be sure where to advise booksellers to shelve it, and no ISBN classification could define it accurately.
The print production costs would be enormous, and no print house has the technology to cope with the multidimensional nature of the work as Gary expands his writing beyond the words and pictures that a printed book can accommodate. He has gone on to amplify the text by creating large-scale oil paintings, in addition to music and more modest visuals. I expect a call any day for advice on how he can scan or videotape these canvases to transfer the images onto floppies. The next step will be virtual reality programming.
Maybe Gary never will complete "Seventh Sojourn," for it is a life's work. But he will always be able to publish and share his vision at any stage that he chooses because he has been empowered as an author with what he calls "the high-tech advantage."
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"These ideas about electronic self-publishing are limitless," he says. "Don't give up. Never has there been such a demand for humanity and truth. False beliefs took advantage of the press in the early days of printing, but today we have a possibility to make amends with this new high-tech advantage given directly to authors. There is so much to gain, and so little to lose."
Writers, poets, artists, photographers, scientists, academics, researchers, hobbyists, thinkers, politicians, entrepreneurs, professionals, students, teachers--everybody! You now have the high-tech advantage. It empowers you to publish. With the authoring programs discussed in this book and included on the disk, and your personal computer, you can publish now.
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