As promotion has fallen from publishers to authors, new skills are needed. Read how Jacqueline Lichtenberg's forward-thinking has paid off in many ways.
Reprinted with permission from the author.
The Author's Evolving Role
By Jacqueline Lichtenberg
The kind of tasks in the publishing process that fall to authors has changed drastically in the last five to ten years, and made our lives much harder.
I have been a published author since I sold my first story in 1968 and now have a bibliography that includes 19 novels, 13 short stories, 2 non-fiction books, and over 10 years of a science fiction (sf)/fantasy (f) review column. In the early 1990's, I saw the shuddering shift in publishing and decided I had to acquire new skills. Today those skills are paying off.
When my second novel, Unto Zeor, Forever, won an award, writers who participated in any promotional activities for their novels - beyond what the publisher required—was ostracized by other writers and shunned by readers.
Today, the big publishers have reduced their publicity budgets and most of the biggest name writers I know are placing many of their titles with small, startup publishers or even e-publishers. In both cases, the writer is now responsible for many decisions and much time-consuming work in promoting their books. The harder the writer works on promoting, the more visibly successful their books are—but of course, the fewer books they can write.
The most powerful tool a writer has today is the internet. Most of the writers I know (hundreds as I'm a member of the Science Fiction Writers of America—www.sfwa.org) can't either design or maintain their own websites. Many can barely handle email—and such sophisticated tricks as attaching a file.
While hiring someone to do these things frees up some of the author's time, the site rarely is properly updated and maintained, despite the high fees.
When I began teaching writing in the 1970's, I had to work to convince students they had to learn to touch type. I had to insist that at the very least, to be competitive they needed a correcting selectric typewriter—which at that time cost more than a basic computer costs today!
Today, in the WorldCrafters Guild online writing school at simegen.com, we are teaching that writers need html skills now just as they needed typing then. There is no substitute for your own hands and mind speaking directly to your readers. Writers must learn to do their own email newsletter (www.simegen.com provides newsletters for professional writers), a website with actual content, not just book covers, and handle a number of the chores involved in getting their book reviewed.
Reviews are crucial to sales, and internet posted reviews are worth gold. That's one reason that simegen.com runs a reviews section. Learning to write reviews is likewise a skill writers must acquire. The more places your name appears, the more places on the web linked back to your homepage, the bigger your "footprint" on the web.
And it's that "footprint"—the number of pages returned when someone searches on your name on Google—that gets you the free web-based publicity—that makes you easy to find by those who want to publicize you.
For example, because I have developed a very large "footprint" on the web, when the makers of Trekkies (the docudrama about Star Trek Fans) decided to make a sequel, they had no trouble finding me at all. In response to their email, I made an appointment to film a segment with them. Today a photo of me holding a copy of my book, Star Trek Lives!, is on the website for the film under people interviewed in Los Angeles. The film is due out in 2004.
I have two books being reprinted because I was easy to find on the web. A new startup publisher, BenBella Books, came to me asking for reprint rights to the Sime~Gen Universe novels. However, another publisher had just made a deal for those 8 novels plus new ones, so I offered two other related novels, Those of My Blood and Dreamspy (vampire-sf-romance mixed genre novels with a similar appeal) and today they are re-issued as Trade Paperbacks.
And because of my review column, I have come to know a number of writers in fields beyond my own who also have a taste for my kind of writing. Yesterday I received a magnificent accolade for Dreamspy from an established mass market mystery writer to add to those from a Nebula Award Winning sf writer and an award winning romance writer—all for a story set against a galactic war which is a futuristic romance originally published as a St. Martin's HC labeled sf-adventure. The publisher could not have achieved this and would not have tried.
Another task falling more and more to authors is the creation of a Press Kit. Most writers would not have a clue where to start. As a reviewer, I learned the standard formats for Press Releases and the promotional sheets that accompany review copies of books. For examples, see simegen.com/press/ Creating such pages involves skill with Microsoft Word in layout, skill grayscaling colored images and resizing them, skill writing promotional copy. These are all new skills a writer must have and new tasks that take time away from writing.
Speed and efficiency at these tasks are essential if there is to be any time left to write the next book. The most time-efficient tools I have found are Microsoft Word and Microsoft Front Page. As you go through your professional lifecycle, never stop reaching for and acquiring the newest skills. You will never regret it.
Jacqueline Lichtenberg has been a Trekkie from the beginning. Realizing that Star Trek was the first real science fiction on TV, she launched a five-year project on why fans wouldn't let that show die. That project became the Bantam paperback, STAR TREK LIVES!.
To read Jacqueline's bio, go to http://www.simegen.com/press/flyers/jl/publish/bio/
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