Friday, October 16, 2009

The Book Industry Turns a Page

Happened to tune into NPR yesterday and a discussion about the ongoing changes in the book industry. Among the points made that will seem familiar to many of us:

ROBERTS: We are also joined on the line by ZZ Packer. She's the author of "Drinking Coffee Elsewhere." She has a new book coming out next year titled "The Thousands." She joins us now from member station KUT in Austin, Texas. Welcome.

So you published your first book in 2003, before Kindle and Facebook and all these other digital tools, but your next book will be out next year. How is being an author changing?

Ms. PACKER: Well, I think one of the things that happens or has happened is that now the author is sort of expected in a way to sort of be, in a way, partly their own publicist, and you know, I guess a person or an author doesn't have to do that, but there are now more tools at their availability.

So there is Twitter. There's Facebook. Some authors in the New York Times just had a profile of an author who, you know, created this sort of YouTube video first and got - and generated a good deal of interest.

So now you're expected, in a way, to be present more as an author, and what you're expected to do is to kind of not just have a sort of shelf life for your book, but your book has to have also sort of this virtual life as well.

ROBERTS: And is that an asset or a burden?

Ms. PACKER: I think that it can be both. I mean, I think some of the advantages of the Internet and creating this Internet presence and presence for one's book is that so much of what Tina was saying in terms of you can now create this groundswell and have more of a sort of - instead of the top-down model of publicity, where it goes from the publishing house and then later through the newspapers and magazines, and eventually people hear about the book, you know, now authors can get on Facebook, get on a blog or create a blog and generate all of this interest beforehand and during the process and basically take a little more control, and so that is great and it provides a way for some books that wouldn't get heard or talked about or even reviewed in some of the major publications to be able to have this readership.

I know that Rebecca Wells' "Ya-Ya Sisterhood," you know, kind of began as this kind of cult - you know, she went from bookstore to bookstore and eventually just developed this cult following, and that eventually led her onto the New York Times bestseller list, and then you have the same with people like Lakoff in non-fiction with "Don't Think of An Elephant." So in a way it does provide a way to break that chain of, you know, only the sort of big names getting, you know, the big bucks and the big publicity. So now authors can kind of wrest control a little bit.

But a disadvantage would be that, you know, if you're not a natural performer, or if you're a person who, you know, you'd rather just sort of spend your time writing and not necessarily having to hit the pavement as much, then, you know, it becomes - it does take away time from writing to write a blog every day. And it does become very difficult to, you know, go out in front of, you know, book groups if that's not your forte.

Well worth a read and / or listen. The transcript and audio of the discussion is located here.

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