Some of my best friends are authors, but that doesn’t mean I’ve read all their books!

Some of my best friends are authors, but that doesn’tmeanI’veread all their books. I admire some successful authors and many more not so successful. All of them bring a wealth of experience to the table and plenty of advice for other authors. You can choose to heed the advice; try using it to avoid some of the pitfalls they experienced, and maybe even achieve a little of their successes. Alternatively, you can plough your own furrow and see what comes.

The fact I haven’t read all the books my author friends wrote and published has little or no bearing on how well they write, their philosophy on writing, what gems of knowledge about marketing or the process of publication they can impart to their fellow writers. Maybe they talk about me behind my back!

All those years of trade shows, launch parties and writer meet-ups. I can’t believe he’s never read any of my Methane Man books. I mean I had to read that shitty historic novel he released last year and I hate that kind of stuff. A day and a half of my life wasted and he can’t be bothered to read just one Methane Man book! I sell as many books in a week than he sells in a whole year!~ My Author Friend

I love you too, comrade. But just in a different way to Coelho or Beckett! I respect and admire how you do what you do. I just don’t want to have your literary babies.

I know the author community appreciation society only too well in light of the above. It’s a thorny issue to broach, but I suspect it’s a reality for many serious writers managing a public and private persona and embedded within an author community. Like many other artistic fields, there is either an undying admiration or absolute loathing for a fellow artistic solider. We’ve long been sold the romantic idea of the writer as a reclusive and isolated soul, hidden away under candlelight in the shed at the bottom of the garden or the artisan scribbling away on a balcony overlooking the sea. For most writers, it’s probably more about snatching an hour or two in the evening after work and finding any space in the house where there is comfort and no distraction.

Porter Anderson—covering all things publishing and fresh from visits to the recent London Book Fair and PubSmart conferences—in a piece last week examined the rise of political/entrepreneurial authors(hybrid and self-published) with huge sales and the attention and admiration of author-fans.

The publishing industry’s politics have become vested in two great parties: The Publishers Party might be most easily considered our conservative wing. The Authors Party comprises the upstarts at this point in history, so we might see them as the more liberalizing influence on the biz.~ Porter Anderson

However, Anderson rounds on some of those author-fans who hold up entrepreneurial authors like Hugh Howey, Barbara Freethy, Joe Konrath, H. M. Ward and CJ Lyons, and asks the pertinent question:
Yes, but have you read them?
Anderson asked the question of many during his travails of the past three weeks and found the answer to the above question was often a resounding NO!

A fast and gracious tradition has developed among many of the seriously successful players in the entrepreneurial writers’ camp. This kind of “bring everyone else along with us” approach might be thought of as a true plank in The Authors Party platform. Community is not only where these people excel, it’s also an engine of their operations.~ Porter Anderson

Anderson goes on to point out that so many author-fans (and this description could indeed be a new term to describe a curious type of new literary fan), prepared to avidly read blog posts and articles by entrepreneurial authors, pay out dollars to see their author heroes speak at conferences and writing workshops, but without ever having read a single book by that author!

And it’s worth considering as you watch the rank and file of the author community rightly follow the business moves of these bestsellers, that those same, applauding author-fans may be the last to actually read their heroes’ work.~ Porter Anderson

And here is the shocker: I don’t read many of my author-client’s books—maybe a few if the subject material interests me or they specifically ask for some kind of critique. Ultimately, I’m a publishing consultant, and while I believe any author who writes a book should ensure the final presented draft is the best it can be through professional editing; my role is to guide, advise and help an author once the final draft of a book is completed and make the process of publication and marketing as explanatory and painless as possible. Sure, I can read and review an author’s manuscript, but my review and criticism is subjective. I’m still going to approach it as a prospective reader. The task of reviewing, critiquing and polishing a manuscript for publication is the role of a skilled professional editor.
So to answer Porter Anderson’s question directly—have I read Howey, Freethy, Ward, Konrath et all, or some other entrepreneurial authors? Nope! But then, I’m not a reader fan of those authors. I’m an admirer of the way they go about the business of publishing books and promoting their books as an example to other authors. That’s why I follow their blogs and articles. It goes without question, as a publishing consultant, I see some authors as more significant than others, with strong and reasoned voices I need to keep a finger on. It allows me to better measure what is going on in this ever-changing industry. I also follow major traditionally published authors like Neil Gaiman and JK Rowling. I don’t agree necessarily everything they say and do. Oh, and by the way, I haven’t read Gaiman, but I spent many a night reading Rowling my son before bedtime. And I’ve watched every film based on Rowling’s and Lemony Snicket’s books!

Books are no longer physical objects made of paper pressed with ink. We get introduced to books through different mediums. Sometimes by chance, accident, word of mouth, reviews; less so now through adverts or physically browsing the shelves of bookstores. If I want a book to read, I don’t go to an industry trade show. As an author, you sell rights and engage communication with agents and publishers at trade shows. You go there to bring yourself up-to-date with the book industry and network with colleagues. I also don’t expect to find many of my potential readers at a publishing trade show. But in light of recent trade shows like the London Book Fair and BEA, that landscape may be shifting somewhat. It’s not so much down to what the industry, the industry is doing differently there; it’s down to what authors are doing differently at trade shows.

Personally, the books on my shelf are predominantly non-fiction. I’m highly selective about the fiction I read and I tend to go for the literary and experimental novel. Many of the very successful heroes of the self-publishing and hybrid publishing community don’t write in the genre or fields I like. In fact, if anything, I’m not so sure there is such a diversity in the top books from mainstream published authors and what we see from the cream of bestselling self-published authors. If Howey, Freethy and other influential voices all start writing experimental fiction, or books on aviation, UFOs, the paranormal, astronomy—I just might take a punt and read the books they actually publish.

And, yes, I still read self-published books, and books from micro-presses, for the very reason that some areas and subjects I’m interested in can be very niche.

Many of the books I read also have to do with the work I do or the areas of interest I research for trade articles. It can often leave limited time for more casual reading and I note from Porter Anderson’s piece that some replies he received to his questions from author-fans over the past three weeks were answered with; “I’d like to but I just don’t have the time.” I can understand that. It doesn’t mean I’m a low-count word reader. I probably have to consume more than 150k words per week just to do what I do professionally. Our reading habits are changing now, and how and where we read and consume information, whether for pleasure or work, has dramatically changed in recent years. 

Anderson makes some valid arguments in his piece, and some other recent pieces—that perhaps the self-publishing community is being appreciated and recognised much more than what it is prepared to acknowledge. Hybrid and migratory authors bring a wealth of experience to the table, along with their blessed tomes.
Here are some salient points on the whole debate:

  • Authors need to recognise the difference between their support network and the real audience they need to target and promote to.

  • The self-publishing community needs to continue to reach out to cooperate with the trade industry. It should not become a self-sufficient exchange community where authors use the admiration of fellow authors to survive and render value on the books they write.

  • In light of Porter Anderson’s question—maybe all authors should really be asking the question; is Hugh Howey buying and reading my book?

Let’s not create a monster that isn’t there. Can you image a future world where readers are so bombarded with information and requests for their time and attention, they start charging authors for the time they take to read every book? Don’t laugh. Most book reviewers in the mainstream press are paid for their time to review and write about books, and they are highly selective about what they read. More authors are now paying a fee to be published. It’s becoming a pretty crowded marketplace out there with as many authors as there are readers. Why shouldn’t readers ask to be paid for their time and attention?!!
In an industry where readers are expected to delve deeper than ever to sort the gems from the dross and take more time to discover what they really want to read—as literary adventurers and explorers—maybe its time the readers bit back!

Stand aside author-fans and let the real readers make their way to the front of the queue!

In the meantime, I’m just happy to read the books I genuinely want to read rather than the books I feel obliged to read.

Mick Rooney – Publishing Consultant

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