The founder of the social networking site SheWrites shares her vision for a better (publishing) world:
Rumor has it that there was a time when writers didn’t have to do anything but write. There was no such thing as a “platform,” no marketing plan to be incorporated into a book proposal, no need to hustle press opportunities and stay up till 3AM making long lists of bloggers who just might mention your book if you ask them nicely enough. Writers wrote books; publishers did everything else.
It was never really that simple, of course. In one of my favorite books about the lives of writers, Her Husband: Hughes and Plath, a Marriage, Diane Middlebrook revealed the world of an ambitious and hardworking couple whose labors went well beyond creating their poems. Both poets worked hard to publish and promote their work, chatting up editors, appearing on radio and television, and lobbying hard for the attention of critics capable of making or breaking their careers. Getting your writing read – selling it and attempting to make a living on it – has always been part of the writing life.
And yet. Things have changed profoundly for writers in the 21st century. Part of this is a matter of scale. There is no longer a short list of powerful arbiters who can make or break a book – instead authors are encouraged to pitch their books (and their “brands,” a word Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes would never have associated with themselves) to a dizzyingly long and diffuse list of critics, bloggers, and other media outlets in the hopes of creating that ever-elusive buzz. The sheer numbers of outlets and the staggering scope of an author’s book-marketing “things to do list” has increased exponentially since the advent of the web, and as a result the job has gotten harder for the 99.9% of authors who are not best-selling publishing juggernauts.
As the novelist and entrepreneur Jennifer Korman put it in a recent blog post about how and why she decided to become her own publisher: “The new wisdom in the industry is that authors who sell well create direct relationships with their audiences. Ultimately the author is the brand rather than the publisher or the book itself.” Profound changes in the publishing landscape, Korman points out, present authors with an unprecedented opportunity to take control of their writing lives.
On the other hand, most authors I know have no idea how to take advantage of this opportunity, and instead find that the increased responsibility placed upon them has meant more work for no pay. Authors have been forced to become mini-entrepreneurs, to reinvent the wheel alone every time they publish, and to largely self-fund their efforts (often taken from their ever-shrinking advances) to boot. As a result authors are overextended, under-supported, and finding it harder than ever to find the time to sit down and write. A third way is needed – something between the old, top-down hierarchy of the traditional publishing model and the new, every-author-for-herself inefficiency we have now.
With this in mind, I recently started a social networking site for women writers called She Writes. The idea is simple: give authors a one-stop shop where they can find the best editing, expertise and knowledge from publishing professionals, and a place to create a community where they can easily share what they know with one another. The power of the latter should not be underestimated. Jen Korman is a member of She Writes; her post laid out a budget for starting your own publishing house and publishing your first book. What she has learned is powerful; what happens when she shares what she learned on a community like She Writes, and learns in turn from her fellow She Writers, is game-changing. It’s my belief that the authors themselves are the most motivated, talented resource currently in existence in publishing today. We just need somebody to help us organize and support one another.
On She Writes authors at every stage of their careers can quickly, efficiently ask questions of each other about anything from reviewing outlets to the best places to promote lesbian historical fiction to the most effective ways to use Facebook. What you don’t know another author probably knows; what she doesn’t know, you may. And precisely because the publishing landscape has changed so profoundly, this works. We are not fighting for that one review in the New York Times anymore. For most of us, sharing what we’ve learned with a like-minded author will not diminish the piece of the pie we’ve carved out for ourselves, but instead will increase our own chances of success, and free up a little bit more of our time to do what we really love to do, after all: write.
Kamy Wicoff is the Founder and CEO of She Writes, an online destination where women can create community and networks, and get the support and services they need at every stage of their writing careers. Kamy is the bestselling author of I Do But I Don’t: Why The Way We Marry Matters, and the co-founder, with the author and critic Nancy K. Miller, of the New York Salon of Women Writers. She serves on the Advisory Council of Stanford University’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research, and was the first fiction/nonfiction editor of Women’s Studies Quarterly.