by Arielle Eckstut & David Henry Sterry, authors of “The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published”
For decades, the publishing business was like a giant castle, guarded by sharpshooters in every turret, and surrounded by a giant moat full of large poisonous monsters. Unless you had an invitation from the King or Queen or someone in his court, your only chance of getting inside was to storm the castle. 999 times out of 1000 you’d end up studded with arrows, each labeled “Rejection.”
But in the last few years, with the advent of e-books, e-readers, social media and print on demand, authors are at last able to build their own kingdoms, and ignore the previously all-powerful monarchs in their bastion. Now authors have so many choices, the traditional publishing “empire” is in danger from outside its ramparts. With citizens no longer lining up to kowtow and pay homage, sales dropping, and the cupboards bare, the King, Queen, and their court have found themselves scrambling to keep what they have, ejecting and evicting courtiers and worker peasants alike left and right, throwing them off the top of the wall kicking and screaming. Even the rats have started scurrying away as fast they can.
Thus we have entered the age of the Citizen Author. Some “Citizen Authors” are CEOs, thought leaders and power players. Some are writers who didn’t graduate from MFA programs, aren’t friends with publishing titans and their minions, or don’t have large audiences waiting to hear their next pronouncement. There are lots of others in between, too. Citizen Authors are cutting-edge thinkers like Seth Godin, best-selling author of “Linchpin” and many other books, who has famously vowed never to publish with a traditional publisher again. Veterinarians like Nancy Kay, author of “Speak for Spot,” stroke survivors like Julia Fox Garrison, author of “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” and novelists like M.J. Rose, author of “Lip Service.” Many of them decided to forgo the traditional publishing process from the get-go. Others have been rejected so many times by agents and editors that they just decided to do it themselves.
We live in a country founded by citizens who are guaranteed the right to vote, become president, and pursue happiness. In this great tradition, Citizen Authors have taken the bit into their mouths, staked out their own territory, and connected with their audiences, building a community that shares their passions and interests. Nowadays, through the painstaking process of blogging, befriending and following like-minded citizens, any author can develop networks of people who will buy their books. They don’t need traditional publishers. And ironically, once a Citizen Author proves the value of their work, the King and his court usually come running, waving money.
Lisa Genova, author of “Still Alice”, is a great example of just such a Citizen Author. She wrote a novel about Alzheimer’s. Her grandmother had suffered from this debilitating disease, and she couldn’t find anything out there that spoke to her on the subject. She was rejected over and over and over by traditional publishers, who are trained to say “No”, and many of whom live in a blinkered world with a bubble around it. They not only don’t have their finger on the pulse of America, they’ve completely lost track of all the vital organs in this country. Finally Lisa got tired of the rejection, and decided to take matters into her own hands, as so many citizens before her have. With very little money spent, she self-published her book. And then came the hard part. Slowly but surely she integrated herself into the vast community of people who have a family member who has suffered at the hands of Alzheimer’s. And just as she suspected, they were hungry for what she had to offer. She knew something that traditional publishers didn’t. Her book sold lots and lots of copies. And then, it happened. The very people who had rejected her came calling. She got a seven-figure two-book deal!
Yes, with so many books being published, it gets harder and harder to get any attention whatsoever for a book, especially if you’re an unknown or new author. But at least we Citizen Authors all have choices now.
And isn’t that what America is all about?
Citizen Author: Determined, Motivated, Fed-Up Authors: Unite
Literary success is being democratized as it never has been before.
By Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry
Dec 20, 2010
Yes, Virginia, we’ve entered a new digital age in publishing. But there’s another major change afoot.
America was founded by a scrappy bunch of determined, motivated, fed-up citizen soldiers who revolted against an unjust system that benefited the few at the expense of the many. Like them, a new 21st-century group of brave outsiders has decided to revolt against the often unfair elitism of modern publishing. We call them Citizen Authors.
Sure, some of these brave new Citizen Authors are Harvard graduates with megaspeaking careers and fancy titles. But most Citizen Authors aren’t college professors, graduates of M.F.A. programs, or even relatives of someone in the publishing industry. Instead, they are veterinarians, entrepreneurs, schoolteachers, bartenders, soccer moms, firefighters, goth teenagers, and foodies determined to write their way to success.
Citizen Authors have two things in common: (1) a dream of having a book published, and published well, and (2) the will to make it happen by whatever means necessary. Some Citizen Authors self-publish, some e-publish, some partner with small, medium, and megapublishers, and some do all of the above. There’s Seth Godin, who uses his creativity to package, market, and publicize his books in unique and savvy ways that embrace a grassroots methodology. There’s Robert St. John, who depends on his local following to successfully publish and produce gorgeous illustrated books that defy all publishing conventions about the coffee-table book market. There are Patricia Konjoian and Gina Gallagher, mothers with a passion to help other mothers despite no “expertise” in their topic.
What’s perhaps most exciting about Citizen Authors is that some of them have been able to say a big “I told you so!” to Manhattan publishing after having been rejected, mocked, and/or dismissed by that clique’s elitism, solipsism, and/or lack of creative vision. These include people like Zetta Elliott, J.A. Konrath, and Lisa Genova. Zetta wrote about race in a way that didn’t fit into the credo of the mostly white world of publishing, but fit perfectly into libraries all over the country that catered to children of every color; J.A. (aka Joe) took his rejected thrillers and turned them into e-books that his fans—and his pocketbook—couldn’t get enough of; Lisa wrote about Alzheimer’s, one of the many subjects “people don’t want to read about”—a favorite catchphrase of agents and publishers alike.
The irony is, when Citizen Authors prove how valuable they are, all the big guns in the book business come running, throwing money. Even more ironic is that these Citizen Authors saw the marketplace in a clear-eyed, smart way that “big publishing” wouldn’t or couldn’t.
With the plethora of new ways to connect with readers, and with the fantastic formats and platforms that are now available to writers, literary success is being democratized as it never has been before. And yet the same four principles apply to these Citizen Authors as to those who have been published successfully for decades. They do their research; they network their buns off; they write, write and write some more; and they persevere. They also take an entrepreneurial approach to their projects. They get professional help when necessary. They hire excellent editors, top-drawer publicists, and social media gurus. They even buy books about how to get successfully published!
Yes, it remains difficult for writers to achieve any kind of monetization. And successful Citizen Authors know that a good publisher—the right publisher for their book—can offer many services and opportunities that would be tough to manage while working solo. (For example, anyone who has published a book with Workman, as we have, would be an idiot to say that publishers no longer have value!) But most Citizen Authors haven’t been given the chance to work with a top-notch publisher.
So, valiant writer, when you hear the nabobs of negativity spouting doom and gloom, do not despair. In the age of the Citizen Author, any writer with a dream in her heart, grease in her elbows, fire in her belly, generosity in her soul, thickness in her hide, funny in her bones, brains in her head, and a little help from friends and experts, can now be published—and even published successfully.
Workman published Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry’s The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully last month.