The Book Doctors in on Citizen Authorship

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?