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. We believe that rather than stuff their writing in a drawer once it's been rejected, Citizen Authors can find more and better ways to refine their writing, their messages, their marketing plans, and their reading audience. Citizen Authors may choose to self-publish, they may choose to e-publish, or they may choose to pursue the brass ring of a major imprint before or after, because now they can.
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.