[Originally posted at http://ellenbyerrum.livejournal.com]
The times are changing for writers and they are dire. You might as well hang up your pen and paper, shut off your computer and go wait tables -- at least according to news reports swirling all around us.
These are some of the tidbits I keep hearing:
- Women’s books are not getting reviewed as often as men's books.
- Women are not being published as often as men.
- With Borders closing hundreds of stores, it will be murder on the mystery midlist, and many writers will have no (or one less) champion in their corner.
- With e-books making their mark and publishers afraid to take chances (unless of course there is a high celebrity bimbo quotient), the ground is rapidly shifting beneath our ergonomic writing chairs.
- Publishers will continue to look for blockbusters and celebrities and not take a chance on "smaller" books and lesser-known writers who take time to build an audience.
- Writers must have a website, they must relentlessly tweet and blog and Facebook and Skype and make video book trailers for YouTube and hand out bookmarks and postcards and dance on the high wire of publicity (not to mention the head of that pin) and attend every conference and meeting they can find all over the country. At their own expense. They must be able to entertain a crowd and drop one-liners like a pro on the comedy circuit because nobody wants a boring, or heaven forbid, a shy writer. The only thing they don't have to do is make balloon animals. Not yet anyway. But writers must also keep up the high quality of their work. However, that’s really secondary, hardly important at all. It's all about successfully navigating the endless sea of social media.
Was it really any different in the past? Aside from the relentless social media chores, has publishing ever been anything but a ship of disaster and heartbreak ahead? Full of cautionary tales for anyone who wants to be a scribe, or for that matter, an artist, a musician or a dancer? Hasn’t it always been a tricky proposition for women? Seriously, is it becoming harder, or is it just transforming into something new, easier in some ways, but harder in new and unexpected ways?
It seems to me that writing a book has always been daunting and difficult, the Impossible Dream. When I started writing my first book about Lacey Smithsonian, mixing fashion and crime, a little mystery, a little comedy, a little romance, a little snarky social commentary, there were no books like mine out there. No heroine like Lacey. I had no idea whether anyone would publish me or read me, I only knew that this was the book I had to write, because it was the book I wanted to read. I also had to shut my ears to my critics, both external and internal. Yet that book, Killer Hair, was published and is on at least its tenth printing. And the seventh book in the series, Shot Through Velvet, was just released in February. All seven are still in print and on bookstore shelves, and I'm up to my ears in writing Book Number Eight.
Maybe it takes a bit of idealistic innocence (or sheer ignorance) and a stubborn spine to succeed; maybe it takes a belief that, no matter how ridiculous the odds, you might just be the one to make it, as crazy as it seems. The one to make it past the gatekeepers and past the pitfalls and find an audience and a home in the publishing market. On a fool’s errand, perhaps only the fools win.
And what will I do in this brave new publishing world? All I can do is keep my head down, square my shoulders, and march forward into the winds of change. And no matter how compelling it is, maybe, just maybe, I should stop reading every dismal prediction of doom that comes my way.
Ellen Byerrum is the author of the Crime of Fashion mysteries. Two of her books -- Killer Hair and Hostile Makeover -- were adapted for film by the Lifetime Movie Network. The seventh and latest installment in the series is Shot Through Velvet.