This afternoon, I was presented with the opportunity to watch one of my absolute long time inspirations, Marieke Hardy, the well-known author, radio presenter, blogger, screenwriter.
Hardy was on a panel with Virginia Murdoch, one of the founders of Booki.sh (an online/ebook publisher) as well as a graphic designer by trade, who also works with Overdrive and Haylee Kerans, an avid reader of romance and the Publishing Manager at Harlequin (think Mills & Boon, Harlequin & Mira). She is living proof that life can imitate fiction: Kerans did her thesis on the polemics of Mills & Boon and now works in a position that has put her research to excellent use. Jeanti St Clair (journalist, media lecturer at SCU and ABC North Coast’s arts reviewer) chaired this session so I looked forward to some lively debate.
With the arrival of the internet as not only a competitor but also possibly a replacement of traditional reading sources, is it now necessary for writers to embrace this environment for survival? Those more familiar with a pen and paper can be daunted by the challenges that this landscape throws out, but decreasing printed book sales, a diverse array of available content and the options of e- & self-publishing have emerged as a new force within the literary world that can’t be ignored, regardless of our personal views.
The rapid growth and global accessibility of blogs, YouTube, social networking and easily downloadable content has seen an explosion of both the “good” and “bad”, releasing more for consumption than ever before. So what do today’s writers need to be aware of to stay in touch with changing trends?
These four uniquely talented woman discuss the issues emerging from internet writing.
Jeanti St Clair began explaining that women are quick to take up e-publishing and blogging and that studies show that women trust blogs. Why? Due to the length and depth of format, as well as the online “community” available, St Clair says blogs are hitting a chord with female audiences.
Marieke Hardy commented, saying that community is definitely a strong drawcard to blogging and that she often finds “young, funny, sharp female writers” online who usually have other day jobs, but are accessible due to the ease of creating a blog. She says her own blog, has a large following and she often uses it to comment on political and media-related issues, such as the axing of Channel 10’s The Circle, which has outraged many viewers, and Hardy has been vocal about it.
Haylee Kerans says blogs are as important for publishers as for writers, especially in the genre of romance in which she specialises. Virginia Murdoch asks Kerans: “What about the book-to-blog phenomenon? Where do you start – the piles of manuscripts or online?” St Clair continues this line of questioning, asking if it makes writers easier to market when they come already having an audience? Kerans explains that it can make the job harder (trawling thorugh the internet for fresh content) as well as easier, because writers “know how to use the tools”.
Regarding structural changes, Murdoch notes that companies such as Booki.sh have not caused this trend and that in actuality, they serve to “widen the ability to reach audiences, engineered to help share and make easy and quick purchases”. She goes on to say that there are times when hard copies are more likely required (such as cookbooks, gifts, collections etc) and times when e-books are more practical (for travel and portability).
Digital/ e-publishing and self-publishing differ greatly, says Kerans. Despite popular opinion, she concedes that “some genres works better, such as romance”. Some say the resurgence of romance has a lot to do with the availability of private purchasing and consumption via downloadable content.
But with so much content floating around, what will make yours stand out? This is where a good publisher is worth their weight in gold. Kerans likens them to being “a champion” for your cause, quick to point out that just because a book is in the marketplace or worth reading, doesn’t guarantee at all that it will sell. St Clair suggests that publication has always been about “curation”, and hence it will continue, a statement I couldn’t agree more with.
Moving back to the subjects of blogging, Hardy talks about the rapid rise of the “mummy blogger”, joking that the internet was surely made for mothers of small children; a place where women can “discuss, heal and help each other”. All this is true, which leads into the slightly darker topic of the not so pretty side of blogging for women.
While this includes healthy competition, it also includes the absolutely vile and unacceptable comments being left on blogs, to which Hardy, like many high profile bloggers, have been subjected to. As she says, it “gets easier”, realising over time that the people who hide behind their screens bullying others in an unaccountable way are cowardly in their approaches. She advises other woman not to engage in nastiness and to develop a thick skin.
But what of a blogger’s responsibility to moderate comments on their own blogs? Hardy admits this is a grey area. At what point does this become necessary? Hardy doesn’t believe in removing posts that critique her work but sometimes has to draw the line at comments that are abusive or violently oriented at others.
St Clair’s last question relates to scarcity of female authors and the “glass ceiling” aspect to this industry. I can’t help but reflect upon other topics we have covered so far: the end of a solely female presented TV show despite a steady audience; abuse, nastiness and threats directed at women online as well as the disproportion of income, based on gender in most industries. With these sort of issues to face, is it any wonder there are less women out there sharing their thoughts? This will only change by strength in numbers and long-term commitment to make real changes in this area. Women have voices and we need to start using them!
Virginia Murdoch mentions that while e-publishing will not change the gender figures alone, that sites like smashwords are available to all writers to self-distribute by uploading your own manuscript, and giving it away or selling it for a commission. She suggests that more community-driven audiences and less middle men will definitely change the way that people are published, giving people more and more of what they want and less of what they are given or sold by larger companies. Still, competing with large companies who are not interested in making any profits for authors can be hard, she says.
Kerans agrees saying that “we don’t value intellectual property enough, (we forget that) a lot of work has gone into it by the writer”. This is, without a doubt, a key factor in how the market has changed. With the advent of the internet, everyone wants everything right now and for free.
I try to think of it like fast food chains though, you might eat there occasionally when you are really hungry or desperate, but you don’t make a habit out of it because you usually regret it afterwards. It is so much nicer to sit down and eat a well-prepared and lovingly cooked meal. Even if it takes longer and costs more, we all know it is worth it. A writers’ work is no different. Creations of quality are always worth the wait and the extra few dollars.
On this note, I’d like to point out the self-proclaimed ‘granny blogger’ who made a few comments at the end of the session during question time, about why she blogs. Quite simply, she said that she and her fellow granny bloggers “blog online because we like writing and sharing, it makes us happy to do it”.
And that is the best inspiration there ever was.
Keira Patrick is a Southern Cross University media student.