This week I'm traveling to yet another writers' conference. But this time I'm not going for the purposes of selling a novel, promoting a novel, praying for an award or scouting for an agent. This time I'm going purely for information. Although there will be a few editors and agents, I won't be sitting in on their presentations. My focus will be the e-book publishers, authors and marketeers, in other words, the do-it-yourselfers who managed to climb out of the ashes of the print book decline and make a living.
It isn't easy making a living as a writer. The average income of a writer hovers somewhere around where it did 20 years ago, about $17,000 a year, not exactly the kind of salary that makes new college graduates line up for interviews. I did a little better than that in the days when advances were the norm and when I published regularly, one novel a year, occasionally, two. Naively, I assumed the golden years would last forever; I would continue to write books that merited good reviews and, in return, my publishers would accept everything I wrote, sign the contracts, and the checks, promote my books and ask for more.
That didn't happen. Publishing houses merged, editors were fired and authors, even those who had at some point in their careers achieved bestseller status, were released when their contracts came up for renewal. It happens to the best of us. Sales are everything. When publishers tighten their belts, shelf space is at a premium. An author is only as valuable as her last few books. Writing may be an art, but publishing is a business and unless an author wants to write without selling, she must embrace a new marketing plan. Hence, those of us who cherish our privacy like priceless jewels, who take deep breaths and give ourselves encouraging pep talks in front of the mirror before every social event, find that we must now not only write, edit and publish our books, we must develop an online presence in order to sell them as well.
I'm not enjoying that part at all. I do like Facebook. I enjoy keeping up with my friends, reading their congratulations in good times and their commiserations when times aren't quite so good. I love the photos, the recommendations, the recipes, the travel suggestions. But I don't love mentioning my books. Maybe it's because my late father once told me that business and friendships aren't a good mix. He was right about most things so I assume he was probably right about that, too. All of which is why I'm heading off to Florida for the Novelists' Inc. Conference to figure out a way to develop that online presence everyone keeps talking about, the one that will develop business relationships, sell my books and not presume upon my friends. No wonder I'm breathing deeply and talking to myself in front of the mirror.