Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Is Book Publishing the New Black?

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Is Book Publishing the New Black?

There’s not a week that goes by where I am not e-mailed, texted, DM’d, smoke signalled, Facebooked, instagrammed or morse coded by someone I know — or a person who has stumbled into one of my books or blogosphere musings — who tells me they’ve been sitting on a rough manuscript or an idea for a novel. And I get these queries across the board; from graphic designers, waiters, app developers, educators, pyramid scheme operators, construction workers, VJs, DJs and my friend’s in the PJs.

All of which makes me wonder — is book publishing the New Black? Has the idea of seeing your name attached to a book that you presumably wrote become the new Chia pet, Samsung Galaxy S4, leg warmer, Harlem Shake or pastel color (oh, you didn’t know that pastel will be all the rage this Spring?). Apparently attempting to write a book is just something you have to do in your lifetime, to keep your ego intact, kinda like when Miley Cyrus (sloppily) introduced twerking to Middle America (despite the fact that the dance has been going on in New Orleans for about 20 years?). And then the New York Post published their instructional guide to twerking, much to the chagrin of many, and then the word got added to the Oxford dictionary.

Hey, I say the more published authors the merrier. Attempting to write a book seems to have become a bucket list item for boatloads of non-writers, and bored baby boomers too. In the book Stuff White People Like, author Christian Lander wrote that “it’s no secret: white people want to be writers... every single white person harbours this dream. No matter what they tell you, all of them have at least one chapter of a novel or memoir stashed away somewhere.” With all due respect to Lander, I would extend that argument to include many POCs too.

The part I have some difficulty digesting relates to quality control, vanity/ego and saleability. Many of the authors I hang out and trade terrible jokes with, actually write for a part of their living. So that means that the art and craft of writing is not really treated like an occasional hobby that they dabble in every now and then. And I believe that one part of the reason they get paid to write or get published by various publishing houses is because they treat writing as a serious skill and art, no different than someone who dances, DJs or acts for a living.

I’ve worked in the music business for years, and typically if a musician I work alongside, manage or book to perform doesn’t work on their tunes, or rehearse them regularly with their group or band, the likelihood of said tracks sounding really sucky (like Young Money’s new Rise Of An Empire compilation) are kinda high. With writing, it’s much the same. If you treat writing like a part-time hobby, and put in a part-time effort, and still expect to get a book out that anyone will care about, or that will sell more than 20 copies (to your immediate family, who will feel pressured to support your entrepreneurial efforts, of course) I wish you luck.

The self publishing bonanza is real and the inherent elitism found in the Canadian book industry has been wiped away. And I fully support actual writers who want to go this route because they want to take back control of their careers and don’t really care that their book might not get carried in traditional bookstores (where people aren’t buying books like they used to anyways), or get reviewed in one of the few mainstream periodicals that still do book reviews.

I was recently hanging out with some publishing business mavens, influencers, authors and execs from Blurb in Toronto to discuss how their self publishing platform could better accommodate the needs of the vast number of people contemplating writing a book, DIY-style. And even during this discussion, for your average self-published author, the numbers are daunting. Self-published titles will sell around 20-30 copies on average. In the US, multiply that number times ten. Could the idea of working on a book for 1-5 years, or a lifetime, to only be read by a few dozen people (read: your immediate family) be interpreted as an exercise in futility? Perhaps.

As an honest book biz blogger, part of my duty here is to help demythologize some of the romantic notions many non-scribes might have about what it actually takes to write and get a book to market. Writing is one of the single most solitary pursuits I can think of. It’s just you and your laptop, at the end of the day. If you enjoy living a monk-like existence, and the idea of getting royalty cheques once in a blue moon turns your crank, I say welcome to the fraternity! Sincerely.

Dalton Higgins is a National Magazine Award-winning journalist and radio and TV broadcaster who blogs and therefore is. His latest book Far From Over: The Music and Life of Drake (ECW Press, Oct. 2012) sheds light on the cultural conditions in Toronto that helped create the Drake phenomenon. His four other books (Fatherhood 4.0, Hip Hop World, Hip Hop, Much Master T) examine the place where the worlds of technology, diversity, hip hop and hipster culture intersect. His daily Daltoganda, musings, rants, jabs, pontifications and fire-and-brimstone blather can be accessed from his digital pulpit on twitter: @daltonhiggins5

Click here to read Dalton's archived articles on Open Book: Toronto.

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