I had a discussion with someone I know quite well, which persuaded me to write this piece.
From 2005 to 2013 I taught writers workshops in L.A. and Oakland. I’ve seen my share of ‘aspiring’ and new writers who dreamed of publishing their first book. In these workshops, I shared my notes on what is required to write a manuscript, publishing and marketing. Most of the attendees were inspired to finish their books, while those who heard the information and took notes, I never saw again. All I know is that from my two workshops, I know several people who have gone on to become published authors which makes me proud to have contributed to their success.
It’s been five years since my last workshop and all I can say now is that the word ‘author’ doesn’t hold the same prestige that it once had. Most of you know from reading this blog I’ve been an author for seventeen years. The writing business has changed over time tremendously. Once upon a time, there would be a number of individuals who their books printed by traditional, subsidy publishers or printed them themselves. Thanks to the advances in technology, print on demand publishing and Amazon have been a boon to the aspiring author who realizes their dream in writing and publishing their books. Because there are more people taking advantage of this technology, there are more authors than before.
There’s no way I could have foreseen (as much research as I do) of the video streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu capturing the attention of our potential audiences. No doubt these platforms shorten the free time available for reading a book. The question I have to ask is: with these platforms, who has time for reading anymore? The hours spent for binge watching a favorite television show could be used to read a favorite book - if anyone has a favorite book. Even with our advanced technology, what use is there for an author in the 21st Century? There have been times at a community festival someone walks up to my table and tells me, ‘I’m not a book reader.’ As if those words would make me feel better. They didn’t and still don’t.
Looking at the present world around me with a generation that isn’t much into book reading and comfortable watching their video platforms, I have to wonder how much longer do I have before all of this becomes for naught? How much longer can all of these new authors who attend writers’ workshops with the intention of publishing a book discover the support isn’t there? It’s great we have authors such as J.K. Rowling, John Green and the rest whose works are getting the acclaim they deserve. For these individuals, the word Author has weight. For the rest of us struggling to finish our first or fifth book, our projects stalled without much to share on social media, this word doesn’t mean a whole lot - and it should.
When you take the time to produce a written work, you should have a sense of pride that your words are for all to see. Don’t let this world put you down just because you are an author and there’s a lack of support. You have to move forward to let folks know about your website, your next book signings, poetry readings, etc. Be proud of your accomplishments and let no one take that away from you, even if you’re not as ‘well known’.
For most, the word ‘author’ is just another space on someone’s social resume before they direct their energies towards their next endeavor in business, entertainment, public speaking, whatever avenue they choose. In today’s modern climate, authors no longer have longevity their predecessors once had. Unless you’re a King, Rowling (again), and Atwood, I’ve personally seen new authors give up because the sales weren’t moving in a direction they wanted to go. They, like me, had heard enough from the non book reading crowd or the non supportive legion of folks who don’t place literature as a priority. There are too many media platforms fighting for their attention today.
Lastly, to be an author means to me is to love the art associated with the craft. I wonder how many literary artists love to write presently? When we can become easily distracted by social media, that time could be well spent to create our own stories, helpful non-fictional content, series, anything we want. I would wager that writing opens up a well of possibilities creatively, an untapped well social media doesn’t allow. Whether you’re seeking to write a book or if you’re continuing to write because you love what you’re doing, be proud of that word. Be proud of dreaming to be called one and be proud because you are one. The word may not matter much on a ‘lower level’ but it means so much for those of us who’ve earned the right to be called that special, important word.
Charles L. Chatmon