An unexpected silver lining (including butts with wings) in this brave new publishing world

In the last five days, I have:

  • Corresponded with my French translator about the French edition of my book and future books.
  • Responded to questions from readers in Mexico, Thailand, Argentina, Germany and Turkey, as well as four states within the United States.
  • Assisted in the publicity of my book in Italy and France by creating material for their online portals.
  • Contributed a Q&A to a book blogger in Michigan.
  • Received an email from a reader who explained how a single sentence in Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend has changed her relationship with her daughter for the better.

Yes, it’s true that there are fewer bookstores today. Less shelf space for books. And yes, advances are shrinking. Competition for readers’ attention is increasing exponentially. More books are being published today than ever before.

It’s becoming more and more difficult to sell a book. 

Every six months or so, I read another piece asking if the novel (or even the book itself) is dead.

None of this is good. It is extremely difficult to make a living as an author today. A 2014 Digital Book World and Writer's Digest Author Survey  revealed that 54% of traditionally-published authors earn less than $1,000 per year.

A quote from Dorothy Parker gained from traction on social media last week that captures the challenges of earning a living as an author well:


I have been exceptionally fortunate. I have published three novels in 6 years and my fourth book should hit bookshelves later this year. My most recent novel, Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, has been published in 24 countries worldwide, and all three of my books have been purchased by international publishers. 

Despite my good fortune, I would not be able to survive without the salary that I earn as an elementary school teacher. Though I love my job as a teacher and couldn’t imagine giving it up, there may come a time when I would like to devote all of my energies to my writing, but I don’t know if that will ever be possible.

And once again, I have been exceptionally fortunate.

But if I’m searching for a silver lining, it can be found in these last five days.

Never before have authors been able to reach readers as easily as we can today. The Internet has brought me just as close to my readers in Thailand as I am to readers one state away.

Thanks so the ease of online translation, I am able to communicate with these readers, even when we speak different languages. Yes, the sentences can be a little janky at times, but we are able to communicate without the assistance of a paid translator.

This evening I will be visiting with a book club in Ohio via Skype. About a dozen women will jam themselves into a living room and ask me questions about my work and my life while I am sitting at my dining room table in my pajamas.

Last month I visited with a book club in Riyadh via Skype. I pulled my car over to the side of the road, opened Skype on my phone and chatted with half a dozen women on the other side of the world about literature and writing.

Last year I participated in a literary festival in Italy by delivering a talk on a large screen via Skype to an audience of more than 200 people.

Other than a honeymoon in Bermuda, I have never left the United States, but I have spoken to readers in more than 30 countries in the last two years.

There’s more.

I am able to take the stage in New York or Boston, tell a story to an audience of 300-1,000 people and then post a video of that story onto my YouTube channel for my readers around the world to see. This month students at a college in Niskayuna, New York will be watching these stories on YouTube as part of a lesson on “distinguishing between experience from what we take-away from that experience.”

Perhaps a few of them will buy a book.

These are difficult times for authors who want to make a living by writing. They are even more difficult for authors with families to support. Unless you have written a bestseller (and maybe two) or sold your novel to Hollywood, it is likely that you are going to need a “real job” or a supportive spouse in order to spend your days writing.

But the challenges that the Internet and the digital world have brought to the publishing industry have also brought new and exciting opportunities. The ability to visit with a book club in South Africa or exchange emails with a class of students in Denmark will never make up for the disappearance of book stores, the shrinking of book shelves and the reduction in advances and loss of royalties for authors.

But on those days when the writing is hard and the editing is harder, and I and begin to wonder if I will ever be able to make a living writing books, an email or message through social media always seems to arrive at just the right moment, from some obscure corner of the world, thanking me writing a book, or telling me how my words have changed a life, or asking me to discuss the epilogue of my latest novel or inquiring frantically about my next book.

These messages do not pay the bills. They do not allow me to remain at home every day, toiling over sentences and filling plot holes. But they lift my spirits. They energize me. They remind me of why I started writing in the first place. They remind me of why I continue to write and would do so even if no one was paying me a dime. 

Sometimes it’s as simple as a tweet like this that sends me back to the laptop with excitement and hope:

@ibieberavons I miss my book "The memoirs of an imaginary friend" ....whoever who stole it ... i pray that your butt grow wings -_-