This post from writer Justine Musk at her blog Tribal Writer makes me feel sad:
In the old days of publishing (which now seem as long-gone as the dinosaurs), publishers gave you the space and patience for that [steady growth through print publication] to happen. If they published you in hardcover, your first readers had a year to get the word out about you and jumpstart the second life your book experienced when it came out in paperback.
If you were published in original paperback, publishers would nurture you along for four or five books while you steadily accumulated a readerbase.
Not that any of this was guaranteed — or easy — but you had that fighting chance, and it enabled someone like Dean Koontz to survive as an obscure midlist writer (under various pseudonyms) for twenty years before breaking through to the bestselling lists (again under different pseudonyms, which indicates that maybe, just maybe, personal talent, skill and effort can mean as much if not more than luck).
Things are different now.
Writers are so focused on the Holy Grail of that first book contract, which (usually) takes ten or more years of serious writing practice to attain, that they often don’t realize that the second (and third and fourth) contracts can be as challenging. Publishers can’t afford — and are not willing — to carry you anymore. They want numbers. As in sales numbers. They want you to burst out of the gate like the sleekest of racehorses. If you don’t, they drop you, and you face the challenge of starting all over again, possibly under a different pen name so that the stink of poor sales won’t trail you and drag you down.
First thing that made me depressed:
that first book contract ... takes ten or more years of serious writing practice to attain
Ten years is an INCREDIBLY long time. I don't think I could stand 10 years of "practice" before "bursting out of the gate." In that case I'd be close to 30, and no offense, but man, seriously, by 21st-century standards, that is OOOOOLLLD. (The fact that I'm 19 and haven't done anything, in nano- and NaNo-years I'm "tech"nically a fossil already.)
But perhaps more so, this:
In the old days of publishing (which now seem as long-gone as the dinosaurs) ... publishers gave you the space and patience ... [for] your first readers ... to get the word out about you and jumpstart the second life your book experienced when it came out in paperback. If you were published in original paperback, publishers would nurture you along for four or five books while you steadily accumulated a readerbase. ... [Y]ou had that fighting chance, and it enabled someone like Dean Koontz to survive ... before breaking through to the bestselling lists...
What I take from this is because most beginner writers know very little about marketing, and aren't "business"-minded as, say, Seth Godin or Tim Ferriss, there's almost no chance for anyone anymore to become a household name like Koontz/King/Grisham/Grafton/Patterson et. al. Even J.K. Rowling made her name before the rise of "Web 2.0" and instant, albeit usually pointless, notoriety (and just-as-fast disappearance from the face of the earth). I'm extremely sad, and I seriously almost want to shove pencils up my nose like the old urban-myth of how exam-weary students closed out of their careers. It almost seems that while there might be a chance, albeit more and more remote as the Internet era goes on and gets worse, of cracking into the NYT lists, there's virtually none, at least not anymore, that you're going to be a household name with McDonald's sales numbers ("billions and billions sold").
The reason I think is because the Web 2.0 era has made the career writer -- someone who defines him/herself as a writer, and not a jack(a$$) of all trades and joker for all, is no longer "good enough" because the big-name publishers aren't going to waste their time on newbies when they've amassed a whole stockpile of big names "grandfathered" into the old system. The other thing is self-publishing, which (sorry Amanda) includes blogs, Facebook, and Twitter, and the ease of technical use has really diluted the market, making it almost impossible for a clumsy pony with potential to be Secretariat to cut through the bits and bytes of everyone and their other brother Darryl putting up a spam-blog or Lulu-ing their kitten newsletters. (They shoot "cheezburgers," don't they?)
Another is the phenomenon of the "niche," which I think used to be called "cult favorite," as in the Kardashians get the Cheers treatment of everybody knowing their names, but Darren Rowse and even Godin and Ferriss are well-known in their field. If your "field" is being a novelist, it seems nowadays even if you hit #1 you're never going to be a "rock star" like Rowling or (the most recent example I can think of) Stephenie Meyer. Even she was first published in 2005, when MySpace and IMing were all the rage, but again, even as little as six (going on seven? Wow) years ago, what we now know as "social media" was really still in "beta" stages. Facebook was still relegated to college students. Twitter wasn't anything more than an egg (and not even a chicken), and Yahoo! was still a viable competitor against the now-almighty Google. Except for Justin Bieber, it is possible to be "Internet famous" but that's pretty much it. The mainstream seems forever shut off, a relic of the past in which now, you're allotted to 15 nanoseconds and limited bandwidth of fame. (It could also be that the era of the Internet means that fewer and fewer people are actually reading books. I know they said the same thing about TV and movies, but this seems to be the final nail in the coffin. You're more likely to be a well-known something-else because the paperback writer is going the way of the lovely meter reader and Mr. Postman.)
It almost seems as though you won't hear about anyone "new," or they won't become a household name (except for something akin to Tidy Bowl, or the stuff it cleans), unless you're active online, and maybe I'm more sheltered than most people, but I've never heard of half the people that the "up and coming blogs" are all a-Twitter about. The publishers used to even handle the marketing for you. Now it's all about you, and frankly, that's why I think the fiction writer prefers fiction to memoir or "literary journalism," because s/he can't stand putting him/herself out there, naked and for all s/he is worth as a person, rather than the work itself. I'd never have heard of Tahareh Malfi (sp?) or Kirsten White (sp?) or even Amanda Hocking if there hadn't been an Internet. I wasn't born yet when King and Koontz were newbies in the game, like TM and KW and AH are now, but will these newbies ascend to the celebrity status of the "great ones," if that's their aspiration? Or (ahem) MINE?
In short, yeah, confession, for me writing the hoped-for bestseller does carry with it a degree of perhaps unrealistic narcissism, and the crushing blow that there will probably (God, did it hurt to click that strikeout button) never be a Rachel Ventura exposé on TMZ or Extra. I mean, I haven't written anything publishable yet, but this almost makes me want to give up and go make a sex video or something. (But of course, that'd be defeating the purpose of trying to be a paradoxical "celebrity recluse," because I just said I don't ever want to get naked.)
Please, somebody reaffirm my faith in all that's shallow and plastic and Andy Warhol's favorite things. Help me believe it's still possible to be the Marilyn or Elvis of the book-writing world. Help me, Obi-Wan Branobis, you're my only hope. (I wish you could increase the size of the tearful emoticons, too.)