For Better, For Worse

Musings on the future of writing and publishing in the digital age.

by Ed Robson, Fiction and Poetry Reader

There’s good news and bad news for writers in the digital age, that much is certain. What I’m trying to sort out is, which is which?

Publishing is easier than ever. Getting published is harder than ever.

Everyone can write. Anyone can write.

More people are writing poetry. More people are reading poetry. Fewer people are buying poetry.

The opportunities. The competition.

The technology.

We’re doomed, it seems, to live and write in interesting times. Still, I do see some signs that to my mind look encouraging. For instance:

  1. The Internet can monetize your popularity. The digital marketplace for literature, as for other forms of art, is tough. Most people who upload their work, even if it’s really good, will never see a cent for it. But platforms are appearing now that make a point of rewarding content creators who get hits. The first few poems, blogposts, or stories you post may not make enough to buy a sandwich, but if you are persistent, and if your writing is appealing to an audience of primarily millenials, and IF TODAY’S YOUR LUCKY DAY, the next one may tweak someone’s fancy and you’ll start to build a fan base.
  2.  Micropoets. Atticus is only one of several poets whose haiku-length musings regularly reach six-figure fan bases in Instagram and other platforms. I’m not saying we should all start posting 6- to 12-word poems on our social media–it must be harder than it looks, right? But I think it’s safe to say, there are niches yet to be discovered in a world where billions of people seem to live with eyes locked on their cell phones.
  3.  Print on Demand. Everybody knows you can’t make money selling books made out of paper, right? But a few publishers have started taking advantage of the new printing technology that prints and binds single books, one at a time, never more than have been ordered and paid for. POD is still utilized more by the vanity publishing industry, but little houses are appearing now that can say “Yes!” to any book they really like. It’s still largely up to authors to do most of their own marketing, but with waste of unsold books eliminated, publisher and author both make money on every single sale.
  4.  The Opportunity for Digital Litmags. The literary world continues to need journals that select and promote good writing, but publications must adapt to digital reality. Consumers reading on their phones want easy access to searchable content that allows them to select one item at a time. Internet readers will be loyal to journals with specific niche appeal. The Arkana staff, you can be sure, is paying close attention to these trends.

Ask a writer why they write, they’ll tell you it’s just what they have to do. For better or worse, we’re married to those words upon the page, whatever form that page may take.

And that’s good news, because the world–now more than ever–needs that thing we do.


Ed Robson is a retired clinical psychologist from Winston-Salem, NC.  His poetry has recently appeared in The Hungry Chimera, Right Hand Pointing, Failed Haiku, and Perfume River Poetry Review.  His current works in progress include novels, short fiction, and creative non-fiction.  Between writing assignments he enjoys cycling and cooking.  Past pursuits he hopes he’ll someday have time to reactivate include camping, mineral collecting, gardening, woodworking, and silversmithing.  His role models are mostly teenagers, especially Emma Gonzales and Malala Yousafzai, and he secretly suspects the Hokey Pokey may in fact be what it’s all about.
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