Showcasing your work on blogs, podcasts or social media is fine, just don't see it as a shortcut to finding an audience
"Piracy is yesterday's worry for today's 'artisan authors'", wrote Damien G Walter in his piece about file sharing and piracy, in which he covered interesting ground, sparked plenty of discussion – and put a lot of backs up. The idea, which he put forward, of not only accepting book piracy as a good thing but actually enabling it, cuts to the heart of professional authors' livelihoods. And while Damien's examples of Neil Gaiman, Charles Stross and Cory Doctorow as authors who have embraced, and subverted, filesharing and piracy are all legitimate, not everyone agrees with his broader premise.
On his webpage, the Left Room, Steve Mosby argues that Doctorow's status as a pioneer in the field means there is no way any subsequent author can hope to have the same impact, especially as so many people are now giving their work away. Over at Tor, Niall Alexander roundly agrees with Damien but feels the piece overlooked the plight of mid-list authors. Bob Lock at Amazing Stories has a different response: that for authors who don't make a living from their work, piracy is a way of putting their name out into the world, at least while building their career. Clearly, the issue is complex and sensitive. For me, the piece overlooks a third approach: Creative Commons licensing.
This form of licensing was developed in 2001, and the Creative Commons organisation continues to refine the licence depending on what it's being used for, ranging from photography and books to podcasting (which is where I come in). I work under the Creative Commons Attribution, Non Commercial, No Derivatives licence – which means anyone can copy the podcast I work on, as long as they don't pass it off as their work, charge for it or try to change it. It's a great system, and a lot of podcasts use it because it replaces one support network (the publishing industry) with another, smaller one. This isn't piracy, because the author signs off on the item being distributed – but it isn't filesharing either. It's a third way, one that combines publishing, elements of broadcasting and the near-ubiquity of mp3 players to deliver stories to an audience.
It works too. Pseudopod, the show I work for, is a weekly horror fiction podcast that features a different short story every episode. We're part of a family of shows that include Escape Pod, which covers science fiction, and Podcastle, which covers fantasy. There are dozens of shows that do this – Cast of Wonders for young adults, for example, and the Drabblecast for a taste of the bizarre – all producing weekly, short, genre fiction. We, and countless other editorial teams and authors, are only able to do this thanks to Creative Commons licensing.
Podcasting and CC licensing form a powerful framework, and the "artisan authors" Damien discussed have a great example to follow: Scott Sigler in 2004. Sigler's first book, a sci-fi horror novel titled Earthcore, was a success through iPublish and was scheduled to be printed. The economic slump after the September 11 attacks put paid to this and Sigler found himself with a homeless book. He decided to podcast it, because no one else was doing this and it seemed a logical way to get the story out and working. By the end of the run, he had more than 10,000 subscribers and was able to transfer that audience back to print. Now, less than a decade later, Sigler has 10 titles in print, and still podcasts each new book. Readers can listen to what's essentially a first draft for free, or buy the revised book when it's printed. Many do both. Sigler's success has changed the landscape for digital authors. In 2004, he was the first author to podcast a novel; now a lot of authors make podcasting their first step.
It's not a magic bullet, of course. JC Hutchins, a contemporary of Sigler, built up an equally impressive audience for his 7th Son series of podcast novels. But while the first volume of 7th Son and the ambitious transmedia novel Personal Effects saw print, they failed to gain traction. Hutchins still works in transmedia storytelling, but what worked for Sigler didn't quite work for him. Even the authors who successfully write in both fields have spent years arriving at that point. Mur Lafferty, for example, has worked on countless podcasts and digital projects, and her first novel, The Shambling Guide to New York City, is finally out this year from Orbit. A podcast, a blog or digital publishing as a whole is simply a different road. It's not a shortcut.
The idea of being an "artisan author" is fine if completing a novel and seeing it through to a limited print run is what you're looking for. But if you want more, digital publishing of any stripe won't make an audience magically appear. That's your job. Everything is your job if you choose this route. Sell handmade hardbacks on Etsy and print books through Createspace or Lulu by all means – but the book has to be good and you have to be prepared to work to sell it. Maintaining a website, sorting out your own review copies, working out an approach to social media that will be more than endless self-promotion … the work never stops, the work is never the same twice, and the work is always down to you.
Digital publishing is a blank canvas that's more nuanced than terms such as filesharing imply. There are no shortcuts; but it offers almost total choice and control over how your story is told. While it could be viewed as a threat to the publishing industry, from my perspective it looks like something far more interesting: a quiet singularity that is already changing the field for the better – for publishers, authors and readers. The future isn't coming, it's been here a while.
You can find the original article at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2013/feb/01/artisan-authors-digital-self-publishing
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