New beginnings, renewed hope and energy. A steadfast commitment to the years ahead and to the work they will require. I think of all these things on this inauguration day. As a writer, my thoughts turn to my chosen profession, and its particular challenges – also its amazing rewards. Over all the years that I’ve been doing this – and I won’t embarrass myself by telling you just how many years – my voice as a writer may have changed, but my goal really hasn’t. I still want to be heard. Being heard isn’t at all the same as breaking silence. We all break silence when we write. Getting heard, though, is another story.
The state of publishing makes it easier than ever for writers to get out there. Yes, I know the penalty book stores have paid with the growth of online retailers, and I wish they were doing better. I also wish that Amazon, whose headquarters are just about a half mile, as the crow flies, from my home where I write this, made it easier for readers to select what they want to read next. With Amazon, the notion of browsing isn’t really there. You have to have an author in mind to get started. At least, that’s been my experience. So, we’ve gained ease of purchase at the expense of taking time to wander and consider what most catches our eye.
Self-publishing is new, at least since I first picked up a pen. Back then, in “the old days” authors submitted work to a few rigorously edited and produced venues of high caliber that were very hard to break into. Those literary magazines and publishing houses were strict gate-keepers. They more or less decided what the public would have to choose among to satisfy its need to read. Anyone who bucked the system received the less-than-flattering title of “vanity” publishing. Now, though, a lot of authors self-publish their work and do it very well. Hybrid presses, those that charge for publication yet bring a high level of expertise to the effort, are among us now, as well.
But how do we find our readers? Or to turn that around, how do they find us? Without gate-keepers, readers have little guidance about whose book to take a chance on. Writers have to find ways to stand out, be unique, draw attention to what they want to say. And how do we do that? Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t think there’s any one answer, except persistence, building a readership, staying in touch with people who admire our work and hoping they’ll tell someone else about us. Above all, we keep writing. Isn’t that what we’ve always done?
So, even as we begin anew, with each story, novel, poem, or essay, I tempted to use a well-worn phrase that somehow suits this situation – the more things change, the more they stay the same.