The good news behind the explosion in self-publishing is that anyone can now write the Great Canadian Novel. The bad news is that everyone and his dentist are trying.
“Working on a book” has become the new national pastime, in large part due to the industry’s digitally fuelled democratization. Writers the likes of E.L. James – the Fifty Shades of Grey author whose online fanfic became a multimillion-dollar juggernaut – wave from atop their money-stacks, signalling the possibility that success is just a manuscript away.
Experts say the influx of new authors, however, means writers are more likely to make a living off the authority implied by their books than by actual sales. As one noted media strategist puts it, books are becoming the “ultimate new business card.”
“People have a lot of illusions about how publishing works,” says Ryan Holiday, an author and contributing writer to Forbes and Fast Company. “If you write a book, the benefits aren’t necessarily that you’re going to make money from selling copies of it; that sort of business is out of reach for the majority of authors. The benefits are the prestige, the credibility and the access the book gets you.”
Holiday, director of marketing for American Apparel, says the opposing forces of accessible publishing and greater marketplace competition mean that non-fiction authors are now “in the idea-making business, not the book business.”
“It’s no longer just readers that authors are trying to reach,” says Holiday, noting the hefty appearance fees that can result from dazzling corporate event-planners with a book – or even just its blurbs, assuming they’re from the right people.
David Lavin, president of a leading speakers’ bureau, says the consequence is an “oversaturation” in his field: membership in the National Speakers Association (NSA), which counts people who command a fee for spoken-word presentations, is currently on the brink of 2,900.
“It’s a function of the economy: people have moved on from their jobs for whatever reason and they all want to consult or to speak,” says Lavin, CEO of The Lavin Agency. “There’s no shortage of people who want to make thousands of dollars an hour giving speeches; there’s a shortage of people who should.”
Lavin says due diligence is a major problem, with too many companies shelling out appearance fees for authors who have no real credentials beyond having published a book – often one he believes was written “purely to generate speaking engagements.”
Feeding the fray, NSA CEO Stacy Tetschner says it works the other way as well.
“We’re seeing a growing trend of speakers who are publishing,” says Tetschner. “The quickest way for them to establish expertise is to write a book.”
Ted Matthews, the bestselling business author of Brand: It Ain’t the Logo, never intended his book to be his key to the keynote kingdom, but says it has come to serve as one.
“There’s no money – certainly not in the Canadian market – in direct return from book sales. I would be living in a park or dead if I was depending on sales of the book,” says Matthews, who lives in Toronto. “But as soon as I obtained a No. 1 position with a book, my speaking rate went up to $10,000.”
Matthews says the book has become “a calling card” for his four decades of experience in the corporate trenches. But he often wonders whether the clients he advises have actually read it or simply view it as evidence of his expertise.
“Everybody in the room (sees the book) and goes, ‘Well, he must know what he’s talking about,’ ” he says, laughing.
By: Misty Harris of Postmedia News