Surviving as a Writer in the Digital Age

As an aspiring journalist and creative writer, I’m constantly met with unwelcome comments concerning either cutthroat competition, the “death of print” and/or the bleak future of the print/publishing industry. While these comments may be disheartening, it would be foolish to ignore them.

We are a generation possessed. Hop on any train or bus, walk down the street, pay attention to your friends and family members – everywhere you go there are people staring into their gadgets and ignoring the world around them, parents’ giving their children iPads to keep them quiet in restaurants, shopping online so we don’t have to leave our couch or make human contact. We spend hours on end glued to our computers and forgetting all else exists.

digital publishing
What do the developments in digital publishing technology mean for the book industry and its writers? Image Credit: Mike McCune via Flickr Creative Commons.

While there are certainly positives as a result of the changes currently happening, it’s important to be aware and it’s important to be smart. The digitalisation of content has shaken the economic foundations of the press, music and video industries. In regards to print journalism, the changes could either be seen as groundbreaking or catastrophic. As print sales and distribution fall, more and more publications are cutting costs by moving online. While online news media definitely adds another layer to the existing structure (easy to navigate, interactive and constant), the issue here is lost revenue. The big question that will need to be answered in the future is who will pay writers and how?

Further Reading:

Digitalisation in Printing

The Rise of the E-Book

We have watched the number of independent bookstores and well-known bookstores shrink, witnessed the bankruptcy of Borders, and noticed libraries have begun to dedicate more of their time to digital media.

So what does this mean for aspiring novelists hoping to see their own words in book form in the future?

If you read blogs and articles, listen to the pieces on the evening news, or walk into a bookstore, you hear a confusing amount of information about the future of publishing,” says author Kathryn Rusch. “Some sources claim it’s going to die an ugly death. Others say everyone will stop reading. Some claim that reading will increase. Still others believe that the publishing industry as we know it will collapse. A few believe that publishing will become completely irrelevant.”

While this is very confusing for everyone, according to Rusch (2014), there will still be readers who want to read but, in some cases, the book will no longer be the best delivery system for them.

why you should get a kindle
What does the e-book mean for authors?

E-books have already started to overshadow the printed format as the preferred choice for readers, topping print sales in 2011 and 2012. Although print sales were still the biggest channel for published (representing 31.5 percent of total net dollars), it dropped 12.6 percent, and a further 7% in 2012 (1).

Further Reading: 

Is This The End For Books?

Thriving as a Writer in the Digital Age

The good news is that, in the wake of new advances in technology, practically anyone with a computer can become a published writer. It has become as simple as typing on a keyboard and clicking the post button or emailing your work to an online publication. Aspiring writers (either journalists or authors) now have that extra platform to showcase and market their work via blogs, websites and social media. The digitalisation of the print and press industries has increased the level of exposure for emerging writers and the creation of websites and social networks for readers not only stimulates demand for publishers, but also establishes a direct link to consumers.

No matter what kind of writer you are, it’s important to get your work and your name out there,” says Helen Scheuerer, founding editor of Writer’s Edit. “Start up an online portfolio as soon as you can, and make sure the work is of the highest quality. If you’re going for writing jobs or publishers, having a diverse body of work to refer to will do wonders.

There are obviously many changes going on in the print and publishing industries in general lately, and lots of talk of ‘the death of print’. I try not to see it that way,” she says.

According to a survey conducted by Bain & Company (Behar, 2011), readers tend to read more when equipped with digital readers and the vast majority will continue to pay for their e-books, which is great news for authors who have – or are hoping to – publish an e-book. It is expected that 15 to 25 per cent of book sales will be in digital format by 2015. Online publishing has the potential to reach millions of people around the world, opening up a whole new audience for writers, which places authors in an ideal position to benefit from the digital era.

how to edit your own writing2
Does writing online provide more opportunity for authors or risk?

While the thought of online publishing may come across as a little daunting, it is, in fact, the same, if not simpler than following the traditional publishing route. Knowing your market, networking and continuing to research and write in the face of rejection are all what will make you successful in the digital sphere. Opportunity sits between keyboard and chair.

Helpful Links:

  1. Beginner Steps to Help you Get Published Online
  2. How to Get Published Online
  3. How to Get Your Writing Out There 
  4. How to Make Money Selling Self-Published E-Books 
  5. E-Book Publishing Platforms
  6. 5 Ways to Get Your Name Published Online
  7. Build an Online Writing Portfolio (freelance writers)

Making it Work: Advice and Inspiration from Editor Helen Scheuerer

Helen Scheuerer, founding editor of Writer’s Edit, has been writing professionally for five years. Having worked as a senior copywriter/editor for two of Australia’s biggest e-commerce platforms, blogged for a number of successful online start-ups, and had her creative worked published in literary magazines and anthologies in Australia and overseas, Helen holds valuable advice for those starting out in the industry. Helen founded Writer’s Edit in July 2013 and wanted to test the waters before launching into something that would mean a lot of upfront costs.

“The original idea behind Writer’s Edit was to start a small press, but an online publication was the happy medium – a place where we could build a following, help emerging authors get their work out there and not have to worry about the staggering financial risks of starting a bricks and mortar business. It also meant that we could work from anywhere. Somewhere along the way, Writer’s Edit became exactly that: an edit of all things for writers (and readers).”

From humble beginnings, Writer’s Edit is now on the brink of releasing its first book, Kindling, which Helen predicts will increase cultural capital, followers and readers. Furthermore, a monthly subscription service and promotion of future products and writing service will bring more attention to the publication – proof that anything can be accomplished in the digital age if you have the drive, positive attitude and knowledge of the industry.

kindling with glasses
Writer’s Edit Press’ debut book ‘Kindling’, due for release November 29, 2014.

Helen’s advice for emerging writers is to be open minded when it comes to networking.

Don’t limit yourself to only networking in your preferred genre, age group or experience level. Everyone has a story to tell, and lessons to share. At one point or another, we’ve all been in the same boat and you’re going to need all the writing support you can get for this journey.”

Helpful Links:

  1. Stop Being Afraid to Publish Your Work Online
  2. 5 Keys to Writing for an Online Audience  
  3. Jane Friedman – Helping Authors Flourish in the Digital Age

The Romanticised Idea Behind the Published Book

Despite the negative views surrounding the publishing industry, there could be a reason to hope that e-books and print books might share a bright future together. E-books may accomplish convenience, selection, portability and multimedia, but there are still a few fundamental qualities they will never possess. Although there will always be a digital divide, there are people who will still cherish the experience of holding a book and, as long as they exist, there will be a market.

elements of style
Book lovers say that the passion for print will never truly die…

“The digital revolution has certainly separated form and content, but people are always going to cherish the work of art that is a physical book or magazine,” says Helen Scheuerer. “While we may be loving the instant delivery of ebooks and reading online, I find it hard to imagine a world where people don’t want books on their bookshelves, where they don’t enjoy passing a treasured title on to a loved one… While print sales may be decreasing due to the digital age, they won’t ‘die out’ because books are so much more than just words on a page or screen. That may be a very romantic view of things, but I’m sticking with it. Both print and e-books can coincide quite happily in my opinion.”


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Rhiannon Tuffield

Rhiannon Tuffield is a twenty-three-year-old Smiths fan with a serious tea addiction. Based in Melbourne, she has written in areas of music, lifestyle and well-being. Rhiannon dreams of one day opening her own business, having her novel published, and eventually retiring to a little cottage in the forest where she can bake and listen to rock music at a deafening volume.

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