Aldous Huxley’s sci-fi novel Brave New World was written in 1931 and published one year later. Back in those days, authors needed an agent and a publisher, sine qua non requirement, to have their voices broadcast by means of the written word. But I think Mr. Huxley himself would be amazed to see how the past few years mutated the art (or science) he mastered – the art of writing stories- into a creature he did not dream of in his own book about the society of the future.
He could not have foreseen, for example, that we would all become “citizen authors” or better yet, “authorpreneurs”. Neither expression was coined by me, as much I would have liked to be credited with such creativity. I actually found both in the excellent book The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published (Amazon.com, of course, carries it!) by authors Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry: we are all potential bloggers now and the Web can be seen as the pages where we leave our marks.
However, the old adage stands – with great power comes great responsibility (there is a huge online controversy about who is the father of this quote, from Spiderman to Churchill and Roosevelt, with more votes going to 19th century French writer Voltaire) – and was never truer. It may be adapted to reflect another aspect of these admirable new times: when everyone is a potential author, the competition out there is big time big, beyond comprehension. Competition that starts out with the struggle for attention from potential readers. There is so much to read, in all shapes and forms – books by our favorite authors, our favorite magazines, newsletters from organizations we care about, work-related stuff, hobby-related stuff, sports stuff, educational stuff, important stuff, silly stuff… Since we cannot extend the duration of our 24-hour days, the solution is to do more in less time. We multi-task almost every waking hour of our lives. We even feel bad when we can’t. It hurts not being able to do half a dozen things at the same time. If feels as if we are wasting or losing something; time, opportunity, speed, control. If we are not multi-tasking something must be wrong. In those long and exasperating twenty seconds my computer takes to reboot I could run to the kitchen, get a cup of coffee, drop this report at a coworker’s desk, check that the mail is in already (it’s 8:30 am) and call Dad just to say hi. Is this computer slow! Almost half a minute to open up Outlook? I can’t afford to waste all this time every morning. ITS should do something about it…
In short, to win such a fierce competition for a few seconds of our reader’s precious attention, whatever the new generation of citizen authors will put in written from now on has to be eye-catching or off the reader goes to his or her next task, assignment or leisure activity. It’s a jungle out there and your blog may be forgotten in a matter of minutes, surpassed by the next more interesting piece, Twitted or Facebooked by the citizen author next door. Next cubicle.
Even if the citizen writer happens to be a published author too, of a good old fashioned paper book, the amount of well written, impeccably printed, with covers that resemble exquisite and expensive art work by power publishing houses is so vast there is no guarantee people will actually get to see his or her work. I sometimes browse the infinite shelves of the local Barnes & Noble as part of my weekly workout program. It’s good exercise for your arms and legs, picking this and that volume up and down the shelves. It’s certainly a considerable walk. One can run a marathon looking for the perfect book to read this summer along those interminable shelves. Everything looks so attractive, so beautiful; there are so many interesting titles and topics to excite our curiosity.
After a couple of hours searching for something to read, I’m often dizzy and dazzled and my mental list of books to read needs to be jotted down on a two- hundred page notebook because I can’t decide. I may even leave the bookstore empty- handed. That’s the irony of our times: so much to choose from that I can’t make up my mind. The abundance of resources actually made impossible for me to purchase one single book.
To be able to stand out among thousands and attract the reader’s attention to the point that she wants to spend her hardly earned dollars is a spectacular achievement; perhaps harder than winning the lottery. And much more meaningful.
I asked a coworker what attracted her when picking a book – we had already established that the “don’t judge a book by its cover” statement does not apply here. G.H – Gwen Hall – you know her from past posts on this blog – came up with this very interesting comment, good citizen writer she is, and authorized me to use it here:
“Yes, the book cover is important, especially to the discerning reader. There are so many books competing for a persons’ attention while browsing and you wouldn’t pick up every book unless there was an attraction, curiosity.
Certain covers just attract me, I don’t know why. However, when it comes to photos on a cover, for some reason I am a fan of sepia tone and black and whites (especially the faded ones). Maybe I associate them with historical subject matter. I have very definite opinions about color photos which fall into several categories. To name a few:
- the blatant/obvious–predictable subject matter—romance, sex, etc.—thumbs down
- the easy beach read–relationships, marriage in jeopardy, etc.—don’t even try
- the Christian fiction.—thumbs down; and
- the Oh, what is this one about? – unknown entity, let me check it out!”
According to Gwen, authors desperately want to be in the fourth bullet point above. They want potential readers to freeze at the magic sight of their book; to hold it in awe, read the synopsis on the back cover as if they were walking on clouds and then resolutely head straight for the cashier, knowing they found true love.
The pen (fast forward, please read the keyboard) is mightier than the sword, wrote English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1830 . But the problem is the pen/keyboard may lead to the sword – and all of its modern upgrades – and with that we circle back to with great power comes great responsibility. We are all citizen authors now so help us God.
P.S.: My debut novel in the U.S. is coming up in late August: The Traveler’s [K]Night. I hope you will all like the cover (that it may get included in GH’s fourth bullet point ), then the story, and the characters. As the publishing process moves on, I go from extreme happiness to despair and anguish in a matter of hours, several times a day. In my darkest moments I look for comfort in actor Steve Martin’s words: “I think I did pretty well, considering I started out with nothing but a bunch of blank paper.”
If all goes well, I plan another book in 2013 and a third one in 2014. While the future remains in the future, I keep my fingers crossed in the present. The Traveler’s [K]Night will be available through Amazon.com and other online distribution channels, in paper first and then in Kindle version. The publisher told me even people in the UK will be able to order it on line, via Amazon.com/UK. Admirable new world indeed, Mr. Huxley!