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The Dream of Writers

Times like these create dreamers from doers and doers from dreamers. The Net permits us to do and to dream all within the same box.

I think about my days as a young writer and working a variety of jobs to pay the bills. I have depressing memories of leaving my apartment with writings jumbled up on chairs and tables, catching the bus or train to enter an environment that was not pleasant, working with people who I didn't want to be with, pressured into political games I didn't want to play, feeling the pressure of bosses who I neither liked or respected. And at the end of the day I was wrung out of every good word I was capable of writing.

I would go back to my apartment and sift through my writings like they were some perishing soul I was trying to save. I do admit that I looked forward to the paycheck every two weeks.

Perhaps it is this sort of experience that hooked me into the internet. And I'm even thankful for all those jobs in offices and wharehouses that taught me to do things I didn't want to do.

So what might the future be for writers?

It won't be easy but the incentive will be for the writer to do as much as he or she can do. That includes hiring freelance editors, doing a good deal of internet marketing, and enriching a website with a plenitude of resources.

We always like to say we are in the beginning stages of a "remaking of the literary system." It's true. It implicates education, publishing, culture, writers, and readers. It will be astonishingly thorough, gradual, and fascinating.

* * * * *

Let's take a look at some things being done:

Here's a site that has the right intentions. Does it work? This is a site conceived by a programmer, a Craig Newmark type, ready to turn the publishing apple cart upside down. His intention is very good. It's about, "Resurrecting The Writer," by allowing manuscripts to be peer-reviewed and graded. Agents can then look over the results. Whatever happens to this site I like the spirit behind it.

Online writing is catching up to print for professional writers.

Yahoo recently hired a full-time journalist and here's a report on how he's doing.

We talked about blogs last month. This article in New York Magazine does a report on who is making money from blogging. It focuses on the fact that blogs operate like any other social group. One member of the group follows another and that tends to aggrandize a few successes at the top with the vast majority swimming poorly and obscurely at the bottom.

There is an irrational quality to the Net as we mentioned last month. People, especially when young, want to obliterate what exists and technology is less controversial than a bomb. It's exciting when young but a kind of tired joke as you get older. Besides, I keep asking myself, "if this is a revolutionary medium, where are the revolutionaries?" Ariana Huffington? Women who talk dirty? Gossip? Gadgets? Obnoxious and rather useless political opinion?

At any rate, some large newspapers have signed up for a new service that, essentially, syndicates bloggers. The company says it will find a way to compensate the bloggers that are used. Good for them.

LA Observed is a blog, apparently, the first to have its content licensed by NewsBank.

This long and valuable essay in the Financial Times says, "opinion is the new pornography on the internet." Subscription is needed.

"The inherent problem with blogging is that your brand resides in individuals. If they are fabulous writers, someone is likely to lure them away to a better salary and the opportunity for more meaningful work; if the writer tires and burns out, the brand may go down in flames with them." He has a point.

This journalist took to blogging after a bout with depression. He lists seven reasons why it is a good thing.

* * * * *

Before long two large learning curves will reach completion. One comes from the writer and the ability to market her work through multiple channels. And the other is made up of internet users more and more sophisticated about how-to-do the Net. And as they do more than a few will leave off mass-produced newspapers, magazines, and books to cut their own path of interest through the new technologies. Your job, as a writer, is to cross their path.

This is an interesting and valuable blog by John Spivey on how he came to decide to self-publish his own book. Note his love and appreciation for the book as a superior technology.

It's not easy. Even the techno-hip have a hard time of it. But then they usually don't understand what publishing is about. Enter writers and editors.

* * * * *

If you have time try and study all the models that exist in publishing today. Every piece of information you can glean about newspapers, magazines, newsletters, and book publishing will help you in figuring out how to move along the new system. Definitely look at the way print publishing establishes relations with readers.

That relation with the reader is a new dynamic. The shield that existed between the writer and reader has come down. The only thing between the writer and reader is a glass interface.

It's a crucial relationship now because the reader comes and goes as he wishes. The writer has to make a concerted effort to get the reader to his site, keep him there, make him a cohort of sorts. The new readers want what they want, when they want it, and where they want it.

John Morrish is a British editor who wrote a great volume called "Magazine Editing." In it he has a full chapter on the relationship of the publication to the reader. "The act of targeting and focusing on the reader is a creative act. In a real sense, you have to invent that reader." At the same time he recommends surveys, soliciting feedback, and more formal types of research to discover what your readers are thinking.

A  V i s i o n   F o r   W r i t e r s 

Our vision starts with a writer who knows three subjects very well. She has written about them, attended conferences, talked to insiders, consulted with experts, and reads all she can about the three subjects.

She keeps detailed notes about story ideas and what the diverse people interested in the subject are curious about. But instead of submitting queries to magazines she will do these things:

  1. Shift her attention from finding editors and magazines to finding audiences that will support her.
  2. Outline a plan to include all possible audiences from the core out to the margins.
  3. Create a kind of tree of impact that details all possible spin-off ideas, ancillary products and services she can sell.
  4. Keep up with the competition

Publishing will mean a variety of ways to collect, produce, and distribute written material in a way that offsets the cost. It will mean more than newspapers, magazines, books, and newsletters.

As she writes she contacts freelance editors to help in the development of the piece of writing. These freelance editors are a large army of talented, prickly people who have joined the ranks of the Free-Agent Nation.

She begins preparing her blog and website. Even though they contain a lot of the same material she realizes that each reaches different audiences. The website is a wonderful archive and the blog is a great way to connect immediately with people who are interested in the same subject.

She is constantly looking at her resource base and figuring out ways these resources can leverage more material. She also realizes that her number one asset is credibility and doesn't allow anything to interfere with it. She is scrupulously objective and thorough.

She will sell highly developed content for $1 or more thanks to easy to use micropayment services. Over several years of constant exposure she will return thousands of dollars for the one article. When the article stales she upgrades it.

She will understand that "audiences" are global and they are evolving. A person who is playing in the sandbox today will be her reader tomorrow. And that person will appear and go online before she reads a magazine, newspaper, or book. She will prepare her site for all the segments of the market wanting her resources. And that goes from the beginner through the expert.

She is not only a writer but a sherpa guiding interested people through subjects she is very knowledgeable about. She allows them to peek into the vast treasure trove of her resources but the deepest passage into them requires a fee.

She will earn income from affiliate ads and google ads specifically targeted to the audience she is writing for. At the end of each month a nice check will come in the mail. She will use these proceeds to pay for her online bills, marketing, and editors.

She understands the nature of customization. She will know that any given subject is made up of many types of people who have very different problems needing to be solved.

Occasionally she will collaborate with other writers to form instant publications that will pull in a large audience and gain greater exposure for each member of the collaboration.

She is and she isn't competing with print publications. Certainly, she needs to pry audience loose from print pubs who are in her area of expertise but, then, the print pub is another market for her writing. In fact, she may develop a partnership with print magazines that will offer her premium material for free advertising in the magazine.

She will constantly be asking herself, "what do the people want to know? What do the people need to know? And how am I going to produce it for them?" She trains herself to anticipate their needs. Her advantage is being able to develop ideas on behalf of a group of people she "knows."

She will be, in fact, part of new cultural tribe of free agents and creatives who roam the internet looking for ways to serve a global marketplace. She will study trend books and listen to the voice of people who always contain a secret or two about the times we live in.

B u t   H o w   D o   W e   S u r v i v e ? 

Ah yes, the dreamer must always wake up. Gravity and piss fill the body. She even gets angry at the weightless dream that seemed too good to be true. She was, in this dream, writing, making money, and napping when she wanted to.

Of course there are problems! What fun would it be if there weren't problems to overcome?

First though let us admit that writers are more valuable than what the market is currently paying them.

In fact, good writing is now being touted as a true path to success. Read this summary of the report from Review. It's for educators of every stripe. And no matter how horrific the low reading skills are in this "rich and powerful" nation, it does make good writing that much more valuable to those who do it.

The College Board publication website.

Over the past four or five years I've come across a lot of schemes to get payment to writers. One is the pay-for-view model by aggregators of content like Themestream.com. Another is micropayment. A third is subscription. A fourth is donation. And a fifth is advertising.

According to Greg Notess, "Professional researchers in corporate, scientific, and legal fields have long been willing to pay for must-have information, typically on a subscription or time-online basis. But consumers have not been willing to pay, for the simple reason that they don't have to. They've been spoiled by the availability of so much free information on the Web."

Too much free information becomes useless and clogged with inefficiency. Writers should take the responsibility to make what they have written a cut-above the free information available on the Net.

Of course, the classic publishing model is to provide interesting content, attract a group of people and then sell their eyeballs to advertisers. This model still works and, however repellent it is for writers to solicit ads, if they attract an audience the advertisers will be there.

Sunoasis works this way. I write a great deal on it, bring in a good crowd, advertisers pay me (sometimes). And I'm the least business like of people. I can see markets in the consumer and business-to-business sector that are ripe for development by writers and those who know how to communicate.

This fellow had an elaborate idea of selling subscriptions.

"Web sites and online communities are also replacing corporate publicity machines to create buzz around new talent." from Newsweek article in highbeam saved articles

C o n c l u s i o n s 

The challenge is this. The writer must become the publisher and think in terms of acquiring readers, get reader loyalty, and get the model going that will permit you to make money. Content that changes on a blog or website, retains readers and makes it much more likely that the reader will buy a premium service or an in-depth article. Know who the audience is, provide them with a large amount of material, put that material in a context that adds value for the reader, and move that content around every platform you can find.

It's not an improbable future but it's not an easy one either. The writer has to work very hard to get the research and marketing skills to use the medium to her advantage. For many, the adrenaline of getting some control over the work you do is enough to push one through. Others will get discouraged too quickly.

Remember this, the print publishing system is not going away anytime soon. It has a nice barrel of cash and contains many great markets for the modern writer. Always look at this market and your relation with the print system in terms of how you can reach the market itself. The print system has no loyalty to you and sees you as a convenient outsource for content they bring to their audience. View them as an alternative market for your own efforts.

The writer should not believe in pie-in-the-sky but she should not ignore her self-interest either. Don't choose one medium over the other but understand both and what each can do for your profession.

Written by David Eide, Sunoasis.com




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