The Hazards of Audience and Format
Another advantage that the route of non-publication has over the business of writing is that it allows the writer to control the audience. In question 3, I offered several descriptions of potential audiences:
· No one. This is private.
· Only my family and closest friends
· A local audience of people who are interested in the same subject.
· People who think like me.
· People who need my help and advice.
Despite the warnings we all get every day about being careful of what we put on the internet, it is still possible to exercise some choice as to who reads your stuff. If it’s private, you write it and then delete it or hide it behind a password. If you want the message to go only to select people, you have the option of email. If you want to direct an article to those interested in a particular topic, you send it to their group on Facebook. You get the idea. Once you publish a book or article in print, it goes to everyone who is willing to pay for it. And that’s a lot riskier.
The business model demands that a writer think long and carefully about who might read the printed material. I struggled with the problem during the writing of my most recent book, “The Road to Frogmore.” The topics of the Civil War and slavery are tricky at best. In “The Road to Frogmore, part of the story is told in first person by a slave. I needed to make her language understandable to the modern reader while still being as authentic as possible about how she would have expressed herself. And always, in the back of my mind was the question of how her words would be interpreted by readers. Would her speech patterns be seen as her rightful language or as a racial put-down?
Question 4 also dealt with a problem faced only by those who choose the business route. In today’s publishing world, a book can take on many forms, while the internet or social media paths have a pre-determined design. You know before you start to write that your Twitter post can have only 140 characters. Published books come in all shapes and sizes:
· A glossy coffee table book with lots of pictures
· A professionally-published hardback (case-bound) book
· A paperback book sized to make it easy to carry around
· An ebook
And then there’s the kicker – a single book can have several different formats. In fact, most published books today come in at least two, if not several formats, and each one has its own peculiar requirements and often its own ISBN designation. Your hardback publisher may farm out your paperback rights, and if you also want an ebook version, you may have to negotiate electronic rights and then deal separately with Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, and several other newcomers to the market.
Don’t let anyone tell you that publishing is easy!