I can hear you objecting. “Oh, really? Seriously? Right NOW?" And I say yes. Now. It is, indeed, the best time to be an author. The topic comes up from time to time so I figured I would give you all my top five reasons why this is true, even, and especially, now.
#1 – Literacy
Reading isn’t just a thing people learn to get ahead. You have to take extraordinary measures to avoid learning how to read. Public money pays for it. That means everyone who pays taxes is paying to build your customer base.
This isn’t just in English-speaking countries. Almost every country on earth teaches people English, and the number of people who read in English for pleasure even though it is their second language is growing.
#2 – Reading Comprehension
You can’t escape middle school without learning how to appreciate and assess fiction – you don’t get asked to write essays about landscape architecture or color theory. It is a huge structural advantage to authors, and it is part of that same built-in cost that all citizens pay.
Society is also dedicated to giving people the ability to read for free in the form of libraries. Articles that lament the percentage of the population reading for pleasure are published from time to time, but the number of people reading for fun continues to be huge.
#3 – Tools
Dental equipment, a plumber’s tool kit, a barber’s scissors and clippers, those things all cost money, in some cases an enormous amount of money. Artists of almost every stripe have to invest a lot of money to make their art: paints and canvases, musical instruments and amps, headshots, video cameras, this list could go on forever, but you get the point.
Do you have access to a public library? Then you can sit down on a public computer, get on google docs, and write a book for free. In a historical context this is amazing.
#4 – Production Costs
The digital age has reduced the production cost of book creation in both obvious and subtle ways. The obvious ones include dramatically reduced editorial, design, and typesetting costs. Making changes to a book used to be a huge headache. As the book approached printing, there were also costs involved. Digital presses have changed that.
A subtler benefit is that publishers had to have a presence in one of a few major cities to have access to the agents, editors and designers. Because none of these professionals now need to live in the biggest cities, their overhead is lower and so are their rates. This means that not only is the financial burden of starting a publishing company greatly reduced, but they can have their headquarters anywhere.
#5 – Sales and Distribution
Most people who hear about a book they want to read can pull out their phone, buy it, and start reading right away. The friction from interest to purchase is almost zero. The number of brick and mortar stores continues to shrink but everyone has a bookstore in their pocket. There is a definite conversation to be had about retail options but as far as ease of purchase for the consumer there has never been a better time to sell books.
Also, access to the companies that present advertisements to the public is universal and the cost to purchase those ads is so greatly reduced that it is within reach for all authors, and that makes a huge difference.
“But there are so many more books now and so many are crap!”
That’s competition. More publishers exist and more people are putting out their own books for the above reasons. The internet presents all books on a level playing field. That means competition is huge. But again, this allows authors a fighting chance who might not have made it in the old system.
The number of authors who are failing to make it is probably close to the same, they just fail later in the process. In the past they never made it close to readers; now they have access to all the readers. I think the latter is better.
“People don’t just pick up books and give them a chance anymore.”
Discovery of new books was different. When only 500 new books in your genre were published each year, discovering a book by simply picking it up in the store was not strange. The threshold for interest is much higher than it used to be. A reader has to want to read your book more to buy it, and it takes more than just a good cover with a blurb or two. Newsletters, facebook ads, online reviews, and many other tools are available to everyone creating a lot of noise. The main way people choose books has not changed though: a personal recommendation from someone whose taste they trust.
“I just wish getting into a bookstore meant what it used to.”
Agreed, that is a little sad. This lament deals with the greatly reduced value of placement and proximity as marketing strategies. There was a time when convincing the buyers at the four or five major bookstore chains – imagine that, a time when there were 5 major bookstore chains! – to stock your book gave you a good chance of netting a couple of hundred (if not more) sales and launching your career. The counter to this is the same as the one above. It was easier to launch an author, but it was still only something a small number of people had access to.
It is the best time to be an author because the start-up cost to start an author small business is close to zero. Producing a book still requires a budget, but if you compare the associated costs to what they were in the past, the opportunity to try and succeed or fail on your own merit is wide open.
Being an author used to be like being a ballerina. You had to secure a place in one of the handful of companies that were only in 5 cities and then you were set. Now it is like being in a rock band, there is a bar down every road where you can play and move up from there. So go out and be a rock star!