We have, in my admittedly non-humble opinion, a ridiculously impressive cast of writers here at The Pen and Cape Society. Web-Serialists, Novelists, and people who straddle both with incredible skill. When the group was being conceptualized, I don’t think any of us would have imagined that it could grow into a place with such talent and potential.
However, I’m going to let you in on a little secret from back in the early days: As awesome and expansive as our group is, there were originally more authors slated to be invited to the founding. I’m not talking about people who were invited and had no interest, though of course some of those existed. I’m talking about people who never got the invitation in the first place. And it wasn’t due to a lack in skill, or readership, or even subject matter.
It was because they didn’t have e-mail addresses. Or, perhaps I should say, they didn’t have easily findable e-mail addresses.
Now, I love what we’re doing at Pen and Cape, but I won’t pretend that us not being able to e-mail someone is the biggest opportunity they’ll miss out on in their careers. Still, the simple fact that they made themselves hard to contact did take away some opportunity, no matter how great or small one views it to be.
Being connected, being available, is one of the most important aspects of being a writer in the modern age. You see…
Being Available is How You Grow
Let’s play pretend that you’re an author for a moment, or if you already are one just keep reading. You’ve put out regular content, be it through a web-serial or a published novel, and there are people out there reading it. One of those readers greatly enjoys the work, and wants to ask you if there will be a sequel, and if so if there is a planned publication date. They try to write to you, but after several minutes of searching are unable to find a private contact method. At this point, they might, might, post on your public forum or Facebook, assuming those options are there, but more likely, they’ll just give up. Now, five months later when that sequel does come out, there’s one less person with it marked on the calendar, ready to snatch it up and leave an early review to generate interest.
Even taking the hypothetical reader out of the equation, being hard to contact creates a basic hole in one’s business options. What if you were indie or digital, aspiring to break into the house of traditional publishing, and a hungry publishing company actually wanted to jump onto the train that you were conducting? Heck, let’s go all out and swing for the big-leagues: what if someone wanted to turn your work into a TV-show or movie? How are they supposed to start talking over these possibilities with you? It’s not the sort of thing you leave in the comments section. And no, these scenarios don’t fit the ambition of every author, but all of us do have directions we want to see our works grow in. None of us are content just standing still, or we would never have found the actual motivation to write in the first place.
You’d never think of applying for a job in this day and age without an e-mail, and writing in a capacity where others read your work is a business. Even if its ten people and half of them are drunk, you are still producing a product for others to consume. If you want to be able to receive all these awesome offers and cool possibilities, then you need to be available, because when people see you aren’t then they can make some bold assumptions about you and how you connect with your readerbase.
Remember our theoretical reader at the beginning of this section? Well, he’s the most important example in here, even more than the movie offer. With no one reading, we writers are just talking to ourselves, and being available is a kindness we can offer the people who enjoy our work. Why?
Being Available Makes for Happier Fans
In my life, I’ve written to exactly two authors: one when I was in my early twenties and had decided to go down this path, and one last year after reading something that deeply connected with a personal struggle I was going through. If you’ve never done it, here’s the thing about writing to someone whose work you respect:
It is goddamned terrifying.
Too be clear: I am not a shy man in my real life. I’m boisterous, shameless, and affable; I fear no social situation and I ran out of fucks to give about what strangers thought of me back in high school, but that’s a story for another day. Point is, talking to strangers doesn’t bother me in the slightest, and I still had to gather up my courage to send those e-mails. Simply respecting the work and talent of the strangers I was trying to talk to made the task significantly more daunting.
If we, as authors, don’t make it easy to be contacted, then we’re sending a not-so-subtle message that we don’t want to be contacted, and the readers pick up on that. By making it easier on them, we make it less scary for them, and increase the chance that they’ll actually send in the e-mail. That’s good for everyone, because they get to express the comments or ask the questions they have, and we get the opportunity to deepen a bond with someone who enjoyed our work. That’s the sort of extra effort that can make a reader into an outright fan.
Fans are the lifeblood of a writer, because they spread the word as only those who truly love a work can. They recommend us to friends, take the time to leave reviews, and are happy to grab our new works when they come out.
To use my original example about e-mailing two writers in my life, these are people who I constantly shill for, buy everything they release, and bring up regularly in conversations about literature. I do it because their art is good, yes, but also because they made themselves available to me as a reader, and took the time to write back, showing me kindness as a person.
And if you think this only applies to writers in the digital landscape, think again…
Indie, Digital, or Traditional: Almost All Writers Need to be Available
I’ve actually had discussions with some folks who feel that only indie or web-serial writers should consider some method of easy contact indispensable; those in the more established mediums don’t really need it. The reasoning they give is that since the publishing company handles marketing, fan-mail, and PR, while their agent handles offers, there’s no need for the author themselves to be a single e-mail away from talking to.
That argument only holds up, however, if the author in question is already so well-known that basic promotion and connecting with the readership is totally unnecessary. Yes, J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, and Neil Gaiman don’t need to have e-mails that just anyone can write to. They’re so famous that their names alone will sell a book. But they are an infinitesimal percentage of writers out there.
For the rest of us, being easily available is a core tenant, even if we’ve gone through traditional publishing. Why? Because the dirty little secret of the publishing world is that it’s not really all that different from being indie. Unless you win the publishing contract lottery then you go in as one of thousands of authors they’re managing. That’s how a business works, they spread out the risk so that they’ll make a profit, despite the fact that some books will flop. They start off knowing that some will tank and they diversify the risk accordingly. Even assuming they have the best intentions, at the end of the day the author is still the person most motivated to engage with potential readers, because the author doesn’t have diversification of risk. They’re putting it all on the dream of that book being huge, and that means they easily have more riding on it than anyone else. And all that translates to the fact that they need to be available to their readers and fans just like the indie folks.
Being available serves the writer, the readers, the fans, and people offering opportunity. While it can lead to a cluttered e-mail inbox and time out of the day, the benefits by far outweigh the cost. We live in a connected society, and we’re only expecting to see that more and more in various industries. Any artist hoping to expand the number of people enjoying their work should work to be ahead of the curve, even if it means a little extra work.