Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

What’s Your Vision: Publish or Perish?

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Publish or Perish?

By Dalton Higgins

Note to self: forget the zeitgeist. Trends are for dolts. What I mean is that when it comes to some writers and their embrace of social media, e-book culture and new audience development there seems to be a whole lot of pandering going on. I see burgeoning youngish scribes attempting to write with an older voice that belies their age and experience, perhaps in an attempt to appease an aged Toronto literati. On the flipside, I am witnessing too many awkward moments emanating from Baby Boomer writers wanting to be down with the kids, and using (abusing?) all kinds of net and hip hop slang that should have no place in their lexicon or twitter output.

After scanning “The Generational Content Gap”, a ground-breaking survey that digs into content consumption habits across generations, I see where the problem lies. The findings of the survey, which come from sample interviews conducted with over 1,200 people, dismantles all kinds of mythology surrounding who’s reading what and when. Of interest to the generation of writers like myself who rely heavily on digital market penetration, the study reveals that “baby boomers (born 1946–1964) spend more time consuming online content (20+ hours per week) than the other two (Gen X, millenials) generations” who only spend between 5-10 hours digesting digital content.

Like whoa. These are life-altering findings if you are shilling e-books, crowdfunding for some cash to support a literary endeavor or uploading a PDF version of your masterpiece to shill on Kindle or Kobo. Forget the cliché about youth-driven techies purchasing prose online. In fact, this research is telling us the opposite. It’s true. Octogenarians might be reading this blog, and could have downloaded the e-book version of my Drake biography. Understanding how people read across generations is hugely important.

“Where there is no vision, the people perish” Jay Douglas the lead singer of a groovy retro reggae project I used to manage called Jamaica to Toronto: Soul, Funk & Reggae 1967-74 used to throw me a wink and rhyme off these words from Proverbs 28 on occasion. When I used to hear him whip off these cute neat excerpts from Biblical scriptures I simply chalked it up to being just another day at the (Jamaican) office. You don’t really know the concept of Holy Rollers (or of plastic covered couches) until you hang out with us Yardies, or in our parents, aunts or grandparents places of residence.

Y’see, just like in most hotel rooms, there are bound to be bibles located in some drawer in some room of some Jamaican household. It is widely believed that there are more churches per capita square in Jamaica than anywhere in the world. So while your average Canadian writer might reference the words of Richler, Mowat or Ondaatje, your typical Jamaican wordsmith might point to Jeremiah, Luke and Ezekiel’s verses like it’s nobody’s business.

Anyways, a few times after seeing some failed Toronto event or situation go awry, Jay would look me in my eyes and say “where there is no vision, the people perish”. Who knew these time honored nuggets of otherworldly wisdom delivered by this reggae singing vessel of The Most High could be so easily applied to budding Toronto area authors. Are you following along here my Talmud, Koran, Veda and 50 Shades of Grey readers?

Does the Creator have a master plan for your royalty cheques? And do publishing and proselytizing go hand in hand? Uhhh, hold on a second, I think there’s someone at my door (Dalton pauses, takes a quick walk to the front door, then returns clutching a copy of The Watchtower). Quickly, what’s the best-selling book of all time? No, it’s not Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird or anything by Atwood, silly. It’s the Bible.

If we flesh out this idea around not having a vision and perishing in the publishing world, it goes a great way to explain why the average Canadian author doesn’t sell too well. For example, there is no reliable data to record what e-publishers are making, but we can surmise it’s quite low, given that the average fiction writer in Canada earns about $500 a year in royalties from traditional publishing houses. And let’s face facts. With the upsurge in vanity and self-publishing, there are bushels of low to no selling indie authors who are writing for an audience of 12 (and that includes Lester the family cat) and don’t know why. It’s simple. They just might not have that vision.

Perhaps many legitimate and wannabe indie scribes might not quite understand that there is a total science to selling books electronically and commanding some positive attention from the industry. And very little of it comes by fluke or chance. If tapping into the literary zeitgeist were that easy, I would be penning this blog as an expat Hogtownian from the south of France in my new chateau, the third of four.

The stacks are already weighed heavily in your disfavor my publishing peeps. Especially for this large and growing group of self-published authors who won’t qualify for certain grants and most Awards, and won’t get reviewed by industry periodicals. So why not be smarter about how you target readers. Read, research trends, then attack the industry with the fury of a Deandre Jordan dunk.

Dalton Higgins is a National Magazine Award-winning journalist and radio and TV broadcaster who blogs and therefore is. His book Far From Over: The Music and Life of Drake (ECW Press, Oct. 2012) sheds light on the cultural conditions in Toronto that helped create the Drake phenomenon. His five other books (Fatherhood 4.0, Hip Hop World, Hip Hop, Much Master T, Rap N' Roll: Pop Culture, Darkly Stated) examine the place where the worlds of technology, diversity, hip hop and hipster culture intersect. His daily Daltoganda, musings, rants, jabs, pontifications and fire-and-brimstone blather can be accessed from his digital pulpit on twitter: @daltonhiggins5

Click here to read Dalton's archived articles on Open Book: Toronto.

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