What can writers learn from rock stars? (video)

Author Margaret Atwood tries a few merchandising tricks

You may have read about author Margaret Atwood’s humorous, slightly cantankerous speech at the February 2011 O’Reilly Tools of Change techie conference. She had a lot of choice lines (some of my favorite lines I’ve listed below, in case you missed them). She also spoke about many things of relevance to this e-partnership website, such as the added promotional workload for authors (“If they’re expected to do all this extra work, will they get more of the pie?”), how publishers are doing less than ever, and how everything in the world of publishing depends on authors doing their job: writing. (See video below.)

In her speech, Atwood listed the limited ways that authors could possibly make money, including: having patrons, working day jobs, inheriting money (her favorite), marrying someone rich, and copyright sales. Then she reluctantly mentioned—and quibbled over—“Hold concerts and sell T-shirts.”

Atwood scoffed at such a suggestion. “Can you imagine us writers prancing around, taking off our clothes?” she asked the audience.

But you have to give her credit. Because now she’s gone and turned her little sketches for her TOC presentation into actual merchandise—T-shirts, mugs, etc, at Cafe Press. Above is her Dead Author T-shirt, which shows the whole publishing food chain feeding off the author. If you want to see the rest, go to http://www.cafepress.com/DeadAuthorTshirtsandOtherStuff (It’s a nice little store—I’d like to know who she has helping her put all this together.)

I’m not sure Atwood’s quite a rock star yet (although she puts on a pretty entertaining presentation—for an author) but it’s good to see writers realizing there’s some proven tricks of the trade from other less-shy industries, such as the film and music bizzes, from which we can borrow to solidify the all-important community connection—and maybe make a few coins on the side. Here’s the 30-minute presentation that started this whole enterprise, which is followed by a short, entertaining Q&A session with the audience. And, also below, some of my favorite lines from the speech follow the video, if you don’t have time to watch it.

Here are some of my favorite author-related lines from the Atwood TOC presentation:

“If the publishing industry dies, then who is going to pay for the cheese sandwiches on which authors are known to subsist?"

“Only 10% of authors make a living as a full-time writer. As one of them, I can tell you that you have to work hard… a lot."

“The publisher should be doing the publicity, but they don’t have the resources and they don’t know how.”

“This is what authors are now told they must do:

  • Make an electronic copy for the publisher

  • Tour

  • Sign

  • Tweet

  • Blog

  • Facebook

  • Caper about in public (TV and print interviews)

  • And more.

“A lot of authors just don’t want to do this stuff. ‘Facebook?’ they say. ‘I can’t. I would be bad at it.’”

“But what if I just want to write. Am I doomed?”

“Have we thought about whether some of the changes are good or not? Change is not always good. Sorry to tell you that. It’s not always good for everyone.”

“Technology is a tool. Tools have a sharp side, the upside, a dull side, the downside, and the stupid side, the side you didn’t anticipate and whose consequences you didn’t intend. That’s the part you cut yourself with. A hammer is a tool. You can use it to build a house, or murder your neighbor. Or you can hit your thumb. That’s the stupid side.”

“This is a dead moose. Every dead moose maintains the food chain for at least 30 life forms. This is a dead author. [see t-shirt art above]. The author is a primary source. Everything else in the world of publishing depends on authors. They don’t have to be dead. Although dead ones have been very lucrative.”

“The added workload is causing unrest among the primary sources. Is the old model still viable for authors? If they’re expected to do all this extra work, will they get more of the pie? Or will they go back to self publishing?”

“This is a message to my fellow authors. Don’t panic and run away. They will think you are prey.”

Follow Margaret Atwood’s interesting blog at http://marg09.wordpress.com/

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