I am a hopeless gadget-junkie. In 1985, I bought one of the first home computers (a BBC Micro) and taught myself how to program in BASIC. Then along came PCs and, in 1995, access to the Internet via a fragile telephone link into the MSN network. Soon I became tangled in the limitless possibilities of the World Wide Web and taught myself HTML so that I could put together web pages.
I always believed that the web and its hyperlinks would open up a whole new way to create and read fiction, I was just not quite sure how to do it.
And I’m still unsure.
So, I was looking forward to the “Working as a Writer in the Digital Age” panel session.
This was chaired by James Walker, and two of the panel members were Wayne Burrows and Farhana Shaikh. The last member was an IT guy standing in for someone else, and I didn’t catch his name.
The discussion was a little disjointed. In retrospect, it would have been very interesting to have seen a few of the panelists’ projects demonstrated on-screen. A group of people sitting at a desk and talking about the way they use technology is… well, it’s rather un-digital, isn’t it? And it seemed that some of audience were looking for simple answers to basic questions, such as whether it is better to use Twitter or Facebook, etc. Others, like myself, were more interested in finding out how writers could exploit digital technology to create new types of artistic work.
It was, nevertheless, a useful session. Here are some of the things I learnt, presented in no specific order:
- To make use of new technology, a writer doesn’t have to understand it. You just need to know it exists and understand the potential.
- If you have a bright idea, some techie somewhere can probably develop the IT to make it work. You might be able to get this done for free if you involve, for example, a local college or university in the project.
- Find a niche. A narrow and bizarre field of interest can quickly gain you a reputation as an expert in some obscure niche! (James Walker described how is now considered an expert on Alan Sillitoe, based on his Sillitoe Trail project and I have had a similar experience with my Coastal Walk blog.)
- Consider collaborative work. It will immediately broaden your audience.
- If you are a writer, consider digital imprints (more on this below).
- A simple blogging platform, such as WordPress or Blogger, might be the easiest way to display your work.
- Or you can use an aggregator tool, such as Rebel Mouse, to pull together work from a community of writers, as in Leicester Writes.
How can you earn money from digital work?
It’s not easy for a writer to make money from the web, partly because there is an expectation that everything on the Internet is free. And partly because the web is full of great content and it is very hard to stand out among all the digital noise. But the panelists had some suggestions we might consider:
- Provide selected stuff free. If the reader/viewer wants more, they have to pay for it.
- Make it all free. Earn your money by hosting advertising.
- Get commissioned.
- Apply for Arts Council funding. Or other funding sources if you hear about them.
- Consider crowd funding, and Unbound Books was cited as an example.
- Sell fiction to digital imprints, such as Salt’s Modern Dreams or Random House
- Or sell to digital only publishers, such as Shortfire Press (which is currently closed to submissions).
- Create and sell blog posts to others. Crowd Content, Blog Mutt and Elance are all examples of market places for freelance writers.
James Walker provides more information about digital projects and related web sites on his recent blog post: The Writers’ Conference.
Another useful tip was the suggestion to go back and clean your house from time to time.
Most writers have blogs and perhaps some of the old stuff is somewhat embarrassing. The great advantage of digital material is that you can correct misspellings and tidy up your grammar. If you find something truly awful, there is always the [Delete] button!
This is wise advice and I plan to poke around in the dusty corner of this blog and see if there are any mouldy dregs I should be expunging.
2 thoughts on “Writers Conference 2014: Working as a writer in the digital age.”
Digital is such an incredibly broad topic and often at such events writers are generally at the beginning of their career. Therefore it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what to talk about. But I think the key is to experiment with platforms and find out what works best for you. One funding area that is worth investigating is Kickstarter. This is a crowd sourcing website where people donate in micro amounts and receive rewards for donations. This is particularly successful if you have a product you can give away. For example, kickstarter is now the second largest publisher of comics (http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/comics/article/52925-is-kickstarter-the-2-graphic-novel-publisher.html) for the simple reason that a £15 donation will get you a comic. Fans prefer their money to go directly to the creator and so it effectively removes the middle-man. Something I will be exploring towards the end of Dawn of the Unread…
Thank you. I hadn’t realised that Kickstarter might be used almost as an advance ordering service, as well as a direct route from producer to consumer. Interesting how the world is changing.