In honour of the birthday this week of one of the most famous self-published authors of all time, Jane Austen, British historical novelist Jean Burnett, who recently self-published her second sequel to “Pride and Prejudice”, ponders on the fate of indie authors in the future.
The Long Retreating Afternoon of a Writer – or What Would Jane Austen Do?
The dreary end of year – short days, lack of sunlight and the horrors of Black Friday and Cyber Monday – have combined to produce dark thoughts in this writer’s head.
December 16th was the birthday of Jane Austen, and as an impertinent Jane Austen spin-off author I find myself wondering what that 239-year-old-lady would think of my efforts – and modern writers in general.
Refusing another mince pie, I ask myself the question, is your career really necessary? The age of intelligent computers is almost upon us; indeed it might have arrived while I was reading my email this morning. Stephen Hawking says it will mean the end of the human race – including writers – and he ought to know.
The Japanese have set up a short story competition which is open to non-human entrants. These must be souped up versions of those monkeys we were told about who would type the complete works of Shakespeare, given a century of so.
We spend a great deal of time wondering whether our fellow scribblers have produced something better, worse or as good as our own work (you know you do!) Will we, in future, have to agonise over a computer producing something so clever, so sublime, that we might as well give up and get a proper job?
Competition from Computers
Computers will not suffer from twitterphobia, facebookitis or necrotising bloggermania (an illness characterised by frozen fingers and blank mind when forced to deal with social media). They will not expect an advance or moan about their royalties; they will not want an occasional invitation to lunch with their agent. Publishers and Amazon will love them, agents will rush to sign them up. As for the hardworking members of ALLi, will their efforts have been in vain? I have it on good authority (The Society of Authors no less), that a Russian computer has written a homage to Tolstoy in the style of Murukami. Try that one for size.
The really depressing aspect of a writer’s life today is the extent to which certain problems remain that Jane Austen encountered… a novel returned in twenty-four hours by a publisher, earnings of less than eight hundred pounds etc. Yes, it is worth noting that not all self-published authors sell thousands of books online.
Self-publishing in Jane Austen's Era
Would Jane have understood the concept of the hybrid author? I think the answer is yes. It was quite common for individuals to pay for the publication of their work. Vanity publishing was respectable at that time. Some books might be produced by noted publishers of the day while others would be privately circulated to friends and admirers.
As a hybrid writer – just – I am still speculating on whether this is the answer to our problems or whether it will simply make life more difficult in the long run. Will publishers look unfavourably at writers who do it for themselves after being published traditionally? I do not think that the breed has been around long enough for us to know definitively. We need more input from people who have managed or are managing to wear both hats.
In conclusion, I can hardly expect the divine Miss A to drift through the wall of my little office offering words of wisdom re outwitting writer’s block and Russian computers during her birthday week. I am expecting a visit from Mr Shakespeare in the new year but, alas, his first name is Jason and he is coming to re-plaster a wall.
OVER TO YOU Are computers likely to become fan fiction factories? What are your predictions for computer-generated novels? Join the conversation via the comment box!
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