Hilary McMahon, Me, Steven Galloway and Leanne Shirtliffe
I just love the picture above, it’s one of my favourites from the Writers Guild of Alberta Conference because it so honestly depicts how fun the event was to host. The crowd in the background of this photo were enthusiastic, supportive and asked wonderfully insightful questions. The panelists Hilary McMahon, Steven Galloway and Leanne Shirtliffe were all great presenters as well-they were honest, open, and had a great sense of humor, which made hosting this event that much more fun! In fact, they were all so talkative that my not-oft tested moderating skills were hardly necessary, much to my relief.
The title of the event was “The Writing Life”, so I asked a few questions around the current state of publishing, what’s expected of a writer these days, the role of social media in a professional writer’s life, etc. A discussion like this could easily slip into a depressing rant about the good old days, but thankfully the everyone’s jokes and optimism prevented this from happening.
Why do we look at the publishing industry as if it’s golden age that is slowly fading away? I’m going to try to sum this up as short and simply as possible. The publishing houses are losing money because of major cutbacks in their revenue, mostly due to the fact that big box stores and corporations (Indigo, Amazon, etc. ) are paying less that they ever did for their stock, because they have the influence and market majority to do so. Oh, and e-books are a big part of this, because they are sold for a lot less than their hard copy counterparts, but they cost just as much to produce (the main cost in book production is the editing and typesetting of the pages). As you can see, the cost of producing books is still the same, yet publishers are making less money for the same product, which means they are pressured to cost costs elsewhere. This in turn gets passed down to the authors themselves, because they are being paid less for their writing, and being asked to essentially provide the marketing for their own books. So, not only are writers paid very little for what they’ve already written, but they’re being asked to write other things for free (like twitter updates, blogs and facebook posts).
Similar reasoning can be applied to the demise of the newspaper industry, but lord knows I don’t the the time or patience to argue on behalf of all paper industries, so I draw the line at discussing anything other than books on this blog.
You’re probably wondering why I’m going on about this-if it hasn’t become obvious enough yet, it’s something that I’m passionate about, which is why I’m a board member of the Writers Guild of Alberta. The WGA supports Alberta writers and is doing its best to protect the rights of writers in this province, which is something that is constantly threatened by the shrinking budgets of publishers big and small. So please do your part, buy some books and hug a writer when you see one, because when not appearing on a super fantastic panel as part of a conference, the writing life is not as glamorous as you may think.