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Authorship, digital media and the field of literary publishing

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A number of converging trends are focusing attention on the intersection between book authorship and digital technologies (The Economist 2014). Steadily dropping prices and new high-resolution screens on devices like Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iPad have made publishing digitally without seeking to print in book form appear more feasible. At the same time print on demand services (POD) are growing rapidly, lowering the cost to authors and publishers of printing and distributing works that would previously have only been feasible to distribute online (The Economist 2010). As a result, organizations like Toronto-based Wattpad, Amazon’s CreateSpace and Lulu have sprung up to help would-be authors take advantage of these new opportunities. Traditional publishers have also started to take an interest in authors like E. L. James and Hugh Howey who started by writing online (Hardwick 2014).

Pierre Bourdieu mapped the complex and symbiotic relationship between literary authors, publishers, agents and the reading public (Bourdieu 1996 [1992]). He noted then that, “one of the central stakes in literary (etc) rivalries is the monopoly of literary legitimacy, that is, among other things, the monopoly of the power to say who is a writer.” (Bourdieu 1996 [1992], p. 219) He suggested that the artist is made by “the whole ensemble of those who help to ‘discover’ him and to consecrate him as an artist who is ‘known’ and recognized (Bourdieu 1996 [1992], p. 167). In the last few years, new technologies may be undermining the power of agents, publishers and booksellers to act as “gatekeepers”. Existing scholarly studies of literary publishing in the US and UK (Thompson 2010) and in Canada (Lorimer 2012) have been published too early to analyse whether such a shift is occurring and how it is playing out.

This paper will provide a preliminary overview of the changing nature of the literary field in Canada. It will be based on in-depth qualitative interviews with Canadian authors who are taking advantage of these new opportunities on one side and with both traditional book publishers and the new ‘on demand’ publishers on the other.

Drawing on digital divide literatures and insights from these initial interviews I hope to initiate a more nuanced debate around the much-heralded potentials of digital technology to provide new outlets for Canadian cultural products.

Bibliography

Bourdieu, P 1996 [1992], The rules of art: genesis and structure of the literary field, Polity Press, Cambridge.

Hardwick, C 2014, 10 Best Selling Self-Published Authors, viewed Dec 21 2014, <http://www.therichest.com/expensive-lifestyle/money/10-best-selling-self-published-authors/?view=all%3E.

Lorimer, R 2012, Ultra libris : policy, technology, and the creative economy of book publishing in Canada, ECW Press, Toronto, ON.

Thompson, JB 2010, Merchants of culture : the publishing business in the twenty-first century, Polity,

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Authorship, digital media and the field of literary publishing

  1. 1. Canadian Authorship, Digital Media and the Field of Literary Publishing By David Brake http://davidbrake.org/
  2. 2. Outline • Theoretical orientation (Digital divide, Bourdieu, Public sphere) • Barriers to authorship and the “new authorship” • Approaches to study • CanLit policy implications 2
  3. 3. Mutual recognition and the Public Sphere 3
  4. 4. Pathways to mutual recognition Interpersonal encounters Education Journalism Arts and Entertainment 4
  5. 5. Contemporary pathways to mutual recognition Interpersonal encounters • Social media Education Journalism • Citizen journalism Arts and Entertainment • ‘New Authorship’ 5
  6. 6. Democratic Potentials Interpersonal • The Internet "expands the range of voices that can be heard in a national debate, ensuring that no one voice can speak with unquestioned authority” (Jenkins & Thorburn, 2003 p. 2) Journalism • Beckett “offers a chance to replace professional exclusivity with a participatory inclusiveness that might lead to a greater variety among the people who can enter and even run the news media” (Beckett, 2008 p. 149) 6
  7. 7. Democratic Potentials Arts & Entertainment • The author as “community champion”? • "One result of the development of books along a trajectory of interactivity appears to be the emergence of authors […] as voices of communities of interest, concern, aesthetics, location or knowledge. […] It may lead to authors as community champions as well as creative heroes, or an amalgam of the two roles.” (Lorimer, 2012 p. 275) • To some extent authors are always representatives of their communities… but which communities? • To what extent is it true that “anyone can become a writer”? 7
  8. 8. Digital divides • Motivational - desire for what digital tools can enable and a willingness to use them • Material - whether and under what conditions people have access • Skills - the extent to which people are able to use digital tools effectively • Usage - the breadth and depth of people’s use of digital tools (van Dijk, 2005) 8
  9. 9. Who can be a writer? • “The propensity to move towards the economically most risky positions, and above all the capacity to persist in them (a condition for all avant-garde undertakings which precede the demands of the market), even when they secure no short-term economic profit, seem to depend to a large extent on possession of substantial economic and cultural capital.” (Bourdieu, 1993 p. 67) 9
  10. 10. Writers’ incomes demonstrate this 10 (The Writer's Union of Canada 2015)
  11. 11. Other prerequisites • Literacy • Technical literacy • Free time • “Access to legitimate language” 11
  12. 12. • "In fact, access to legitimate language is quite unequal, and the theoretically universal competence liberally granted to all by linguists is in reality monopolized by some. Certain categories of locutors are deprived of the capacity to speak in certain situations and often acknowledge this deprivation in the manner of the farmer who explained that he never thought of running for mayor of his small township by saying: ''But I don't know how to speak!'’ (Bourdieu 1992 p. 146) 12
  13. 13. Authorial gatekeepers “The artist who makes this work is himself made, at the core of the field of production, by the whole ensemble of those who help to ‘discover’ him and to consecrate him as an artist who is ‘known’ and recognized” (Bourdieu 1996 p. 167) 13
  14. 14. Which helps explain 14 (The Writer's Union of Canada 2015)
  15. 15. What defines a “writer”? Output? Book-length with advance Book-length self- published Serialised/shorter “product” (Wattpad/Kindle Singles) Writes on Blog/Twitter? 15
  16. 16. What defines a “writer”? Engagement? Earns primary income from writing Earns some income from writing Has and interacts with a readership Expresses themselves in written form in public 16
  17. 17. Writer’s Union says Would-be members should: • have had a trade book published by a commercial or university press • have self-published a book that successfully demonstrates commercial intent and professionalism (emphasis mine) 17
  18. 18. New authorships might address this • Lack of gatekeepers • Low initial temporal investment required (shorter/serialised forms) • Supportive online audiences 18
  19. 19. “New Authorship” “All the way through Uni I got firsts for anything that involved writing anything… I loved the [assignments] where I was writing – I was obviously in the wrong degree… the blog came along and I thought ‘this is a great opportunity for me to actually do more of the writing and find out if I really really do like it’. As it turns out I actually still do.” (Brake, 2009 p. 113) “I didn’t start it [a blog containing short stories] really for anybody else and even saying things like ‘I want people to read this – I want people to comment’ – that’s for me – it’s selfish in that sense.” (ibid. p. 114) 19
  20. 20. Research questions - Bourdieu inspired 1. What are the fields of new authorship? 2. What are the ‘rules’ and capitals in each field and the power relations between actors? What are relationships between these fields and traditional authorship? 3. What habituses do‘new authors’have? Are they different from traditional authors? (more stats for the latter needed!) 4. Are there clear capital prerequisites to success in these fields?
  21. 21. Tentative hypotheses • Fields include conventional writers dabbling with online, online writers angling for print success, writers aiming at online audiences (for profit? for esteem?), writers writing principally for themselves alone (as thesis found) • Writers who want to be conventionally published are dependent on various authorities. Not clear to what extent writers who write online are beholden to/responsive to audiences or wish to be published commercially
  22. 22. Tentative hypotheses • Successful writers online and offline are older, highly educated, middle class but online might open participation to people with lower cultural but higher ‘technological’ capital.
  23. 23. Projected research methods • Surveys of author groups (Writer’s Union, Canadian Author’s Association) • Surveys of “new authors” via Wattpad, other Canadian writing support groups • Interviews with a range of authors with forms of engagement with the field based on survey responses • Interviews with conventional publishers, online writing platforms, writer support groups 23
  24. 24. CanLit policy • "Canada leads the world in direct financial support of book publishing and other cultural industries” (Lorimer, 2012 p. 13) but… • Support goes primarily to publishers, secondarily to a few authors with existing cultural capital (academics, prize-winners) 24
  25. 25. Reasons to support CanLit • “The inarticulate nature of the average Canadian's patriotism results from the lack of a native literature commensurate with Canada's physical, industrial, scientific and academic stature” Canadian Authors Association in (Massey, 1952 p.224) • Represent Canada on the world stage • Help Canadians achieve mutual recognition • Support a Canadian industry (publishing) • Contribute to Canada’s cultural heritage • Cultural production/self expression as an inherent good 25
  26. 26. Reasons to support “new authorships” • “The inarticulate nature of the average Canadian's patriotism results from the lack of a native literature commensurate with Canada's physical, industrial, scientific and academic stature” Canadian Authors Association in (Massey, 1952 p.224) • Represent Canada on the world stage • Help Canadians achieve mutual recognition • Support a Canadian industry (publishing) • Contribute to Canada’s cultural heritage • Cultural production/self expression as an inherent good 26
  27. 27. • “Narrative is a fundamental capacity of human beings, and its exercise crucial to living” (Couldry, 2010 p. 124) 27
  28. 28. Recommendations • Research and recognise the value of “new authorship(s)” • Research and institutionally support pathways from “new authorship” to conventional authorship 28
  29. 29. Supporting new voices • “An attention to voice means paying attention, as importantly, to the conditions of for effective voice, that is, the conditions under which people's practices of voice are sustained and the outcomes of those practices validated” (Couldry 2010, p. 113) 29
  30. 30. Questions • Am I missing sources of official funding/surveys/reports? • Can you suggest additional Canadian “new authorship” platforms to examine? 30
  31. 31. Your Questions? Comments? Contact details: David Brake david@davidbrake.org http://davidbrake.org/ 289 400 4525 Thank you for your attention!
  32. 32. Bibliography • Beckett, C. (2008). SuperMedia: saving journalism so it can save the world. Malden, MA: Blackwell. • Bourdieu, P., & Wacquant, L. J. D. (1992). The Purpose of Reflexive Sociology (The Chicago Workshop). In P. Bourdieu & L. J. D. Wacquant (Eds.), An invitation to reflexive sociology (pp. 62-215). Chicago: University of Chicago Press • Bourdieu, P. (1993). The Field of Cultural Production, or: The Economic World Reversed (R. Johnson, Trans.) The field of cultural production: essays on art and literature (pp. 29-73). Cambridge: Polity Press • Bourdieu, P. (1996 [1992]). The rules of art: genesis and structure of the literary field (S. Emanuel, Trans.). Cambridge: Polity Press. • Brake, D. R. (2009). ‘As if nobody’s reading’?: The imagined audience and socio-technical biases in personal blogging practice in the UK. PhD, The London School of Economics and Political Science, London, UK. Retrieved from http://etheses.lse.ac.uk/4/ • Couldry, N. (2010). Why voice matters : culture and politics after neoliberalism. London: SAGE. • Jenkins, H., & Thorburn, D. (2004). Democracy and new media: MIT Press. • Lorimer, R. (2012). Ultra libris : policy, technology, and the creative economy of book publishing in Canada. Toronto, ON: ECW Press. • Massey, V. (1951). Report [of The] Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences, 1949-1951: E. Cloutier, Printer to the King's Most Excellent Majesty. Retrieved from https://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/massey/ • The Writer's Union of Canada. (2015). Devaluing Creators, Endangering Creativity. Doing More and Making Less: Writers’ Incomes Today. Retrieved from http://www.writersunion.ca/news/canadian-writers-working-harder- while-earning-less • van Dijk, J. A. G. M. (2005). The deepening divide : inequality in the information society. Thousand Oaks, Calif. ; London: Sage Pub. 32

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