by Joseph T. Sinclair
First, let’s define “professional author” as one whose primary income is derived from writing. There is always a bumper crop of part-time and wannabe writers who maintain the God-ordained right to be “pure” writers with fountain pen and foolscap in hand and who are willing to pay others to turn their scribblings into text that’s usable in a publishing system. But a professional author cannot enjoy that luxury. A professional author needs tools.
The first modern tool of authors was the typewriter. Forty years ago no professional author could make a living without using a typewriter—except the very few wildly successful. With the advent of the word processor in the early 1980s, the personal computer with word processing software became the tool “of choice.” Why? Because it is easier to use than a typewriter and publishers demand it.
Today the tool of choice remains the word processor, primarily because print publishing software and ebook publishing software can import word processor documents to facilitate publishing. But we can see the first adumbrated colors of sunset signaling the end of this era.
Multimedia (media-rich, diverse media, enhanced, rich media, transmedia) publishing has become not only possible but practical too. In this case, practical means anyone can author it and market it today; that is, any professional author can do so. The part-timers and wannabes will continue on with their purity: fountain pen and foolscap. However, real authors will need to adapt to the times.
Perhaps the first adaption was in travel writing. A travel writer would go on assignment with a photographer. That evolved into the travel writer carrying a camera and providing the photography. In fact, if not award-winning photographs, a travel writer is expected to provide at least commercially viable photographs. That requires a professional-quality camera and perhaps even extra lenses. Today a travel writer is expected to submit high-quality photographs in an appropriate digital format.
Becoming a high-quality photographer does not require the equivalent of a MFA, but it does require time, training, money, and commitment.
Certain newspapers recently laid off all their photographers. They expect their reporters to take the photographs now—with phone cameras. Such reporters will now be judged on the quality of their photographs as well as the quality of their writing. Those who make the commitment to become proficient photographers will have the edge on their peers.
As we stand at the threshold of rich media publishing, we can see that authors of the future will be required to have more tools. One important tool is the rich media authoring program. Such a program enables users to add audio, video, embedded programming, interactivity, images, and more to text. When finished with an article or book, one click transforms the writing project into a digital product that can be sold or become part of a larger digital product that can be sold. Thus, the author’s tool of the future is the rich media authoring program. Adobe’s InDesign/Digital Publishing Suite is a good example (see the Creative Cloud on the Adobe website, http://www.adobe.com).
OK, if you’re Robert Caro, you won’t have to submit your next biography in an InDesign file. But what if you’re not Robert Caro? And most of us aren’t.
What are the implications of using rich media authoring software? The answer: using diverse media. Today it’s photographs. Tomorrow it’s audio bites, video clips, color illustrations, etc.
For instance, professional-quality audio recording equipment cost 1/6 of what it cost 15 years ago, and it’s smaller and easier to use. It’s not a stretch to think that future authors will be expected to be able to record interviews, street music, street sounds, educational presentations, and the like with some professional skill. In addition, they will need the skill to incorporate such audio content into digital text products via a rich media authoring program.
Although video production is much more complex than audio production, there will be certain mundane video functions that authors will be expected to do well, such as conduct interviews or make YouTube style presentations but with higher production value.
Most media once captured must be processed. Consequently, authors will be expected to digitally process photographs, audio bites, and video clips just as they are expected to rewrite their text an adequate number of times to make it good enough to submit to a publisher. The software to do this is now inexpensive and the equivalent of tens of thousands of dollars of equipment and software just a few short years ago.
In addition, creating graphs and abstract, non-artistic illustrations with software such as Excel and Adobe Illustrator will become de rigueur. You don’t need a corporate organizational chart for the latest steamy love novel set in Palm Beach, but you do need one for a book about General Motors. You don’t need a bar chart for the Palm Beach novel either, but you do need one for a book on the financial history of Texas.
Thus, in a very short time in the history of literature, authors’ essential tools and capabilities will go from the typewriter all the way to authoring software, diverse-media equipment, processing software, and the ability to use such resources in order to produce commercial-quality content.
Does that mean that every author will need to be able to engineer a 32-tract rock concert or make a compelling video documentary on the migration of the Artic Tern? No. Yet it does mean that professional authors will be expected to have basic skills for every major medium. The skill you don’t have yet will be the one required for the writing project of your dreams—the one just posted online by a publisher seeking an author or the one your agent just called you about. In other words, every professional author will have a substantial incentive to become a jack of all media.
Am I predicting that all authors will be responsible for all media in future rich media digital books. No. A book’s budget will dictate how big a book’s rich media team of media experts will be. But many books will have a small budget necessitating a team of one.
The author of this article, Joseph T. Sinclair, is the author of twenty How To books published by national publishers.
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©2014 Joseph T. Sinclair. All rights reserved.