If you think digital publishing is going to be the savior of your writing career, or of the publishing industry, Tony Horwitz would like to share his story with you. You’ve got to read his tale of having written a No. 1 digital bestseller, which was nearly a disaster. Excerpt:
But now that I’ve escorted two e-partners to the edge of the grave, I’m wary of this brave new world of digital publishers and readers. As recently as the 1980s and ’90s, writers like me could reasonably aspire to a career and a living wage. I was dispatched to costly and difficult places like Iraq, to work for months on a single story. Later, as a full-time book author, I received advances large enough to fund years of research.
How many young writers can realistically dream of that now? Online journalism pays little or nothing and demands round-the-clock feeds. Very few writers or outlets can chase long investigative stories. I also question whether there’s an audience large enough to sustain long-form digital nonfiction, in a world where we’re drowning in bite-size content that’s mostly free and easy to consume.
The things that happened to Horwitz are pretty much the kinds of things that don’t happen to writers in old-school publishing, for all its shortcomings. Maybe traditional publishing isn’t going to last. But what’s supposed to be replacing it is in many respects worse.