The Art (and Business) of Writing

Where would the publishing industry be without authors?

This month’s Publishing Industry Insights article offers a writer’s point of view:

Having a dog is as helpful for a writer as having a Twitter account.

In order for 2 Seas to keep providing you with the most dynamic insider perspectives of the industry, we needed to include insights from a writer. After having featured Dutch and French publishing professionals, this month we’re pleased to receive insights from Ben Dolnick, author of three novels: Zoology, You Know Who You Are, and most recently At the Bottom of Everything. His writing has appeared in the New York Times and on NPR. He lives in Brooklyn, NY, from where he offers a refreshing, no-nonsense take on the business side of his literary career.

By guest contributor Babette Dunkelgrün – first posted in May 2014.

Babette: What’s the definition of a solid book publisher in today’s world? What are the advantages and disadvantages you have experienced as an author working with traditional publishers?

Ben: I’ve enjoyed being with Random House. For example, it gives me access to a quality of editing that would be hard to come by in other contexts. And of course the way they can distribute a book—and advertise it—is more than I could ever do on my own.

Babette: How do you feel about eBooks and the way they affect your readership?

Ben: The Kindle Single I wrote felt like a labor of love. I knew it was an eccentric subject matter, and likely the sort of thing I’d have to bring out in a slightly more unusual medium. It was also a length that’s hard—too long for a magazine article, too short for a book. The experience was interesting; the inexpensiveness of it, and the shortness of it, let people take a chance on it who otherwise might not have. I’m in favor of anything that gets more people reading.

Babette: As someone who has been in this field for several years, how do you go about bringing in (young) readers who may not yet be familiar with your work?

Ben: I write essays and articles online that I think young people read, so maybe that does something. But I don’t have a thought out strategy, beyond writing books that I hope people, young and old, would like.

Babette: If you were an author starting out in the business today, what would you do differently?

Ben: It would be smart to form a strong social media presence—lots of Twitter followers, writing a ton, networking, etc. I should still do these things now! But I find it hard to do the kind of writing I care most about when the social media part of my brain is twitching too much, so I don’t know how I’d handle it. One thing I would have done is get a dog earlier: having a dog is nearly as helpful for a writer as having a Twitter account.

Babette: Are you concerned with the future of reading?

Ben: I’m concerned with the future of everything! But I hope there are enough book-lovers out there that, whatever other kinds of media-consumption predominate, books will hang on. But this seems to fall squarely in the category of things I can’t control, so I do my best not to get too gloomy about it.

Babette: What is your writing process like?

Ben: It seems to change from book to book, and sometimes even month to month. But these are some of the stable things: I use a word-processing program called Scrivener, which is the only piece of software I’ve ever truly loved. It’s amazing. I use a kitchen timer to set myself a certain number of hours each day. And, at many points in each book, I feel hopeless and at a loss and certain this will never work. But (usually) I find a way to keep at it.

Babette: Looking ahead five to ten years, what do you see when it comes to self-publishing?

Ben: I think so much in peoples’ reading lives has changed in just the past five years that I wouldn’t want to rule anything out, looking ahead. If I’m given an opportunity to get my writing into peoples’ hands (or anyway into their retinas; maybe people will be reading via smart-glasses or watches) and to get paid money for it, I’m very content, whatever the details.

2 Seas Agency is grateful for Ben’s insights!

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