BY DAVID WOLMAN
Bad news first. That page on your website so lovingly curated and carefully updated with links to your published work? No one reads it. OK, maybe your Mom and an editor who wants to see samples of previous work, but no one else. That doesn’t mean you aren’t a great writer and it certainly doesn’t mean humanity has lost interest in riveting tales or important topics like education, healthcare, and cat shampoo. It only means that you live and write in an age when the battle for attention is beyond ferocious. I, for one, am quite interested in your writing. Really. The thing is, I’m running to catch a plane. After that I’m facing a tough deadline, hurrying to get the kids from daycare, and—I’ll be honest—cuing up another episode of “Top of the Lake.” I could read some of your stuff later tonight, true, but at night I don’t care much for websites and scrolling to eternity. I want a book or an e-book.
The good news? With today’s digital publishing tools, you can easily transform your archive of work into an e-book. You not only can, you should. Articles, short stories, poems, books—your stuff is gathering e-dust in forgotten corners of the Web. Go find those favorites and (if you retain rights), breathe new life into them to create a unified and elegant product. Then—and here’s the radical bit—sell it. Your writing is a professional-caliber product, is it not? Then treat it like one, for heaven’s sake.
Now, you could produce your collection merely by cutting and pasting text files and clicking “enter,” but that would be unwise. Readers will detect haste and a lack of attention to their experience with the prose and digital page. There is also the matter of value. Pulling disparate works into one place and format provides some value, but you can do better. The real added value in an e-anthology are the ingredients that make it new and different. The meat is previously published works, yes, but with footnotes, postscripts, photos, videos, and links, the selections become something more. Got a funny anecdote about the writing process that you share at cocktail parties? Include it! Is there a substantial update to some political or scientific idea addressed in a story from 5 years ago? Let’s hear it.
Just so there’s zero confusion on this point: Your Digital Age collected works will not make you rich. There’s long tail potential, though. A few years from now, when you publish your latest terrific magazine story, someone, possibly even a handful of someones, will wonder what else you’ve written. Maybe they will jump online and buy a book you’ve published. If you don’t have any books and haven’t put together a compendium, they might make their way to your website, but that will be the end of it. (See above re: harsh reality of your mostly ignored website.) Yet what if those readers instead found this aesthetically produced collection of stories available for a fraction of what they paid for Mother’s Day flowers? They might just buy it.
Irrespective of potential sales, you will also have this wonderful thing: a product to share with friends and family who’ve been nagging you for years to tell them when and where to read your stuff. (Don’t worry, Mom doesn’t have to pay; you can gift the collection or send a password-protected version.) Besides, you may find, as I did, that the experience of assembling, rereading, and remastering some of the work you’re most proud of will provide a rare opportunity to reflect on your career, not as a constellation of unrelated assignments, but as a body of writing that rather resembles an accomplishment.
David Wolman is an author and a contributing editor at Wired. His new collection, FIRSTHAND, is out this month. He used Creatavist to produce it, but the book is also available for Kindle and other e-readers. He lives in Oregon with his wife and two children. You can follow him on Twitter @davidwolman.