Most authors have had this response: one of the worst things someone can say upon discovering you’re a writer – “Lovely. So what’s your pen-name?”
The sub-text, of course (sub-text? Hell, it’s the text), is that they clearly don’t recognise your name so you either write under another name or you’re just a bit crap.
But still… at least there was a bit of cachet about being a writer: the listener expected to be impressed. (To digress, one of the very worst responses I had was a swift follow-up to the pen-name question: “So what kind of things do you write?” When I mentioned science fiction, the response shifted abruptly from hugely impressed to a complete change of subject. She might just as well have said, “So not a real writer, then?”)
Recently, I’ve noticed a new reaction when someone hears you have a book out. It’s no longer about your pen-name: people are more accustomed to not recognising authors’ names. The response is, in many ways, far better informed. It’s “Oh, is that with Lulu or CreateSpace? Or is it just straight to Kindle?”
Everyone’s a writer now. Or, at least, they can be – it’s just a matter of mastering a few online forms and a bit of formatting.
The democratisation fo publishing isn’t necessarily a bad thing, of course. There are lots of writers emerging through this route who may never have found an audience only a few years ago, and commercial publishing was certainly overdue a shake-up.
But for a writer who has been working away for ten or twenty years, and battled through the layers and layers of rejection and publishing meetings and marketing and distribution woes… It’s always been tough getting published by the big guys. The vast majority of writers who try, don’t succeed. Having got through all that, it was a huge thrill to get copies of your book, to hold them in your hands, to find them in bookshops.
And one of the small rewards was the bragging right: to be able to say, “Yes, I’m a writer” and have your listener at least assume that they might have heard of you. Is that with Lulu? just doesn’t cut it, when it comes to bragging rights.
Is this such a great loss? Maybe not. It certainly doesn’t matter to the vast majority of people.
But publishing has changed. Publishing has really changed.