How would two of our favorite authors, Charles Dickens and Jane Austen, fare as writers in today’s world? I have confidence they’d cope surprisingly well with technology and the added demands of promotion in today’s marketplace? Let’s pretend Charles and Jane are contemporaries and very close friends. Observe as they wrestle with the challenges of the modern writer.
1. Tweet, Twitter, or otherwise Twerp.
In their day a twit was a silly foppish fellow. But here they are, Charles and Jane, immersing themselves in social media:
2. Set up a home office network.
Dickens fumbles behind the CPU. “Jane darling, where in blazes does this router cable go?”
“For pity’s sake, Charles, read the manual. Can’t you see I’m knee deep in cow-patties trying to set up this confounded printer?”
3. Purchase promotional pens, bookmarks, postcards, or other give-away goodies.
“Jane! Come here. Look at this nifty coffee cup available at Do-it-yourself-cafe-press? We could put the cover of your latest book on it and hand them out to booksellers in appreciation of them hosting our signings.”
“Hhmm.” Jane reaches across his keyboard, grabs his mouse, and scrolls down the page. “Lovely thought, Chuck, dearest, but at $12.99 a pop any profit we make at the book-signing will quickly be eaten up.”
“Jane, Jane, ever the pragmatist.” Dickens shakes his head. “Stop your scrimping, and think of the goodwill it would foster. Oh, and BTW, I love it when you grab my mouse.”
Jane walks out of the office muttering, “I do not scrimp.”
4. Book-signings. Did Jane and Charles do book-signings in their day? Doubtful, but they would now, and without question, the lines to meet them would be out the door and around the corner.
Jane tried to remain genteel about her writing career, so she probably did not do any public signings. Many of her novels were incognito, and noted as having been written “By a Lady,” or “By the Author of Pride And Prejudice.” However, she did sign a few books for her close friends. Recently a copy of Emma she’d signed and presented to dear friend sold for £325,000 which was well over 500K in U.S. dollars. BBC NEWS
Dickens wrote many of his stories for newspapers. So, it is unlikely that he hung out in a bookstore to do signings, but he did autograph a few more books than did Jane, and under similar circumstances – as gifts to friends. A signed copy of The Old Curiosity Shop is currently offered for sale at $135,000.
Picture our beloved Jane Austen at a book-signing, her pen poised on the title page: “To whom would you like the book signed?”
Avid Reader: “To your most devoted fan and bestest-bestest-ever friend.”
Austen rubs her temple slightly, cranes to look at the four hundred people standing behind her most devoted fan, and smiles patiently: “And does my bestest-bestest-ever friend have a name?”
Perplexed, Dickens frowns at his newspaper. “What in the name of blueberry pie is a blog?”
Jane brushes her feather quill against her cheek. She misses quills, and keeps one beside her Mac. “Could it be a bog in which there are many fallen branches? Thus, a log filled bog?”
“I suppose.” He shrugs. “Can’t think of what else it would be. Treacherous place if that’s what it is. You stay well away from any blogs, Jane, my love.”
Jane taps her chin thoughtfully. “On the other hand, perhaps a blog is simply an euphemism for an inebriated condition – reminiscent of your stumbling home after a night of singing and bragging about your latest bit of writing to Forster and your other cronies down at the pub.” Warming to her line of reasoning Jane sits up straighter. “Thus one might say, Oh look there’s Charles. He is well and truly blogged.”
Unruffled by her condescension, Dickens grins. “Well, I’ll be blogged, my dear. You might just have something there.”
Miffed that Charles was not properly chastened for last night’s behavior, she sniffs. “Whatever this blog thing is, we both ought to steer clear of it.”
“I agree,” says Charles, shaking out his newspaper, making a solemn vow to find the nearest blog as soon as possible and have a proper go at it.
6. Give workshops.
Or did they? Dickens lectured at the Athenæum Club and spent an awful lot of time with his buddies discussing and arguing about writing at his favorite tavern. One might call these weekly get-togethers a workshop of sorts, albeit a workshop with ample refreshments all ‘round.
And while Jane never formally presented a workshop, I suspect she held a few hush-hush gatherings in a back parlor, a very exclusive group of ladies in the neighborhood who thought they might, someday, want to pen a novel under a man’s name.
All in all, I think Dickens and Austen did rather well, don’t you? They would cope well because they were both brilliant and adaptable. That’s precisely what today’s writer must do — be brilliant and adapt to the changing marketplace.