The Digital Age Is Now!
By Alexandra Grabbe
In March I attended a Grub Street event at the YMCA in Cambridge. The room was packed with published authors, as well as eager, unpublished writers like myself. Grubbies all, we had come to glean bits of wisdom from a young literary agent who was ahead of the pack. I knew this because Jason Ashlock immediately praised our favorite writing center. “There aren’t a lot of communities like Grub Street,” he said. “It’s very special. There’s not one group in New York City that parallels it.” He explained that we lived in “fluid, exciting, and daunting times.” Then he warned we should think not in terms of a digital future, but a DIGITAL PRESENT. These last two words are in caps because this was the takeaway. The digital age is now!
One of the notes I wrote to myself during the talk was, Jason Ashlock is making change happen. Like many Grub Street writers, I wanted change to happen in my life. Two unfinished novels in my drawer, an idea for a short-story collection after taking a course with Christina McCarroll over the winter, the outline for a novel set in Viking times begun in Novel in Progress with Jessamyn Hope, a play based on family letters, a finished memoir that an established agent had been unable to sell and a second, less experienced, agent had turned down because the manuscript had already been “shopped around.” Most aspiring authors have unpublished manuscripts, but my drawer was so full I could barely close it.
I took copious notes throughout the event and came away with the conviction the next step in my writing career should be the production of an eBook.
Everyone says to write what you know. The obvious choice for an innkeeper in Wellfleet would be to describe our beautiful little town and explain what makes it special. I had ***platform*** for that undertaking. Lots. As well as the email addresses of former guests going back seven years.
Still, I had always resisted the idea of creating a guidebook. Sure, I blogged about living green on the Outer Cape, but I looked upon my blog as a daily writing exercise. It was nice to have accumulated over one hundred followers, but I had loftier ambitions for my literary career. Blog posts did not come close to the polished prose of my memoir. As Ashlock answered questions from the audience, I realized all that didn’t matter. Here was an obvious expert, saying Go for it. Write what you know. Use your platform and jump as high as you can.
But, an eBook isn’t a real book. Is it? What about the quality of the writing? To my surprise, Jason responded to my unvoiced question, a very serious look on his handsome face: “The quality of the work is still of the utmost importance.”
I started listening even more closely. Ashlock said the industry is in turmoil. I knew that. He said advances are evaporating. I knew that, too. He spoke about the role of the literary agent in today’s publishing world and questioned his/her relevance. I suspected as much. He spoke about branding and finding an audience eager to read your work. Gotcha. My blog followers have convinced me there are people out there addicted to my words. He spoke about pitching an eBook at a low price. What?!? New to me. But I also kept hearing OPPORTUNITY and EXPERIMENTATION: “Now’s the time to experiment … If you release a small eBook, it will better position you for when your big opportunity comes along … My role is to prompt the right type of experimentation.” Etc. etc. The words opportunity and experimentation fused in my mind. I would experiment and seize the opportunity: eBookdom, here I come!
My guide to Wellfleet, now available online, was the result of this Grub Street event. Jason Ashlock sure created change in my world. There are already five rave reviews on Amazon and an article in the local newspaper. I invite you to join in effecting change. If you have an e-reader, get yourself a copy, then plan a trip to Cape Cod. Per Ashlock’s advice, Wellfleet, An Insider’s Guide to Cape Cod’s Trendiest Town costs only $2.99.
Alexandra Grabbe wrote the blog Wellfleet Today for ten years. She is working on a short story collection and revising a memoir. in 2015 she self-published her father's memoir, Emigre, 95 Years in the Life of a Russian Count.See other articles by Alexandra Grabbe