Frank Sargeson Trust Chair Elizabeth Aitken-Rose explores what it means to be an author in the digital age.
We are all living and operating in the middle of a technological revolution – a global community in which we expect more of everything, faster than ever before. We have access to, and are consuming, more content than past generations would have thought possible.
This means we are exposed to some wonderful talent we might never have known about before. It gives writers the unprecedented opportunity to take control of their publication, distribution and self-promotion. It opens up the options for so many more writers. If they desire, writers are able to make their work available to a global audience, with a simple click of “post”.
By publishing stories, essays or poems online, New Zealand writers can see their work travel, reaching potential readers, editors, agents, translators, publishers and festivals overseas. It also allows them to take part in international conversations.
The internet is a useful promotional platform, which is easy to update. Writers who can’t afford a website can still have a Wikipedia page, for example, and make sure that sites like anzliterature.com or the Book Council website have the most up-to-date information and links. But this does demand proactivity on the part of writers, and some level of professional savvy. Committing time and energy you would rather use for creative work to checking links for your website can be difficult for some writers, and many can’t or don’t want to invest money or time in promotion.
While authors now have a variety of routes to publish, including digital, self-publishing and assisted publishing, these are all different routes to the same goal. Independent and skilled editing, layout design and distribution remain vital. It can be challenging for writers to cut through and get their voice heard.
The digital world not only provides writers with new platforms from which to share their work, but it also informs the work they are creating. This is something which we at the Fellowship encourage. We enjoy seeing the way writers embrace the opportunities the digital world offers to their work.
Technology means we now have a range of formats authors can deliver their work across, bringing together the connectivity of words and images and other aspects of performance, moving from prose to multi-media platforms. We see this increasingly in collaborations, as all those involved bring their own unique viewpoints and talents.
The 2015 Grimshaw Sargeson Fellow, New Zealand playwright, screenwriter and novelist Duncan Sarkies, used the opportunity of the Fellowship to work on The Mysterious Secrets of Uncle Bertie’s Botanarium, a collaborative multi-media project incorporating writing, art and music. Sarkies worked with illustrator Stephen Templer and musician Lawrence Arabia on the project. The work has now evolved into a serialised podcast featuring the voice of Jemaine Clement and shared through different outlets, including Howl and YouTube.
Social media is also playing an increasingly large role in getting the author’s name and work out to their audience. Sarkies’s work was heavily promoted through social channels.
The 2010 Fellow, fiction writer and graphic artist Sarah Laing, also makes use of social media through her widely followed blog, Let Me Be Frank. She is also experimenting with presenting her work in different formats. Her latest work is a book-length comic, Mansfield and Me: A Graphic Memoir.
New Zealand’s literary landscape has moved so far in recent years and it is exciting to look forward to what the future holds. It is a great time to be part of the literary community in New Zealand.
These are exciting times indeed, but the fundamentals remain the same. A good work still requires a good initial idea and a range of talents to bring it to your audience. Literary fellowships, such as the Grimshaw Sargeson Fellowship, provide authors with a platform from which they can continue to build their careers, and time to dedicate to their projects.
The winners of the 2017 Grimshaw Sargeson Fellowship will be announced in the coming weeks. This will mark the 30th year of the Fellowship, a national literary award offering published New Zealand writers, both here and overseas, the opportunity to focus on their craft full-time by providing an annual stipend of $20,000 and tenure at the Sargeson Centre in Auckland.