Can an Authoring Platform Make You an Author?

At the recent Tools of Change conference a new program called Inkling Habitat, an “authoring platform,” was introduced. This new “authoring platform” does serve a purpose, because it helps authors easily add digital bells and whistles to their texts. This help is welcome. However, a Google search now turns up over 300 “authoring platforms,” most of which claim to make authors out of amateurs. Can they do it?

Authoring Platforms

Let’s unpack that phrase, “authoring platform.” The term “authoring” is a very odd duck indeed. We used to think that writers authored, or wrote, books, a process that had an end and therefore required the past tense. Now we are to suppose that authoring is a sort of continuous daily activity, like eating, sleeping, or breathing. This is a sneaky way to suggest that a computer program can make being an author a straightforward, usual thing that almost anybody could do successfully.

The “platform” part implies two things. One is the familiar idea that computer programs can interact much better with one another if they sit on top of a common substrate, like Word, Excel, and so on perched on the Windows platform. This is fair enough. The other implication, however, is quite misleading: the idea that a speaker often stands on a platform when addressing a crowd, an image that appeals to the egos of some aspiring authors because it positions them at a level above their audience–gives them a bully pulpit.

Both of these connotations obscure the real issue—are intended to obscure the real issue—by suggesting that if an author just has the right support, the right place to stand, he or she will be freed from the organizational, structural, and inspirational problems that bedevil even the most gifted writers. Somehow software will eliminate such difficulties.

The truth, of course, is that good writing is very hard to do. The real problem most would-be authors have is a lack of training, or experience, or something to say, or talent. Will these issues be solved by using the right authoring platform? Microsoft Word is an early authoring platform that certainly makes many tricky editorial operations very easy to do. But Word has not led to an explosion of terrific prose. On the contrary, many people think word processing programs have made writers more verbose. There didn’t used to be so many 800-page books. Legal documents are certainly four times as long as they used to be. (Perhaps we now spell a little better.)

The authoring platform is just another example of the sort of “easy shortcut” that Americans fall for every time. When I was a kid, it was “get rich writing short paragraphs.” For years the internet has offered me advanced degrees with no need to study or attend a class. Now I can become a famous author by climbing up on an authoring platform and broadcasting my thoughts in all directions. Of course everyone has a book in them! It would be highly undemocratic to think otherwise. Too bad it is not true.

Self-publishing is just the latest bubble. Tens of thousands of people are being relieved of serious amounts of cash by charlatans offering quick publication fixes. It is entirely possible to publish your own book in a responsible way. There is, however, one tried, tested, and highly effective authoring platform: a publishing company.

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3 thoughts on “Can an Authoring Platform Make You an Author?

  1. Steven Crane says:

    This looks like Blogger circa 2001 to me. I wonder if it’ll shake out roughly the same way; the best (or sometimes most prolific) bloggers from the Early Days Of Blogging wound up getting straight jobs writing on the Internet for mainstream media outlets, rather than surviving as an independent alternative. Of course, the blogging frontier is closed now; it’s nigh impossible to make the jump from talented independent blogger to real, paid writer no matter how good one is.

    Is it possible that authoring platforms will simply be a way for the very small percentage of undiscovered talent to make the jump to real book contracts, while remaining a mug’s game for the vast majority?

  2. Ernie Zelinski says:

    I have saying for the last few years that overall there is more money being made by so-called book experts selling wannabe authors programs on writing and marketing than there is money being made by authors.

    Mark Coker of Smashwords had this to say in his 2013 predictions:

    “In the self-publishing gold rush, more money will be made in author services than in book sales”

    And very successful and astute writer Russell Blake, who is smarter and more perceptive than 99.9 percent of so-called book experts and authors, had this to say in his blog:

    “Many indies will give up. Having realized belatedly that 99% of indies fail to make any real money at this, those that don’t feel like beating their heads against a seemingly indestructible wall will go on to something more lucrative. The Gold Rush mentality of “hey, look at X, he’s a talentless twat and sold a ton; it must be easy, so I’ll throw my hat into the ring because then maybe I’ll sell a ton, too” will die, as it should. It will become abundantly obvious to even the dimmest that this is a very, very difficult business to make a living at, and that the chances of being that one in a million are close to nil. … The perceived environment where you can be illiterate and still find someone who will give your book a shot will dry up as readers demand more in exchange for their limited time.”

    For the record, I have been successfully self-published for over 20 years (with over 750,000 copies of my books sold worldwide) as has David Chilton who self-published “The Wealthy Barber”, which sold over a million copies in its print edition. I just laugh when I hear about this “indie revolution” and how many self-published authors call themselves “pioneers of self-publishing.”

    I have an article titled “Self-Publishing Comes of Age” from the “Financial Times of Canada” written 20 years ago about David Chilton (author of “The Wealthy Barber” which sold over a million copies) and me. And even David and I were not the pioneers in self-publishing because there were other very successful self-publishers who came before us such as Robert J. Ringer with three self-published titles, each that sold over 1,000,000 copies.

    So I just laugh when I read about the “indie revolution”.

    I also laugh when I hear some so-called “book experts” say “print is dead.” I respond by saying “anyone who says print is dead is either lying or just plain brain dead.” My “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free” in 2012 sold 18,637 copies, which is the highest number ever since the book was publshed in 2004. For the first 7 weeks this year sales are 35 percent higher than the sales were for the first 7 weeks of 2012.

    In short, if you want to make it in the business of self-publishing, you have to be a 1-percenter. This means that you have to be more industrious and innovative than at least 99 percent of the other authors trying to make it in this business.

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    International Best-Selling Author
    “Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free”
    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 175,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working”
    (Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

  3. Are any of us real writers? I say let them use writing platforms. Poor work will eventually fade (if it even see the light of day) leave true talent standing strong. And eventually, publishing houses will have to either change, or go extinct.

    Nice entry. Got me thinking.

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