I think what Nathan Bransford is trying to say here is that it’s a great time to be an author-marketer. It is actually a mediocre time to be an author-author, which is to say somebody who is interested in writing rather than, say, building a platform and self-promoting and so on, in addition to writing.
(Worth noting: it is rarely *not* a mediocre time to be an author-author, and contemporary Western culture hardly qualifies as a poor time to be an author. Being unable to find a conventional publisher is hardly on par with being chucked into gulag for something you’ve written. International PEN can clarify further if you’re confused on that point.)
This dovetails nicely into some of my recent thinking about the publishing industry: namely, time that authors are expected to spend marketing themselves, and acquiring marketing skills (and technical skills, in the digital arena, to support online marketing efforts) is time that authors who are devoted to the craft of writing would rather spend, you know, writing. Becoming better authors. Creating better books.
As someone who works in marketing and is an author, let me just say that these are rather different skill sets. Yes, being able to clarify the stakes, plot and characters of your novel in a query letter is useful to one’s writing. Yes, aspiring authors should be prepared to do things like public signings and communicating with their fans. But a great deal of marketing is not at all applicable to writing a novel.
And to be honest, not everyone is cut out to be a marketer. Many authors, in fact, have exactly the opposite character traits from a successful marketer. They are shy and introverted, spending a great deal of time making up other worlds inside their heads instead of talking to people. Or they are gregarious types who prefer to listen and observe in their interactions, rather than talk about themselves. Many of my favorite authors are dreadful self-marketers.
It’s certainly possible to find success without fusing yourself into a marketing-writing hybrid: mostly, you need someone else to champion your work instead. This has been one of the traditional roles for publishers, and perhaps (in my opinion) their most important. But to champion someone else’s work without getting paid for it (as publishers do)? You have to really, really love the work. Or possibly the person. Often both.
On one level, Nathan is absolutely right in his optimism: if you are the sort of person who is great at self-promotion, this is a fabulous time to be trying to get published, since you mainly need to shout loud enough and long enough in order to, eventually, get yourself noticed. Your work needs to be competent, but in a noise machine, Good Enough will do, if you combine Good Enough with enough razzle-dazzle to leave the reader feeling warm and fuzzy from the personal contact high.
But if your focus is on the Work alone? It’s a mediocre time, much as it ever is.