Like many industries, the world of writing, publishing and editing has undergone massive changes over the past decade.
Once made up of fiction and non-fiction writers working alongside editors, indexers, page designers and marketing professionals for major print publishing houses in Australia and overseas, the industry has now broadened to also include bloggers, ebook creators, fl ash fiction and mixed media creators, freelancers, instructional designers and curriculum developers, technical writers, public relations and speech writers.
Of course, there are still print books in existence and the fear of a few years ago that the era of the print book was dead appear to have been unfounded.
In fact, some genres such as children’s picture books have seen an increase in popularity.
But the industry does now include a significant digital component, and the tools which writers and editors use now to create their content are much more likely to be digital in nature rather than print.
So what does the future look like for a student who is currently studying at secondary school and is interested in a career in the profession?
How do we, as teachers, support these young people in developing the skills and knowledge they will require to be successful in an industry which has seen so many changes already, and is likely set to experience a few more yet?
The notion of a writer sitting alone at their desk penning great works of fiction is long gone, as is the concept of job security and long term employment for those who work for newspapers and magazines.
More and more writing and publishing work is being done by freelancers, bloggers and others who may spend one part of their week writing, and other parts doing a range of other tasks or working in other roles.
There are less full-time writers working in Australia, and those who remain in the industry are advocating fiercely to protect their rights under threatened changes to copyright arrangements and future payments for their rights to their creative works.
Income is often modest for those who are not part of the lofty heights of prize and award winners who become household names, with a recent study finding that authors earn, on average, less than $13,000 per year from their creative work.
The ability to create content using highly professional digital publishing tools now exists for anyone who owns a PC, laptop or tablet, and content can be written, edited, published and distributed in a matter of hours, rather than the traditional lead times of months or even years which typically exist for the major print publishing houses.
Bloggers now compete head to head with print authors across many different genres, creating content on everything from specialist topics such as cars and military history to parenting, celebrity commentary and gardening.
News stories and associated imagery and video content is now generated by a blending of professional journalists and regular ‘citizen journalists’ who easily find an audience for their content, simply by virtue of being in the right place at the right time, equipped with little more than a smart phone, a good eye for a disaster and a good measure of enthusiasm.
So what do those students who aspire to work in the writing and publishing industry in the future need to be able to do now, in order to succeed?
Should our time in English classrooms be spent identifying adjectival clauses and understanding the importance of avoiding misplaced or dangling modifiers, or analysing the literary works of local and overseas writers?
Or should it be spent engaged in more practical tasks, related to the likely future work of writers and publishers?
Perhaps the answer is that both sets of skills are likely to remain important; the ability to understand how a significant work is created and how to write clearly, effectively and precisely, as well as the ability to use business and technological skills to enhance written content and share it with an audience for a profit.
With that in mind, let’s take a close look at how some of the learning outcomes for English at Year 10 level can be applied to supporting students who might be considering a career in writing and publishing.
‘Create sustained texts, including texts that combine specific digital or media content, for imaginative, informative, or persuasive purposes that reflect upon challenging and complex issues (ACELY1756)’.
This outcome asks teachers to help their students develop solid writing skills and to be able to manage longer pieces such as works of fiction, biography, poetry or news articles.
It is an outcome which builds upon previous years’ skills, so that by the time they are reaching senior secondary, they are feeling confident in their ability to write content which differs in tone, style and language according to the needs of the audience.
Technology tools such as iBrainstorm or Trello can help students brainstorm and plan their work, and Padlet or Go Visually can help collaborate and design pieces which are visually engaging for the reader and will look good when they reach final publication.
Increasingly, young writers need to be able to generate their own imagery or video content to support their written works, regardless of whether they are planning on working in their own business or writing for others.
Being able to enhance a piece with well chosen, high quality images is useful particularly in work tasks such as pitching a news story to a newspaper or magazine or working with an individual as a ghost writer helping them to write and publish their own story.
This means they also need to be able to manage image files carefully so that they can locate a specific file on their laptop or tablet, store and share it securely as needed and retain information about location, date and any required referencing or copyright information for the image.
Working as a professional writer in the future is likely to demand skills in changing rapidly from one form to another and being able to write quickly in order to generate enough content in a short space of time to be able to make a living.
Often editors and publishers will demand a very particular word count for a piece and so it is vital to be able to craft text which meets that demand, whilst also having an appropriate lead and concluding sentence.
For example, an editor might request a feature article which is 1600 words in length and will expect that this word count will be met within a range of plus or minus a dozen or so words.
Mastering the use of dot point lists, sub headings and pull out boxes for additional content can all be useful skills to help meet word count requirements.
‘Use a range of software, including word processing programs, confidently, flexibly and imaginatively to create, edit and publish texts, considering the identified purpose and the characteristics of the user (ACELY1776)’.
Using technology is vital for the success of a writer and many will take some time to establish the tools which work best for their own purposes.
Writers may need to be able to record verbal content from an interview so that it can be transcribed and used at a later date, using a tool such as Audio Note for an ipad to record, mark up and add text to interview recordings made face to face or remotely.
They may also need to collaborate with others who are working in different locations, using collaborative tools such as Mindmesieter, Padlet, Penflip, Brainstorm or Ideaflip to share their work, make comments and share new ideas.
These tools allow writers and editors to work together on a piece and also support writers who are collaborating on a project to work quickly and effectively through various drafts to achieve a content goal in a specified time period.
Writers working for a client often need to be able to submit large files to an editor or publisher.
Whilst email is effective and is still used by many in the industry, it doesn’t always work for very large files such as those which contain multiple high resolution images. In these situations, a tool such as Dropbox can be useful for uploading files and also for sharing work securely with people who are not in the same physical location.
Bloggers increasingly use specific blogging platforms and tools to create their content so that it is visually appealing for the reader and is easy to navigate on the screen.
Blogging tools such as Wordpress, Ghost and Blogger allow writers to create good looking content which uses still and moving imagery to enhance written text, as well as to reach out to readers through social media to build an audience.
‘Understand conventions for citing others, and how to reference these in different ways (ACELA1568)’.
Many students discover at a young age that it is relatively easy to find content online and then copy and paste this content into their own projects.
It is far harder to take that content and make choices about how to rephrase and craft it into a piece without plagiarising, or to reference it appropriately.
Referencing can be challenging for students as there are a number of different methods which are used and it is important to know which is required in a given situation.
Tools such as Cite4me.org allow students to generate their own references in the correct format, once they select the referencing method which is required.
Tools such as Trello also work well for helping students remember which sentences should be shown as quotes and referenced accordingly, and which are their own work.
Notes can be readily attached to sections of text to help record information about links to webpages, books or articles which require referencing before final publication.
Writers of the future will need to acknowledge the ever changing needs of their readership and the demands of publishers and editors, in their quest to not only create great content but also to generate a worthwhile living from their work.
It is not enough to simply teach students to write well and be able to craft texts which meet the requirements of a rubric or secondary school exam; it is far more important to develop content which can find an audience and generate an income for the creator.