RARA-AVIS: Re: state of NY publishing

From: Kevin Burton Smith (kvnsmith@sbcglobal.net)
Date: 14 Nov 2009

  • Next message: jacquesdebierue: "RARA-AVIS: Re: state of NY publishing"

    Jon wrote:

    > It is certainly true that the chasm between the "stars" and the
    > midlist writers is getting wider and wider, but I think that there
    > are also some positive trends in the publishing world. Although it
    > is often derided, the advent of Print-on-Demand technology has
    > started to change the rules of publishing and will continue to do so
    > in the future. And I think that it is a good thing.

    For writers who can't find a publisher, maybe. And for those who use the technology to start an "independent press" to publish themselves, like Quiet Storm (and others) did.

    But for readers all POD represents is an often increasingly bewildering morass of choices. The high cost per unit of most POD books, and their generally non-returnable policy, means they're unlikely to pop up in bookstores, unless the author is local or has a good in with the store owner. And the advent of self-published ebooks merely means the bar will be set even lower, as to what will be made available.

    By the way, it should be noted that POD books are not derided for purely whimsical reasons, as anyone who's read a variety of them knows. For far too many years, the technology has been used by too many writers with more ego than discipline, talent and patience (and the vanity presses and fly-by-night author mills that prey on them) as a go-round to traditional publishing field's increasingly strict vetting process.

    I know. I've got a room full of POD books I've been sent (mostly unsolicited) that I've been trying to dump for years. Nobody wants them.

    (Of course, POD is just a technology, so not everything POD sucks. POD is used to print everything from books to curriculum notes and Chinese restaurant menus).

    As Dave points out, "on a purely democratic matter, yes, these new technologies allow anyone to be a publisher or to be published with very little to no investment, but it also means that it will be near impossible for writers to make a living at this." And merely being published doesn't mean much if nobody can easily find your books.

    The disappearance of a shared pop culture (and a common denominator consensus on what is "good") is a much bigger threat to non-superstar writers than anything New York publishers can come up with.

    AM Top 40 has turned into 200,000,000 satellite stations. The number one TV now wouldn't have cracked the top ten in 1973. Goodbye broadcasting, hello narrowcasting.

    As Pete Townshend might have said, "Put on your eye shades, plug in your iPods, you know where to put the cork."

    Mind you, making a living as a writer has always been hard; a privilege resigned to a relative few. It's amusing to hear 20, 30 and 40 year olds talk about the good old days, but it isn't so much the chasm between the "stars" and the midlist that's growing wider. The stars are about where they've always been. But the so-called "midlist" is growing so much wider, thanks to technology, that it's sinking lower, a victim of its own weight.

    Most readers (as opposed to genre freaks and niche riders like us) don't want to prowl the internet and dig among the endless BSP that pervades it just to discover what to read next. Especially if the only source for recommendation is the author him or herself.

    When most normal people go to a bookstore, they WANT to find a book to read, preferably from an author/publisher or in a genre they know and think they can trust, or based on word of mouth from trusted sources. The constant bleating about the much derided star system would be more interesting if it weren't from writers who are dying to be stars themselves. Their resentment is obvious.

    But the star system isn't new, and no doubt even back then there were Elizabethean cry baby Joe Blows moaning about how unfair it was the Shakespeare was getting all the big bucks and attention. And insisting that their play which nobody wants to produce or see, is just as good as HAMLET, and that the system just isn't fair.

    Poor Joe.

    Same as the perpetual "New York" publishers rag. That tune's been playing a long time, and it's always smelled a little like sour grapes. Nor is general bitching about the state of publishing new. Even from successful writers. Read Hammett's letters. Read Chandler's letters. Hell, read the correspondence between Franklin W. Dixon and Carolyn Keene. Bitch, bitch, bitch.

    Yes, the publishing industry has problems, and huge challenges to face. On numerous levels: technology, distribution, retail, editorial, etc. But failing to publish Joe Blow's crappy little book isn't the root cause of their problems. There have always been writers who don't get published, and resented it. And bitched about it.

    The big difference is that technology has now given these writers a way to bleat globally. And a couple of new ways to publish without any danger of becoming a star.

    Gosh, they should be happier.

    Kevin Burton Smith Editor/Founder The Thrilling Detective Web Site
    "Wasting your time on the web since 1998."

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