The Tide is Turning

From an excellent comment by Frank Daniels, which could be a post in itself, comes a link to this article about self-publishing in Time Magazine, which basically echoes why the SPR began in the first place. Articles like this could signal the beginning of self-publishing being taken seriously. In a dream future, which is quickly approaching, as technology increases daily, self-publishing could be regarded as a first resort, not a last resort.

At the very least, it will not be seen as the avenue of the pathetic and untalented – which, truth be told, is how many people regard self-publishing. Those people who are so quick to condescend may just be out of the loop as everyone else storms the castle.

The article states:

Fast-forward to the early 21st century: the publishing industry is in distress. Publishing houses–among them Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, HarperCollins, Doubleday and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt–are laying off staff left and right. Random House is in the midst of a drastic reorganization. Salaries are frozen across the industry. Whispers of bankruptcy are fluttering around Borders; Barnes & Noble just cut 100 jobs at its headquarters, a measure unprecedented in the company’s history. Publishers Weekly (PW) predicts that 2009 will be “the worst year for publishing in decades.”

A lot of headlines and blogs to the contrary, publishing isn’t dying. But it is evolving, and so radically that we may hardly recognize it when it’s done. Literature interprets the world, but it’s also shaped by that world, and we’re living through one of the greatest economic and technological transformations since–well, since the early 18th century. The novel won’t stay the same: it has always been exquisitely sensitive to newness, hence the name. It’s about to renew itself again, into something cheaper, wilder, trashier, more democratic and more deliriously fertile than ever.

The article goes on to mention an agent telling an author that self-publishing will “ruin your career.” I see some projection there: that perhaps the agent is worried that the democratization of publishing will actually ruin the agent’s career – when being the gate keeper will no longer have as much weight. Conceivably, self-publishing could become a sort of litmus test like an agent’s representation is now. Instead of submitting to agents, authors submit books to the general public. As Frank Daniels notes in his comment, the opinion of readers is far more important and illustrative than one agent’s opinion.

No, we’re not there yet. But as we’ve stressed all along, the main thing to legitimize self-publishing is for more and more good books to be cast aside by the mainstream publishing machine and then go on to find success. Frank Daniels himself is proof of that – and if there’s one book as good as futureproof that can’t find a publisher, then there could be thousands, now and in the future.

Unfortunately, the article ends on this note: “We can expect a literary culture of pleasure and immediate gratification. Reading on a screen speeds you up: you don’t linger on the language; you just click through. We’ll see less modernist-style difficulty and more romance-novel-style sentiment and high-speed-narrative throughput.”

This gives the impression that self-publishing is a genre unto itself, that there’s not self-published writing that is as “literate” as works put out by major presses. But that’s a small disagreement with this article, which potentially signals a beginning of self-publishing being legitimized in popular culture.

All told: glad to have started up the Self-Publishing Review – just as, maybe, self-publishing is finally getting some clout.

  • “We’ll see less modernist-style difficulty and more romance-novel-style sentiment and high-speed-narrative throughput.”

    I disagree, and I think the comment comes from … well … nowhere, really. People writing articles are expected to toss around their thoughts, now and then.

    Readers like what they like. Most readers already read the more quick, commercial mysteries and romances, and there’s no reason that will change. But even those readers know what they like, and a poorly-written romance or mystery won’t be read online just as it wouldn’t be read in print.

    Readers who want the literary will seek out the well-written literary online, and literary writers (who probably have the most difficulty finding agents) will utilize the self-publishing avenues provided to them so their work will be read by interested readers.

    In fact, it might even make more sense to say there’ll be more literary work available, as it’s easier to self-publish it than it is to “actually” publish it. Romances, chick-lit, and mysteries already abound. Self-publishing might just become the realm of the literary. (If we’re going to argue that the self-publishing world will be dominated by any one genre, that is.)