So I recently read an article about publishing that I highly recommend: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1873122,00.html/
Let me give you an idea of what this is all about. The article begins by talking about Lisa Genova, a consultant who wanted to get her novel published but couldn’t get anyone to give her the time of day, much less a contract. She paid $450 dollars to have it self-published. The short version of this story is that she received an offer from Simon & Schuster for over half a million dollars and her book ended up on the NY Times Best-seller list. You may have heard other stories like this one. Eragon by Christopher Paolini. And most recently, The Shack by William P. Young.
Now, I wouldn’t say the trend of self-publishing is going to replace regular book publishing. If you want a contract (and the blessing of an advance) you need a publisher. And if you want what you say to be said as well as it can be, you need an editor. So understand that I’m still a firm believer in book publishers (being an editor myself). But I would say that publishing is evolving, like everything else, and accepting and acknowedging this is crucial for everybody involved. This article spurred some great conversation among our editorial team. We acknowledged the fact that this is a generation that gets what they want, when they want it. The emerging generation is made up of individuals who can text at lightening speed, who download music, audiobooks, TV shows, and whatever else on their iPods, who blog about anything and everything, who maintain virtual relationships via online social networks like Facebook (who doesn’t, seriously?). According to this article we’re talking about, “you can turn a Word document on your hard drive into a self-published novel on Amazon’s Kindle store in about five minutes.” In other words, anything is possible.
The stigma against self-publishing is nothing new. The idea has always been that if it was good enough, an agent or publisher would pick it up. I think this was true for a very long time. I also think publishing is changing; it fluctuates just like our ecomony. And it gets harder and harder for publishers to feel confident in taking risks. Karen Kingsbury is not a risk. She’s going to sell, definitely. Max Lucado is going to sell. And for good reason. They have something to say and thousands of readers who are ready and eager to read whatever that is.
Let’s go back to that earlier thought for a minute about whether something is worthy of being published by a reputable house. Consider the fact that–and this really is true–the standard of “good enough” is flexible. And that whole “good enough” standard merges with “can sell” in publishing and they’re almost equal. Strike that–they are equal.
Let’s say a teenager who loves to write starts a blog where every week she posts a chapter of a novel she’s writing . Her friends read it–maybe even a few people who just stumble across it. What do I get from this story? Well, a girl who loves to write is doing it. She’s writing. Maybe she doesn’t have a huge following–but maybe that doesn’t matter to her. I really doubt Christopher Paolini started writing because he could see in his future that Eragon was going to change his life. He wrote because he had a story he had to get out. It seems to me that most writers write because they love it. Because it’s something they want to do. They have something to say.
One of the concerns about the idea of self-publishing becoming more acceptable is the fear that the quality of what we read is going to suffer. I can understand this concern and it’s real. But to those people who are worried about that, they should take a walk through any bookstore and notice that there are thousands of books, and really, in some cases quality is already suffering. I would worry less about what’s available to read and concentrate more on finding what’s out there that really is worth reading.
So, self-publishing–where is it headed? Well, in my opinion, for a generation that’s used to getting what they want and getting it fast–I’d say that being held back by the gatekeepers of publishing isn’t attractive or necessary. Not when they can have their novel on Amazon in an amazingly short time.
Take a look at how this article sums up the new perspective on self-publishing:
“None of this is good or bad; it just is. The books of the future may not meet all the conventional criteria for literary value that we have today, or any of them. But if that sounds alarming or tragic, go back and sample the righteous zeal with which people despised novels when they first arose. They thought novels were vulgar and immoral. And in a way they were, and that was what was great about them . . . Somewhere out there is the self-publishing world’s answer to Defoe, and he’s probably selling books out of his trunk. But he won’t be for long.”