Anyone involved in publishing these days has to wonder where things are headed and what the future is going to look like. With the choices available to authors, who could resist considering the options in a way we never would have before. Gone are the days when self-publishing is a four-letter word and e-publishing pays right up there with the more traditional (and arguably less accessible) houses.
Lev Grossman wrote a fascinating article for TIME magazine about how the publishing industry is morphing into something quite different than we saw even just a few years ago.
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.
It’s both exciting and scary. Even a scant 5-10 years ago the answer to the question “What is the best way to get published?” was much easier. The Dos and Don’ts were pasted and plastered so that every newbie could see and learn the proper method to see their words in print, and more importantly, earn a living from it. But now…. now?
Now Authonomy.com is the vehicle HarperCollins have chosen to effectively outsource their slush pile to the public, saying “find us a gem”. Is the public the best judge? Yes, and no. Look at any reality TV show or some of the snarky reviews left on amazon.com/co.uk to see barely-scratch-the-surface examples of how the public is an idiot motivated by things other than literary or entertainment value. On the other hand, the public is precisely who will be buying said books, so why not let them pick their own hero and build those authors some brand loyalty while they’re at it? The public who finds and promotes these books into the publishing world is likely to feel ownership and have a stake in seeing those authors succeed.
I’d love to hear from others involved in the publishing industry right now, particularly those who have seen the changes first hand or who have had success in following (or creating) a new formula for how to succeed as an author. One story at a time, the Dos and Don’ts are being rewritten. It will take another 5 – 10 years before we can again sit smugly back and tell people “this is the way things are done”.