Guest Post: Open Fences and Jailed Dogs
open fences and jailed dogs
The future of publishing
Near my home, there is a house that’s still under construction. Although it has no fence yet, it does have a door at the garden’s edge, standing alone in the middle of the road, like a white version of Clarke’s monolith. As I passed by earlier today, I chuckled at the sight of a dog standing inside the fenceless garden, right behind the closed door, waiting for someone to open it so he can go out for a walk.
At that moment, I remembered Jessica Park’s fascinating article on self-publishing (http://indiereader.com/2012/06/how-amazon-saved-my-life/), and it occurred to me that this is exactly what’s happening with the publishing industry. Writers and authors are still courting agents and publishers, who have acted like gatekeepers for centuries. And yet, they ignore the simple fact that the gates are no longer surrounded by fences.
It used to be that publishers were the only way to ensure a book’s mass distribution; having their backing was the only way to reach an audience. Nowadays, however, there’s Amazon, Lulu, Createspace and so many more; the possibilities for self-published authors are endless. So, why don’t more people self-publish?
One of the reasons is that it may seem like self-publishing is an admission of defeat. Writers are a notoriously insecure lot, so we need someone’s stamp of approval on our work, to validate it and reassure us that our work matters. That we matter.
But the public doesn’t care about that. It cares about our work. And if our work is any good, if we can built a community and talk with people in an honest and personal way (yes, I’m glaring at the ads promising to spam thousands of innocent mailboxes with our books right now), we can reach them; introduce our work to them; make them care about our characters, stories and books.
So, what’s going to happen to publishers and agents? In a way, the industry is going through the same transformation the music industry went through a few years ago. At first, music companies fought the internet, mortified of its massive reach. Wishing to control every aspect, from production to promotion to distribution, they almost ended up losing everything. Artists started publishing their music online, even for free. CD sales plummeted, downloads sky-rocketed. It was only when the industry embraced the change instead of fighting it that things turned around. Nowadays, the internet is a nice earner for music companies, while allowing people to legally download the music they like, unconstrained by the producers’ opinions.
This, however, has made finding good music harder. If one hears the same 100 songs on the radio, it’s easy enough to know which ones they like; but if they have to choose between millions of them, people quickly become overwhelmed by the variety. So, music labels increasingly act as media companies, promoting bands and artists through their networks.
I suspect the same will happen with the publishing industry in the near future. Right now, it has fractured into many complimentary services. My mailbox is filled with companies offering to help me distribute my work; promote it; and prepare it for distribution. What used to be a single publisher’s job has now been torn into many competing elements.
I for one am very excited about this, because it empowers everyone involved: readers get more choice, while authors are free to experiment with different genres and break the rules. It is only those publishers who cling to the old ways of thinking that need worry about it. In Tokien’s words, “the only people who inveigh against escape are jailers.”
And, it seems, baffled dogs behind non-existent fences.
I’m working on a Space Opera right now.
I’ve never attempted to write one, but I’m doing it for one reason.
There’s an editor I’ve been trying to sell to for a couple years.
Their wish list has always included a Space Opera.
This is the same publisher that’s rejected 3 different stories from me.
I am a happily self published author who’s had some success.
So why do I still care what they think?
It’s that damn stamp of approval.
I’ve got good reviews (and some middling).
I’ve got sales, but I don’t have someone pointing me out.
“I’m like a dog chasing cars, I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it.”
Thanks for proving my seal of approval theory! 🙂
Seriously though, you’re a better writer than me, if you can write in a genre that you don’t love. I can only write from the heart; not the brain. Personally, I love Space opera, but if someone asked me to write, say, chit lit, I’d be lost. I have nothing but admiration for the authors who do it, I just can’t imagine myself doing it. And having no love or “feel” for the genre, I’m pretty sure I’d suck at it! Something that any publisher will immediately pick up on, of course.
So, it’s probably time to forget that reject-o-mat and focus on your readers. After all, even with a huge publisher backing you, they’re the only ones who can truly validate your work…
20th-century style publishing worked well in the 20th century, and was often the only viable option during that period. But before the 20th century, most authors self-published. And in the 21st century, self-publishing is again an excellent option for authors. I agree with your metaphor of dogs waiting at the gate even when there is no need to. Authors, like dogs, have been trained to wait outside a gate. For decades, authors were taught that a certain publishing path was right (and it was right at the time) – and now they can’t see that the situation has changed. Eventually they will. It may take a few decades. 🙂
Your image of the dog sitting by the closed door, surrounded by open space, is absolutely wonderful! Your piece validated many reasons I chose to self-publish. I look forward to reading more of your work.
Thank you so much, Amy! I pass from that place almost daily, and keep reminding myself I should take a picture to share with you guys… 🙂