Publishing Today - Mary Rosenblum
Mary Rosenblum is a science fiction and mystery writer, writing teacher, web editor, cheesemaker, farmer and
dog trainer. She was born in New York and grew up in Allison Park PA, but today she lives in Happy Valley,
Oregon. Mary's website can be found at
www.theflyingparty.com/maryrosenblum and she also
has a blog at writingruminations.blogspot.com.
This piece was written specifically for the Reno in 2011 bid.
Publishing is in flux today. The world that I aspired to as a novice writer - big publishing houses that paid you an advance, lovingly promoted your books, and served as gatekeepers to a good read and that rarified stratum of society - the writer - has been crumbling with increasing rapidity. The price of paper, competition from TV and rental movies, video games, and then the Blogalanch, have all taken slices of that 'reading time' pie, leaving not a whole lot for the book or the short story. Increasingly inexpensive and available publishing technology has made it possible for anyone to publish their words at a small or even no cost and end up with something that looks as if maybe it could have been published by one of those Big Publishers. The Internet, the great leveler of all, is awash with self published novels, blogs, memoir, and what have you. As one woman said recently, when everybody at a meeting, it seemed, was introducing themselves as 'writer'; "Everyone's a writer today." And her tone was disdainful. And yes, she had introduced herself as a writer.
So what does this mean? Where are we going? Are we all going to be the kids on the Little League team who all get their trophy, no matter what their skill level is? Everyone will publish and we'll all be writers? The big New York houses, those former 'gatekeepers' of that once-rarified realm, imploded this fall, laying off editors, cutting lines. Is this the 'end of the world as we know it?'
Well, sort of. We're in a period of change and it will be interesting, if painful to many of us who became 'writers' under the old definition, to see how it shakes out. Clearly, the big paper publishers, with a lot of overhead and not a lot of profit margin, are already looking for multiple marketing angles for what they do publish. Wrote a novel, did you? Are you the editor of a big city Newspaper or a high-circulation magazine's sports page mainstay? Are you an NPR commentator? A well known politician, a celebrity? Okay, let's talk. More and more it's going to be about 'who knows your name and who is going to buy this,' and the quality of the writing is, alas, likely to take a back seat to that.
So are we all doomed to self publishing our work and tossing it up on to Amazon.com into the sea of self published work? Is this the end of quality work? Will we all drown in a rapidly rising tide of badly written fiction?
I don't think so. The model of the future is in flux, too. Where we once bought our books according to what was on the NY Times bestseller list and/or showed up in those flashy front-of-the-store displays at Barnes and Noble, more and more people will find other ways to buy books. Oprah is the ginormous version of what I see coming. Let Oprah rave over your book and you'll have no problem paying off your mortgage. We just need smaller versions of Oprah on the Internet and we need a healthy population of people who learn about their next read there, no matter where they actually buy it.
We're heading in that direction. Publishing websites such as the Bizarro group have a solid presence on the Internet and their authors' sales aren't bad, without benefit of the big NY publishers. Cory Doctorow and 'Boing Boing' give us another example of a site and voice that gets significant numbers of hits, a lot of internet attention. The small review sites, each with its own following do exist. The Internet does make it easy for word to spread and as readers look there for reading inspiration, it will be less important to be the celebrity author and maybe more important to have written something people want to read.
What I see happening in publishing is not so much different than the old NY version, but more disseminated. You might not be on the NY Times best seller list, but if this review site loves your book, and that one does, and that one does, you may end up selling as many copies of your book as you would have in the old days of brick and mortar stores and a publisher's PR push. It's a large world out there and the Internet reaches an increasingly large slice of it. While we don't yet have the machinery in place and yes, most people tell me they bought their last book at Barnes and Noble (or one of the other, dwindling big chains) and found out about it there, that IS changing. And that change is likely to be good for us as readers and writers, both. Marketing concerns have had an increasing stranglehold on creativity. Good, well, maybe it is. But it doesn't really suit the market ... With the disseminated, viral effect, of internet publicity, those 'between the cracks' and 'not quite market' books can get some attention.
And then ... it's up to writers and readers. Is it a good read? Do you satisfy readers? You're going to sell accordingly. If you don't, you won't. So those really badly written novels are going to find their own level and as the review sites and blogs become established, we'll have an opportunity to find and read work that might never have seen the light of publishing day without this deconstruction of the publishing system.
But that's tomorrow. Right now, we're in flux. And it's going to be a very painful flux for writers like myself who have considered writing to be a profession that could provide at least a (barely) living wage. I don't see the 'advance' surviving the changes we're going through and that's going to hurt. But as readers increasingly turn to the web to find those cool new books, I think we'll all come through this okay.
I sure hope so.
(c) Mary Rosenblum, 2009