Friday, October 18, 2013

On the State of Publishing

People are clamoring over the state of publishing today and there seems to be some dispute as to what direction Self-publishing and Traditional publishers are going in today. In digging through this stuff I learned a raft of new words, one being 'disruption', which is what they are calling the changes that are being affected upon publishing today by the advent of the self-publishing revolution. There are more, but unless I use them I won't bother remembering them.

I will use the word Disruption though. Because it is a very good usage and visual as to what is happening today in publishing. Visualize a restless sea, churning and rolling with white capped waves, going about it's business, doing its thing, that is, being a body of water. And then see a boiling, dark cloud bank blot out the sun, flashes of lightning, not only in its depths but also lancing down to strike the agitated waters, bringing up angry waves. Deep valleys and huge swells of sea, crashing and exploding in gaudy sprays of white.

This is the disruption that is tearing through the publishing industry. The oncoming storm that is changing the face of the waters. The same with Self-publishing changing the face of publishing. Many people in the industry believe that Traditional publishers will be around in another ten to twenty years, but whatever is left of it, will not resemble what it looks like now, just like it doesn't resemble what it looked like ten years ago. People fail to realize that publishing was done by authors in years past.

Before publishing became an industry it was the simple tool of authors after they finished writing their books, a logical extension of the writing process. A writer went to a printing press, had a few hundred copies of his book manufactured out of his/her pocket or maybe the pocket of a patron, and then went to the neighborhood bookstores and left copies on consignment. This was the true face of publishing. This was a direct line between author and reader with very little in between. The creator handing their work over to the patron.

Over time unscrupulous individuals saw the benefit of exploiting an author's labors to their own gain. They took over the printing process and distribution channels and collected the works of authors to make a profit. Authors became lazy and publishers became greedy. As time wore on, others added themselves to the process, interjecting themselves between the Author and Patron. Editors were given the unlikeable task of reading from the slush pile to pick out the worthy manuscripts from it. Agents stepped into the process, at first working to represent authors, then acting as intermediaries between authors and publishers, finally turning into the same gatekeepers as the editors had become.

These three interlopers between the author and the reader began to see the author as something other than the beneficial source of their financial gain. Because there were so many authors, they began to view them, not as the wellspring from where everything came from, but as a spigot to be turned and used and then turned off when done. These Three ruled over the very people that they derived their livelihood from. They had what writers craved—authorship. They dangled the carrot and hundreds of thousands of authors fawned before them. The power indeed went to everyone's head. Yes indeed, there is power in being able to harness the work of thousands.

We see this in the maltreatment of authors in general, like when they are accepted by these gatekeepers, the price of authorship is so high. This is evident in the contracts that they are forced to sign in return for their services. The author signs away a great deal of their rights to their own work, and they are given a low percentage of the profits. One might falsely believe that many writers get such a hefty advance prior to the publication of their work, but this too is skewed. It's beneficial if the book is a flop, but burdensome if it is a hit. With the state of self-publishing today, it doesn't take hundreds of thousands of dollars to create and market a book. Why does an author have to give up so much of the profits and so much of his/her rights? In profit negotiation alone, couldn't the split be at worst 50/50?

It gets worse. Agents, Editors and Publishers began huge seminars where they built the audacity to charge writers to come and learn how to approach them. They gave irrational instructions on how to write queries and pitches and how to even address them as professionals. They charged writers to hear them speak at these conferences and writers flocked to this further infrastructure whose only purpose was to fleece them of money promising them that which they were not actually willing to give to all of them—authorship.

I'm not saying that no one benefited from anything that the Three had done, but sad to say, only a small majority are ever published. It's a golden ticket handed out to children to the chocolate factory to make the factory ever more enticing and desirous to all the many more children that do not get the chance to walk its delicious halls and wonders. It's a fabulous system that benefits itself by building such lopsided rewards that really have nothing to do with ability but more a game of chance to the benefit of the Three.

However, suddenly Amazon, wittingly or unwittingly took a writer's work and put it on an electronic bookshelf right next to a trade published work. Like being struck with a madness, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other electronic retailers became the printing presses of old, returning to a time when the author had a direct connection to his/her readers. Now the process is much easier. An author goes to an e-book distributor who moves it to the online retailers, but clearly it's smoother and facile. All an author has to do today is to create a quality manuscript and they can hand their book directly to someone interested in reading it.

The question now is where does this put the middlemen in the guise of Publisher, Editor and Agent? They are suddenly where they were before this amazing edifice was created. Nowhere. They produce nothing, they create nothing, and really have nothing to offer that the writer can't do on their own in this coming dawn. They'll offer their services, but now other individuals can also offer the same services. Such as editing. Publishers can offer up just their editing services, but there are already thousands of freelance editors out there doing the same. Or marketing skills. Publishers can offer their immense marketing machines, but as time goes on, writers will be able to pay for the same services from outside the publishing sphere.

Agents will lose publishers to offer their services to when authors go directly to their readers. Editors will have to only provide editing services and their power as gatekeepers will be completely lost. The publishing construct will begin to separate, fragment, then splinter and dissolve in the ocean of competition that they never had to fight against before. The great walls that held everything and everyone at bay will collapse and sadly, they will vanish behind them.

There just isn't any reason for writers to split their proceeds with individuals who do nothing but offer the services of others. The problem is that people don't remember how publishing was in its beginning. They are under the impression that publishing has always been the way it is now, when this is a process that is greatly akin to a growing vine on a tree. The vine has no connection to the tree, and at best believes that there is a symbiotic link between the two, when in fact its a parasitic pairing, the vine using the tree to reach higher an attain more light. The loss of Traditional publishing will be of no loss to anyone. That is why there is so much doomsday rhetoric coming from publishers, agents and editors about the future of publishing in the hands of self-publishers. But instead of crying the demise of themselves, they cry the end of publishing in general as we know it. This is false.

This will only revert to the way it once was.

The author will be able to give their hard work to the reader directly. And all services will go, not to interfere with this process, but support it. A process that was and once again is becoming organic. The artificial will not survive.


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