So Long . . . And Thanks For All the Books!

It’s about bleedin’ time I started writing about the self-publishing phenomenon and the slow decline of the traditional publishing world. Why? Because as a writer yet to have a book published, it’s a biological imperative.

I keep reading that the e-book is going to change the face of planet publishing, that a revolution is already under way, a paradigm shift is imminent. Publishers Weekly just announced that e-book sales increased 159.8% in the first quarter of 2011, selling $233.1 million electronic books.

Now there are those who love the sound of the guillotine; love the severed head. Then there are those who don’t. And then there are those who are still unsure what it all means, unclear about the signs, the symbols, the constant barrage of voices that predict doom and upheaval and the death of the book as we know it. (Yes, well, as a species, I’ve noticed we tend to start to love the things we miss much more than we love the things we have.)

It seems the argument for all this change revolves around two different camps of thought:

The publishing world has been unfair to authors in the form of monies handed over as to monies kept — and other grievances laid at the doors of the publishing world. Plus, the publishing world has been pulling the wool over writers’ eyes for a long time, since what they are really good at is this: delivering books! And now it seems, the cat is out of the bag since writers (through Websites and social media networks) can do this faster and cheaper.

Now the argument against is that every ape will rise up and begin to use a keyboard like something out of  Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and there will be a flood of self-published books gripped in simian hands and shaken about a lot.

I tend to agree that publishers have been unfair to writers from what I hear when I speak to other writers and from what I read and intuit.

The argument against self-publishing, though, doesn’t hold much water. Mostly because I believe that readers are not dumb (they read for god’s sake!). So they’ll not go out in herds and buy up books that are crap and badly edited.

I know for me, I’m going to try to latch on to the fiery tail of the phoenix of the traditional publishing world, even if it’s in ashes. I want to try for an agent and a publisher when I’m done with my novel-in-progress. I feel like it’s the right thing for me — professionally and personally. I don’t feel like the old establishment has collapsed yet. And I’m going to try to ride it before the last wave comes in — which I think isn’t going to be for a long time. I mean, it’s not like the big publishing houses (or even some of the indie ones) are just going to roll over and die. The big publishing houses are stumbling a bit now from the kick in the corporate balls, but at some point they’re going to figure something out to compete with the self-publishing authors. I just don’t see them going down in a blaze of glory not since they’ve been at this game for so long. They are going to rise like the phoenix, but they are definitely going to have to be a bird of a different colour to compete.

When I realized that writing had chosen me and that I had no other choice, I never really expected anything beyond stringing words together that I loved the sound of, the feel of as they left me for the page. And as time has progressed and I know a little more, I still, oddly, just love stringing words together that I love the sound of, the feel of as they leave me for the page. Yes, I have great expectations just like every other author to have a published novel and have a readership, and I’ll do what I can to make this happen. I’m driven by creative daemons! But deep down in the visceral mess of my soul, I couldn’t give a fuck to what’s happening in the publishing world. I just care about that sentence, those words, that story that will not leave me live an ordinary life….

And then I pinch myself and realize I have to give a fuck and it depresses me at first but then I get back to the writing to make it the best I can and take in all that’s going on and try to make a choice that matters.

It’s certainly good to know the shit before it hits the fan. And I like to know about what’s going on in the book world that I have chosen as my element to live in. And I want to make decisions rather than just wing it, in the same way I like to follow a recipe when I cook. Although sometimes I like to wing it, too, act spontaneously and just make some meal up. That’s the slice of life I like. A person can be so well informed and still fuck up. And then a person might know nothing and strike gold. At least I believe this.

I really don’t have any answers of even good questions about this whole Big Bang in the publishing world. I guess I’m living it as it lives out its new body. But I know the publishing world is shifting. But then I’m shifting, too. Shit, everything is changing so fast I don’t know if I’m old or young or just having a wonderful crazy life. It’s exciting, and a bit dizzying. But I believe people thrive in times of real change. So I’m willing to find my own way. And I’m willing to fail as much as I succeed.


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