Joe Writer and the Publishing Game

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2005

Josh Radke and I have been going on about issues in publishing and the markets, a topic we will be talking about at our upcoming Narrative’s meeting. The conversation has looked like this:

I agree that assigning blame doesn’t help anyone involved. I thought the problem was the Agents. Having read that thread (http://www.sfreader.com/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=1313), it’s clear to me that the problem is largely Ingram and their almost monopoly.

..I don’t know if I can agree that people are reading more. At least in my generation (and those that are following), many of us are much more interested in the quick fix of a movie or game for their entertainment than in finding a good book. I can’t say I blame them. When that thread states that the majority of new fiction out there is saturated with politics and multiculturalism, they’re right–at least by perception. That comment I posted to your blog comes into play here on the grounds that readers under 30 are tainted by the the fiction we were force-fed in school. We think that it is a representation of what is on the bookshelves, and so many don’t even bother to try and find thee diamonds in the rough. If there were more Dan Browns and Harry Turtledoves allowed in school curriculums, schools might make some headway. And many others just simply don’t have the time in this labour-intensive, corporate society.

..More people are writing? You bet, and I suspect that this trend is probably tied to self-publishing and the internet. And the more people that write and think they can be published, the more we hear about rejection letters and scams and the impossibility of getting published. However, I don’t think the issue is Joe Writer getting rejected because there is no room at the inn. It’s that Joe Writer is getting rejected without being given a chance because he’s being compared to Dan Brown or James Lee Burke or Robert Jordan. And Joe Writer realizing after more rejections that he can’t be Joe Writer is he wants to be published and on a shelf at a major bookstore. Because apparently the only book-types that are worth promoting are the ones that are proven and politically correct. I’m sure you’ve noticed the amount of “trials of a young wizard” books that are popping up everywhere. This same trend is dominating a movie industry where there is no such this as an “original screenplay”.

Writers aren’t suposed to have the impression they have to pattern themselves after a successful authour or story. And literature isn’t something that is meant to be clones or grown in a winter greenhouse. By telling writers this is what they have to do, writing becomes a science and not an art.. and writing as a science is betrayal of the art of the worst kind.

As I see it at the moment, the solution is the continued success of small presses and their distributors. Small presses are still willing to take a gamble on new writers. Independent bookstores like to promote local authours, and consequentially, local authours find it easier to get a booksigning with an indy bookstore. Self-publishing also figures into this equation. And this kind of grassroots action is how all successful “revolutions” start.

My arguments about the state of publishing in the United States may be flawed, but I don’t really see a question of altruism or public service in publishing; nor do I see why Joe Writer would need to write derivatively in order to see himself in print. I see the main job of “publishing” concerns as that of “selling” books not “publishing” them. In the markets, print books are a commodity that must be sold not just published, since publishing doesn’t necessarily “imply” money changing hands but it does necessitate a “reader,” whereas “book stores” need to stay in business somehow. Somehow the question comes to a basic issue of fairness toward authors. But to do “houses” owe Joe Writer a hearing? My conclusion is “no.” Joe Writer,who’s a guy with an unpublished novel, needs to find some way to get his book to a reading public but if he wants to “sell” his novel he needs to play the market game. That’s my opinion.

But the original issue came from this focused question by Josh: “Are books and literary reading becoming obsolete?”

My answer is absolutely not. As far as I know, people are still interested in reading poetry, fiction, and all kinds of things from the diversity of presses out there. But another way of risking a question is to ask how reading habits are changing such that when we ask “Are people still reading” we negociate what we mean by “reading” in this sense.

A lot of what I’ve written here is off the top of my head and is in no way intended as factual or even valid as inference. But I think that a lot of this has to do with what we mean when we ask Joe Churchgoer if he’s religious and he says, “Sure am. In fact I have a devil worship meeting tonight. Would you like to join me?”


One response to “Joe Writer and the Publishing Game”

  1. susan says:

    Hmmph. And just when you guys think you might be heading towards an answer, something like thiscomes along to offer not just another glimpse of the elite authors’ power, but of yet a different reason for reading a particular book. Yes, there will be those idiots who choose to read “green” only.