Sunday, April 12, 2009

A Publishing Revolution

I doubt that anything has changed the world more in the last decade than the emergence of the internet. Think about how the ready availability of the internet has changed so much of what we do every day in: personal and business communication, banking, study, research, shopping, voting, paying taxes, etc. Everything has been so impacted, sometimes for the good and sometimes not, that it is hard to remember what pre-internet life was like.

I was reminded this morning of how much the world of publishing has changed in the last several years by this Houston Chronicle article on the emergence of "self-publishing," a change I enthusiastically applaud:
Long derided as the “vanity press,” self-publishing often has been synonymous with pet projects by wealthy people who could afford the hefty fees for committing their life stories to print.

But the Internet has dramatically changed that. For a nominal fee, writers today can upload their stories and photos to a Web site and contract with a company to design, publish and distribute books to online retailers. The companies print copies as demand dictates.

Online retailers also act as salespeople of sorts.
The process is not without drawbacks.

For one thing, the self-publishing companies do not have the distribution capabilities of, say, Random House and other giants that can promote their titles and get them into every brick-and-mortar Barnes and Noble in the country.

And then there’s the stigma. If a book is any good, the thinking goes, why can’t the author find anyone to publish it?

Traditionally, literary agents have been entrusted with weeding out the bad stuff. Without that vetting processing, many people assume that self-published work is substandard.

“People hear self-publishing and expect to see a lot of typographical errors,” said Taylor, a former Houston Post reporter who handled his own editing and proofreading for the book.

As a result, he acknowledged, newspaper book review sections have generally paid little attention to self-published books.

That is slowly changing.
The article focuses on one local author but what it has to say about self-published books has to be encouraging to anyone who has suffered the frustration of trying to find an agent or otherwise attract the attention of a traditional publisher.

In fact, several of my favorite novels and short story collections of 2007-2009 have been self-published efforts - proving (to me, at least) my theory that publishers are more interested in selling commercial trash than in publishing good literature. Thank goodness so many good writers have found a way to beat the system, but now the next step in the process needs to happen. Agents who have a bit of common sense or imagination should be looking at self-published novels as a way to scout new talent or to place self-published books with major publishers. It's a win-win situation for everyone: writer, publisher, bookstore, and reader.

Come on, guys, get with the program.
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