I met someone over at podiobooks, a podbook author. Having amassed a large following with her podbook, she’s getting ready to self-publish it as a print book. Under normal circumstances I would caution her against it, but as everyone knows there is no such thing as normal circumstances in publishing anymore. She’s actually going to do the thing right by hiring an editor so her product is going to be a cut above the self-publishers we have known in the past. I can’t really say she won’t end up with a good book.
I no longer engage in the self-publishing debate since it no longer matters. My podbook friend is only one of many who are enjoying publishing success by finding an audience via the Internet and then making a book to sell. I can’t make a judgment on whether or not that’s good. For one thing, everything is nice and democratic now. We no longer have to go through the gatekeepers (agents, editors, and publishers) in order to get what we want out there, to get our voice, saying what we want it to say, heard.
In some ways, though, things are more restrictive. The 21st Century author is going to have to be a different person from the intellectual loner of yore. Used to be if you had an idea, the gatekeepers were there to recognize and shape your idea for the public. Now if you want to be an author, you must be popular. Authors that sell are those that figure out how to use social networking to get followers. Publishers that say they are interested in taking on “fresh, new voices,” are generally looking for young people that have half a million friends at Myspace. Awards are nice and all, but how big is your platform?
If you’re already famous, you can get published nowadays and become famous.
So what will happen to the person who, instead of e-partying, sits down and actually thinks about something? Someone who engages in the kind of thoughts that are not mere regurgitations of the thousands of other people’s thoughts known as the Internet. This person has the kind of thoughts that are purely organic responses to the world and how it is. Someone that is such a social misfit, they can’t possibly see things from someone else’s viewpoint.
More importantly how is this person going to get published? And please don’t say the “Small Press.” I’m sure the small press is the answer somehow, but these days the small press is sort of like the independent movie makers. A lot of them are small and independent because they couldn’t make it in New York or Hollywood. So in the end they’re looking for someone young, pretty, and fast the same as the big boys. They care no more about the content in the books they publish than do the name brand publishers.
I’m quite sure this has been an ongoing problem, but somehow today it feels different. Worse. Writers are constantly told: get out there and blog. Get yourself on the Internet. Stay in touch with your readers. Keep your webpage fresh. How can anybody maintain a quirky point of view when they’re hanging around their pals all day. Especially when they’ve got half a million of them?
In the end, maybe all of our art will be a group effort. Again, no judgments. It will be inoffensive and pass all censor boards. It will reflect the concerns of the masses. Topics covered will be of immediate importance to the world. Trends will be considered and incorporated into the text if that will help it “go over well.” In other words we’ll all be writing prime time TV show material.