March 29th, 2012

what?

The Brave New Publishing World

My huge accomplishment yesterday was cleaning my desk. I found actual desk surface. I even made enough room to put out the nifty desk blotter I bought at the end of last year, which has a calendar and all kinds of spaces for making notes. There's still work to be done to totally declutter and organize it and then set it up in the way that will be most conducive to the way I work, but for now there is space. It only took me a little more than half an hour, which rather blows up a lot of my excuses for my terrible housekeeping. I keep telling myself I don't have time to clean my house, but in just half an hour I can accomplish a lot.

Today's task will be the loft, where my "library" is. Most of the clutter there comes from the last time I decided to purge the bookshelves of the books I know I'm never going to re-read or refer to again. And then while those books were still sitting in a box to be taken either to a used bookstore or the library book sale, I suddenly wanted to refer to or re-read some of those books and dug through the box, scattering books everywhere. Then there's the fallout from my using loose-leaf paper to do plotting/planning as I write. Some of those notes I may need to save, but I think a lot of them can go.

There must have been something in the air because the Tor.com blog had a post on the same thing I talked about yesterday, that blurry line between fan fiction and original fiction, only they got more into the culture of "sampling" and "mashups." I really don't think that's what's going on. Fan fiction has been happening forever (a lot of mythology could be considered "fan fiction" based on other myths). The difference is that the Internet gives writers a much larger audience for it, and writers can then take that audience with them to published books -- and in today's publishing climate, that huge a built-in audience, even if it comes on the coattails of some other work that's hugely popular, is very appealing. If you can't get JK Rowling/Stephenie Meyer to write a book for you, then the next best thing may be to get a writer who's gained a following and some buzz among her legions of fans. That's more of a sure thing than taking a chance on something entirely new that could be the next big thing (or that could tank), and these days, "sure thing" is the name of the game. That's also why they seem to be using the self-published e-book market as a slush pile. Instead of taking a chance on a new author who's an unknown quantity, they can scoop up the authors whose self-published books are selling well.

It may reach the point where the only people being traditionally published by the major publishers are the lower-tier bestsellers -- the people who made a splash in self-publishing and now want to move up a notch with print distribution in bookstores but who don't have quite the name recognition to earn at that level going it entirely alone. The newcomers will have to self-publish to get their feet in the door, the niche midlisters will have to self-publish to stay published (and will find that they earn a lot more money that way, especially since their books already aren't getting a lot of bookstore distribution) and the mega bestsellers can go into business entirely for themselves and reap all the profits without it being a huge risk. But then that puts readers in the position of being slush pile readers. They'll have to be the ones to sift through all those newbie and midlist books and decide which ones to buy.

It's enough to make your head hurt, especially if you're the kind of author who would prefer to hide in a cave and write, occasionally emerging to hand a book over to a publisher. On the bright side, it means readers have more to choose from and aren't limited to the books that a few Ivy League graduates and publishing marketing department formulas decide should be published, and they have a much greater say in who makes it and who doesn't.