“Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “A sheer pleasure.” – Tana French. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville. “The effortless cool of Elmore Leonard at his peak.” – Ray Banks. “A fine writer at the top of his game.” – Lee Child.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Self-Publish And / Or Be Damned

I tend to be defensive when it comes to the self-publishing / vanity publishing issue, given that THE BIG O was originally co-published with Hag’s Head Press, which involved my paying half the costs of putting the book on the shelf. While I appreciate that there’s a lot of dross that gets self-published, there’s also a lot of crap that not only gets past the gatekeepers of the traditional publishing model, but gets championed by said gatekeepers (see Nobody Move, below).
  Time magazine has this week waded into the fray with a fine piece on the future of publishing, the gist of which is that the means of disseminating fiction is undergoing a radical change (e-books, print on demand, etc.), and that the new forms will inevitably influence the content. To wit:
A lot of headlines and blogs to the contrary, publishing isn’t dying. But it is evolving, and so radically that we may hardly recognize it when it’s done. Literature interprets the world, but it’s also shaped by that world, and we’re living through one of the greatest economic and technological transformations since--well, since the early 18th century. The novel won’t stay the same: it has always been exquisitely sensitive to newness, hence the name. It’s about to renew itself again, into something cheaper, wilder, trashier, more democratic and more deliriously fertile than ever …
  Self-publishing has gone from being the last resort of the desperate and talentless to something more like out-of-town tryouts for theatre or the farm system in baseball. It’s the last ripple of the Web 2.0 vibe finally washing up on publishing’s remote shores. After YouTube and Wikipedia, the idea of user-generated content just isn’t that freaky anymore …
  None of this is good or bad; it just is. The books of the future may not meet all the conventional criteria for literary value that we have today, or any of them. But if that sounds alarming or tragic, go back and sample the righteous zeal with which people despised novels when they first arose. They thought novels were vulgar and immoral. And in a way they were, and that was what was great about them: they shocked and seduced people into new ways of thinking. These books will too. Somewhere out there is the self-publishing world’s answer to [Daniel] Defoe, and he’s probably selling books out of his trunk. But he won’t be for long.
  To be honest, I’m not sure this kind of DIY ethic is going to transmogrify the industry. Pop music had its Year Zero in 1976, when the Pistols, the Clash, the Buzzcocks et al arrived, but little really changed – Johnny Rotten recently turned up on I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here. And while the web makes it possible for anyone to get published and establish an audience, that still leaves the writer with the thorny question of how to get paid for the value of his or her time, let alone the value of the work. Or is ‘getting paid’ just too 20th century for words? Over to you, folks …

7 comments:

bookwitch said...

Is my desperation contagious then? I have read, or tried to read so many new books , which the publishers assure me are marvellous, not to mention the next Harry Potter. Have just wasted a week on a book I was too proud to give up on, and it never improved. It's a lauded import from the US.

I'm now devouring the last Siobhan Dowd (out in Feb), and it's beyond wonderful.

Even some self-published books that could do with a professional editor, have more charm than some "properly" published books.

And yours, Declan, aren't bad at all.

Dana King said...

Since I'm still "pre-published," I haven't the scars that come from working on the inside to speak authoritatively about some of the upcoming changes. I can say I'm delighted to see that 2009 seems to be dawning as the Year of Thinking Reasonably. Last year we heard constantly about how the publishing sky was falling, and no one would be able to make a living. Hogwash. People like to read; recent number show more people may be reading than ever before. (Remember, even if the percentages go down,there are more people every day.) So ong as there's a market, someone will find a way to get prodcts to it, and ways will evolve to separate the good from the bad.

The best we cn do is to keep writing, keep our options open, and remain flexible. Whatever the end result is, it probably won't be what we expect.

Brian O'Rourke said...

Dana -

I'm in the pre-published boat myself and couldn't agree more with you--people are always going to read. We've been telling each other stories probably since we could walk upright and that's not going to go away. People need fiction for a million different reasons, escapism, heroism, vicarious adventure, truth, beauty, etc., and those needs are never going away.

Stuart Neville said...

I still believe the Espresso machine has the potential to transform publishing if it can get a foothold. If combined with the Macmillan New Writing model of zero advance/more royalties, it would mean editors could be braver in their choices without risking their pensions on a flop. The big-hitters will continue to command huge advances, I believe, but if the costs of getting a book out there in a more low-key way can be reduced, then surely that must help the creative side of the business.

The biggest problem with self-published books is the lack of a quality filter. If print-on-demand was blended with a lower risk author-publisher arrangement, then readers could feel more confident in buying something that wasn't conventionally published.

Declan Burke said...

I'll be honest with you, Stuart, there's a lot of established publishing houses could do with a 'quality filter' too ... there's a lot of high-priced, high-profile rubbish being foisted on the public right now.

But I think that the 'quality filter' will be the same for self-published as it is for conventionally published - in other words, you'll read a few good reviews by people you trust, and take a gamble.

Cheers, Dec

krimileser said...

"people are always going to read."

Sure ! But with the growing organizational intelligence of our societies this could result in more books by fewer authors.

Declan, the first step will be the hardest. It seems as if many reviewers don't read self published books at all (it might "help", that the traditional newspapers are under heavy attack too).

All the best

bernd

tomlopy said...

I think the paper goes away. I feel it will be an audio book world where you can listen on an ipod or cell phone. That's the direction for sites like newfiction.com and audible.