Thursday, June 02, 2011

Just Suppose All the Publishers Died

What if traditional publishing swapped places with self-publishing, and a stigma attached to traditional killed the business deader than a fly in my kitchen?

No more Big Six. No more gatekeepers. No more of those hated synopses, where no one version is acceptable to any two agents.

All self-publishing.

Before you roar with clapping or slap your hand over your mouth in despair, sit back and let that thought sit, take root, and grow. What exactly would happen?

In the Boston Review last week, Jess Row wrote about the power struggles within fiction, and how there have been power struggles since forever. All aspects of the world, to include literature, is in a continual state of dying and rebirth. Sometimes you're on the dying end and other times on the young green budding end. Both fight for supremacy.

Paraphrasing from the essay “Epic and Novel” by Mikhail Bakhtin, published in Russian in 1975 (in the book The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays ) he states:

"Out of the most catastrophic circumstances—ravaged by bone disease; exiled to Kazakhstan; denied degrees, university posts; his manuscripts censored and lost—he (Bakhtin) reassures us, with sunny, grandfatherly certainty, that literature, unlike life, is a boat that always rights itself."

Then teaching by the example of Virginia Woolf, Row states:

"It is from Woolf that we get our sense that the novel is irrevocably divided into two kinds: new and retrograde. From her we inherit the feeling that all that matters in literature is “now,” that contemporary writing is a constant battle between the forces of innovation and life-giving freshness (“life,” “truth,” “the real”) and the turgid, sordid, compromised writers of yesteryear."

The struggle between the established and the up-and-coming. Since when is that limited to literature? Corporate America hosts fights in its management all the time between the old boys and the fresh rookies. Same goes for actors, academia, any setting where the seasoned feel they've paid their dues and know how everything works, and the newbies who want to change the world.

The introduction of change is sudden. The acceptable of change is gradual. If we entered a time warp and showed up fifty years from now, we might find everyone in the electronic world and books in museums and private libraries. But guess what? Everyone will still want to read; and they will still want to read quality material.

The cream rises to the top regardless of who churns the milk.

Back to the question. What if traditional publishing died?

I project that if the only way to publish was independently, you'd find contests that picked the best, and those winners would sell most. Then you'd find somebody who'd sponsor those good writers. Somebody else would sell only those good writers. Those good writers would somehow gravitate toward each other. Magazines, websites and blogs would focus on those writers. Soon you'd find one or more of those writers (or venture capitalists wanna-bes) wanting to support like-minded writers and then pay for the publishing . . . for a small administrative fee, of course.

Suddenly, you've vetted manuscripts, exchanged a contract, paid for the publishing, and promoted a group of writers. We've gone through all those growing pains, death throes and rebirth only to come full circle back to somebody reinventing traditional publishing.

"Critics think their role is to choose between innovation and convention, dig a trench, and lob grenades." ~Jess Row

So . . . get over the clash between self-publishing and traditional. It doesn't matter who's first in the race. Go with what works for you. There will never be a point in time when all is balanced in the world. There will always be those who cherish the old ways and others who bash and scream for change.


widdershins said...

Very well said. Like all things in life there's no one answer.

Karen Lange said...

Wow, what an interesting thought! I agree with you; we would find a way to do something and move ahead. This is a good one to ponder. :) Thanks, as always, for the encouragement.

Have a great weekend!

Hope Clark said...

Yes, everyone keeps waiting for things to right themselves. Everything always remains in a state of flux. Nothing settles down. When we quit moving, quit changing, we die.

Helene Pilibosian said...

Thanks for the positive look at self-publishing and different modes of publishing.