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Statements for the Future

One of the things the Prime debate has reignited in me is the belief that eventually there will be a change in publishing, similar to that which is currently happening in music, and which will result in well known authors forming their own imprints to control their own work.

It will not be a collective, in that the authors will band together and form their own print, but rather a series of authors who, having grown tired and dissatisfied for whatever reason with publishers--lack of communication, lost money, buried books, or even simply a desire to be in control--will step away from these firms. The technology is reaching the point that the actual physical creation of a book is not hidden from an author, nor out of reach, and given the rise in self employed and contract work in all professions, the professionals that they can employ, much like a publishing house does, is not out of their reach either. Eventually, I believe, writers will be drawn to controlling their own work because they can employ editors who passionate about the same work, who understand their intent, and to cover artists they connect with, and so on and so forth--just as those professions will work with authors they connect with. What will happen will be similar fashion to what bands such as Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails have done, to pick the obvious examples.

Understand, I don't think it will happen now, or even soon. As Deb Layne (deborahlive) points out in the comments of my last post, "Writers can form their own "publishing houses" and publish under that imprint, but they still carry the scent of Vanity Publishing. And for now at least, Vanity Publishing has a whole different meaning in books from what it's equivalent has in music, you know?" She's right, of course, and it's strange that in literature, self publishing is seen not, as it is in music or even in comics, as putting your money where your mouth is, or controlling your work, but rather as a vanity, as the last ditch attempt of a desperate author who cannot be published by legitimate publishers. To an extent, the reputation is earned because there are hundreds of bad self published novels out there, each one of them as wretched as the next (the same, however, is true for the music and comic industries)... but yet, despite this, I do believe there will be a change, eventually.

This does not mean, of course, that publishers will disappear, nor that they should. There are good publishers out there, and there will always be authors who prefer to not take the huge responsibility or getting their book ready for publication, distribution, and so forth, and honestly, I don't think publishers should disappear.

Rather, I believe there will be a change in how things happen. Maybe in the next ten years, maybe more, maybe less.

Will it work?

Well, that, I suppose, only time will prove.

Comments

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girliejones
Aug. 8th, 2008 06:12 am (UTC)
I think that's really interesting - that musicians can and often do control every single aspect of the production of their work and we don't blink an eye. And sometimes we think it's even better output. Yet for writing it's different. I mean, why do we think that writers can't judge their own work but rock and roll bands can?
benpeek
Aug. 8th, 2008 07:03 am (UTC)
it's probably got to do a lot with the modes by which the work is put out. if you're a band, you get a gig, perform, and grow in the public space. if you're a writer, someone in authority must pass judgement over you before you can get published. it works with bands that way (gigs are not given out), but still...
girliejones
Aug. 8th, 2008 07:05 am (UTC)
Hmmm ... I dunno, I think also if you perform a piece over and over again, you might get the chance to fine tune it with each performance which would be a lot more fluid than a piece of writing?
benpeek
Aug. 8th, 2008 07:07 am (UTC)
that's what writing is. no one emerges full blown--each piece is about fine tuning what you do, and no musician just learns just one piece. a lot of early songs can still suck, no matter if the band is better skill wise.
girliejones
Aug. 8th, 2008 07:09 am (UTC)
That's true. But I think that each time you play the piece, you get to edit it. Maybe it's the timeframe - you could fine tune the one piece or you could do it across your body of work? I dunno.
benpeek
Aug. 8th, 2008 01:34 pm (UTC)
well, it's hard to say. comparisons between music and writing only go so far, honestly.
girliejones
Aug. 8th, 2008 01:55 pm (UTC)
Yeah. Still comparing the models is interesting.
(no subject) - brendanconnell.wordpress.com - Aug. 8th, 2008 06:54 am (UTC) - Expand
benpeek
Aug. 8th, 2008 07:04 am (UTC)
you can see little things like that happening already, but what it needs are big authors to do it.
(no subject) - brendanconnell.wordpress.com - Aug. 8th, 2008 08:02 am (UTC) - Expand
benpeek
Aug. 8th, 2008 01:33 pm (UTC)
well, the subscription thing was done by cat valente, once, if i remember right, and i think bruce holland rogers did it for his key hole opera (though i may indeed be wrong by the title). another example might be henry rollins, who self published his own books for a while there (he might still do so).
deborahlive
Aug. 8th, 2008 06:39 pm (UTC)
Bruce runs a short short story subscription service. Many of those stories made it into The Keyhole Opera. He still runs the service. Details at http://www.shortshortshort.com

Stories delivered via email at a ridiculously cheap cost per year.

He's built it up over the years, but has a very good subscriber base.

angriest
Aug. 8th, 2008 06:57 am (UTC)
I would love to self-publish a book - I just keep never finishing the damn book.
benpeek
Aug. 8th, 2008 07:04 am (UTC)
excuses excuses ;)
ex_benpayne119
Aug. 8th, 2008 08:11 am (UTC)
I don't think you can compare the majority of self-published novels to Nine Inch Nails. Nine Inch Nails had a platform of a success to launch from. A fairer comparison would be if somebody like Stephen King decided to self-publish.

Other than that I agree with you, I think it could well be something we see more of.... and done better...

The difficulty for a new author or band is that the medium may have changed in an inclusive way, to make it easier for people to self-publish or self-producte. But publicity is still something in the major labels/publishers' favour. Unless you already have the profile, it's hard to get your name out there without the budget that the major labels/publishers have.
benpeek
Aug. 8th, 2008 01:32 pm (UTC)
well, exactly, but i didn't say it was something for new authors to do. it's something for larger, well known authors to do.
ashamel
Aug. 8th, 2008 01:49 pm (UTC)
Stephen King does self-publish on occason. But I suspect that is a somewhat different model than what we are talking about here.
benpeek
Aug. 9th, 2008 04:58 am (UTC)
yeah, a little different to that.
mkhobson
Aug. 8th, 2008 02:46 pm (UTC)
Interesting topic. The challenges/drawbacks of self-publishing are insubstantial if you're talking about a really successful author (e.g., Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, etc.) They have the resources, they're "bankable." So I think your real question (or at least the more interesting question) is "what needs to change to help authors in the middle (Not first-timers, not superstars, but those who can be called, for want of a better term, "midlisters") gain more control over the means of production?" I think you're right, I think many of the issues might be addressed in light of the music model ...

1) Quality. "Self-published books suck!" Well, in music, you have star producers who work with star artists. We need more independent book editors who play an analagous role, who get a cut of the royalties, just like a record producer does. Of course, the quality of the producer you would get depends on the amount they can reasonably expect to gain by virtue of working on a project with you. And these editors would have to really be "producers," not just copy-editors for hire.

2) Distribution. "It's impossible to get books out if you don't have a publisher!" Yes, this is a problem with old-fashioned brick and mortar distribution. And if musicians still had to put out vinyl to Mom & Pop platter shops all over the country, they'd be in the same boat we're in. However, they are light-years ahead of us in terms of the technological "helper tools" that allow people to access their work (specifically, mp3 players.) There needs to be an analagous helper tool for the reader. A killer piece of reader hardware (that is completely content neutral--it reads any .PDF file, for instance) that allows people to download books just like they download music.

I think this is the biggest hurdle, really. And this is only a problem right now because you have so many older readers (or just techphobes) who don't like reading books on-screen. Eventually, that may become a non-issue as the next generation of consumers who have fewer biases in that direction come onto the field.

2) Marketing. "Without a publisher, who will market the books!" Again, in an analogue to the music biz, there need to be PR/marketing agents for writers just as there are PR/marketing agents for big musicians. Superstar authors already have these; there needs to be a structure that offers a lower-cost alternative for the midlisters. I don't know anything analagous in the music biz, unless you count MySpace or just plain old live shows.

Anyway, I think you're right, I think the model is shifting. It's going to shift way faster for the Neil Gaimans and Stephen Kings and JK Rowlings of the world, though.
benpeek
Aug. 9th, 2008 04:57 am (UTC)
to be quite honest, i don't think downloading books will be the answer, just as i don't think downloading music has really removed the need for musicians to have hard copies (look at radiohead and nine inch nails: both released hard copy versions of their albums). nor do i think it's a younger, older version divide on the tech--i hit the younger part, and i just dislike reading novels on screen. i like books. i think a lot of people do.

but, to be honest, i don't think the midlisters matter, not now, and not in my theory. some of them could leave with their own audience, and cool, but the real interesting things will happen when the big names do leave, at least imo (and assuming they do).
garykemble
Aug. 8th, 2008 11:47 pm (UTC)
I think part of the problem, and where books differ from music, is that you can listen to a track in 3 minutes and think, yeah, that's cool or that sucks. On that basis you can download another track, download the album. If it's good, rave about it to your friends, if it's bad, diss it.

A novel takes much longer to consume, so I think it's harder to get the critical mass of user reviews to provide any sort of gauge as to whether or not you're going to like it.

I think it will work for writers who are already established - but for emerging writers the crap is always going to outweigh the quality, and so good writing will be hidden in a pile of dross.
benpeek
Aug. 9th, 2008 04:54 am (UTC)
it's not, actually, harder to discuss a novel than it is music (nor a film easier than music). but society would have you believe that literature is a lot more meaningful than the two of them.

but nayhow, what i'm talking about here are writers who are well established. that's what will change, what will begin the break away. the middle to lower group of writers have no real say in the matter--its when successful authors leave to control their work that real change will begin.
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