Can anybody help Scotty? Where in the hell is publishing? We know where its been, but does anyone know where its going? Lots of folks claim to know. I wonder if anybody does. Is the publishing business healthy? I think we who participate in it can agree; not as much as we’d like it to be.
Change is one of the few constants in our universe. It’s one of the few things we humans can count on. How a people, an industry, etc. cope with change is the key to their survival. Some people believe the centralization of so much power in the hands of a few publishers and retailers crushed the industry. Others blame ebooks and/or self-publishing, claiming they’re the eggbeaters that disrupted the business. They’ve all had a definite impact, but I believe the root of the problem lies a little further into the past. During that time, a “Devil’s Triangle” emerged within the industry.
Point one of the “Devil’s Triangle.” During the late ’80s the personal computer emerged. It made an author’s process of rewriting and revisions … things that are vital to producing a good product … much less laborious. Trees rejoiced. What had been a process that was all captured on paper now was on “floppy discs.” It was possible to write a “better” book with less effort. It also made it possible for individuals that had been too work adverse to “do it the hard way”… to participate … and they have. Battling the reams of paper that the “typewriter era” system required with its endless edit marks and content change notes, evaporated. Imagine how many of today’s writers could cope with retyping an entire manuscript to make changes then doing it again … and again … and again. Writing became easier and some quality exited with the IBM Selectric and carbon copies.
The second point that caused many problems was the changing nature of the economy. Fewer and fewer people were employed in what had been traditional occupations. Factories produced more product with less people. Administrative types dwindled as the boss’ secretary became a tower and monitor named HP and eventually a laptop named Dell. These displaced folks looked for something to do. “Oh my,” some said. “I’ll become an author. Sit home with curlers in my hair or in my skivvies. Dream up some s–t and get rich.” Well, it doesn’t quite work that way. Unfortunately, the hoards of folks who grasp for the gold rings weren’t aware of that.
The most insidious corner formed by the literary “Devil’s Triangle” is the parasitic business that’s developed as a result of an oversupply of want-to-be authors and far too few spots for them to fill. A cottage industry of individuals have found they can make a buck on folks who become desperate when they discover what a shark tank publishing really is. Before legitimate folks want to send me bombs by mail, there are many good, honest individuals that are in the business of helping the aspiring writer. There are many that aren’t. Selling the delusion everyone can and/or should be an author fuels its survival. The cruel truth is we suffer from a writer mega oversupply and decreasing demand as the population is “dumbed down” to believe anything without a visual explosion isn’t worth spending time.
Back a few years ago Joesph Epstein (prof from Northwestern) wrote an article in the New York Times. (“So you think you have a book in you. Think again.”) It correctly stated facts we must face if we’re not to destroy something we love — literature. He quoted 81% as the number of folks who believed they had the skills, creativeness, and patience to become an author. How many of those folks “give it a shot?” The latest number I’ve found that’s half-way creditable is 17%. That’s the portion of the population that is planning, is in the process, or has written a book. That’s 56 million in the US. —– Government labor statistics show 129,000 jobs available, granted that’s 2012 info, but for the purpose of illustrating – it will do. Those are daunting figures; it’s past competitive.
For comparison, lets look at another competitive occupation, pro football player. Each year the 125 major college programs produce 2500 plus ball players. Of that 224 are drafted and another couple hundred might get a look. On a year that would be considered good for entrance in the NFL, 20% of the rosters would have to turn over. That’s approximately 350 players. A significant percentage would be free agents, let’s say half. That means 175 college players will become new pros. The ratio is 14 to 1. Let’s do some quick calculation for “authors” – Lets see 56 million aspiring divided by the jobs 129,000 – that a ratio of 434 to 1. But, that’s not really the figure. Most of the folks writing aren’t thinking of a column in the “Smallville Gazette.” They’re thinking JK. Rowling, Nick Sparks, John Grisham, Patty Cornwell. That cuts the number to about 800 “A” list fiction folks. That ratio is 70,000 to 1. Doesn’t make the lottery sound so bad.
Whoa! The sky isn’t falling, we should continue to write, but do a lot better job of it. Most importantly we have to decide what is worth publishing. That’s we authors. Not some agent or editor. We have to realize because we took the time to fill a computer file, others aren’t compelled to have interest in or read our offering. Should we write? Hell yes. Publish it? All? NO! “Print” should be reserved for the 10% (or less) of our very best – not every word that finds it’s way to a file or paper. We need to find the strength to improve ourselves before we call for the lynching of all editors, publishers, bookstore conglomerates, and (barf) agents. (There are good agents … they’re just difficult to find.)
First of a series —
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