The Future of Publishing?

6 01 2010

Today, I read this blog post concerning self-publishing (http://www.briankeene.com/?p=3265#comments) and the comments which followed. Interesting stuff.

Yesterday, I read this article (http://booklifenow.com/2010/01/booklife-seven-points-to-consider-when-submitting-short-fiction/) and feel that if you write short fiction you should read it immediately!

What do these two posts have in common? I think they both speak to the changing landscape of traditional publishing, and the myriad of paths authors now have to consider as they progress towards something resembling success.

Here are a trio of related predictions on what will happen in the near future (tongue planted firmly in cheek): 

1)      The publishing field is on the verge of experiencing a DIY/Indie style uprising. In some ways this will resemble what happened in the recording industry in the late 80’s early 90’s. While the big labels conservatively kept churning out big hair bands and cheesy dance music, smaller labels began investing in grunge and indie rock. In that instance, the small labels had a better feel for what would be the future of popular music and cashed in. Small labels continue to be a vital part of the recording industry. Being an indy/small press author or finding a measure of success in self-publishing* will be seen more as a badge of honor and lose all stigma.

2)      Due to the continuing decline in our economy, mainstream publishers will become  more conservative regarding manuscript selection. Authors who write things a little different will have to find alternative means of publication, specifically turning towards small presses (and perhaps even a few instances of self-publishing*). Readers, tired of the same old thing from traditional publishers will eventually turn to alternative outlets creating a shift of power. This will all be instigated by point # 3.

3)      Nick Mamatas will self-publish the movie reviews from his LiveJournal account and this will become a New York Times Bestseller, sending shockwaves throughout the traditional publishing establishment. Of course, this will lead us back to point #1.

In the meantime, I still think if you want to find any real success, you have to sell your manuscripts through established and well-respected markets. This is why I only send out my finished and traditional novels  to agents and/or reputable/well-known niche publishers at this point in my career.  Same goes for my short stories and poetry. They usually start at the top of the food chain and work their way down with the exception of invites, themed stories, or stories I just instinctively feel would be a good fit with a particular publication. A lot of my submitting (for better or worse) is done based on gut instinct and the amount of respect I have for the particular market in question.

A modern author must realize that — sometimes — not everything is right for traditional markets. For example, this strange acid western novel I’m writing right now could be a tough sell to most established markets.  Too weird for most western markets. Not weird enough for most of your horror/fantasy markets. Perhaps magic realism? The narrative is non-linear and surreal. Reality shifts constantly. Could I sell it as literary? Sheesh. I can’t even categorize it myself. Yet, I feel in my bones this may be the best piece I’ve written to date and I’d like to think it will be able to find an audience one day. Perhaps, I’ll seek out nontraditional means of publication for that one? Who knows? I’ll have to research available markets once it is fully finished. The publishing landscape could look completely different than it does today by that point.

If it were finished today, however, it would seem an ideal candidate for a small press project as does my mosaic novel The Fountain at the End of the World, which is a short novel (around 55-56k words) made up of individual pieces of flash fiction about multiple characters with only the background tying everything together. Poetry and short story collections, even when from established and award-winning authors, tend to be small press projects.  

All the same, I plan on continuing to pursue traditional means of publication for the vast majority of my written works.  I feel this is in the best interest of my fledgling writing career.

Anyway, I’m starting to ramble (too much caffeine, a lack of sleep, not to mention a wild and crazy two-year-old does this to me, you know). What are your thoughts on the future of publishing?

*Please note that I believe self-published fiction titles could only be successful if the author is previously printed and/or has some kind of built-in audience, much like Mr. Keene suggests in his blog post above.  Even with a built-in audience, I don’t see many self-published blockbusters in the near future. That said, self-publishing may be a nice way to supplement your income if you happen to be a midlist author with a good reputation and a large backlist of out of print novels. Self publishing is not a viable alternative for everyone and should never be taken lightly. The few who succeed through that route work VERY VERY hard at it.

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