Read the publishing news these days and there’s so much doom and gloom and anxiety about e-books and print books and booksellers and publishers in trouble and authors getting squeezed and the midlist dropped and it’s enough to make you want to hide under the bed lest a stray Kindle impale you in the forehead. You’d think an infectious disease is sweeping the land, an e-virus that is going to pollute the land with readily available books and increased author entrepreneurship. Run for your liiiiiiiives!
But hey. You can either be scared of the future or excited. I’m pretty excited.
Look, the last few hundred years have been great and everything. Some of my favorite books were written then. We had bound books, novels, bookstores, the smell of the binding, and librarians shushing everything above a whisper. Publishers filtered everything for us, then agents filtered most things for the publishers, and all that resulted in a choice of a few thousand titles in a bookstore. Which sounds like a lot, until you happen to be looking for the Definitive History of the Drunken Monkeys of the Caribbean (in which case, thank goodness for YouTube).
And guess what: that era isn’t going away, at least in the near term. All of those things will still exist, and thank goodness. Those things are really great.
But as I outlined in a past post, in order for a book to become a bestseller in the current era, so many different publishing people have to agree about it before it reaches readers in big numbers. And if anybody in that chain is wrong, poof, that bestseller may not happen.
In the e-book era, everyone will have a shot. And I refuse to believe that’s a bad thing.
Yes, there’s going to be a lot of dreck out there that we’ll have to find a way to sort through. Yes, publishers will be challenged by lower price points and will have to change and adapt to the digital era. Yes, my job will probably change some too, even if I don’t believe agents will go away, especially as they fight so that authors get their fair share of e-book revenue. And yes, this new era will require more of authors than just writing a book in a cabin in the woods and shipping it out for someone else to do the rest. It will require an entrepreneurial spirit and a whole lot of virtual elbow grease.
But what better time to be an author?! All any writer wants is the chance to reach an audience and see what happens from there. Just a chance. And it’s looking like everyone’s going to get that chance.
To be sure, the vast majority of books will only be read by a few people. Riches and celebrity are not in everyone’s future, I don’t care how many drunken monkey books there are. Established authors and the traditional publishing industry will still have enormous advantages. Eyeballs will be key, and those eyeballs will have a whole lot of shiny objects attempting to distract them.
But soon everyone will have their shot. Books will catch on out of nowhere through word of mouth, probably even books that publishers may not have taken a chance on in the past. Readers will decide what they want to read rather than having those choices constrained in advance. Authors will have more control over their own future than ever before.
And I think that’s pretty great.