Sunday, October 22, 2006

Class Consciousness

One of the things that could be said about the content of this blog is that it is persistently negative. This is probably true. However, I like to think of it as persistently realistic. The publishing industry is a business, first and foremost. It is not obligated to be generous or charitable. It is not even obligated to make sure that everyone involved in the industry turns a consistent profit. It is also probably not going to change anytime soon.

I read an article the other day about how the publishing industry should switch from offset printing to print-on-demand as their primary printing method. The rallying cry was that the industry would then be freed from the perils of the returns process and having to worry about overprinting. With this innovation in place, the author enthused, the power of the industry will shift away from the chain superstores – which are supposedly throttling sales – and back to the publishing houses, where it belongs.

My question is this: why does the power belong with the publishing houses? What exclusive service do they provide, exactly? Marketing? Editorial oversight? Graphic design skills? Distribution? I can’t get any of those through my own hard work and desire to excel?

Why is it that writers – the heartbeat of the industry, the muscle that keeps the industry moving forward – should be considered to be second-class citizens? Why can’t the writers call the shots?

When the costs of publication were expensive, it made sense for publishing houses to be conservative and selective. But the cost of publication is dirt cheap – so much so that anyone can do it. Absolutely anyone. That is the curse and that is the blessing of the publish-on-demand revolution.

And it is already a revolution. Not an overwhelming one, by any means. But there are enough people profitably storming the walls of the industry on a regular basis that the illusion of exclusivity cannot be maintained. But the publishing industry will not change on its own. As long as there are people who still believe that the only true means of validation is for an editor from a publishing company to give them a green light, the writers will never have power in the industry.

My call is to abolish the slush pile. Stop contributing to it. They do not want your contribution to it and you can spend that money in more productive ways. Hire an editor. Talk to a marketing firm. Do it yourself.