The net has spawned a certain madness. In the literary game, this means frantic indie authors, frightened traditional publishers, shrinking circulations for newspapers and magazines, perplexed literary agents and sublimated panic. As major publishers merge and sink slowly in the west - as the shares of media companies tank, as Google, Amazon and Apple grow fat on a tide of indifferent eBooks, as standards slide and promotion becomes the product - the actual book, article, news story becomes an afterthought. How long can this go on and do you really want to be a part of it? Perhaps there's another way? Our Commissioning Editor, D. S. Mills, suggests a new model for digitally challenged authors.Older authors know how it was. Months of years of honing your brainchild, then the humble, hopeful, even wildly optimistic approach to agents and publishers - those lofty beings, who proved indifferent and even contemptuous.
Older authors could paper their walls with rejection slips. Even today, newbies who take the traditional route, find the adamantine walls of the great publishing houses just as inaccessible, despite their recent nod to the web of accepting electronic submissions. (And despite the foundation of their business model crumbling beneath them.)
One new writer we talked to recently - who has a very good book indeed - has submitted it to 175 agents across America. Two said they'd bother to read it. Both later declined. Authors learn that where there's life there's hope - consistently followed by disappointment.
Did publishers ever know what they were doing?Let's forget newspapers and magazines. They are advertising platforms. Their stories and articles are there to distract you from the fact that they are in the advertising business. And as the media-buy fragments across the net, that business is losing its revenue base - helped, of course, by the quality of content and the time lag it takes to publish it.
A friend reminded me the other day of the old joke about TIME and LIFE. 'TIME is for people who can't think and LIFE for those who can't read.'
Back to publishers - those irrational optimists attempting to combine art with business - always a fraught combination. Although many are well-meaning, they are unsure of their trade - as it is not a trade to be sure of. Their few successes - the ones expected to pay for all the failures - are generally the books they never expected to do anything for them at all - thus those they underpriced and barely bothered to promote. As for taking on new authors - publishers, despite their pretentions, do everything possible to frustrate the acceptance of any manuscript worth its salt. They feel much safer with celebrity biographies and cookbooks by TV chefs. A traditional publisher will do everything he can to destroy your book. But if, by some miracle, you manage to get published and then wildly succeed, the publisher will fawn disgustingly. It is only then that you can get your revenge.
But now, the sea change.With the gatekeepers gone and writers' websites now flooding the internet, not to mention the endless eBooks the digitally unskilled upload directly to eBook distributors - the writing game, for fiction at least, has been flipped on its back.
I know of a successful fantasy writer who, in a nervous late-life nod to the digital age, has resumed all the rights from his earlier novels and spent painful months converting them to eBooks for his new website. This is now working for him to some extent, though not to the extent he expected. Why? Because, long ago, he achieved a following and a name.
But what happens to the newbie who, all unwary, uploads his vestigial efforts to Kindle and then waits patiently for riches. Little. Once he has told his family and friends and some of them have dutifully paid for the book, which few of them wish to read, he or she will be lucky to sell a book a year.
The age of frenzy.The new digital freedom has generated a sea of indifferent books that sell no more than a couple of copies each. And this has caused millions of frustrated 'authors' excruciating anxiety.
'Unless,' the forums crow, 'you slavishly and brazenly promote your book on social media, write endless self serving articles that lead prospects to your book, engage in conversations right across the net - spend your entire life, in fact, promoting, pleading, cajoling. Unless you lift up your skirts obscenely and go forth and prostitute yourself, your inevitable end will be obscurity and pain'. Difficult for new writers who still have no idea that perhaps half a percent of all scribblers make a crust from writing books.
The other bind is that this perpetual attempt at self-aggrandizement leaves them no time to write. No chance to hone their new craft. The actual book becomes a bothersome adjunct that they are desperately trying to plug.
So everything suffers. The author. The book. And also the badgered recipients of this unwanted publicity, thinly cloaked as helpful articles and affability. When the author forgets his trade, he becomes a publicist. And that draining occupation depletes him. No longer is there solitude and sanctity. He is frantic to be 'out there'. Nothing is less conducive to the introspection that inspires a creative craft.