09 October 2004

Waking Up

It appears that at least some parts of some publishers in England are starting to realize that they've been forcing perfectly publishable works out into self-publishing and the small press. <SARCASM> Do you think maybe, just maybe, that somebody will realize that "agented submissions only" policies and forcing editors to spend their time at marketing meetings (at which they'll be ignored) instead of reading the slush pile are resulting in lost opportunities? How about you, Ms. Rowling? What do you think? </SARCASM> That's not to say that everything coming in over the transom is worthwhile; on the other hand, it's not to say that everything coming in from agents is, either.

Perhaps the publishing industry needs to learn a few lessons from other parts of the entertainment industry. Consider, for example, competitive team sports. Not only is the "average player" better in most of the sports now than he was thirty years ago, but the "business side" is far more profitable (no matter what the screwy accounting purports to say). The key exception is basketball. Although basketball is more popular, one can also argue that the players of today are not, on average, better than those of the 1970s, and certainly that their overall skill sets are not as well developed. Basketball, unlike hockey, baseball, and football (gridiron and association), depends heavily upon third-party talent scouts. If one doesn't get a look from one of those scouts, one doesn't advance in the "recruiting game," either through the college system or the pros. Sure, there is the occasional exception—remarkable largely because he/she was not a "McDonald's All-American" or whatever.

Although rigid application of analogy is really asking for trouble—especially when moving from an archly competitive area to one that should not be—this provides some food for thought.

More self-published and small press books are winning publicity and sales, as well as deals with large publishing houses, than ever before. Although for each work that gains some attention, thousands remain in obscurity, Random House CEO Gail Rebuck has been quick to spot the trend, exhorting her troops at a recent sales conference to go out and find gems in obscure corners.

Id. This sure sounds familiar, doesn't it? Of course, the result is going to be yet more boosters and apologists for self-publishing-as-a-way-of-life coming out of the woodwork… and never disclosing that the boosters and apologists seem to be the only ones predictably making a profit out of all that activity.