Last night I wrote a post on the publishing industry and then scrapped it. This morning, Jaime Theler points me to a blog post written on the exact topic. So I’ve decided to try once again.
Rachelle Gardner poses an interesting question, over on her blog. She is talking about Harlequin moving into the self-publishing world. The end result, according to Ms. Gardner, will be a decline in the quality of literature. She even goes so far as to say that “”Literature” as we know it could be a thing of the past.”
She then poses the question, “Am I totally off base?”
Respectfully, I say yes. Way off base. Here is why.
Imagine a wall. Readers are on one side, authors on the other. Authors have great stories in their heads; readers would like to hear them. Under the current system, literary agents, editors, publishers, and business folks have served as the gatekeepers (as Ms. Gardner calls it). They make sure that only certain authors and their stories are allowed through the wall. They must past certain levels of quality before they are allowed to move through the wall.
Rachelle says this is a good thing because there are a lot of authors with bad stories. They have not mastered their craft, and so, the gatekeepers tell us, we the readers don’t want to listen to them.
There is a serious flaw in this line of thinking. The self-imposed gatekeepers are not always the best judges of what is good. I know that is a bold statement, but take a look at this list. Gatekeepers, skilled as they may be, are prone to make errors just like the rest of us. Books like Harry Potter, The Diary of Anne Frank, Catch 22, and Animal Farm, and authors like Stephen King, Tony Hillerman, and Ursula K. LeGuin, could very well have never made it over the wall. Agents and editors do very well at spotting bad books, but I think it’s clear they can often miss the good ones. The really good ones. The paradigm shifting, world changing ones. And who suffers? The readers. How many really good books have never been published because the author gave up after rejection 52?
The simple fact of the matter is that in a digital world, we don’t need gatekeepers. What we need are more holes in the wall. Lots of them.
Look at blogs; 25 years ago, how many people had a medium by which they could share their thoughts with the world at large? Newspaper editors had a medium. Television personalities had a medium. You and I did not. Now, every grandmother and her cat has a blog. True, most of them are poorly written, but you know what? It doesn’t matter. The cream rises to the top without the help of gatekeepers, because in the digital world it all comes down to merit. You create a fantastic blog, and people will come. You churn out mediocrity, and the world will say, “meh.”
I argue that contrary to Ms. Gardner’s statement, tearing down the wall will not lead to the end of literature, but in fact be the beginning of a new, exciting era. Readers will realize there is much more than the same tired fare that we’ve been fed for years by the publishing industry. Authors will realize that contrary to what agents and editors have been telling them, they do in fact have a good story, and there are people out there that want to read their work. Yes, crap will be produced, because crap has always been produced. And in the digital world the crap sits on the same browser as the good stuff. But we all know that there is good stuff out there, and we all know how to find it.
The publishing industry is one of the last industries to be affected by the digital revolution. The record industry, movie industry, TV industry, and newspaper industry have been grappling with this for almost a decade. Now it’s our turn.
And I, for one, couldn’t be more excited.