My blog on Smashword founder Mark Coker’s speech at RWA2012 got a lot of interest. Thanks to everyone who commented, both here on the blog and direct to me by email. There’s obviously such a lot of interest in ebooks, I’m running another link. This piece by Elise Sax in the Huffington Post gives a view from the floor, rather than the podium: http://huff.to/OLZ4Yw
There are millions of people who love to write. It used to be said that if you had a story to tell and the skill to tell it well, you would find a publisher. Only the best and brightest (and luckiest?) got through their rigorous weeding-out process. The hope of becoming one of the chosen few kept writers sending typed manuscripts to publishing houses by the thousand. As the death toll of office juniors killed by collapsing towers of accumulated scripts rose, many of the big firms closed their lists to unsolicited work. Literary agents then became the gatekeepers. To get a shot a publication, books no longer had to be merely well-written and entertaining. They had to promise huge sales, as well. Did this extra hurdle put authors off? No. The manuscripts carried on accumulating to the point where agents, too, could pick and choose which writers they took on. Employing an editor before approaching an agent became the way to progress – another step in the ziggurat between writing a book and seeing it appear in print. Is it any wonder that faced with this increasingly long drawn out route to publication, vanity publishers made a fortune from the unwary?
Then came the Internet revolution. Now anyone who wants to put their work out into the public domain can do so, by blogging or publishing an ebook. The author’s plaintiff cry of “Who will buy my story?” has now become “Here’s my work – pass it on.”
As Elise Sax’s article says, being published by a big, respectable firm still has a lot of cachet. Representation by an agent means you’ve got a knowledgeable person on your side to help you fight your way through contracts, clauses and obligations – but do readers care how a book gets into their hands, as long as the story is good? Is this the best way to bring more books to more people, or will the explosion in ebooks be just that – up like a rocket, down like a stick?