In a previous post I had said that Literature is Dead–something to that effect anyways. Thing is, I’ve given it some thought, and I think I was wrong. Literature certainly has seen better days, and it’s not because people don’t read anymore or that the quality of readers has degraded, it’s simply that there are more forms of entertainment media than there were at the beginning of the Twentieth Century. Considering the popularity of movies, television, and videogames, literature has done an admirable job of staying afloat.
So then I was wondering, what with the perverted cynicism of the publishing industry? Why do all their calls for manuscripts read like the tag-lines for very forgettable B-movies? Frankly, it’s capitalism, pure and simple. Over the past century, the represented writer has seen his fraction of the royalties for published manuscripts shrink in both absolute and relative terms. Writers are starving, and they haven’t been able to support themselves on their writing for decades–aside from a few notable counterexamples. So publishers weren’t exactly developing a friendly report with their clientele, no client loyalty, if that makes any sense. So when self-publishing via online outlets rolled around, like Amazon’s Createspace, those that either couldn’t get published by the traditional means or made no money through the same just began shifting away from traditional avenues. This put the squeeze on traditional publishers, and to survive they began selling, in an obscenely cynical fashion, what they knew would sell many copies even if they wouldn’t retain a lot of readers or impress in the slightest the critical community.
Now, full disclosure. I’m about as close to self-published as you can get without technically being self-published. While I did initially self-publish my first book, “The Sagas of the Iron Hearts: Fragments,” ever since then I’ve been represented by an entity called “Pallas Publishing LLC.” Now, Pallas Publishing LLC [apparently I’m legally required to add the “LLC”] has only a handful of employees, and I think most of them are contractors. In addition to a few friends that take a look at what I’ve written, an editor from Pallas does the vast majority of editing that I don’t do myself, and I do about 90% of my editing. People labor under the misapprehension that editors are semi-divine beings whose knowledge of English is unparalleled. It’s simply untrue, and a lot of writers suffer without realizing that their knowledge of language is usually octaves superior to their editors. What do you think people did before the development of traditional publishing houses?
In any case, back to the point at hand, the traditional publishing industry is being squeezed out of existence, and they’re not going quietly into that final night. I would almost say that they’re trying to take down literature with them. I frankly have no idea why they even got into publishing in the first place if they were going to have this attitude. Publishers aren’t interested in pushing the medium, selling great literature, and impressing generations to come; they’re absolutely terrified of risk. That’s why they won’t take a risk on anything. That’s why they’re either selling shit that was first published fifty years or more previous or they’re selling garbage that they can sell on the racks at pharmacies.
Sometimes, when I think I’m a terrible writer, I make a habit of reading a few pages from a randomly selected novel at the pharmacy as a sort of pick-me-up.
Traditional publishing is on the way out. If they remain in any form, they’re going to shrink considerably. I never thought it was right that an editor could make a decent living while the original author suffered just to put food on the table. I don’t think I’m alone on that. This is one of those problems that at least in part they made for themselves. And now they’re going to have to deal with it.