Books Of the People, By the People, For the People
So you want to publish a novel? You’ve worked hard — you’ve attended writer’s retreats and workshops and asked every writer friend you know to edit just a quick chapter or two. The question you have to ask yourself now isn’t who will publish your book but how to publish it.
Years ago, your other options — if you couldn’t get a deal with one of the big houses — of self-publishing (forced to bare the stigma of the “vanity press”) or going with a small press both meant disappearing (if you were ever there at all) from the shelves of most major bookstores.
The Internet, rather than crushing the publishing industry and authors along with it, has actually become their biggest savior. Books by authors not popular enough to warrant the expensive publicity of the newest Stephen King novel can gain buzz through an author’s Twitter account, an online “book trailer,” or any other gimmick the author thinks up.
Many writers have been able to say a lot on the subject of technology causing the downfall of society as we once loved it. Yes, your romantic entanglements were far less complicated before the invention of Facebook and the neighborhood video store might still be there if Netflix didn’t exist. But for those who adapt to it, the Internet can only help those looking to succeed in business.
Kickstarter, a popular fundraising website, has allowed individuals and groups to submit book ideas like “Awkward Moments with Men” or “Replacing the ‘N-Word’ with ‘Robot’ in Huck-Finn.” Instead of relying on a slushpile-sorting intern to miraculously realize the genius of your manuscript and bring it to the higher ups, you can be discovered by any of the 700 million Internet users worldwide. You post a little bit about yourself and your book and people decide if it’s something worth financing. They “invest” in your project and, when the goal amount is met, get something in return, ranging from copies of the published novel to the original notes for the manuscript.
The literary journal Flatmancrooked has taken this donation-based idea one step farther with their new Launch program. While the author is being “launched,” some of their stories are made available for free on Flatmancrooked. Unlike Kickstarter, these authors have been vetted before proposing their work to the public. Though you might only receive a book in return, there is still a sense that a reader’s contribution is an investment. Who doesn’t want their money going toward the next “sure thing”?
Today some novels are serialized on Twitter in 140 character bites. There’s the popular Japanese literary form of keitai shosetsu — the novel written and read on your cell phone. You can even publish your book in a form that pays homage to 19th century literature. Recently, an author organized his book to be published in serial format through various online literary journals. Each chapter was posted on a semi-weekly basis, in order, on over 42 different websites.
There’s been more talk than usual about the downfall of the publishing industry in recent years, but the options for readers and authors alike are simply becoming more diverse. In 2009 the National Endowment for the Arts noted an increase in adult reading for the first time in 26 years. And e-book sales, which had a 164 percent gain in 2010, are just going to continue being helped by products like the Kindle or iPad. Rather than weakening the book industry, technology is making it easier for people to read and fall in love with the books that aren’t getting reviewed in major newspapers or magazines.
Young authors can now let a small press publish their books without worrying the only copies sold will be to the local literati and their immediate families. Though not all these new forms of publishing — from the gimmicks to the e-books — guarantee an advance, they level the playing field. Anyone with a good book and the drive to not only get published but to be read can do it. The publishing industry is a dictatorship no more; it’s become a democracy.
This diversification will mean a loss in revenue for the big houses. High-paying editorial jobs will become increasingly rare. But books and authors will have the opportunity to be heard more loudly. If you put publishing into the hands of the little people (the ones who buy the books in the first place), they’ll respond with enthusiasm. The books of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. Or so the saying goes.