For anyone who's written anything more ambitious than a 52 year-old
barfly's phone number on a cocktail napkin at last call or a Facebook
update dedicated to how they drank too many Sex on the Beaches last
night at the local dive bar and "who the fuck were those swarthy guys
stealing my kidneys, OMFG, you mean that 52 y/o barfly's in cahoots with
them? Is her phone number even real?! Why didn't they cut out my
fucking heart, too, while they were at it?", publishing's undergone some
serious-ass changes in the last decade.
From the rise of POD (Poverty on Demand), publishing mergers and a
radical acceleration of digital technology that only James Cameron
could've foreseen, it's a Brave New World for novice authors and
established ones seeking to dip their toes in the digital ether. What
follows are the five biggest changes in publishing since we decided
invading a sovereign nation with no more involvement in 9/11 than they
had WMDs not much more dangerous than a zip gun and then giving
publishing contracts to the top war criminals who pulled off this heist
of the Iraqi oil fields were great ideas.
1) Literary Agents Are Slowly Becoming the New Buggy Whips.
Ever since 1980-5, or when we thought it was cool to roll up our suit
coat sleeves to the elbows and tease our hair like it been washed in
liquid Viagra, publishers got together with literary agents in a small,
ill-lit, smoke-filled back room at the Four Seasons. In between being
served aqua vit and Calamari Fra Diavolo
by 400 pound enforcers with shoulder holsters, they hashed out a deal that basically went like this:
"Yo, Binky, Swifty, lissen up. We don't feel dere's a poi-centage in
slush piles. They're gettin' bigger than my wife Sophie's tits after our
5th kid. So dissiz what we're gonna do: We'll cut ya in on the action.
We ain't talkin' to no more writers an' we ain't readin' their shit 'cuz
? Then ya can skim whatever you want off da top. 15% seems about right."
Then they all belched and farted in agreement, shook hands and
celebrated their collusive new business deal by defenestrating some
literary properties (and probably the authors who wrote them). A
generation later, this corrupt business model's still firmly in place
despite more and more literary agents making themselves harder reach
than JD Salinger after an alien abduction. POD, however, is also making
literary agents as redundant as they insist on acting like head
cheerleaders toward the freshmen on try outs. Still, publishers who are
approaching digital publishing like a horny sailor on a 12 hour liberty
would that hot Filipino tranny with the suspicious Ann Coulter Adam's
Apple are thinking of their agent henchmen. Some publishers with digital
imprints still insist on you being fronted by an agent as if they were
fencing stolen jewels. This is akin to a plumber who insists on
employing his otherwise unemployable semi-retarded brother in law and
bringing him into your home so he can piss all over your toilet seat,
lick your frozen hamburger patties and driving up your repair bill.
But this insistence on keeping these parasites firmly embedded on the
underside of your nut sack just delays the inevitable: Literary agents
will eventually become more redundant and useless than a female
Strip-O-Gram at the Vatican's College of Cardinals.
2) The Blob
The sight of two behemoths like Random House and the Penguin Publishing
Group merge into one is what Steve McQueen must've seen in The Blob.
The merger, when completed, will corner a quarter of the book market,
making it the Optimus Prime better suited to take on Nemesis Prime (aka
Jeff Bezos and Amazon). Despite the official press releases glowing
about this corporate coitus, mergers mean only two things: Fewer book
titles and selling opportunities for agents and authors, fewer reading
choices for readers and expendable employees being stripped naked and
excommunicated at gunpoint into the Siberian wilderness (Not really.
Considering today's job market, I'm actually soft-pedaling it). To get
an idea of the sheer size and scale this merger, one would have to go to
the Hubble Space telescope when it witnessed galaxies merging.
The Random-Penguin merger (which sounds like an homage to Tom Tomorrow
is designed solely to enrich top executives and shareholders who
apparently make no distinctions between selling books and rolls of
Charmin, making the Big Six the Big Five. And publishing pundits are
telling us this is far from the last merger we can expect. Before they
finally get around to publishing An Idiot's Guide to Antitrust Laws
for the express edification of the Federal Trade Commission, there will
be only one publisher and the American reader will be given a choice
between only James Patterson, Stephen King, Tom Clancy's ghost writer
and Lena Dunham.
rats leaving a sinking ship, this only drives more of us off the rickety
gang plank and on the deceptively palmy, balmy shores of
3) You Are a Spammer Who Should be Flogged
Publishing today is like walking into a whorehouse where virtually the
only people there are johns who also ambled in after the whores had long
since been outsourced to Bangladesh. You're told by the holographic
image of a madame that if you want to get off, you'll have to pleasure
yourself because paying whores is too expensive and we had to outsource
them or lay them off. Maybe, if you're lucky, these editors/madames will
hand you some Jergens and a travel 10 pack of Kleenexes doubling as
bare-bones PR press kits that may or may not include a mention in your
old high school newspaper.
That's basically the fate of all writers who are allegedly lucky enough
to get into traditional publishing unless you're shtupping the
executive editor's niece, in which case you'll have plenty of oomph put
behind your memoir of how you went on a coke and meth-fueled killing
spree and got a literary agent catapulted at you right after the hung
rest of us. we have to publicize our own work and be whore and pimp
rolled into one like those poor seedy Frank Sinatra hat-wearing bastards
you used to see on 42nd Street handing out mimeographs for peep shows.
Here's the problem: Whether you're traditionally published or
self-published, good luck finding a venue that'll put up with even
moderate street hawking of your book. I'm living proof that just putting
up permalinks without even mentioning your books can get you banned for
life on Amazon.com if the beneath-the-bridge-dwelling trolls have a
problem with blatant capitalism.
Yeah, they don't tell you that. Luckily, you have me to give you the
411. But the facts are, lazy-ass publishers and literary agents who
think a good day's work consists of updating their index page want your
audience lined up in advance, your book edited in advance and your
marketing platform set up in advance. Then when you get out there and do
what you're told, you're treated like a Nigerian banker or that email
in your spam box from Hannah Golightly who wants to extend your penis
length by 400% with Canadian Viagra while offering you payday loans to
refinance your nonexistent home.
4) "Baby, Come Back. You Can Blame it All on Me!"
Last Wednesday, Mercy Pilkington of Goodreader posted a fascinating article about a new trend that's been emerging not even in the last few years but the last few months:
Traditional publishers (Aka TPs, which share the same abbreviation as
toilet paper and for good reason) crawling back to independent authors.
The source for this article is a Pravda-style post
from Amazon.com about the fabulous Amazon-subsidized success of Vincent
Zandri, the new king of independent authors. What Amazon fails to
insert into the record is that Zandri used to be a traditionally
published author who made a name for himself long before he'd crawled into bed with Jeff Bezos.
Amazon's despicably self-aggrandizing post about
self publishing was a more of a commercial for its own POD services (Kindle
& Create Space) than a celebration of independent authors & their work.
Amazon obviously is trying to dominate the book market from publishing to
distribution to sales & to ultimately wipe out dead tree publishers.
They're a corporation. This is what corporations do. Imagine a roast pig
coming to life at an all-you-can-eat buffet and preying on the steamed crabs
and lobster tails.
As for TPs crawling back to indie authors, it's
notable they're interested only in sales & still insist that we have a
ready-made, built-in readership and fan base because they're still too lazy to
cultivate careers & actually drum up demand for their own products. Name me
one other industry on earth that refuses to give adequate advertising for 90%
of its product. Think of Betty
White throwing a lead-lined bull elephant. That's about how far such a
strategy would fly in the real world.
This new development strikes me as a classic abuser-abused relationship:
"Oh, baby, that wasn't me. I'm so sorry. I'll turn over a new leaf. I
swear, I won't use basket accounting & short you on your PR press
kit ever again. C'mon, babe, come back to me. We can make beautiful
P&Ls together. But make sure you still live under my rules &
bring your assets back in with you, m'kay?"
Independent author: "You blew your chance, now blow me for a change."
years of broken promises, orphaned titles, bad advances, shitty
royalties, basket accounting dirty tricks, no creative control, bait-and-switch
promises of hard cover deals & having doors slammed in our faces, insisting
we get repped by agents, who can blame us?
What's interesting is that they're directly approaching the most successful indie authors (Shades of 50 SHADES OF GRAY) instead of waiting for agents to approach
them with properties. I think publishers, as stupid & dim-witted as
most of them are, are finally beginning to connect the two dots of 90%
of their books failing with the 90-95% failure rate of agents trying to
place adult fiction. It's not traditional authors who are being
endangered, it's literary agents.
Dogma, meet Karma. Squish. Goodbye, dogma.
Problem: the number of successful indie authors are rarer than unicorns
and honest Republicans. They're the only ones being sought out by
publishers & if & when it comes time to approach midlist indie
authors and newbies, they'll jump at an actual publishing contract with
alacrity & the whole corrupt process and spousal abuser way of life
will begin anew with battered and bruised authors insisting they fell
down the stairs and crying out, "You don't see my acquisition editor's other, more tender side!". It'll also put agents not only back on the playing
field but between the hashmarks. And we need literary agents in our lives about as much as Bob Marley needed another cancer.
5) I'd Only Fuck You With Someone Else's Vagina
that's precisely what modern publishing is like: babymaking by proxy.
Editors ostensibly want to crawl between the sheets with you to bring
your baby into the world but only if they can make it a threesome with
an agent. It's kind of like those sex scenes in A Handmaid's Tale
where Robert Duvall is fucking Faye Dunaway through their handmaid.
Then when the product is stillborn for lack of support or doesn't come out at all, neither Robert
Duvall nor his dowager wife get the rap, you do.
Then you wind up in a plastic bag on Soylent Green Day and sold to the
proles while Robert and Faye start womb-shopping again from their gated
mansion. OK, maybe I'm mixing my metaphors and sci fi movies but you get
an indie author, on the other hand, is often a personal, almost
face-to-face process that at least brings some humanity back into this
medium of the humanities. With Amazon author profiles, social networking
through Facebook and Twitter, email addresses that authors may or may
not put on their back covers, readers can directly interact (and even
buy through) with authors in ways they still can't with hoity-toity
traditional authors and their army of flaks. And if the author is
charismatic enough, being able to interact with an author of a quality
product may be an added incentive to go through them rather than the
impersonal bookseller, publisher or even Amazon (if the author sells
through their website or blog).
Of course, actually reaching those readers is another thing entirely
but, unlike before when book readings and signings were the only way to
do so, independent publishing over the past decade has made the author,
especially the independent one, more theoretically accessible than ever.