There’s a revolution going on in the publishing industry
Say you have a brilliant idea for a story and you decide to write a book? What are the realistic chances of getting published? Given that it took even JK Rowling a decade to do so, the chances seem rather slim. Unless you are famous already of course in which case the publishing industry will be fighting for your offering regardless of its literary worth.
The established way things have worked for decades is that to be published you need a literary agent who will then attempt to sell your work to a publisher. Some writers approach publishers directly on the basis that if they are interested an agent would be quite easy to convince. What literary agents generally request is some form of synopsis and the first three chapters. The reality however is that they will either not even read your submission properly or they will read it but decide you are not worth taking a risk on. Some now say they have enough clients and can’t take on anyone else.
The cost of this process to the prospective author is considerable financially when you add up printing and postage not to mention what could be years of work. This process has established a closed shop whose random selection of what they would or wouldn't support was tested a few years ago and found to be wanting. A newspaper sent manuscripts purporting to be new works to various agents; in fact they were already published books, some of them fairly popular. Most were not accepted and received the same standard letter as an unknown author would.
In the past that was pretty much the end of the road. You could try self publishing but this was always a very expensive option that would be unlikely to raise the interest of anyone but your peers and friends. So called vanity publishing is another avenue where you print a limited number of books as each is ordered but this is also unlikely to spread your work beyond the confines of your family, friends and associates.
Things are, however, changing. E-publishing once meant people putting stories or novels on their own website or blog. With the advent of the eBook the shape of the marketplace is evolving. 2011 has so far seen a huge rise in the number of e books being sold after 2010 saw a surge in demand for Amazon’s Kindle, the current market leader. Now both classic works and new authors are gravitating to this place. The merits are obvious. An e reader can hold thousands of books which you can take with you anywhere and for those who like extras- the same as you might get with films or TV series- then Kindle and co can contain them too.
Recently a new version of TS Eliot’s The Wasteland was released in the form of an app containing performances of the poem, 37 short films, options to read the extras plus a reproduction of the original manuscript. The response has been tremendous, similar to the first time DVDs appeared and everyone was amazed. All this only costs £7.99 and that is seen as the expensive end of the market. A new work of fiction could retail for as little as £2 to £3 but the difference is that if it were offered from the author’s own website –or via Amazon - the writer could avoid having to pay agents, publishers or printers. It’s happened in music so why not publishing?
The stranglehold that traditional agents and publishers have is largely based on their supposed expertise in spotting things that people would like. Yet their criteria appear to lie as much in what they feel is of sufficient literary standard literary standard rather than potential popularity. Nobody would seriously claim that either Dan Brown or JK Rowling are brilliant, ground breaking writers or even that their ideas are particularly original but their books are hugely popular and popularity is what now drives culture. It does not preclude classic material but it embraces everything. It only takes a minute for something as trivial as a TV advert to become a hit through Internet word of mouth.
It is impossible to see a place for literary agents and publishers in the long term because it is unlikely any paper books will exist in twenty years time. And their `expertise` will simply become irrelevent. People will be able to decide for themselves whether they want to read a book rather than being fed only what emerges through a tightly controlled porcess. Yes it will mean the world will be flooded with new writers and endless fiction but at least everything will get the chance to breathe without being stopped at the first hurdle in the arbitrary and elitist way that happens at the moment.