Originally written in early 2011 for my friend Wanda Shapiro, indie novelist and proprietor of the website onegirlonenovel.com. - Ed Renehan
I was delighted when Wanda Shapiro asked me to write this guest post. I admire Wanda very much – both as a novelist and for the indie self-publishing model through which she, like so many of our best new writers of fiction and poetry, makes her work available.
Of course, for a long time there has been a certain stigma attached to self-publication. Indeed, in a society which has come to embrace indie music and indie film-making as bastions of quality thrown up against a tide of homogenized commercial mediocrity, it seems odd that self-published authors are still in many ways ghettoized by media and markets. This too shall pass.
There are those who will argue that such authors and books as I note above are rare, and that self-published literature generally represents a blabbering morass of junk – work that is presumably “not good enough” to be issued by the Simon & Schusters and Random Houses of this world.
True – some self-published work is better than other self-published work. The same can be said of egg sandwiches.
However, it is an absolute canard that publication by a so-called “major” imprint automatically equates to “quality.” Indeed, quality literary fiction (not to mention poetry) of the type propounded by such writers as Wanda is frequently (but, thank God, not always, at least not yet) ignored by most of the majors as a matter of necessity. The majors need to strive for blockbuster titles of the type which will help amortize their ginormous overhead – work which caters to the lowest common denominator of public taste and will therefore find the widest market.
The majors today struggle to survive amid the collapse of the ecosystem within which they’ve long thrived. A radical change in environment now undermines these dinosaurs who once dominated. As their food sources disintegrate, their ravenous hunger (born of their immense bulk in editorial, production and sales personnel, plus the fixed-costs of their warehousing and distribution infrastructure) remains unchanged.
Paging Dr. Schumpeter. He’d recognize this creative destruction: a total paradigm shift away from the long-standard but now uneconomical book production and distribution model. The number of brick-and-mortar bookstores – where the majors have always enjoyed a lock on shelf-space – dwindles daily. Online retailers increasingly “own” the marketing of all information products, whether we be talking films, music or books. And eBooks and Print-on-Demand (POD) make the economies of large print runs meaningless.
In this same paradigm shift, the nimble upstart finds opportunity. Given the tools available, and the ease with which one can gain “shelf-space” within Web-based stores, the cost-of-entry for self-published writers and start-up presses has never been lower. In fact, in my view, the current technology does more than just level the playing field; it gives the advantage to the small actor who does not carry the legacy expenses of the old-market model.
As bookstores become passé and the majors lose both their clout and cachet, intellectual capital – in the form of quality content – becomes what it should have been all along: the most important of all publishing assets.
Just put the good work out there. As the saying goes: Water will seek its own level. Go for it.