Anyone who can’t imagine what the extinction of dinosaurs looked like need only gaze across the shifting landscape of today’s publishing industry. Will it die out? No, but it’s flagging. It’s confused. It doesn’t know the best way to sustain itself. It doesn’t know how–or is unwilling to–survive with modern technology. It doesn’t know how to prosper as it did prior in the digital era. It fights and rails against assured transition. The bigger of the pack seek to kill off the smaller, though the smaller herds understand new technology better…
I read an article a few months ago on the founders of digital media (remember, the actual content that was written, not the social outlets that distribute it?), who at this point said they didn’t think it was a good thing and they were sorry they had put the concept out there. Their intentions had been to open opportunities for free expression and explore possiblities in the artistry of that pursuit. However, free expression doesn’t mean ‘tell us what you think; we’d love to hear it.’ Rather it’s come to mean, ‘show us what you can do for free, then we’ll think about the possibility of maybe starting to invest in your work.’ Because of digital media and the exploitation of it, artists, but writers in particular, are expected to give themselves away for free. For that we have the death of newspapers around the world, which trees might argue isn’t a bad thing. We have self-publishing soaring, which again, not necessarily bad, is not the same thing as a paying gig let alone profiting, for most authors. Self-publishing is the print-version of investing your own money to give your work away for free. If dinosaurs were giving themselves away for free, are we, the surviving dominant species, the new and improved industry? Does that mean when publishing finds its warm-blooded, bipedal successor we’ll be the better for it? It’s hard to comment on that storm from its eye.
It’s obvious that value isn’t placed on the artist or author; it’s not even placed on content. I have a friend who has made a career and life of successful publishing. She’s established, talented, connected, and confident, but her latest manuscript is beyond the pale of trendy subject matter, and regardless of how brilliantly written, no one will touch it. She’s been shopping it for almost three years. Gets high praise for it, but no one want to contract it. No one wants to invest in it.
The thing is, it’s one thing for the craft of publishing to sway. It’s another for authors, themselves, to. I have the same quandries and the same successes everyone else in this industry has. I don’t like it, yet I love it. I love what I do regardless of what I’m making off it. Would I still do it? Yes, though being able to pay a bill or two from it would be nice. Being able to see my friends who work as hard and harder beam with delight in return off the love of their work would thrill me. I’m not sure where all of this is coming from, except to say that yesterday in some fevered closure of the day’s writing and some fortuitous star alignment, it hit me that I do love the process. I couldn’t believe I’d even had the thought, let alone was showered with feelings of adoration for the thing I complain about, rage at, and deny the most. But the truth is, I really do love not just the writing, but the whole process of submission and publishing. In the end, it’s a game, even a gamble. And yes, I’m a heart racing, ego-involved, passion-seeking freak with ink and paper, like every other writer who lives and dies in every stroke. But in the end, this crazy process is not me. It’s what I choose to do here. And however I evolve as a writer to stay viable in this industry, it will be for the better of me.
Or I’m going into beekeeping (the next species on its way out, wouldn’t you know).