Monday, May 31, 2010

Celebrating the End of an Era in Publishing

Garrison Keillor wrote an interesting column published in the St. Petersburg Times.

In it he bemoans the passing of an era in book publishing. He concludes by saying:
Children, I am an author who used to type a book manuscript on a manual typewriter... And mailed it to a New York publisher ... I waited for a month or so and then got an acceptance letter in the mail. They offered to pay me a large sum of money. I read it over and over and ran up and down the rows of corn whooping. It was beautiful, the Old Era. I'm sorry you missed it.

My first response to this was: maybe it was beautiful to Mr. Keillor, but to me, and to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other writers who weren't writing what publishers were interested in publishing, it was yet another door slammed in our faces. Lesbian fiction? In the 80s, Naiad Press was the only niche publisher that would publish love stories about lesbians that ended in "happily ever after." Now we have at least 6 niche publishers publishing our stories, and many more of us have chosen to publish ourselves.

I was amused to note that of the 7 comments following the article (you had to register with the newspaper site to post), two were by self-publishers. One said: "Self-publishing has another upside: the ability to let the value of your work be decided directly by readers, not by a tiny population of editors in NYC."

Oh yeah. Readers. Let's think about readers for a minute. If we had no way to publish our own stories in the "Old Era," how were we supposed to find the stories we wanted to read? It seems to me that the "let all flowers bloom" publishing model benefits readers too.

It has been the case fairly recently (like last month) that people assumed anything self-published was crap. And granted, some of it is. But I have been observing my own reading behavior lately, and I've noticed that, while I have a pile of traditionally published fiction I intend to read, I more often choose my current read from the pile of books by niche publishers or self-publishers. The quality of the writing runs the gamut from quite good to woefully amateurish, but I read them anyway, because they tell the stories I most enjoy reading--stories about people like me.