Monday, February 23, 2009

Self-Publishing, cont'd.

In response to Pete's earlier post about self-publishing (or at least in tangential response), I'm going to put my own thoughts here alongside some very similar thoughts Nate expressed in a lunchbreak email today.



I do have to say that I'm not particularly interested in critics' role in gatekeeping literature -- I can't help but suspect that those sort of academic critical views of criticism's participation in literature are mostly a product of critics playing God, Stanley Kurtz-like, up within the jungly recesses of their own assholes -- I'm more interested in the possibilities that
* With cheaper, easier, Internet-assisted distribution and hardcopy publication, the value added in a commercially published book is proportionately more the selection and professional-level editing than just making the book available in the first place;
* Communities of readers may be willing to provide some amount of that value themselves, or do without it;
* For virtually all readers, there is real value in, and/or a strong unconscious predisposition towards, reading (and more generally thinking) basically the same content as the other people we're in contact with;
* As more and more books (and writings of any kind) become available through channels not managed by commercial publishers, although indie-rock-like communities may more easily spring up and consist, some mechanism will probably emerge to keep most readers reading the same thing at the same time (an analogous, anecdotal point seems to have been made about current blog content).

The latter point strikes me as the most interesting and it would be nice if some numbers around it were to drop into my lap (as it is I suppose I could go googling on my own time) since I believe it's the case that more and more books have been been published over the past decades (including by conventional publishing means) while people's individual reading capacity, I assume, has stayed more or less fixed.


My thoughts are kind of half-baked here, but: I'd say there's a kind of "filter" mechanism (I don't want that term necessarily loaded with value judgment, by the way) that determines what gets widely read. Looking at actual books, it goes something like: publishers (what's published), booksellers (what's presented to readers), critics or just conventional wisdom (what's made popular).

The digital age is shaking this up, but like Nate says, there's too much to read. It's going to get filtered one way or another.

Self-publishers can skip that first part of the filter (publishing) but not the rest of it, which is why they're not widely read. It's not so hard to imagine booksellers becoming less important, but I think that'll just make the critics more influential (at least in the sense of developing a conventional wisdom of what's worth reading).

I don't think anything is going to "suffer for the absence of critics." I think the idea of "suffering for the absence of critics" is just a myth cooked up by the critics, actually.

Also, don't forget that with commercial publishing drying up you've got money disappearing of the system. I think before you see a complete atomization or democratization of literature (like a bunch of indie-rockers working for no money) you'll see philanthropy or academic support stepping up (at least for writing of artistic or scholarly value) which will put a whole new filter in place.

Anyway, the important issue is that all books in whatever form are thoroughly copyedited by richly remunerated professionals.


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