Friday, July 4, 2008

At Play in the Fields of Book Marketing

After giving myself a year of trying to get published the old-fashioned way, which involved getting the notice of a literary agent who would be able to attract the notice of a traditional publisher, in June of 2007, I finally said “the hell” and took my first novel, “To Truckee’s Trail” to a POD firm. The truly mind-boggling thing to me was that everyone who had read the whole thing had two reactions: “Wow!” and “Why hadn’t I ever heard about these people before?” I’ll not delude myself by that into thinking it’s great lit-ra-chure on that account, though. It’s an agreeably well-written story about a minor historical event, and reasonably accurate.

There’s a ton of books exactly like it down at the local Barnes & Noble, along with tons of other books of a suckage so total as to pull in asteroids and small moons. So one may rightfully wonder how on earth the writers of those latter managed to get agents and publishers. The judgment of the literary gatekeepers looks to be pretty iffy, all things considered. By the end of a year I could blow off receiving another rejection letter pretty well… especially those spotty fifth-generation photo-copied ones cut three or four from a sheet of copy paper. (Quelle classy, people. Really.)

After perusing a collection of blook-blogs, I came to the conclusion that writer-driven publish-on-demand may be the wave of the future, or at least a jolly great shake-up to “the way things have always been done”. Sort of like how the news and comment blogs were a shake-up to the news media complex over the past five or six years, which gives cause to wonder if the literary-industrial complex isn’t on the same Titanic-vs-Iceberg track. Writers who have way more experience than I have also been wringing their hands in lamentation at sclerosis of the literary-industrial complex, and venturing all sorts of reasons. Like the torrents of manuscripts flowing upstream towards their traditional spawning grounds, at traditional publishing firms.

Once upon a time, they tell me… there weren’t quite so many people who thought they had a book in them somewhere. Traditional publishers could evaluate and accept submissions in a timely and sympathetic manner. If a manuscript had any sort of merit, it might knock around for a bit… but would eventually find a nice literary niche. Not so now; publishers are drowning in the floods of submissions. I am told that screening them is now farmed out to agents… who have pretty much the same problem. Unless a specific manuscript pushes all the right buttons of that one agent who has to be in just the right sort of mood… frankly, I was starting to think I’d have better luck playing the Texas Lottery. And like any other sane person, an agent would like to have the biggest pay-off for the smallest work possible, so ix-nay on something that doesn’t slot into an easy category, or be likened in one sentence to last week’s big block-buster. Just safe business, after all, but it has the result of narrowing the field and reducing the odds for the next out-of-category big literary wonder. (See above, suckage vis a vis attraction to small celestial bodies.)

Lottery… which reminds me of something else; even getting an agent, and a traditional publishing deal isn’t any guarantee of happily-ever-after. I am told that most traditionally published books don’t make any sort of money. Like Hollywood, the literary-industrial complex really wants blockbusters, and the non-blockbusting writers tend to get treated pretty much like hired-help that can scribble… all the while being reminded that they are lucky to even have agency representation and a book deal to start with. So, a couple of more petty tyrants to appease, and to make the scribbler’s life even more miserable; yes, I think I’ll have another plate of that delicious filboid studge.

Oh, and it seems that the literary-industrial humongous publicity machine only gets into high gear for those few blockbusters anyway; the lesser scribblers have to do their own marketing anyway. The ambitious and driven scribbler of stories as well do POD and have complete control, rather than be nibbled to death by the petty minions.

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