where the writers are
What to do with publishing?

I've been tossing around a couple of ideas about what I think should be done for the publishing industry that currently seems to be one heck of a sinking ship. Here is my distillation of those ideas. Before I get started, I want to express my sympathies for everyone who has been or is going to be hurt by this current financial crisis. I wish you only the best, and my suggestions for change do not represent in any way a desire to find you, your friends, or your family out of work. That being said... Here I go.

1. Large publishing houses must go. There is simply not a need for them. There is a place for houses with a national reach, yes, but large conglomerates are too awkward to deftly handle the changing climate of book publishing. They simply desire to keep the status quo, plus a few percentage points. This is a failed business model, and its failure is beginning to show itself. These houses must be dismantled before the rest of the reading public really begins to think writers are as out of touch as their publishers are.

2. The revenge of the little guy. I find it funny that I've been reading with trepidation about the disastrous sales at Borders and Barnes & Noble when, only a few years ago, they were the bad guys pushing the little independent booksellers out of business. Borders and B&N were the bad guys then and they're the bad guys now. Just like large publishing houses, these places focus on the vanilla of reading. They don't take the necessary chances on books that might actually increase readership in underrepresented niches. What is needed is the return of independent booksellers. I'm sure there's something convenient in the fact that publishers really only have two numbers to call when they want to sell a book, but that also means two numbers away from complete failure. With large booksellers, it's all or nothing, and that's a dangerous game to play.

3. Respect your elders. I've been reading about the shameful dismissal of several mainstays in the publishing industry recently. Honestly, how to you fire someone who has thirty successful years in the field? It makes no sense. Those of you who are working and are still full of youthful industry should latch on to these totems of wisdom and form new, smaller houses. If you have the financial means, quit before you're laid off and carry others with you. The only thing that many editors, agents, etc. have been doing wrong is listening to the wrong boss. The gut is gone from publishing. Renew it and bring some older and wiser guts with you.

4. Forget about the blockbuster. Leave those projects to the movie guys. What publishing needs now is a vibrant rebirth in small presses with small but solvent sales focused on regions instead of the whole country. People in New York live different lives from those in Oregon or South Dakota, and their reading tastes naturally reflect those differences. We need nimble houses set up throughout the United States that know their regions' tastes and preferences. Otherwise, there can be no avoiding this lowest-common-denominator method of book selling that has been the norm for much of the time I've been following the industry. National success can still happen and should be encouraged, but we must not rely on national success to drive our books and sales. There's nothing wrong with the favorite book in Minnesota being unheard of elsewhere in the Continental 48.

Wrapping up, small is beautiful and less is more. As I said, I'm not hoping anyone loses his/her job over these changes, but obviously there will be shakeups. All I'm hoping for is the survival and resurgence of a vibrant literary climate in the United States. American's have never been the most avid readers. The last thing we need to do is give them another excuse not to read.

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