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Criticism, Digital Media, Fiction, Publishing, The Writer's Life, Writings

15 Pages of Fame: In the Future, All Books Will be Self-Published

I was having lunch with two writers and we were talking about a book idea they had, when I saw it—there, hovering in front of me like a forkful of salad. I knew it was the future of book publishing. All books will be self-published, at least at first.

Instead of querying agents, waiting for replies and suffering through an avalanche of rejections, writers will simply post their books, collections, anthologies, etc. on their favorite self-publishing web sites. They will add blurbs and advertisements, and sell the works for a few cents to a few bucks. The reading public will take it from there, downloading ebooks or ordering PODs.

Should a book reach a certain level of popularity, traditional publishers will step in. Their employees will continually scan the sales figures of the selfpub companies, and acquire the rights to those titles that have reached a preset plateau of sales. In some cases the selfpubs will take that role themselves, choosing to put certain books into print runs and promoting them to the wider public.

To those who say such a future will dilute the quality of literary works and reduce the industry to a reality show-like popularity contest where the taste of the masses rules, where only sales matter, I say, isn’t that where the major publishers are already headed?

Agents may still exist, but in far fewer numbers, and their roles will be similar to sports agents. They may represent writers, but will no longer act as literary gatekeepers and arbiters of quality.

Smaller publishers and lit journals will also exist (thankfully), and they will continue to champion what they perceive as excellent writing, but they too will have their eyes on the selfpub popularity lists.

Writers have fought this future for years, refusing to sanction self-published works. They have savaged others who even mention selfpub as an avenue to print, claiming those who self publish could not be published by traditional means. This is true—and this dogma has kept as many good books as bad from seeing print.

Book publishing will move in the same direction as journalism—more people will take part, more people will read and more will write, and fewer will be able to recognize legitimate creative writing.

With deference to Andy Warhol, in the future of book publishing all writers, even beginners, even complete amateurs, will have their 15 pages of fame.


About Joe Ponepinto

Co-publisher, with Kelly Davio, of Tahoma Literary Review. Author of "Curtain Calls," a featured Kirkus Review. Married to Dona. Dad to Henry, the coffee-drinkin' dog.


4 thoughts on “15 Pages of Fame: In the Future, All Books Will be Self-Published

  1. What you describe is what currently happening. The books that are self published and get a following are not of course by definition the best written books. They are the books written by the best marketers. The traditional publishing model is failing not because of the writers or editors or proof-readers. It is failing because of their marketers. A good marketer and a good sales person can sell anything. When I worked retail, I sold all sorts of horrible stuff very quickly to good profit by presenting it well. Long, long ago, an editor trained in literature chose the books and told marketing “sell this” and marketing did and the books sold well, being presented well and because the editor knew his readers tastes. Nowadays in traditional publishing, marketing is determinging what books are sold based on sales graphs, not on what readers want. Your final point, that fewer people will be able to recognize truly creative writing is true. But I think it is true not because of writers self publishing, but because schools in the US have become so bad that they do not teach what makes for truly creative writing. As the quality of education goes down so does the quality of writing and so does the quality of appreciation.

    Posted by Cynthia Clay | March 23, 2011, 4:58 AM
    • It really does seem to be moving quickly in that direction, Cynthia. But I wonder if “legacy” publishers are getting the message. Here’s a blog conversation between Authors Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath (and a very long one), in which they analyze the e-trend in the industry.

      As for educational standards, I live in the Detroit area and work at a nonprofit that tutors schoolkids in reading. The high school grad rate a couple of years ago was below 30%. It’s higher now because of grade inflation. The adult literacy level in the city is below 50%. That’s right, ADULT literacy. Around here we’re lucky if people can read a street sign, let alone a book.

      Thanks for your comment.

      Posted by jpon | March 23, 2011, 10:26 AM
  2. I don’t like the future. Not that I much like the present in which my books are being gatekept by the gatekeepers, but this is far scarier.

    Posted by Kelly Davio | March 29, 2011, 2:30 AM
  3. You want scary? I took a look at some of the short fiction offered for sale by self-publishing authors on Smashwords. Just the titles were enough to make me freak.

    Posted by jpon | March 29, 2011, 10:30 AM

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