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 They have savaged others who even mention selfpub as an avenue to print, claiming those who self publish could not be published by traditional means.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.