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Yesterday, at the Capital City Young Writers conference, I heard Jane Friedman talk about publishing. Jane is a wonderful speaker, with enough energy and enthusiasm to keep the kids completely hooked in, as well as those of us non-kids who were–most likely–hoping for some golden drops of wisdom, some absolute, about the future of books.
And, of course, what Jane told us is that there is no absolute. Not today and, even if there is one down the line, nobody knows what it’s going to be. Not yet.
The cool thing was that Jane is excited, upbeat, about this. And it’s infectious. To her, it’s not scary or intimidating or worry-inspiring. It’s exhilarating and mind-whirling. It’s the amusement-park ride you want to be on.
I’m going to do my best to summarize a couple of Jane’s main points. Hopefully, if I get these wrong, she’ll stop by to correct me!
Basically, the old world order is crumbling. The power of the gatekeepers–the publishing companies–to direct readership is going away, and it’s being replaced by…us. I’ve been hearing this angle for a while now, and I’ve resisted it, because so many people come at this with a bitterness and an well-those-powermongers-deserve-it attitude, and I truly believe that publishing is NOT just made up of $-hungry greedyguts, but by many editors and book-readers who love what they’re doing and want to bring us stories we’ll like as much as they do. Really. Yesterday, Jane was able to make me see this change outside the let’s-get-revenge attitude, more as just a fact of the world, a wave that’s growing with every blog review, tweet about books, or entry at GoodReads that we each put out there. It’s just happening. And, really, those editors and book-readers are just trying to figure out what to do with it, about it, as much as we all are.
She talked about the complaint people make that all this self-publishing ease will do is put more “bad” books out there, and the worry people have about how they’ll filter through it and find the books they want to read, not to mention the thinking writers should be doing about how, once published, they’ll get their titles TO readers. They’re not going to come buy it at your website, folks, if they don’t know it’s there. Jane pointed us to this law:
If you look up at the top end of the curve, this is the end we need to be aiming at to actually get our books read, not just published–WHETHER we publish traditionally or for ourselves. And you’ll see that the top end if narrower (don’t ask me to use mathematical-graphy terms, because that’s not going to happen), because this is the harder work to do, and fewer people will do it and get their books/sales up into that corner. It’s a goal, though! 🙂
Jane’s other big point is that we should not let ourselves be intimidated by the fact that nobody knows where this is all going. The title of her talk was (I think I’ve got this right), “We Are Experiencing Revolutionary Difficulties: Please Don’t Wait.” In other words, grab that merry-go-round ring, whichever one you’re looking at today and wondering about whether it’s worth reaching for. Don’t let fear or uncertainty stop you.
As usual, when I listen to Jane, I was thinking, Wow! That is so RIGHT. And then I was thinking, and how does this apply to me. What do I want to do with this information, this angle. I don’t actually have answers to those questions yet. Go figure. :)What I do know is that I think Jane’s absolutely on track with her attitude–that this is exciting, that we should open our ears and eyes and brains to everything that’s going on in Publishing today (yes, another item on your to-do list!), and that we should be ready, with knees bent and jumping muscles ready, to GO when we see the opportunity we want.
The best place I know to get this kind of info is Jane’s Writer’s Digest blog, There Are No Rules. If you’re not reading it yet, start. And maybe add this book she recommended to your reading pile: Here Comes Everybody, by Clay Shirky. I’m going to.
Enjoy the excitement, guys. It’s going to be here for a while!