Borderlands,San Francisco. 2007.
There is so much change in the publishing industry right now, and my thoughts on it seemed to gel over the last couple of weekends as I got out and around, rubbing shoulders with my peers, all of them coming from different genres, different places in their careers. Some were on the rise, some were maintaining, and some had just gotten the rug pulled out from under them and were facing the familiar three- to five-year struggle to get themselves back where they were with another publisher, perhaps using another publishing style.
I’m in a good spot, but even I’m vulnerable in an environment where loyalty increasingly takes a backseat to chasing those publicity dollars, and money tells the reader what is “good” not your friends, because honestly, when a distributor of books starts creating their own product, it’s their babies who get the front page, buzz, and attention, and it’s the competition who gets pushed low in the algorithm or just simply loses their “buy” button at a critical point. For as much as a new publishing/distributor might claim to like books, readers, and advocate authors, they are there to make money like everyone else.
Which brings me back to the traditional publishing industry.
Traditional publishing has been taking hit after hit lately for being money grabbing and insensitive in the face of new opportunities graced with low overhead and little to support. They’ve been deemed uncaring about books and even now, their authors. Yep, publishing is hard. It’s always been hard, and with the doors having been opened wide the last decade or so, there are many more people seeing their dream realized. Downside? When things don’t work out, they are disillusioned and blame the easy target.
But one thing seems to have been forgotten in the ultimate ugliness. Everyone in the traditional publishing industry is there because they love books–or they don’t stay there very long. They love reading them. They love discovering them. They love sharing them, because quite honestly, the hours are too long, the rewards too little. No one goes into publishing to “make it big.” They go to discover and share.
Which brings me to loyalty. I’m not talking about loyalty to a specific publisher or imprint. I’m talking about loyalty to the feeling of scanning the shelves, of seeing those imprints on the spines and knowing what you’ll find just by that. I’m talking about loyalty to a system that gave you the stories that took you to the stars. The stories that made you believe in dragons and space colonies, that showed you that you could make a difference, that you could fall in love. Someone believed in that story enough to force it through the gates of the publishing house and onto that shelf where you picked it up. I’m not bashing e-books, because they’re a part of traditional publishing now as much as word processing and electronic submissions. I’m talking about the system that brought you the stuff you read. Period.
So yes. The traditional publishing industry is struggling to adapt and thrive in a new climate where yes, anyone can become published and have that glorious chance to see their work loved and cherished. But I bristle at the notion that the traditional publishing industry is in it only for the money. They love what they do, and have since day one. It’s why they started, not the other way around. And that deserves a little respect, if only for the pleasure that they brought you when starships sailed beside dragons in the stacks.
I’m keeping this up for a while. Feel free to repost and comments are welcome.