Three years ago I spent a long weekend at one of the better known writer’s conferences, and one of the dominant themes was the impending revolution in publishing due to print-on-demand and eBooks. One editor, discussing trends in the fantasy genre, explained that it just wasn’t cost effective for publishers to risk printing books by new or unknown authors, when their existing stable of stars brought in the bucks. At the same time, other presenters painted a picture of a more egalitarian landscape where anyone could upload their gem to Kindle format, bypassing the kind of short-sighted gatekeepers who rejected Harry Potter 23 times.
I once heard author, John Barth, describe a poetry reading given in the ’60’s by Allen Ginsberg. Protesters disrupted the event, saying Ginsberg had no business sitting up on a stage, pretending to be special, because we are all poets. Barth said, “Fine, we’re all poets, but given a limited amount of time, there are some poets I would rather listen to than others.”
Laura Miller, a literary critic, posted a recent blog article on the impending publishing revolution, saying, “be careful what you wish for.” There will be gatekeepers. It’s a dirty job, and if technology achieves an end-run around traditional sources of books, the gatekeeper function will fall to us – and we won’t even get paid!