The Screenplay-novel Manifestos

Less is more vivid

Sunday, April 23, 2006

DIY vs. RIP -- 2

Interesting comments threads have developed both at Slush-pile and Bookninja on the topic of self-published authors.

Unsurprisingly, there are as almost as many opinions as there are commentators, since this is a very general topic, and individuals have such varied experience of the self-publishing scene/the quality of work written by self-published authors. Furthermore, there is the larger question of the role that major publishing houses are playing in all this -- personally, that's the angle that interests me more.

As anyone with even partial knowledge of the writing trade knows, the publishing industry has been going through big changes over the past several years: some of these are the result of corporate consolidation, some are the result of the "post-9/11 literary reading crisis", and some are the result of the ongoing shift of our culture at large toward image-based, electronic media. All have these have received intelligent commentary. But as far as I know, no one has commented in a forceful, concerted way on the decision many major publishing houses have made to effectively freeze out all work that is not represented by an agent.

The following is from a variety of publisher web-sites:

- We are currently not accepting unsolicited manuscripts. Please visit this page again for updated information on our submission guidelines.

- Unfortunately [a list of seven imprints] do not accept unsolicited manuscript submissions. Any submissions received with sufficient return postage will be returned with a form letter.

- If you would like to have your work or manuscript considered for publication by a major book publisher, we recommend that you work with an established literary agent. Each agency has manuscript submission guidelines.

And these are taken from publishers that provide a contact link or FAQ section; several publisher web-sites provide no such information in an apparent attempt to discourage unagented authors from even thinking of approaching them. (And why in heaven's name would a writer ever think of submitting to a publisher?) This latter strategy of shoo-ing away pesky, lesser-known writers strikes me as downright creepy.

The irony of all this is that this new paradigm of the author/publisher relationship simply isn't recognized by the culture at large. I know at least two people serious about writing -- intelligent, gifted individuals whose main challenge is simply to finish their damn manuscripts -- who genuinely believe that once they've done so, they will partake of a ritual known to countless writers of generations before them: put the manuscript (or at least a few sample chapters) into a manila envelope, compose a punchy cover letter, and mail the project off. But that ritual is over now. It's dead, and the major publishing houses have failed to post its obituary.

[To be continued]


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