Friday, August 1, 2008

Generic Publishing Rant

I walked downtown to get the mail--my new nightly activity--and meant to do some thinking about my 3-day novel idea. Instead I kept thinking back to the closure of WOTC Discoveries and working up to a rant about the state of publishing today.

Never mind that the rant hasn't changed in decades, no matter who's ranting, and never mind that anything I say about publishing is sour-grapes flavored since I'm just a tadpole in the publishing pond (how's that for a mixed metaphor?). I can't stop myself, so here it is.

A prospective author used to have to rely on Writer's Market and word of mouth to find out where to send manuscripts, which had to be mailed through the actual mail. It wasn't easy, and it wasn't cheap. These days, anyone with a minimum of Google-fu can find up-to-date information about markets, which increasingly accept electronic subs. Click click boom, the manuscript is in the slush pile, along with thousands and thousands of other people's manuscripts.

At the same time, and probably as a result, fewer publishers accept unsolicited subs. The smaller publishers have either been eaten by bigger ones or gone out of business. The big publishers only release so many books a year. Look closely at the books in your local bookstore next time you're there, and in the SF/F section at least, you'll see the same half-dozen or so logos on almost all the books.

And the economy is not just in the toilet, it's been flushed into a decaying and overfilled septic tank. People don't have extra money to buy a lot of books, even people who love to read.

And even people who love to read spend a lot of their free time on the internet, or playing video games, or watching movies or TV, or downloading music (I know I can happily while away weeks doing nothing but mixing CDs), or, um, blogging. Know how much time I spent reading books today? About five minutes. I used to read a book a day when I was in high school. Yes, okay, I read during class, which is why I don't know any algebra and didn't learn how to study until I was a sophomore in college, but that's not the point. If I'd had the distractions in high school that are available to people now, I would have been texting friends during class, not reading. And my thumbs would be as big as Volkswagens.

Now head back to the SF/F shelves of your local bookstore, this time with a measuring tape, and take a look at the length of those books. I just checked DAW's guidelines, and they don't generally consider manuscripts under 80k words. Baen likes books at least 100k words long. When's the last time you picked up a slim volume that wasn't a reprint of something published a few decades ago? No, the emphasis is on brick-thick paperbacks. They're expensive to print and ship, which means a higher cover price, and they require a lot of dedicated time from readers.

To sum up:
1. More people sending submissions to fewer publishers.
2. Fewer people buying books.
3. Even avid readers spending less time reading.
4. Publishers publishing great big long books that no one can afford and no one has time to read anyway.
4. Kate hasn't had any stories accepted since May, and she seems bitter about it.
5. Also Kate doesn't actually text people, she just wanted to get the thumb joke in.
6. It wasn't very funny, was it?
7. In the time it took you to skim this post, you could have read several pages of a worthy novel.


Cate Gardner said...

Yeah the SF/F shelves can be quite intimidating when you don't have much time to read. And yet they still sell all those lovely short books by Philip K Dick and Ray Bradbury that everyone adores. Mad.

Keeping my fingers crossed for you.

K.C. Shaw said...

I've been rereading a lot of older books lately (currently the marvelous and fun Prisoner of Zenda by A Hope), and they're all short. I like the length of those older books. For one thing, I can cram one down in my rather small purse without bulking it out too much.