Just When I Figured It Out, Everything Changed

In Publishing on July 6, 2010 at 10:26 am

I spent a couple of hours Yesterday assessing the rocky road ahead for those of us who want nothing more (and nothing less) out of life than to create something lasting and useful for generations to come. Perhaps a single novel with a message that transcends time, or a single painting that reaches out to say “I was here.” Tall order? I suppose that it’s still possible—to make my mark, that is—theoretically. But I keep running into the suggestion that the internet is the change that rocked the world of publishing.

If you are a technical person, you probably appreciate the technical changes; if you have an artist’s bent, you might feel uneasy about them. I am both, so I straddle both worlds. I get the impact of the decline in newspaper, magazine and book sales, and the rise of self-publishing (with lower margins for profit); the use of email, Facebook, Twitter, blogging (WordPress, a major success story) and other, newer pathways; the merger of telephone technology with the internet (e.g., iPhone and Skype). In short, the internet as tool has played a very important role, without which we would not have come as far.

That said, I now suggest that the internet is not the driving force behind these changes, for the internet is nothing but a tool–a really great tool, if wielded by the right hands–but all the more reason it depends on its user more than its existence. The driving force behind these changes is people, and specifically, the most important force for change is literacy. Making one’s mark, although we may feel overwhelmed, is still high on the agenda, but literacy has prepared so many competitors that the rules of the game have changed, we don’t get the change quite yet because the new rules don’t seem to be fully in place.

Nowhere is this more true than in the ritualistic submission of short stories to magazines. I haven’t been able to find any reliable statistics, but imperically, all publishers seem to be swamped, have received many more stories than they will ever have time to read, and the number of stories goes up every year while the number of magazines still doing business goes down. Then there is this latest trend, where the publisher runs 1 or more contests, for which you pay an entry fee (translated, we will actually read it if you pay us) but no comments will ever be provided about what they read. At least that’s the way my 153 submissions over the last 2 years have played out.

The Association of American Publishers (AAP) reports that book sales last year produced revenues of $23.9B, down from the previous year of $24.3B, but the first four moths of this year (2010) saw an increase of 11.8% over last year. Doesn’t sound like the book is dead just yet. A quick check of how the self-publishing segment is doing suggests that it isn’t much of a solution to this vexing problem: “… the average self-published book sells between forty and two hundred copies, depending on which set of figures you consult.” [How Publishing Really] — I recommend you read this one cover-to-c0ver.

I guess I have made my point. At least I feel better about my role in the great cosmic race to oblivion. My only regret is that I made you sit through it to the very end. Or maybe you left quietly somewhere in the middle. Are you there? Is anybody there?

Copyright 2010 by Tad Laury Graham

Thanks to blogspot for the brief quotation in the text above.

  1. Tad – It looks like we are seeing the same trees as we travel down the last stretch of our roads – however long or short that may be. Like you, I think, I am grateful beyond words for the life I have been given and for those who have loved me far beyond my desserts. And whom I have loved. I’m not looking forward to leaving this world, but when I do, it will be with overwhelming gratitude.

    I am not surprised one bit to hear what you are saying about the current publishing business. I can tell you similar stories from other fields of endeavours — I imagine you can too. Maybe it’s just a rather-too-narrow version of cooperative behaviour and looking after ones neighbour (she said optimistically).

    I too appreciate not only your blog but your comments.



  2. Tad – Your post resonates on two counts. The first is “wanting nothing more than to create something lasting…” Me too. But I’ve decided that is a very tall order and granted to few. Even more, I’ve almost no desire to be among those great and the good who are supposed to have benefitted us all. I don’t trust our view of history on that score, and am much more inclined to believe that the most critical contributions have been made by those who are unnamed and unrecognized.

    Having said that, I know what you mean about getting something published! When I was at university, I barely had to snap my fingers to get published, and I was astonished at the difficulty I had finding a publisher after I’d left teaching. You don’t mention it, but publishers want a promotion agenda to accompany any potential manuscript, and I suspect the former is a lot more important than the latter.

    But you know, Tad, you do write well, and your short stories really are good. If all else fails, I would consider self-publishing. It would leave something tangible for many generations, including your children/grandchildren/ great grand… etc. that I suspect they would treasure. I have just given my grandmother’s bread-making bowl to her great great grandchild, and even that silent momento is a valued gift.

    • Hi, Terry

      With the possible exception of Mother Thérèse, we are all pretty much capable of doing what needs to be done to succeed in life. Some of us shy away and refuse to be part of it because it isn’t worth the price. Other’s, often rascals, get the lion’s share of the credit, as you say, anyway, but we will eventually have the last laugh because nothing lasts. It’s all fiction, what we would like to believe about ourselves vs what we know to be true. It doesn’t really matter who they put in the picture on the wall because it’s for them, not us. Inspirational fiction meant to encourage us to go in a direction of their preference, not ours.

      You are right, of course, leaving this hodge podge that was me to my wife and children is where I am, as well. A few years ago, I put my diaries on a shelf in the household library and let it be known if it’s out in the open on a shelf, they are welcome to read it. I have gradually added most of the projects I am working on. What it comes down to in the end is that my children are my most important creations—not in my image or for my purposes, but following their interests and ambitions they have also turned out to be sensitive and caring people that I like to be around for who they are.

      One last observation: I have noticed that almost all of the short story readers are either candidates or graduates of a Fine Arts program, and in my opinion are helping each other get published. I am aware of some specific incidents that I won’t go into, but the new reality is they run these programs from a big business point-of-view even though the wages are low. And no matter what they advertise, they don’t read outsiders unless a miracle happens. Even when I paid for them to read my work, they missed the mark when it came to telling me what my stories are really about. We can’t understand Savanna, for example, unless we read it carefully or more than once. It isn’t what it seems, yet every page supports what it is. The cues in the background support our expectations, but the actual story is in the foreground. And it is profoundly different.

      I appreciate your comments, as always …


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