Someone on one of the critique forums I frequent wrote an essay, posing the question, why doesn't literary fiction generate the same kind of excitement and discourse that independent films and music do?
Those of us who read small press anthologies and dip into the wonderful assortment of web-zines available right now know that most of the readers are writers. We all know which ones are good, which ones we'd kill to get into, and which ones are so-so. We know which ones are worthy of high-brow literary criticism and which ones are just pure fun. So, why don't people frequent these places in large numbers like the places where indie film and music are offered? What's the difference?
Well...here's a big difference. Listening to music or going to a film is usually a group experience. Sure, you can listen to music or watch a video alone, but you can share the experience with someone else and do it together or with a group. Reading is a solitary experience and can only be shared with other people who enjoy solitary experiences.
My friend, John, and I often read stories aloud to one another. We have our ritual Christmas story night during the holidays and often choose something from my shelves of short story collections and small press anthologies rather than watching something from On Demand. I think it would be great fun to have a party where everyone brings a short story not self-written and we read stories, eat wonderful junk, and drink choice beverages, maybe until dawn. That's what kind of weirdo I am.
Another thing the essay tied in to is the flickering on the horizon about the changing publishing industry. It's going to all change, and very soon. Well, not soon enough for some and too soon for others. Everyone's clamoring right now to guess what's going to happen. We have new devices like the Amazon Kindle and every software developer with an imagination (and that's most of them) trying to come up with a reader that can integrate into other hand held devices. Have you noticed that the screens on cell phones and other hand held devices are getting bigger? There's the wave of Japanese text message storying and just all kinds of stuff. Publishing companies are starting to fear Amazon because it's harnessing technology and forcing them to strain out of their neolithic mind sets. Amazon's also making some pretty monopolistic moves, but that's another story. The thing is, publishing is going to change completely because reading is going electronic.
Every time I say that, someone says, "Well, I'm never going to stop reading the printed word. It's never going away." It may not go away, but it's going to diminish. one writer of this forum said a few days ago that some of her readers of erotic romance say they never read anything but e-books anymore. Right now, romance, erotic romance and sci fi are popular in e-book form, but it's not far off for everything else to click in on this. It will change the way publishing operates in such a way that the Random House or S&S stamp of approval might not carry same meaning it does now.
Everyone's wondering how writers are going to get paid, how will publishers fare, what are new ways of promoting and finding audiences. Right now, e-book publishers pay way higher a percentage in royalties than the New York giants. Sure, they sell the books for less, but it still comes out to more. Pertinent to the essay that prompted me to write mine, though, is how the landscape will change for literary writers. Vanity presses have, indeed, damaged the rep of e-publishing. People have confused self-publishing with e-publishing. So, the question is, how will e-publishers establish a reputation of only publishing quality? I think the answer is that they must continue to be the gatekeeper. Houses with a reputation for publishing only quality works will attract readers who are more discriminating.
I hear such mixed opinions about kids and reading. Ask a children's librarian if kids are reading, and they'll tell you yes, more than ever. YA is a hot genre to write in right now. Teens, especially teen girls, are gobbling up books like crazy. I wish there were an enthusiastic e-publisher of YA, because I'd go that route with my novel in a heartbeat.
The inner struggle writers have between writing literary vs. mass consumption will never go away, but the method writers use to find readers will soon turn a corner that will change everything for everyone, and, once it turns that corner, it will never look back.