Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Hero in the Book

This post is a continuation of the discussion we're having about heroes of fiction. Have a read, and then join us on this post for the rest of the story.

While the original post asked for comments about a work of fiction that impacted/changed/inspired you, I received an anonymous reply that was got me thinking.

Here is the reply:

"Many of the works of Mark Twain, Charlies Dickens and other great authors were satire. Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin demonstrated the problems of slavery. I believe there are a couple of reasons why we don't see this type of thing today. First, the publishing industry is overloaded with authors and self-publishing is taboo, so it is difficult for a satirist to receive recognition. Second, we have such a "can't we all get along" attitude today that anyone with an original thought in his head is thought evil. Third, today's authors must be able to show that their work will sell, whereas the old satirists often had contracted blank pages that they were required to fill. Fourth, today's fiction is not aimed at the influential people. It used to be that only the influential people were able to read, but today, fiction is aimed at people who appear to have time to read. There more reasons, by I will cut it short."

The more I think about the points brought up in this reply, the more my head spins. There's a lot to unpack here. As I said, the post was anonymous, so I don't know who posted it. I'm hoping he/she will post again so we can unpack this together. But, alone, I'll forge ahead!

I'll come back to the subject of satire as a critical form of literature which is being overlooked in modern publishing.

First, I want to look at the statement, ". . . []the publishing industry is overloaded with authors. . .[]"

I don't pretend to know the ins and outs of the publishing industry. I'm no titan of books. I've never worked for a publisher. But, lately, I've been thinking about the whole system.

Publishing is a business. I get that. But it is much more than a business.

The system is set up in such a way that we have allowed a handful of people to become "gatekeepers" of intellectual thought. A very few people (relatively speaking) have been put "in charge" of deciding for us what materials will become available to the masses, and which will not.

Now, before you freak out entirely, this is not a post railing against the evil publishers, or any such nonsense. Publishers aren't evil. They are people, just like you and me.

Rather, I'm making an observation about our culture. We seem content to let a handful of people decide what we should read and what we shouldn't. What information should be out there, and which should be held back (for whatever reason).

The anonymous commenter said the industry is overloaded with authors. But I wonder if the industry is really suffering from a lack of publishers. Over and over again I've heard staggering statistics from publishers on the number of books published each year, the volume of manuscripts piled on editors desks, the number of "unsuitable" manuscripts that are tossed on a daily basis (in truth, its not that the manuscripts weren't good. They were just missing something - like an agent to pitch it, or it wasn't double spaced, or any other number of variables that a manuscript could be rejected because of), the unrelenting wave of words that haunt publishers on a daily basis. It has to be disheartening to walk in your office each day and see a huge pile of fresh manuscripts burying your desk when you had just finished (finally!) a pile just like it late last night.

Authors have frustrations too. The high volumes of manuscripts mean longer wait times to hear back from publishers. What's an author to do? Ya gotta pay the bills, so, an increase in simultaneous submission. Authors everywhere are hedging bets and submitting their manuscripts to several (sometimes dozens) of publishers at once. Hmmm. . . I wonder how this practice is playing out in publisher's offices around North America?

At the same time, publishing, like the record industry, is in the midst of a systemic shake up, and no one knows for certain how the industry will look when the dust settles (although, if certain mega online books stores have their way, it will look like a giant monopoly swallowing everyone and everything in its path).

Okay, it's obvious I have no quick solution here. But these are all things we need to be thinking about. You don't need to be a publisher or an author for these things to affect your life. The books you read, the books available to you, have been hand picked for you. They have been chosen because you've demonstrated in the past they are the ones you are likely to buy. It sounds vaguely like pandering. Another point which was brought up by our anonymous commenter. And the topic of my next blog.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on the issues facing the publishing world, from which ever perspective you come from. Feel free to leave a comment, or you can e-mail me at bcg@bonniegrove.com
Peace.

2 comments:

otter said...

“The system is set up in such a way that we have allowed a handful of people to become "gatekeepers" of intellectual thought. A very few people (relatively speaking) have been put "in charge" of deciding for us what materials will become available to the masses, and which will not.”

Agreed!

“Authors have frustrations too. The high volumes of manuscripts mean longer wait times to hear back from publishers. What's an author to do? Ya gotta pay the bills, so, an increase in simultaneous submission. Authors everywhere are hedging bets and submitting their manuscripts to several (sometimes dozens) of publishers at once. Hmmm. . . I wonder how this practice is playing out in publisher's offices around North America?”

Too true. If not for the long wait times, we wouldn’t have to do the simultaneous submissions. Add to that the fact that even with a contract, I wait 60-90 days after acceptance of a manuscript for payment, and one time payment at that. Once it’s sold (in the segment of the market for which I write), it’s gone. I get that, but it means I have to constantly be finding new contracts. Much the same as those who write for magazines, I suspect.

Bonnie Grove said...

Publishing moves at a snails pace, for sure. I suppose the nature of the business dictates that to some degree - reading full length novels takes me a fair amount of time. Then again, I'd never make it as an editor because, while I love to read, I'm not a fast reader. I'm one of those savour the line, think about the metaphor, ponder the meaning, re-read the part that made me laugh sort of reader.

I looked into writing freelance for magazines and threw my hands up in the air saying "forget it!"

To do that full time one would have to live and breath writing and have dozens and dozens of submissions a month. Fine for some, but I'm a mom with two young children at home!