I recently did a brief interview with Catherine Mayo for her blog Madam Mayo. It was informal and freewheeling. Meaning I was free to add whatever I thought was important. Here I am, two days later, realizing what I should have said.
Catherine asked why I started Bacon Press Books. What I should have said was this:
The traditional publishing system has worked wonderfully well for some authors. There is no question that it’s a thrill to have your book accepted and published by one of the Big Five. For some it’s led to greater rewards beyond that initial thrill. But it’s left out too many really good writers. Not because they didn’t write good books, but often because their books didn’t fit, didn’t delight an editor, didn’t in some way make the cut. And that’s just the writers lucky enough to land an agent who could send their books to the big publishers.
Then there are even more really good writers with really good books who never found an agent. Again, for any number of reasons having nothing to do with the quality of their work.
This whole system has become slightly feudal. The agents and publishers behind the moat as gatekeepers, using their own measures for what's publishable. Writers as peasant wanderers waiting with a kind of fairy tale hopefulness. Hoping someday to be allowed inside.
The traditional framework has made the agents and publishers the stars, and made authors less important. Except for a chosen few.
But the truth is: most readers don’t care who publishes a book. Ask them if they know the name of the publisher of any of their favorite novels and they’ll be hard pressed to come up with an answer. And outside of the industry, no one knows the name of a single agent.
What independent publishing has done is re-establish, not just the importance of the author but also the vital connection between the author and the reader. It’s removed most of the middle men and women. To my mind, this is a very good thing.
If terrible books make it into print, readers know enough not to read them. It’s that simple.
There’s one other part of all this that interested me even more. In the traditional publishing system, first you needed an agent, then you needed a publisher. But even after you got over those two hurdles, an even bigger one was getting a paperback deal.
A paperback deal was a sign that your hard cover book was selling well. That there would be a market for a less expensive book. But not many authors got that deal.
Given what we know now about how easy it is to produce a paperback book, it seems hard to believe that getting a paperback deal was a measure of success.
With the advent of independent publishing, authors can choose to make their books available in paperback any time. They no longer have to wait to have a paperback deal bestowed upon them. This is huge.
These things became immediately apparent to me when I first started reading about digital publishing. They’re why I wanted to start a small press. To lower the barrier to publishing for really good writers. To bring authors closer to their readers. And to bring readers more affordable books.
We’re delighted that Kate Blackwell’s excellent collection of short stories, You Won’t Remember This will be available in paperback and eEbook on May 1.
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