Bad for Business?

There’s an interesting article in the current New Yorker about the future of the publishing industry.  It doesn’t look bright for the Big Five publishers.  On the other hand, it looks rosy for Amazon, according to the author of the article George Packer.  He claims self-published Kindle e-books are bad for publishing because they’re so cheap that they’re putting the Big Five out of business.

If you ask me, anything that allows good writers to get published is a good thing.  The so-called gatekeepers of publishing in New York frequently make the wrong calls and keep good writers from being published.  No less than literary great Edgar Allan Poe had to self-publish some of his books.

Packer makes the erroneous assumption that anything that’s bad for the Big Five is bad for publishing and for authors, as well.  Anything that’s bad for the Big Five might be bad for New York Times best-selling brand-names, such as Stephen King and Lee Child.  But, then again, these guys could make it without the Big Five.  The demise of the Big Five won’t effect midlist authors and other lesser-known writers who are struggling to make a living, either.  These authors can self-publish.  So,  it looks like, if the Big Five go under, it won’t be the end of publishing.  It will, however, be the end of traditional publishing.

The book business has always been a difficult market to crack unless you had connections in the right places.  Amazon has opened up the market and allowed writers, who otherwise would never have gotten their works published, to sink or swim on their own in the cutthroat publishing business.  These authors can learn by experience that most books don’t sell, no matter how well written they are.  There just aren’t enough readers out there to make many best-sellers.

First Horror Short Story Sale

The sale of my horror short story “The Invisible Enemy” is my first sale to a publisher. Even though the sale was for a mere $25 (which I will use to buy a hamburger dinner), it represents a moral victory to me, since I’ve been sending out short stories on and off for over forty years without any luck in placing one.

I remember sending out my first short story to Esquire forty years ago when I was attending college in quest of my BA degree in English. The magazine didn’t accept it, but scribbled on the rejection notice to send more stories to them, which I did.  In fact, I sent scores of stories to them, none of which they ever published.  But it wasn’t just Esquire that I sent stories to.  I sent them, as well, to many magazines–to0 numerous to mention–all with the same results.

I used to keep my rejection letters, notices, and postcards stuffed inside 9″ x 12″ manilla envelopes, but when I moved I decided to ditch the whole kit and caboodle of them because they were filling up boxes, and I could see no reason to haul them around with me any longer. What was the point?  The vast majority of them were form rejection letters with nothing written on them by human hand.

Meanwhile, I continued writing stories and novels and submitting them to publishers, who, without exception, rejected them.  About seven years ago I tried a different tact.  I started self-publishing my novels, instead of submitting literally thousands of query letters and sample chapters to agents and publishers like I had been doing for so many years.

Even as I self-published my own works, I continued submitting short stories and novels to publishers.  And now I have finally sold a story and await my payment with a kind of disbelief mixed with astonishment that I actually accomplished my goal, no matter how small the remuneration and no matter how long it took me to do it.  As Samuel Johnson famously said, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.”