June 13, 2010

SLICE OF PIE: Editors and Agents – Arks in the Deluge

I know many who are gaga over the revolution brought on by ebooks. I’ve heard very little but undiluted awestruck raving for the past five or so years. I’ve heard those who would sing the praises of paper books pooh-poohed, laughed at and downright insulted. I’ve heard it from an online writer’s group I’m in. I’ve heard discussions from an old friend of mine who is not only “into” computers but has worked for “Cray, Inc., the Supercomputer Company” ever since I met him. I work for Barnes and Noble for heaven’s sake – we just took over the world with Nook®! (At least according to company talk.)

That’s why I thought I’d try one last time to raise the alarm. I’m allowed. I’m over fifty and am a qualified “big, old, fat, white guy”. No one seems to have heard my concern that the switch from paper to digital spells the end of literacy advance in Less Developed Countries (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_Worlds_Index). It is my totally unfounded belief that there will no longer be any free books to send people in LDCs. Electronic readers – even if we send them (which, given the price tag seems highly unlikely) require a “not free” power source which must be purchased at some point or another. As well, many of the Less Developed Countries have environments that will expose advanced technology to unfriendly conditions (= desert, jungle, rainforest, mountains, snow), increasing the likelihood of tech failure.

Maybe someone will hear THIS warning:

In a recent essay in the Huffington Post, Nathan Bransford (an agent I respect immensely and has a great sense of humor) had this to say,

…People fret as a swarm of books hit the market, many of poor quality, but I don't see any reason to fear the deluge at all.

“Let's face it, folks: the Digital Deluge is already here…Walk into any large suburban bookstore and you'll find tens of thousands of books to choose from, more than you could possibly read in an entire lifetime. Head on over to your friendly neighborhood online superstore and you'll find hundreds of thousands more. We're already faced with (literally) millions of options when it comes to choosing a book. And guess what: faced with all that choice we are still able to find the ones we want to read.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nathan-bransford/the-rejection-letter-of-t_b_607979.html#

My UNFOUNDED FEAR is that, as Nathan Bransford points out, the deluge is already here. For example, it takes a staff of 20 six hundred hours a week to keep one brick-and-mortar in order by not only cleaning and cataloguing and finding, but also receiving, clearing and remaindering. Multiply that by however many brick and mortars you think there are and that’s A LOT of time and effort and money.

Now we will eliminate the people. Eliminate the publishers. Eliminate the system of agents, editors, marketing and public relations. Instead of a constitutional monarchy, with the CEOs of publishers as a parliament responsible to the Queen of Literature (she, of course has only ceremonial duties), the digital revolution will create an absolute democracy. One person, one vote and that’s it. In theory, an absolute democracy is a good thing. Everyone is equal; everyone has one vote; everyone has a say. But is revolution always a good thing and is absolute democracy a form of government (in reality or in bookland) what we REALLY want? Does “everyone” know enough to make informed decisions?

I think our system of constitutional monarchy with Queen Lit and a parliament of agents and editors is one we need to maintain before we slip into an uncontrolled state of absolute democracy.

Without agents and editors, a million books becomes a billion books. Anyone who wants to can put their novel into the Literature Ocean. Even excluding a good writer’s tendency to believe that the draft they would normally send to an agent is “it”, you now have an unedited, un-critiqued, unrefined oil slick floating on the Literature Ocean.

Absolutely, the ocean can stand a small slick. Agents and editors make mistakes and we simply skim the slick off or soak it up by not buying the mistakes and they eventually disappear. HOWEVER, the ocean can only have so much crude floating on it before I finally look at it, say “That’s impossible”, and go back to the cement pond safely filtered on shore. It will probably be the Cable TV cement pond. Eventually, I’ll ignore the ocean and it will dry up – with the slick becoming a gummy, decaying mess…OK, I’ll stop the metaphor there.

My fear is that the slick will grow so large, that I will be unable to skim off enough to see what I want and give up.

Agents and editors should be running my ark. By taking on a limited number of animals (a metaphor for “books”) and keeping them safe from the deluge and oil slick, the ark attendants can direct me to what I want to read. I can be moderately confident that the books they “save” are competently written and won’t contain major plot holes, totally insipid characters, derivative plots (OK, so maybe the system ain’t perfect!) or be so devoid of structure as to be completely unreadable.

Once the deluge began…well, you know what happened to the rest of the world after Noah got on HIS Ark

image: http://www.gono.com/vir-mus/village/newadditions/noah's%20ark/ark2.jpg

1 comment:

Paul said...

This blog entry speaks to your blog entry: