I've been edging around this self-publishing question for a while now, and it finally struck me what I find so off-putting about the whole thing.
But before I go there, I'll say this: I have no doubt, zero, that the old business model for publishing is on its last legs. It will morph into something new, in the very near future. The traditional role of agent/editor/publisher will change, and at least for now, individual authors have unprecedented access to mass distribution. A window of opportunity has opened for people who are well-positioned to take advantage of it, and it's exciting to see authors empowered and a new urgency around the book industry. I love it, and I'm even working on a few of my own projects for this brave new world of publishing.
And yet ... I've had this niggling unpleasant sensation about the e-revolution and self-publishing wave. It's like a toothache, but less specific. For the longest time, I couldn't figure out what was bugging me. I'm an entrepreneur by nature, right? I love it when writers get paid for their work. I love the idea of writers finding their own audience and the ability of technology to democratize publishing. And yet ...
I read JA Konrath's post yesterday about an article Publisher's Weekly ran about his deal with AmazonEncore. He called the article an "epic fail" and went on to detail some significant factual errors in the article. Worse yet, in a way, Konrath himself wasn't quoted in the article, and the reporter took some significant liberties with her editorializing. I'm a reporter myself, so I know a lousy article when I see it, and that was a lousy article. And yet ...
Then I read the comment thread and I had this very strong image. I pictured a whole football stadium of jilted girlfriends, all yelling at once about how their ex-boyfriends all got crabs and ha ha, sucks to be them. It's a toxic mixture of triumphalism, thin-skinned pique, gloating, and I-told-you-so. I was almost moved to comment, but then I figured there was no point in setting off an argument on someone else's blog. I wondered how many of those angry commenters have been unable to place books with traditional publishers. Then I realized it was probably all of them.
Like I said, I think this technological revolution is amazing and awesome, and there's no pretty way to create a new future. You have to break some crockery. But I have a feeling ... just a little tickle ... that all of this triumphalism is premature. There is a window of opportunity right now, as e-readers proliferate and people rush to stock up their new gadgets. But let's be honest ... this isn't how markets really work for long. After a while, they organize. After the initial rush passes, they consolidate. Before long, someone will figure out how to control and monetize the distribution channel.
And even if I'm wrong about all that, even if "they" are right that we stand on the threshold of a new era and New York publishing is truly a sinking ship that will soon be vaporized by a million $1.99 e-books, I still think it's a dangerous thing to drink too much wine made from bitter grapes.