Notes on What the Publishing Revolution Might Look Like

Question: What are some of your ideas for changes in publishing?

Notes for an answer: Well I think giving authors at least 50 percent of royalties is essential. (One friend of mine gets a measly 7%, from which she has to pay her agent and which she won’t see a penny of until she “pays back” her advance.)

Using print on demand services, making it easy to get either the print or ebook version of a book, advertising books in new/fun/different ways. Just as we older folks get used to a particular type of social media (Facebook, Twitter), young people move on to something new, or start using the old sites in new ways.

I think we need to recognize the bullshit involved in the current agent/editor system, where agents require multiple rewrites before they even send out to editors. Agents have their own ideas about what will sell–why do we assume those ideas are always right? How many really interesting books have been flattened, squashed, diluted, by these ideas?

I think we need to recognize that there are a lot of readers in the middle, and neither academic nor popular publishing is serving them well.

And I think we need to recognize that the university/small press model, which was initially set up to free literary writers from the constraints of the marketplace, is no longer sufficient. That model assumed literary writers would be making a decent living teaching at colleges and universities, and those same institutions were essentially paying them for their time spent writing. But as higher education has declined, fewer literary writers are supported by it. For years, the blame has been placed on the “proliferation” of MFA programs (too many writers, and what are they doing expecting to make a living in the academy anyway), but in fact, the blame should be on the decline of higher education and publishing and the pernicious effects of the unequal wealth distribution in this country.

And I’m not the only one calling for change. Institutional sexism is taken on brilliantly in this essay (read it!). There are so many other ways in which prejudice and oppression are built into the system. That’s why we need change.

This is just a start, a few notes scribbled on the virtual equivalent of a napkin. But we have to start somewhere.

I’m Nobody

The Manifesto

I’m Nobody! Who are you?

Are you – Nobody – too?

Then there’s a pair of us!

Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!


How dreary – to be – Somebody!

How public – like a Frog –

To tell one’s name – the livelong June –

To an admiring Bog!

–Emily Dickinson

How many of you have 1) identified with this poem and 2) secretly thought, “I doubt it’s really all that dreary”? I mean, are we allowed to call bullshit on the old masters? Because pretty much all of us have felt like Nobodies. If being Somebody sucks too, then is the point that it sucks either way?

Well, Buddhists would say yes. Yes it does. It’s called dukka, and it means something like “suffering” but more accurately “the dissatisfaction of knowing you are a being stuck in time with very little control over anything, especially the…

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