Livia Blackburne wrote on Twitter that:
I wonder if there will ever be a day when aspiring writers are advised to self-publish, get a readership, and then approach traditional publishers?This is so plausible it's scary. As she notes in a later tweet, authors are already encouraged to start a blog and develop a readership before applying to traditional publishers (although many publishing people say this is unnecessary and possibly a waste of your time.)
In fact, writers are asked to do quite a few things publishers used to do more of--editing and promotion, for example (not that I don't think you have no responsibility to edit! It's just editors used to have more time to develop a writer's skill at crafting a marketable book. Now, you pretty much have to do it yourself, at least for your debut, or you won't get picked up in the first place.)
Publishers have already farmed out their slush piles to literary agents. Would it really be such a leap for the chronically-struggling industry to now farm out the slush pile to the public? To the ones who ultimately determine which books will become bestsellers? To say, "You prove to us this book can sell; then we'll print it"?
It would be a weight off publishers' shoulders to know every book they invest money in is already established as viable. But it would also, as J. A. Konrath points out, relegate print to being a subsidiary right, and I can't imagine publishers wanting to slip in prestige from being trend-setters to trend-chasers. It would also require them to get a good deal less territorial about electronic rights.
Ever since J. A. Konrath announced he was making a very good living self-publishing on the Kindle (albeit with a natural edge; he already had an established print career and thus a lot of exposure to what a professional novel must have going for it), I've been feeling a bit gobsmacked. Electronic self-publishing can be done for free and Mr. Konrath's proving it can be lucrative (although I agree with him you won't get anywhere if you don't have a quality product in the first place.) Those two points weaken a lot of my knee-jerks against self-publishing.
Readers still prefer paper books (but not by much), and ebooks sales are still only a fraction of print books' sales--but ebooks sales are also growing at a ferocious rate. As a writer, I'm feeling a paradigm shift. Should we still be thinking traditional publishers are the first step in a serious writing career?
What do you think?