Saturday, June 20, 2009

Head in Sand Syndrome

An epidemic is sweeping through the publishing industry. Experts have yet to determine just how dangerous the Syndrome is, (I think it's fatal) but they have identified the progression of symptoms. It goes something like this:
Dismissal--That e-publishing thing will never fly. E-books are a fad, overblown, too difficult to bother with, will be gone tomorrow...you get the picture.
Derision--Oh, you're book is "e-published." The tone is important here, and it's not easy to translate into type, but other stage two symptoms include, scoffing, nose turning, and the occasional indignant snort.
Denial--What publishing? Never heard of it, la la la la
Once the victim progresses to stage three, little can be done for them.

Seriously, this attitude confuses me to no end. Granted, my experience thus far in the publishing world is minimal. I'm a lurker, for the most part. But I've attended some author events and the convention mentioned here before, and in that tiny amount of exposure I've noticed a few things.
The most baffling of all happened at the convention which hosted a couple of very well-respected literary Agents. As I met and interacted with them, I developed an uneasy suspicion that both suffered from late stage Head in Sand Syndrome. This was confirmed while in one of their workshops when an audience member raised their hand and asked a question regarding electronic publishing. The answer? From the Agent? ...
"I'm not going to talk about e-publishing." ...........................
..................
...?

Late stage three denial. So sad.
Now before anyone gets their knickers in a twist let me say that I like Agents. I believe there are some fabulous author representatives in the world and that they have a lot to offer. No Agents were harmed or maimed in the making of this article. It's the truth.
BUT.
I'm concerned about this Syndrome thing...especially in regards to Agents. Why? Let's talk about dentists...

Seriously, dentists. Have you ever met someone who said, I really want to find a good dentist?
Okay, someone who wasn't experiencing excruciating tooth pain???
Thought not.
I think Agents may be a little like dentists, and I'll tell you why. Every time I've seen aspiring authors and published authors in the same room, especially if the published author is successful, has NYT Bestseller status, or is in fact quite attractive... the first question (every time) that the aspiring writer asks is this: "Do I have to get an Agent?"
Do I have to? Really?
The answer is always a qualified yes. Qualified by the statement, if you want to make it with the big print houses.

Makes a person think. Now I believe in print publishing, I too dream of that bestseller list. I am dubious of self-publishing, and downright terrified of vanity publishers. But I believe in electronic publishing too, with a passion. I believe authors are seriously more interested in the possibilities of e-publishing than their Agents know.
At the same convention, I saw three kinds of writers: self published authors, electronically published authors, and authors that ranged from slightly to intensely curious about electronic publication--regardless of their status as unpublished or published in traditional formats.
These people wanted to talk about e-publishing. Their answer? "I'm not going to talk about it."

WHAT???

If I were a Literary Agent, I have to think I would be pretty darn curious about it too. Sure, I have a stable of successful, respected authors thriving in the print industry, but can I afford to ignore something that may be snatching away my future clients? Hell if I know.

As an author, and one who believes ANY savvy, career-minded writer would be wise to maintain some form of electronic presence, I have to think (I think too much) about what sort of Agent I would want... They're out there, you know--Agents who started out as e-published authors, Agents who are clever enough to understand and keep up with what's happening in the virtual world. What would I want?
An Agent who knew something about the electronic side of the industry, who recognized the names of the top, legitimate e-pub houses.
An Agent who didn't snort at their mention, or dismiss publishing credits completely if they were from the above.
An Agent who owned an e-reader and used it, who could advise on e-pub contracts, on online marketing strategies, on HTML for heaven's sake. (that may be asking too much)
Most importantly, an Agent who believed in the future and legitimacy of the electronic industry.
I'm not saying it will be the death of print. (I'm not saying it yet. ;-) give it a few generations.) But I think the e-book has proven it's tenacity, it's ability to grow even when the print world stumbles. It has proven that it is here to stay.

Evolve or Perish,
~Frances

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