The Future of Publishing?

I’ve always liked to describe writing novels as being like playing baseball – you have to do it every day. You can’t depend on inspiration or sudden bursts of energy, you have to just go out and slog through the process as regularly as possible. Some days you’ll strike out four times, other days you’ll hit homeruns. But you’ll never hit the homeruns if you don’t plant your backside in your chair and just do it.

Lately I’ve been thinking the baseball metaphor can be extended to publishing as an industry as well, though this time it’s as a business model rather than a writing one. And I’m not comparing it to baseball’s current model, but the one that dominated the early and middle part of the twentieth centuries. Back then baseball was a multi-tiered business, with each major league team owning or connected to dozens of minor league teams scattered across the country. And each minor league team was carefully ranked according to the abilities of its players. As players improved they were promoted swiftly through the system, with the very best (and very few) finally making it to the Major Leagues.

I see something similar to baseball’s minor leagues starting to form in the publishing world right now. Forty years ago, when I first started trying to get published, self-publishing was the kiss of death to anyone who dreamed of selling their writing. That remained true until about five or ten years ago, but now the industry is full of stories about people selling hundreds and thousands of self-published books, enough to attract the attention of the major publishers and get a mainstream deal. I’d call self-publishing the equivalent of baseball’s rookie leagues today.

But not everyone jumps straight from the rookie leagues to the majors. There are many steps in between. The small publishers fill most of the slots (they always have), but now, with the internet making it so easy for writers to get their work seen and maybe even read, there are a lot of other venues as well. There’s fanfic, and blogs, and the various online writing workshops like OWW and Zoetrope, just to name a few. (Baseball has had instructional leagues for years.)

Is this a good thing? I think so. It used to be possible for a really good book to not get published (rare, but possible) because of sheer bad luck – the book just never found the right agent or editor, for whatever reason. With the internet, I think that’s highly unlikely. Everything can find its own natural level in the marketplace now. If I owned a publishing company, I’d have my slush readers combing the deepest reaches of fanfic and blogs in search of the next big thing.

What about you? What sorts of the publishing minor leagues do you use now, or have you used in the past?

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There are 4 comments. Get the RSS feed for comments on this entry.

  1. 1. Ziv W

    Oooh. Somehow I *really* like this analogy.

  2. 2. S.C. Butler

    Ziv W – I take it you’re a baseball fan.

  3. 3. IB

    I like the analogy. I think the biggest piece of the puzzle right now are free eBooks. They flood the market and I’m not sure how they fit into the model. As a working screenwriter, I’m well aware of how “spec” scripts impact the marketplace and the wages of screenwriters as well as the bargaining position of the WGAw. As a novelist, I’m not sure yet how free eBooks impact novelists who are talented and disciplined enough to make a living writing.

  4. 4. S.C. Butler

    IB – I’m not sure free eBooks are impacting working writers that much. Most of them sell at the subatomic level. The question to my mind is whether being a midlist writer will become a viable career again as eBooks start to replace the MMPB market.

Author Information

S.C. Butler

Butler is the author of The Stoneways Trilogy from Tor Books: Reiffen's Choice, Queen Ferris, and The Magician's Daughter. Find out what Reiffen does with magic, and what magic does with him... Visit site.



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