It’s a mess…
A literary agent I know in New York related the following horror. In the days before PCs, the average NY agent received about 300 manuscripts per year. He or she would skim them all, and read about 30 manuscripts in their entirety before making a publishing decision.
Now a NY agent receives over 3,000 digital manuscripts per year.
He or she still reads about 30. And those are the one that have been recommended by a trusted third party, or whose opening page is so compelling that the agent is sucked in.
What happens to the rest? I suppose they end up in the drawers of great disappointments on the hard drives of their owners.
There are interesting economics to be applied here. There has been no substantial new increase in the reader population (and it can be argued that there are less, with people’s attention now being leached by other digital delights like video on demand). Bit still, the old supply and demand curves no longer apply
And herein lies the rub.
With the certain death of printed books (most pundits agree that they will be gone in 20 years), there is no longer any compunction for books to be constrained by either length (300 pages average), genre (publisher and retailers always favour the genre du jour – noticed how many 50 Shades knock-offs are out there?) or any other historical tether to the publishing value chain of old.
In other words, it is becoming a free for all – flash fiction, Kindle Singles, graphic and animated books, poorly written best sellers (50 Shades would never have seen the light of day before digital), etc. Leaving traditional authors of the 300 hundred page book bewildered and insecure, wondering if their markets will simply get gradually sliced away, as agent/editor gatekeepers lose their authority.
And, as a warning shot over to industry, a couple of weeks ago David Mamet, one of the world’s most successful playwrights and authors recently dumped his publisher. Because he no longer sees the need for one.
To add a final despondent note – their are apparently no new contemporary novelists in Russia, because pirate sites release the books on the day of their physical print launch, make the profession of book writing simply un-remunerated slog.
It’s just a mess, and it is going to get worse.
Just thought i’d brighten your day.