Okay, okay, I know . . . I’ve done it, you’ve done it. At one point in the past five years or so, each and every one of us has blamed big commercial New York editors for promoting a blockbuster model of publishing that’s killing literary fiction.
Which, true, has a fair amount of truth to it, but enough already. That’s more or less how I felt when I was reading Jay Baron Nicorvo’s essay in Guernica, pitched as a response to Ted “Write More Relevant Books You Navel Gazing Hacks” Genoways.
For what it’s worth, I side more with Nicorvo here than Genoways, it’s just that I’m tired of hearing this:
These days, editors at commercial publishing houses are required to do the same. They attempt to herd the mob because they no longer know how to reach the reader. Old media had a direct line to the audience that bought books, newspapers, and magazines. Publicity and marketing departments knew where to effectively (if not cheaply) spread the word about forthcoming titles and upcoming issues, expecting to get out what they put in. They’d print a few hundred or a few thousand galleys, mail them first-class to reviewers, watch the reviews roll in, and count the sales. But reviews no longer sell books. New media is the internet, and publicity and marketing departments have little central control over the flow of information. Amateur reviews of a book on Amazon are as important if not more so than the professional assessments in Publishers Weekly. And so what do editors do? They cling to what’s working, if not working well—blockbusters. The dominant, dysfunctional business model for movies has been adapted for books. And this is why more authors like John Edgar Wideman have had enough; he’d rather self-publish and have a larger say than be hamstrung by a system favoring quantity over quality.
Right, I get it, I agree (well, not exactly about that Amazon vs PW thing . . . do buyers at bookstores read Amazon reviews to make buying decisions? Do editors use them to decide what to assign for review?). But frankly, this line of argumentation hasn’t brought about a wave of revulsion and transformation in the publishing industry. So let’s move on. We know what doesn’t work, so let’s start talking about what does work.
For more on that, I ask you to watch this speech given by the ever-visionary Richard Nash.