Wichita Public Library Panel: Publishing Trends, Comments by Denise Low
|Photo by Roy Beckemeyr|
· What are the biggest trends in publishing currently? Brevity is the most obvious trend. The internet loves quick reads in social media format. Print media are following this trend, such as Kindle “singles” and the markets for novellas and short story collections. Social media encourages topical, newsworthy writing, relating to recent trends. There is a quick news cycle, so quick responses are popular, like poems about Prince’s death within a few days. Responses to deaths of black men in new recently have been effective use of this trend.
· Have any of these trends been surprising? One of the great surprises to me is the rise of the importance of radio—what I grew up with! Podcasts make radio long-lasting, beyond the live broadcast. People do want to hear the author’s voice. If a writer has not already posted some audio excerpts from writings, now is the time to do so. Of course every writer as a permanent website—not just a Facebook page. The websites are permanent and easily navigable.
· Is the cross-pollination of writers who are self-published going to traditional publishing and established authors who are with houses going to self-published hurting or helping the industry? Many self-published writers are breaking through; however, that is the exception. Fantasy and science fiction are areas where self-publishers are doing well. Still, the goal is to get the big contract with a national publisher. Self-published writers need a large readership before they are taken seriously. Distribution and publicity are huge problems. The good thing about self-publishing is the democratization of writing. William Stafford said we all are poets; some people just stop writing poetry. So self-publishing gives everyone a voice. The result is quality is hard to sort out. Many self-published writers do not know the craft and rules of grammar that well. Self-publication has led to a lot of fragmentation.
· Do you think that we are moving more toward a model of “renting” our book electronically? I have noticed that some print books are only on a limited print run and if they are sold, they are bound in leather and signed and more of a collector’s item. Several issues come to mind: (1) Print-on-demand, which is computer-based printing of books, has made printing of books much easier. POD is not self-publication—many university presses use POD, for example. This comes at a time just after the book industry started a negative cycle of profit-based, not quality-based, practices. The hardback book edition comes out first, at a high price, and if it sells, then the next year paperback editions may or may not come out. Only wealthy readers can pay $25-35 for a new bestseller. So when POD and electronic books developed, new formats reach more people. Rentals is a newish platform, and I’m sure it will be monetized as much as possible. (2) I also think libraries and bookstores will become “sample” stores, where people can see the object and then order the electronic version if they are interested. (3) the tradition of art books, print-media works created by artists, has not bled into coffee table books. The printed book in a fine edition is an art object. Fine arts editions, especially hand printed, have been collectibles for decades. (4) And finally, because platforms change so quickly, print is the standard for lasting. Libraries for archives
· What have you or other writers you know, found helpful in developing their work? Use of libraries! Since I was a kid, the world of books—the scale of books found in the library—seemed like a replica of the whole world. It is. The two libraries in my small town were havens to me. Also as a writer I found classes, including academic instruction, invaluable. Groups, which often meet in libraries, were very helpful. A few dear souls reached out and mentored me. My appreciation to them. Still, one of the biggest influences was the library, for its resources; meeting spaces; events (conferences and readings), and archives.
· In terms of poetry publishing, have you found that having multiple ways of communicating –(1) The biggest change I see is how poetry (and prose) readings are no longer literary events. They are TED talks, or rather sales pitches for book/poetry concepts. Multiple readers are on an evening’s slate, rather than one at a time—so there is a frenetic, competitive energy, like speed dating. Venues want to draw numbers to count for grants applications. This is the new climate. Self-published poets are put alongside established, credentialed poets. The hierarchy is breaking down, which may be a good thing. However, quality is less certain. (2) Multi-media and multi-genre in poetry change the craft of word arts. Performance and slam poetry are fairly new and have different rules of engagement and effectiveness. Also, genres specific to media are developing. Poetry that is left-hand justified with capitals at the beginning of each line are much more common. Whatever the medium, quality always shows—depth of detail, precision, pacing, content.
· Why would someone go to a publisher when electronic forms are so readily available? Publishers offer prestige (important to academics seeking tenure and promotion), expertise, promotion platforms, and community, for a start. Publishers endorse the quality of a writer’s work implicitly plus give their authors a team of experts. In some cases, a book even makes money.
· What do authors do when they have a finished manuscript to publish besides polish it once more? When you have a finished MS: What is the audience? (1) The first commandment is to consider the audience. Is your work for yourself, or does it have a topic to share with others? Then find the right niche publishing platform for the audience. (2) Then what are motives? If you want to be an author and live the glamourous life of an author, great. Be clear. Decide a strategy. If you want to follow your heart, write for your family and community first, then expand if it happens naturally. Because I had a restrictive day job, for years I wrote what I could and wanted to write. That was poetry, which has a terrible market. But I loved it, and it led to great experiences and community, including becoming Kansas Poet Laureate. Always, though, I understood there was no large audience for my writing.