The Smoking Cannonball

This post, from the 3G1B collective (Dennis Haritou, Jason Rice, Jonathan Evison and Jason Chambers), originally appeared on Three Guys One Book on 10/19/09.

3G1B has an ongoing conversation, the subject of which: "what the hell is going to happen to publishing in the future?" disturbs us all. This week we have invited Craig Nova to tell us what he thinks. Craig is the award winning author of 12 novels. His new novel, The Informer, will be released in January 2010.

CN: the first thing that comes to mind when I consider writers and the state of publishing is one of those science fiction movies from the fifties, you know, where some light is seen in the sky and then something like a smoking bowling ball lands someplace and then a couple of geeks get out of a pickup truck. They find a stick and poke the smoking bowling ball and say, "Welcome to California." Then a cobra shaped thing comes out and wastes the shit out of them with a death ray.

So, I think we are in the smoking bowling ball stage. Something has landed and we don’t know what it is. The best we can do is scratch our head and poke it with a stick.

By this I mean, we haven’t come to terms with the digital age, and the impact that this is going to have on publishing. And while it would be easy to say that we are only talking about Kindle, and books in digitized form, it is far, far more ominous than that. Ask an ex-independent book store owner about the impact of online shopping, which seemed pretty innocent in the beginning.

For instance, what about pricing and royalties? For some reason, a Kindle book is being priced at $9.99. Now, for writers there is a big difference between a ten percent royalty on a book of $25 and one at this price. Just as this might mean the end, altogether, of book stores. The economics seem to be driving it that way (after all, you can avoid cutting down a lot of trees, although I guess you still have to make plastic, but only once). So, that’s the simple part.

But it’s not that simple, if a writer’s chance of making a living, already precarious, is reduced even more. The downward pressure on a writer’s livelihood is a serious matter and I think writers are scared.

Where it gets complicated, and where writers and I would imagine publishers feel doubly uncomfortable is that if you don’t need books, that is physical items on a shelf, maybe you don’t need publishers. If the technology is there to make a book suitable for Kindle, and anyone can set up a website to sell it, and if there were some other web based method of letting people know about books (say this very website), where does the publisher fit?

Where, by the way, does an editor fit?

Is this the way it’s going to go?

And beyond that, will it be like the newspaper business, where more and more they are giving away content. Will writers have to do that, too, that is give away large pieces of a book to try to get people to read the last half. And if that is the case, what impact will that have on the way books are written?

Please understand: I am not saying I think this is the way things are going to go, but that this is the way one thinks when poking at that smoking bowling ball and seeing that sleek, metallic cobra head come out with that little hot spot there in front that begins to glow a little more intensely….

That’s one thing.

Another is seemingly more mundane, but in fact, more realistic. That is, what is happening to the American novel or novels altogether.

Read the rest of the post on Three Guys One Book.

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