Publishing is dead. Long live publishing. Or at least, self-publishing, which, thanks to a plethora of services and a general de-stigmatization of the so-called vanity press could be entering something of a golden era. So where are the literary breakouts?
The through-line from Gutenberg's invention of movable type to the desktop publishing revolution of the mid-'80s to our present social-media megaphones, which permit instantaneous publishing of any thought to traverse from one's temporal lobe to one's fingertips, can be graphed with a zigzag darting between the authors and publishers and whoever thinks who is in charge at any moment.
Turns out, the author has always been in charge. Moreover, the social acceptance of blogging and other forms of essentially self-published writing has fomented a sea change in the minds of authors who once fretted whether their work was legitimate or not if it hadn't passed through the hands of a third party. Remarkably, until the 20th century, most literary works were author-published, an MO that seems to be returning thanks to a myriad of new publishing solutions that have emerged in the past decade.
Besides the ubiquity of print-on-demand services like CreateSpace and Xlibris that provide an a la carte menu of services to escort one's work from a manuscript file to a printed paperback, the burgeoning eBook phenomenon is rapidly becoming where one is most likely to find the next Jonathan Franzen or Sarah Vowell.
Electronic readers are approaching market ubiquity. At present writing, at a cafe, three of the four people reading on the patio are doing so on electronic devices—two Kindles and one iPad; the lone analog holdout is reading a yellowed, dog-eared paperback that looks as if it were rescued from a recycle bin. Apple's online iBook store, Amazon's Kindle Store and Barnes & Nobles' Nook store are among the throng of new venues for the written word now available to authors. Pushing written content to readers online has been here since day one of the internet. But the ability of readers to push real dollars back up the pipe to the author, conveniently, safely and instantly is something else entirely.
New companies are springing up to facilitate these transactions and deliver "creator-owned" content (as they say in the indie comics trade) into your digital devices. Among them is independent music stalwart CD Baby, which took its music marketing model (they aid direct-to-consumer music sales for bands via downloads and on-demand CD delivery) and retooled it for authors. Book Baby is among the latest ventures serving this emerging market, helping authors place their creations on iPads and alike for a nominal fee.
It's high time the would-be literati exhume their treatises and tracts, tell-alls and tomes from the virtual drawers of their laptops and begin the next renaissance in letters. The sound the next literary lion makes won't be a roar so much as a click.