On Friday, I attended my nephew’s high school graduation.
There were twenty-two valedictorians in the class of 500. Clearly, I am old and curmudgeonly because it seems I can remember only one valedictorian in my high school class, and he or she was the only student to give a speech. Throughout this ceremony, groups of four to six valedictorians would line up at the podium and each contributed small sound bites to the proceedings. When I saw all of the names listed in the program as valedictorians, my reaction was to feel sorry for the one student who was actually #1. There was no way to tell who that might have been. It seems to me that there really isn’t much point in recognizing twenty-two valedictorians. Sure, I suppose they all get to list the moniker on their college applications, but with twenty-two of them, the significance was so watered down that none of them was individually introduced and nothing notable was said.
One side note: If I heard one more kid mention closing one chapter and moving on to a new chapter, (one of many repeated clichés) I would have strangled myself.
The idea of all these valedictorians lost in the shuffle had me thinking about an excellent post that Moonrat did at Editorial Ass the other day. It had me thinking about the sense I have that the publishing world must be nearing a breaking point. Editors are tasked with working on multiple books and can’t possibly dedicate the time and attention to every book that would ensure it’s the best that it can be, or even very good. Editors are motivated to publish as many books as possible. Authors are expected to hire publicists and promote their own books because with the exception of a handful of titles, publishers dedicate few resources to marketing and selling each book. It’s a rare day that I don’t read one or more posts about readers disappointed with the quality of the books they read. As difficult as it is to write a good manuscript, secure representation and sell it, there are only a small number of books, relative to the total that are successful. Very few authors can support themselves through the sale of books alone.
As a reader, I’m overwhelmed by the number of titles released. I’m reminded of that period in the 90’s when I realized there was suddenly more music being released than I had the capacity to keep up with. I want to read the finest books that are available, but the sheer numbers make weeding through what’s out there and finding the books that delight me nearly impossible. The deluge of new titles makes me feel like I’m missing out on a lot, now that I have such a huge choice.
It may seem counter-intuitive for me to say this as a writer, but I wish it would slow down. I wish the publishers would stop releasing so many books, be more selective about the titles they choose and nurture the work and the authors so that the books are as polished as they can be. I wish publishers would give authors the time they need to finish and polish, rather than rushing second and third books out and ensuring they'll be sub-par as a result. I wish each book would be publicized so that authors would be able to focus on writing and not on setting up Facebook accounts, learning how to make YouTube videos, guest blogging, running contests and criss-crossing the country to talk to book clubs. (Exception: If an author LIKES doing these things, that's one thing, but it appears that many don't want to do it, but feel they must).
As a writer, this would make my already tiny chances of publication even more remote. But I don’t think I care.
I read somewhere recently that the average number of copies of a debut novel s0ld is 500, although I have no idea how accurate that figure is.
When I think about the years of hard work and sacrifice it takes to bring a novel to publication, it hardly seems worth it. Becoming a best-selling novelist isn’t a part of my fantasy, but having people read my book is. All writers who seek publication want their words to be read. To work so hard, only to have a ninety day window for a book to be successful and then to see it go out of print makes the whole exercise seem pointless. I believe I'd rather remain unpublished and keep trying, than to become emotionally invested in publishing a book where in the end, I'm only marginally better off -- and maybe worse off -- than if I'd never done it.
Neither eventuality changes my resolve to write, but I’d rather that the industry became more selective and published fewer titles, even if it makes my job harder.
I’d rather be the one valedictorian in the class than to be one face among many of them.
I recommend you read Moonrat’s post , if you haven’t already and think about it.
What do you think?
Would you rather that it was easier to have a book published, even though the odds of your book being successful were lower, or would you rather the industry changed so that each book published had a much higher likelihood of success?