Yet more quoting of what the brave new world of publishing might look like, this time from literary agent Rachelle Gardner:
If you think the published books are bad now, just wait until self-pubbing becomes the norm. Holy cow. Folks, you don’t see an agent’s daily slush pile. Sure, some of it is good. But let me tell you. At least half of it is seriously not good. As I look at all the books I say “no” to, and then realize these books could be for sale [through self-publishing] within a matter of months, I get depressed.Gardner sees what quality exists in standard book publishing now as the product of an evolutionary struggle: each manuscript has to convince a lot of people in the industry who’ve read a lot of other books that it will make money before it gets printed.
If you think the overall quality of literature has already declined substantially in the last, oh, forty years or so? I shudder to think how it will be ten years into a new world of self-publishing. “Literature” as we know it could be a thing of the past.
Publication of “literature” is somewhat skewed because our capitalist publishing economy uses “making money” as the criterion rather than “literary quality.” But of course the latter does have some connection to the former, and the former actually pays the bills.
I think there will still be an evolutionary struggle even if every manuscript in the world becomes a book through self-publishing. That struggle will simply occur at a later stage—the stage of attracting readers instead of industry partners. Wealthy authors will be able to buy more promotion. (Of course, they can do that now; we don’t see the phenomenon often because “wealthy authors” is usually an oxymoron.) But in the end the books that please the most people will have the highest visibility.
I suspect the danger to “literature” will come if potential readers feel overwhelmed with available choices, and decide to get their story fix from another medium instead. We know that too much choice can make the human brain shut down, rather than open up.
The much higher cost of making a movie or television show could bring two unintended benefits to the cinematic medium: it will always have fewer choices, and professional quality will be more immediately apparent. In other words, those forms of entertainment will always have a tougher evolutionary struggle, and the winners may thus have an advantage over prose stories in holding onto an audience.
Thanks to Nathan Bransford for the link. For old times’ sake, here’s another look at part of Tor's slush pile in 2006, recorded by SF Revu.