In Self Publish or Perish, Tom Evslin discusses how he plans to write a novel by first blogging it, then releasing it as an ebook, and lastly publishing it as a traditional book. Science fiction author Cory Doctorow simultaneously releases his novels in print and online under the Creative Commons license. Charles Stross, also a science fiction author, does the same thing.
The internet is mutating the book publishing genome. Things are now turning around, becoming exactly backwards from how they used to be. In the earlier days of the net, an established writer might have had enough pull to warrant a website. Now, writers are getting book deals because of what they wrote on their websites. That just makes so much sense. If you think about it from a business point of view, it makes sense to collect good writers for traditional publication based on the magnitude of their online popularity. There is the guarantee of a preexisting audience and the high probability that audience will help the book sell by word of mouth. From an artistic standpoint, it makes sense because good writers have to write and it’s hard to accuse someone of being in it just for the money when they’re not making any from their puny little website. It makes sense for a writer to start out with the least expensive publishing medium there is and move up as demand for her work grows.
This has already happened in the world of music. There are many examples, but the story of Prince makes an especially good one. He didn’t disappear. He disintermediated his pimp (record company) by engaging his fans directly online. Book publishing is now beginning to be disintermediated, too. Notice I didn’t say that writing is being disintermediated, I said book publishing. Regardless of the means of distribution (which recording and book publishing companies once controlled), musicians will always make music and writers will always write. It is the means of distribution, and, to some degree, of consumption which are changing. This always has been and always will be a purely technological issue for the distributor. It was never a creative issue for the artist or writer. Thousands of years of rich oral tradition before the advent of recording/playback technology of any kind speak to that. With distribution firmly back in the hands of the people, a new technological echo of the oral tradition is spreading its genes throughout society via remix culture and open source philosophies.
Now with the advent and onslaught of blogs, it has become easier for writers of even middling computer skills to gain exposure online through blogging about specific books, about their genre, or publishing their fiction directly online. The basic re-messaging and reprogramming of book publishing’s genome, as you might expect, is mostly being done in a commercially viable manner by science fiction writers.
In any case, the world of self-publishing is changing. Those sketchy mountebank self-publishing companies are all going to disappear if they don’t start doing everything over the web, and good riddance. Of course, some things never change. The biggest problem with self-publishing has always been that only a small fraction of self-published material is any good. The rest of it is utter, stinking garbage. However, when the sheer scale of the whole operation increases, as it does with blogs, the amount of good writing to be found is also increased. And good writing will always be easy to find, because it will always be linked to, and that is the nature of the internet. And as a writer myself, I couldn’t be happier with the direction in which events are moving.