In my last blog post I said that printed books seem to have a legitimacy that eBooks do not. Now, will that change?
Of course. But when?
I know not.
However, lots of folks who sit on book award committees (the ultimate sanctioning body of a book’s merit, in many, many ways – not that I agree, but society certainly seems to buy into it, so I’ll play along for the moment) are already swamped enough with titles to read that have “been published in print form” by a credible institution. The publishing houses – like agencies – serve to vet content in order to arrive at some level of answering the question, “Is this material “worthy”?”.
In other words, prior to quite recently, not just any Joe or Jane could publish a book. (Except through a “vanity press” of course, and those have carried the stigma of “it’s merely a self-published book” for years and years.)
And to paraphrase a friend of mine’s ideas (Clix) any idiot can write an eBook – and many do. (BTW, I think this sentiment alone conveys why Clix and I are friends.) Where are the gatekeepers who protect us from having to read loads and loads of crap?
Well, the entire publishing industry has been fashioned around a system of just such gatekeepers and without jumping through their hoops, one mostly does not get Simon and Schuster, DoubleDay, Random House, Workman, or so on to put out your material.
The editors rely on the agents to be the first round of vetting, sifting the slush pile from the gems. Then the editors-in-chief rely on their own in-house editors/sales team to be the next layer of vetting, via the process of acquisitions. Then the bookstores rely on the publishing houses to determine those books worthy of shelf space (and, in case you didn’t know, end-caps and the such on bookstore aisles are actually paid for by pub houses these days; premium bookstore real estate costs pub houses money… it’s not simply cause someone “likes the book” that it ends up on an end cap in so many stores… it’s because a publisher paid for that end-cap as part of the marketing budget, which is why the rich often get richer and The Sentimentalists (see my blog post from a few days ago about this book) is a bit like a needle in the haystack/lottery ticket of a book. But then again, I believe in meritocracy and if a book is ROCKIN’, the audience will find it.)
All in all, this “new” system of eBook publishing allows a writer to by-pass all the gatekeepers… but that calls into question the idea of, “Is the reason they by-passed the gatekeepers because the material is inferior and it would not have passed the gatekeeping mustard in the first place?”
To wit, a lot of people will publish YA novels in 2011. However, when Disney releases my next new YA novel in July, it will come with the full weight of institutionalized credibility behind it. That doesn’t necessarily mean my new book is actually better than anyone else’s new book – especially the ones written by folks who only publish through digital text and eReading modules – but then again, now that I think about it, I do believe it could be argued that indeed, hey, it really might be.
Having Disney publish my YA book in print form (i.e. hardcover, available in bookstores across the nation, and so on) implies a credibility to my authorship that self-publishing a digital eBook simply does not have.
See, we count on gatekeepers in so, so, so many forms of media. With so much out there, who is going to curate the white noise? Publishing houses have served that role for quite a long time… and brought us a heck of a lot of GREAT books through this process. Without skilled agents and editors and other publishing industry professionals, it’s somewhat like the difference between a New York Times Reporter and Joe on the Street reporting on a story, no?
And so, the publication of Cinder-Smella in digital format calls into questions all sorts of societal presumptions about books, reading, credibility and the nature of “what is worthy of being considered as an award winning text?” I like that.
At some point, years from now, this debate will almost seem superfluous. You’ll know when the Newbery Committee picks something that never saw the light of day in printed form.