The State of the Novel
Truth be told many who consider themselves up and coming authors may find ourselves joining online groups, going to local book clubs, meeting with other awe-inspiring novices, etc., and wondering if it is truly worth it in the end. A common question that we, as writers, ask ourselves in the journey to become authors is how to become published, yet in the present time it has evolved into what way do we wish to be published? A recent trend that has emerged in the past years is that of self-publishing novels on the internet for sale as electronic books with the option of paper copies. The purpose of this essay is to examine the history of publishing, what publishing in the modern era has evolved into for novels and what the fate of the novel may be if all authors start self-publishing.
The word Publish stems from the English word Public and the Latin word Publicare (make public) and means for a book, journal, music or piece of art to be available for public sale. In the beginning publishing had a lot of ups and downs. The first known printed book, the 7 page scroll The Diamond Sutra, was created in 808 AD in China using wooden blocks (MediaBistro). It was over 600 years after The Diamond Sutra was published that printing was perfected enough by Johann Gutenberg with metal, foundry cast characters on wooden blocks to print the first Latin bible (The Gutenberg Bible) in 1455 in Germany. The following years were full of numerous books being printed in various languages – starting with German, Italian, French and English.
Publishing companies began to emerge and within the mid-1800’s there were so many publishing companies that the cost of a book quickly fell allowing mid and lower classes the chance to afford literature that had previously only been available to those who could afford novelties such as reading (Cyber College). In the United States these companies were rejecting new American authors and published European author’s works without permission or paying the authors for the books they sold. It wasn’t until 1891 that the international copyright law came into act, protecting those authors outside of the United States. The importance of this law was universal (Laws). Authors were then paid for their writing, not having it pirated by publishing companies within United States, and authors in the country were then able to have their novels picked up within the country and, they too, were protected against publishers outside of the United States, leading to a new generation of authors (the likes of Emily Dickenson, Mark Twain, Jack London, etc.).
Publishing throughout the years has not just been in books, but spread into newspaper companies and magazines, catalogs and other resources available to the general population. After the internet emerged into society it began to change everything we had previously known. We can now access websites with printed material and streamed videos, read books online or smaller devices, and the possibilities of what one can do on the internet keeps expanding into what we once believed was an impossibility.
In order to be published, whether you are a poet or a novelist, you need to start at the beginning. For this essay the novelist will be discussed. The beginning of a novel always starts with your first word. You write that word and then turn it into a sentence that then becomes a paragraph, a page and finally you have your first chapter that will hopefully continue on to join with other chapters to become a finished novel. Once this is complete you have finished the hardest part of writing – you have completed your first novel.
Many times published authors who have spoken on the topic of being a true author you must first finish a novel. They tell you how this is the first step (and a huge step at that), whether this book is truly the one or just a bunch of garbage, getting it out and finishing it in its entirety is the most important thing. After all, we all know the probability of receiving a contract or having any editor look at your work is to submit them a piece of a completed draft. Submitting publishers part of a draft will get you nowhere, and if you lie the end result will not bode well on your resume.
During the process of writing or after the completion of your work you’ll want to hear feedback from family, friends or anyone who is willing to give, but after completing your first novel, what should you truly do? To anyone looking to be taken seriously by any publishing company the revision process is a must. To many this is a proper rule for any writer to follow, yet some tend to forget this. Why? Because they may not understand their spewing of words that forced out that rough draft of a manuscript still has quite the journey to take.
You can pay an editor or other random English guru that offers their services online or in person to do this for you. They may look for grammatical and punctuation errors, or you can pay more for them to go further into the process and actually address the content of your novel. What they most likely won’t do is point out that there are flaws or advise you on the inconsistencies within your story and plot lines. They will focus primarily on the style of writing and what needs to be fixed within the pages and sentences and not how they all flow together in the end. Some of them may do a splendid job giving you the feedback you cringe to have that makes your novel even better than it was, others may make you feel like you’re the best author in the world. It is important to research your options and find the best way to have your novel edited if you plan to pay someone to do this.
Beyond the editing and revision process what is next? You obviously know the next step is to get your novel out there. The question is, how do you want to get your novel out there?
One of the newest forms of publishing, and one that is very appetizing to many author’s eyes is the new form of self-publishing. This form of publishing has expanded into being able to publish your own book online – for free – and the pitches include earning up to 70%-80% of the sales of your book, quick publishing within 2 days and being able to distribute your book globally and in numerous languages (Amazon). These services offer two distinct ways to publish your book, either in an electronic format for download or a printed version that is done one by one as they are purchased online. You, as a reader, are then able to go freely download or purchase these books for reading. Chances are if you’re a member of Amazon you have done this not knowing the book you are reading was self-published. You may have loved the book and it read smoothly, just as any print book you may have bought at a book store. Or you may have noticed an inconsistent narrative, grammatical and spelling errors that occur more often than you would like, or numerous other unpleasant things we hate to find in a novel, free or not. It is the later that gives one a bitter taste in their mouth and causes the reader to wish self-publishing was not available to the masses and there was still some form of a process the authors had to go through in order to be published and sell their book.
While self-publishing and getting your book available straight away is appealing to the aspiring novelist you will find there are still disappointments found within this route, just as there are when going through the long, laborious process of submitting your book to major publishing companies. In fact, if you do want to self-publish you should do all the work yourself – editing over and over again, pay an editor to read and edit your draft, get a group of heavy readers together to read your book first and check for any inconsistencies, and the list goes on and on, especially if you still want to be discovered (and who doesn’t?).
The problem with self-publishing in the post-modern era of novels is that you never know what you’re going to get. Editing manager for Deseret Book and writer, Lisa Mangum, commented on Facebook about finding the “diamond in the pile of slush” and isn’t that how it is supposed to be? As an author you may have a wish deep within yourself that your novel is that sparkling diamond and everyone living and dead shall desire to read it, but we all know that is not the truth and that is why going through the proper outlets of becoming published is an important and valued way to go.
While many may believe self-publishing through outlets such as Amazon are not the way to go, self-publishing is arguably a good route for some writers. The problem is that it is also the luck of the draw, just as traditional publishing is. Authors such as EL James, Jan Strand and Rachel Schurig all were discovered through self-publishing. Of course in 2013 50% of self-published authors made less than $500 on their book (Martin-Smith) – which begs the question be asked, is self-publishing really worth it? Or is it simply another way for authors to gamble with the publishing industry? One thing it does mean is that the novel is simply expanding into a more accessible route and will slowly perfect over time, just as the paper novel did for mass production and easier availability to the lower classes.
Self-publishing may eventually be a reliable outlet where authors can go when publishing companies no longer exist or have slowly fallen apart. Currently they are a way for even the most wretched authors who know little about writing but believe they are simply being ignored to go through and publish with the hope of being found. They may have well written sentences with little sense to them and illogical stories to follow. Their grammar and spelling may be to the value of a second grader’s that substitutes mourning for morning or there for they’re with a beautifully written story hidden within the jumbled words. The truth is that they will left undiscovered and have readers who must filter through all the good deals to find that gem within the pile of slush that is no longer laying upon an editor’s desk, but is instead being sold for less than $5 on a website that has thousands of other books for that price.
Amazon. Web. 2014. November 24th, 2014.
CyberCollege “Puritans to Pirating.” Web. 2013. December 3rd, 2014.
Laws. “International Copyright Act 1891.” Web. 2013. December 5th, 2014.
Martin-Smith, Keith. “Self Publishing versus Traditional Publishing: An Author’s Guide.” Web. December 9th, 2013.
MediaBistro “Timeline: A Brief History of Publishing” A Division of Prometheus Global Media. 2014. Web. October 14th, 2014