What worked last decade just doesn't work anymore. And that's okay.


No party on for me and the Griz this New Year's Eve. We'd planned to be in Paris, but I ended up having to ask for an extension on my deadline and was stuck here at home, pounding the keyboard. Between chapters, I got up to take a couple of Tylenol to tide me over till dinner and realized we'd slipped into the next decade. Something I already know about the coming years: I'm going to be working harder. Beyond that, I'm open to all possibilities.

Critical Mass has been doing an interesting series, The Next Decade in Book Culture, in which guests were invited to share their thoughts on what might be in store for us as we leave the double-Os behind and adjust to the pre-teens.

One of my favorite responses so far comes from poet Hans Ostrum:
Imagine being alive when the Gutenberg Revolution swept Europe, when printing-technology had made pamphlets, novels, tracts, and anthologies not just possible but commonplace. Obviously, we're in a parallel situation with digital media, except our cultures and technologies change exponentially more quickly than those in the 15th through the 19th centuries. I don't know precisely what will happen to "the book," "the novel," read, literature, and writing. No one does, but everyone guesses. Hence the despair and fear. But if we keep the Gutenberg Revolution in mind and consider how it changed cultures, arguably, for the better, we may be more likely to enjoy the uncertainty and adapt to the changes.

If you can find 30 minutes to spare this week, take a skim. There's a little Kindlephobia, but it's balanced by a lot of let's-just-get-on-with-it. As I've kept my eye on the series for the last few weeks, I've bowed my head more than once, softly praying, "Please, Baby Jesus, comfort and strengthen whomever is seated next to this person at a dinner party." But for the most part, I've been pleasantly reminded that bookish people are overwhelmingly kind, intelligent, funny, and brave.

What comes through loud and clear in the series as a whole is that what worked in the recently laid down decade of publishing is not going to work in the coming decade. Those who welcome change will prosper; those who doggedly cling to what worked in the Oh-Ohs, trying to pretend that they can tweak that to work in the Oh-Teens are destined to meet with a painful learning experience.

This is a time for reinvention -- of books, of book contracts, of methodology, of process -- and it's thrilling. It's healthy. Stagnation is the natural enemy of art. Whatever the specifics of our diverse strategies for the coming decade, we're all going to roll with some changes. But change is scary for a lot of people, especially where the ol' paycheck is involved.


May I urge compassion, friends? Let's be gentle with each other. Let's build up and not tear down. "Let the law of kindness be in your mouth." And in your SEND-clicking finger. Kindness, intelligence, humor, and courage. Every phase of my new five-year business plan will be sifted, tested, and committed to these.

In the spirit of "leave the gun, take the cannoli," I'm going to kiss off the old design concept, but take the attitude with me.

Comments

One trend I find hopeful: the upswell in traditional publishing geared toward young adults. When I started in this biz, you literally couldn't give away a YA, or not for more than a yawn and a pittance. Now, it's grown into one of the best-paying segments of the market, and I'm watching a lot of terrific adult authors expand in that direction.

And young people are enjoying reading actual, physical books. My 20 year-old son scoffs at my Kindle. Maybe it's because these kids have digital fatigue and covet the real, immersive, tactile experience of novel reading.

This bodes well for the future of the book. The publishing world will necessarily shift on its axis, but it's not going to go away.

Putting down my Pollyanna glasses to get on with the work...
Sherry Jones said…
Everyone from Galley Cat to CES to Amazon to Apple is trying to guess what lies ahead for publishing. All I know is, those of us in digital denial -- are you listening, Sherman Alexie? -- are in for a rude awakening. As for me, I'd rather be writing than whining, prognosticating, or eulogizing the "good old days." Telling a great story is my job; I'll do it the best I can, promote my books -- in whatever form -- as much as I can stand to (or afford), and leave the rest up to my Heavenly Agent. Oh, by the way, I'm author of the internationally best-selling controversial novel "The Jewel of Medina" and its critically acclaimed sequel, "The Sword of Medina," available at http://authorsherryjones.com. ;-)
Joni Rodgers said…
Hi Sherry ~

Great to see your fabulous face in the place! Galley Cat is dead to me, but I have a huge crush on Sherman Alexie. Always have, always will. My prediction there is that Kindle will serve him -- and authors like him -- very well. They just don't know it yet.

The next wave has to be for us old warhorses is to get our backlists on Kindle, and that's going to be tricky with the way contracts of yore were structured. When Kindle first came out, I started quietly but fervently begging around for my rights. Mixed success. Which means, I keep trying.

Here's to the Future!

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