Sometimes the systems of this world just kind of fall into place. They are the results of a lot of decisions by a lot of people and gradually evolve over the years, usually as the result of reactions to crises. Political systems, economic systems, social systems, all the same. Circumstances vary, details vary, but usually the base instinct is survival. Rarely does love enter into play, or at least rarely is it a deciding factor, whether it is love of God, or humanity, or country, or art. The deciding factors are usually far more base: power, fear, profit.
Ah, you damned cynic, you say, I am far more idealistic than you. I believe in people’s innate goodness. Everyone comes round to it in time. Yeah, sure.
Anyway, today we are speaking of art and artists, if you will permit me to use such grandiose terms. And this train of thought all came about when I was musing on the state of publishing today. Even the most myopic observer would say that it is in a state of flux, of transition, with the rising star of e-publishing and the demise of many print bookstores, with the wide open possibility of self-publishing, or so-called indie publishing, and the besieged citadel state of traditional publishers. Yes, things are changing, and systems which have remained in place for decades, petrified in the attitude of “this is the way it is done because this is the way it has always been done and there’s no other way” are suddenly confronted with the fact that there are other ways. The reaction of many is to plunge their heads as deeply as possible in the sand and hope that it all goes away.
It’s not going to go away.
For a long time only one road has existed. Now there are others, and it does no good to exclaim in chagrin and self-aggrandizement that “it’s my way or no way”. Considering the evidence it would be ludicrous to do so, when the other paths to take are so plain to see.
An artist creates. A painter paints, a musician plays music, a writer writes. When the creation has been accomplished, the artist wishes to share it. Whatever is expedient and available is the proper means to do so.
But then bigshots in offices, that is, executives, accountants, publicists, and so on, many of whom have had no training in art at all, say, “No, wait a minute. The only way to present your art is through us. We will be the filters, we will be the judges; we will decide if your work is fit to be seen by the public.” And on what do they base their decisions? Invariably it is the company’s bottom line.
The artist, meanwhile, just wants to create and then present the work. In publishing, until recently, there was no alternative to going through the bastion of traditional publishing. Now, alternatives exist. And traditional publishers are calling foul. Surprised? Not at all. Their exclusivity is threatened. Well, let’s put that into perspective. It was threatened. By now it is long-gone, never to return. It’s not that they don’t still have their place, their function – but they are no longer the only game in town. That’s something to which they have to adjust.
I find it ludicrous that publishers, agents, editors, even writers themselves, rush frantically about trying to prop up the collapsing house of cards of the exclusivity of traditional publishing. Note that I did not say traditional publishing itself, but only its exclusivity. Traditional publishing will survive, but it must accept the fact that it will never again be the only source of creative prose output. To continue with the self-imposed blinders in the face of reality would be laughable at best and tragic at worst. It reminds me of the scene in the Mel Brooks movie “Blazing Saddles” where the cowboys in the desert are confronted with a toll booth and they all dutifully line up and pay, whereas all around them are endless spaces of open country through which they could easily and freely ride.
Some speak of quality control. But is some suit in an office in New York who has never been and never will be a writer a better judge of my work just because he has a rich and powerful organization to back him up? I think not. I can’t speak for any other writer in the history of the world, but I have paid my dues, and I have the right to create and publish and promote my work just as much as he has the right to publish and promote whatever works he deems appropriate.
It’s a matter of expediency. I am not against traditional publishing; I have published short stories in traditional markets and will do so again. What I am against is the self-righteous, condescending attitude that says, “My way or the highway,” that says, “If you don’t go through me your work is worthless.” The hell with that. I’m willing to concede you your place in the grand scheme of things if you will concede me mine, whatever I choose to make it. But my career is mine, not yours.