As mentioned in the comment section of my “Gatekeepers?” post, as well at the bottom of my post earlier today entitled “Some interesting posts regarding self- and small press- publishing“, I was treated to an interesting comment from Steve Jackson, one of the partner/owners of Telemachus Press. In the interests of full disclosure (or if this is the first of my blog posts that you’re reading) I will start out with a disclaimer. I am currently using Telemachus Press for the ebook formatting and distribution services for my upcoming novel, Half Past Midnight.
That being said, I want to say how impressed I was with Steve’s comments in response to the “Gatekeepers?” post. I was so impressed, that I asked him for permission to put it up as its own post, and he has graciously agreed. So without further ado, here is Steve Jackson, in his own words – (my first guest post!)
I have recently had the pleasure of meeting Jeff Brackett and come to know him as a thoughtful author and blogger about these issues. Jeff is 100% right on the money in his perspective about the transition in publishing. The old supply chain with its gatekeepers is coming apart due to a change in technology and the frustrations built up over time by so many authors unable to get past systemic obstacles into the publishing process.
The transition from legacy publishing to self-publishing is exactly like the upheaval experience by other supply chains that for so many years had remained well-defined. The participants become entrenched in their roles and jealously guard any disruption because change will most probably upset the flow of money to them in their part of the chain. That is, of course, unless they reengineer. And, that is the sad part of this story. Literary agents and traditional publishers have so much to offer and can still play significant roles in publishing. They need to learn from some not-too-distant history and work to maintain their relevance – it is no longer a function of their gatekeeper position, they are no longer entitled simply due to position in the chain.
Some decades ago, people and freight were moved about on railroads. A change in technology occurred and along came the airplane. The railroad emperors were not amused. They stomped their feed and yelled at the skies. They employed every tactic they could from legislation to fears over safety to prevent air travel. Next time you are at the airport, look around for the Chesapeake and Ohio Airline; their efforts did not succeed. What they forgot was that they were in the people and freight moving business, not the railroad business. No organizations were better poised to launch commercial air service than the railroads and they plain and simply blew it.
More recently, say ten to fifteen years ago, when you got off of your airline flight and walked into the gate area at the airport, you were confronted by banks of pay phones. The same situation existed at large convention center hotels. Row after row of pay phones on walls or in cubicles. Another change in technology upset this supply chain – the cell phone. Aren’t you glad that you are not holding long-term leases on airport floorspace and paying for pay phones all now unused?
The legacy publishing world can no more push back on advances in technology than airport concessions could stop cell phones or the railroads could have prevented airplanes. They have a choice, reengineer or perish.
I have met with many of the world’s largest and most famous literary agencies. Just about all of them are a mix of anger and fear about their future. Some are wallowing in denial. Most hide their true fears in resentment and proclamations of self-importance and entitlement . Hiding underneath all of it is a fear about cash flow.
Wake up people! I very truly believe that there is a new and maybe even more important role for you. Learn to follow the successful in the self-published marketplace. Encourage them to enter only into agreements with self-publishing companies where they can move to a tractional model without reversion of rights. Put new authors showing actual success in front of major publishers. Edit. Design. Encourage. Shape careers. You do these things very well.
Or, if not, we will miss you.