The internet is overwhelming; that much is clear. The murky part comes in trying to define exactly how it fits (or should fit) in our lives. This is the subject of a recent wave of books that all take different positions and are all expertly reviewed by Adam Gopnik in a recent issue of the New Yorker. Gopnik divides these prevailing internet philosophies into three schools: the Better-Nevers (“the internet will destroy us all!”), the Ever-Wasers (“eh — this conversation happens with every new technology, everyone calm down”), and the Never-Betters (“the internet will save us all!”). Though all arguments are interesting (as is the article), what struck me most of all was Gopnik’s comparison of the internet to a library, which got me thinking — for the first time, much to my surprise — of how the internet compares to books, and how this might help us find a tree to hold on to in the information flood.
Working for Ralph Vicinanza, as I did for a few months right out of college, was a master class in the publishing business. While at work, Ralph didn’t have much time for anything besides work, so there were none of the long philosophical happy hours and lunches and weekly check-ins that became the norm in all my following relationships with bosses. What I got instead was clear direction and brief, efficient interactions, often with quick, almost accidentally imparted insights into his many years of accumulated wisdom, if I was paying attention. The man lived books and spent his entire career making them more widely available, so it made sense that he would casually drop more book knowledge into a conversation about the broken copy machine than some industry pros can pack into a lecture. My time at that agency was barely a blink but I consciously recall more lessons from it than I do from all my following jobs combined.
It was surprising to see such a resurgence of the “Self-publishing isn’t valid” meme in 2010. We thought that particular dinosaur was extinct by now, didn’t you? In retrospect, it shouldn’t have been such a shock considering the advent of the iPad and the Kindle. It makes sense that the sudden removal of production and inventory management as obstacles to self-publishers would scare up some defensive posturing from traditional publishers. What we want to say, unequivocally, before the madness keeps stirring, is twofold:
- Publishers, never fear! You are necessary (for certain things)
- Self-publishers, never fear! Your process is totally legitimate (for certain things)
We’ll get more into those two ideas in a minute but first, we would love to see an immediate end to the defensive posturing. You don’t have to tear down the concept of self-publishing in order to justify the need for traditional publishing. And self-publishers don’t have to keep insisting that they are on a track to “real” publishing. The book is the thing, not the means of connecting the book to its audience. The world hasn’t ended; it has just changed. Before, authors had to wait to get noticed by someone else. Now, authors have choices to make. Here’s what we think they are.