When the news came that John Brown was about to be executed for his seditious raid on the federal garrison at Harper’s Ferry, Henry David Thoreau rang the village bell in Concord, Massachusetts, to call his townsmen together. When a neighbor asked him what prompted this action, Thoreau replied: “I have something to say.”
Throughout human history, many of us have had something to say. The problem was that, up until fairly recently, there was no venue readily available for the dissemination of the thoughts and ideas of the common person. That, of course, was before the Internet exploded upon the scene.
Traditionally, most would-be writers had to submit their work to countless publishers before getting anyone to consider it. And if any editor did bother to peruse the manuscript, the upshot was most likely a letter of rejection. Because name recognition goes a long way toward mounting a successful book marketing campaign, many editors and agents preferred to work with previously published authors. This left the unknown writer in a bind. How to get recognized by a publisher without an agent? How to secure an agent without having name recognition?
Traditional publishing houses are not necessarily in the business of bringing new literary talent to the reading public. First and foremost, traditional publishing houses are in business to make money. They search for marketable writers with name recognition, those who craft good stories that will sell to a large audience. Authors take their traditional 15 percent cut and royalties, leaving the publishing house with the bulk of the proceeds from book sales.
The Internet has proven to be a great equalizer, giving voice to the average person who has something to say. Witness the explosion of personal blogs on sites like MySpace and Facebook. The latest leveling on the literary playing field has come in the form of self-publishing sites. Would-be authors no longer have to pursue literary agents or beg editors to peruse their work.
For a small fee, these online publishing firms will transform an author’s manuscript into a bound book, complete with glossy cover and ISBN barcode. Because these enterprises function by print-on-demand, initial financial outlays are kept to a minimum.
The current recession is impacting book sales nationally. Everyone in the bookmaking business is suffering—traditional publishing houses, book sellers, editors, literary agents—except the print-on-demand entrepreneur, who stands ready to give the little guy who has something to say a venue for his voice.