I’ve had difficulty dealing with the disruption in publishing over the last decade or so. I was unlucky to find myself entering the lists just as the publishing world began to fall apart. Those fragments of an old guard I was fortunate enough to encounter showed enthusiasm for my fiction, though in trying to find a path to its publication they ran into the limits of their own positions as left-overs, hold-outs from another era.
One piece of their advice I’ve held close has been to share in their reluctance to embrace the new-world of self-publishing. Their prejudice grew out of the old conditions that marked the self-published work as somehow damaged goods put out by someone with more money than sense in an attempt to make an end-run around the gatekeepers. In that old world, a world that atrophied and died away many decades ago, even as these last of an old-guard spent most of their careers attempting to hold onto standards that had begun to fall as they first came on the scene.
Non-fiction, let’s call it a-literary writing, has accepted a certain “market-place of ideas” conception of the road to publication through finding whatever path leads to readers, rising up a ladder standing on a “reputation” resting on credentials and climbing to meet ever greater levels of “need” for what they have to say. Fiction has long been seen as outside the range of such linear distinctions. The muse strikes as she will, not where the credentials say she must. Great fiction has often ignored perceived need to aim at something no one knows they want until after they’ve begun to understand it.
In that long-lost, idealized past gatekeepers were those who acted as midwives and middlemen between promising talent and the practical world of getting people to part with their money either to fund a book’s publication or to actually go out and buy a copy. Avuncular may be the apt term for their relationship with writers. Wise and with a knowledge of the world, but maintaining an enthusiasm for the well-springs of inspiration and finding their satisfaction first and foremost in hunting out the right voices to put before the world. That they could make a living at it? Well, some could, some didn’t need to, and they all found some way to get by.
All of that has gone by the wayside. Why insist on searching out a gatekeeper none-the-less?
I keep asking myself that question.
First off, I have a growing sense that the “freedom” of the web, sold to us as Web 2.0, the wave that among many millions of other micro-fonts-of-wisdom brings you these “pages” and hones your appetite for surfing out ever more such titbits, is looking more and more like a new form of enclosure. We are being herded and farmed here by the owners of the machines and the services that provide a platform for “our” content. Ultimately by the speculation behind monetized desire and the thrust to maintain its primacy as a way of being in the world however suicidal that may be. We are being had.
This is cold-comfort. Enclosure is just about complete as with the Portuguese story about the Spaniard and his horse, just about when we no longer cost anything to keep we’ll all just up and die on him, we ungrateful chattel! We have extremely hard choices to make faced with our blends of needs and desire to find connection and feed our bodies and our minds. When the “other” way seems to be nothing but a self-exile into a wasteland, a new improved gulag where we send ourselves when we no longer can tolerate the existence of our oppression. To be silenced by removing ourselves from whatever pathways appear available to us is akin to walking off into the wilds without comfort or support. As much as the Champions of the Individual may protest, we cannot exist alone.
So, here we are, me writing, you reading, all of us attempting to wrest what nourishment we can from the interchange while harboring a nagging doubt that any of it – of us – will escape the clutches of the gamekeepers and the company goons.
Still, no matter what the general circumstances, the question of how the production of a talent, lets’ call it the outpourings of Mind through the conduit of a particular individual’s sensibility and organism, how does it get recognized?
Myths of “opportunity” and the primacy of talent vanquishing all obstacles are no more than window dressing on a system that allows for a certain serendipity to flourish at the margins, but that clamps down on anything that does not fit the needs of the machine. That a handful of talents have seen the light of day and reached a “wide” audience is more and more often a sign of their cooptation – not the simple process of making a pact with the devil as it’s so often portrayed, more likely it’s the horror of finding what they’ve done in good faith twisted to meet the devil’s ends.
I haven’t written on respect, regard, and the ways they might spread beyond our face to face encounters in a while. It seems this may be the function I’m looking to give to these gatekeepers I’m seeking.
Is this a vestige of immaturity? A residue of an adolescent desire to have a good uncle?
Nepotism is based on it! Doesn’t work without a good uncle for every nephew in need!
Right now, as the heat bears down, that’s as far as I can go. It does feel like a start though. Hoping to hear from you on this! I don’t think I’m alone with this question!
One last caveat. I don’t see any simple solution to this. Entrepreneurship is a myth of these amoral times. Making a buck while doing good is bullshit! Let’s get past pretending it’s not.
Still, making a living is a broader question with a universal application. Every living thing must find a way to do this, or perish. As empathic social beings we cannot make a living without it including our finding a way or ways to be of use to others. This is so often confused with accepting a necessity to be a means to an end, but if it is taken as it presents itself, it means entering reciprocal relationships in which a true symbiosis is achieved. There is slack in this, it does not mean do no harm, it does mean that we are responsible for the harm done however the repercussions play themselves out. This puts the lie to the wink and the nod.
I see no less futile endeavor to be engaged in. On the contrary, if we cannot find ways to make our living truly a living of life, then we are lost in traps of futility wound about us by others but that we succumb to in our acceptance of defeat.