The Era of Mr. Writeful

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Some base element of human nature—call it a Darwinian hambone, a self-doubting Thomas tendon, or perhaps a fickle Y chromosome—makes each of us constantly question our professional relevance and measure the worth of our production (and value proposition) against our peers. Our collective insecurities, on top of our incessant need for attention and approval, are worthy of examination, particularly in this editor-eat-editor work environment where publishing positions are scarce and talented linguists trample their fellow wordsmiths for a crack at the first paragraph. Forget, at this point, the concept of elbowing your well-read brethren for a little grammatical space; civilized people are beyond the metered lines of courtesy; they’re grappling for poetic survival.

Apparently a great debate has surfaced about the overall relevancy of publishers. Publishers, damn our curatorial eyes, are up against a wave of opposition, and our days either are numbered because our weapons of choice are obsolete—replaced by technology efficient and ubiquitous enough to make our unique skills unnecessary, or if you believe what you’re reading at Smashwords, writers have revolted and decided that the factors and intangibles we publishers always have brought to the table simply are overrated and therefore unnecessary. Either way, it seems, publishers are cooked.

Publishers are seen as surplus, another piece of 21st century fat to be trimmed from society’s cultural budget. Living as an almost extinct publisher in this new era of Mr. Writeful, I wish self-published writers only good things. Seriously, if our best days of collaboration are behind us, let’s turn the page on the old ways of the book business.

Some writers, of course, are grateful for the support of brazen indie publishers, particularly writers whose interests lie primarily in the written word and not in the spreadsheet of a blasted business plan. Independent publishers, first and foremost, believe in the arts and their survival, so any talk that we’re concerned with profit above all (that you think we actually smelled money when we opted to accept a writer’s work) is downright nuts.

There’s simply no denying the ambition of writers who work the channels and land sweet distribution deals without the help of a publisher; these same market-savvy writers know the power of networking and they package their writing with the zeal of a slick entrepreneur. They excel at self-promotion. These writers are rock stars. They’re past the point of needing me. I’m only an obstacle at this point, another person seeking a piece of the pie. And the pie is so miniscule, why bother sharing it?

To all writers who think they are better off without publishers: More power to you. You’ve won the game. The more that we publishers venture forth to explain our role, define our responsibility, and justify our existence, the more desperate we appear. And desperate, we are not, no matter what grumbling you may hear from the insightful pundits of the book industry.

Publishers sometimes are the only stakeholders that separate writers from pawning off literature as another roadside attraction instead of artwork worthy of exhibition, selling their sweat from the trunks of their cars as if it were snake oil instead of a delicacy. Publishers understand the value of good writing; we need not prove our necessity. The more we stand upright and resolute in our mission, the more we are united in our vision, the more we fulfill a writer’s need for support and affirmation.

Through our affiliation with online groups, communities, and established councils, publishers frame a foundation upon which some writers build credibility, momentum, and purpose. Publishers, like most members of a socially enlightened movement, are bent on purpose. Many professional associations, such as the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) and the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses (CLMP), are formed to advocate the sustainable growth of a specific function, role, or department within an organization.

In the case of publishers, the world as we’ve known it has changed. Our roles have merged in hybrid fashion. Mr. Writeful has risen. But rather than a funeral, let’s look at this new paradigm as a rebirth of expression. Some might call it devolution. How else should a publisher explain the sudden appearance of a tail on his human anatomy?

Photo Credit:
Image by Steven M. Carr, after original at Genetix, at Memorial University

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About Author

Dan Cafaro is the founder and publisher of Atticus Books, a small press based in Madison, N.J. When Dan is not following his wife around the country, he is known to sit for long periods of time pondering how to live off the grid. Atticus Review is his first literary journal.

3 Comments

  1. “mr writeful has risen” to help writers cast off the yoke of the publisher…good points here. not long ago i realised that if i wanted to become a much better writer i needed more time and space to work on my writing – time i’d have to take away from marketing and publishing myself(which i am fairly good at hence some of the regret). amanda hocking’s blog post (ref’d here) says it all really. to write well and also network, market, review, publish, produce the cover art, get blurbs, edit, re-edit etc. – that’s the work of a whole team. it gets crowded inside yourself if you keep that team busy while also trying to write. personally, i’m binging on publicity: i network more and more, then i panic (on behalf of my writing) and withdraw entirely for a few months. i’m at this point now hence the need to confess…the other reason of course why mr writeful is here: it’s bloody hard to finda publisher. i haven’t managed yet (also haven’t tried very hard but that’s partly because i don’t deal with rejection well). ’nuff said. i raise my glass to you mr publisher.

    • And I raise my glass even higher to you, Marcus. Your rabid online engagement is an inspiration to all who travel virtually… but the points that Amanda Hocking raises in her salient blog post indeed are valid. Writers only have so much bandwidth so it’s important that they don’t use up all their creative energy networking. It’s a short-term loss to the community when one withdraws for a few months, but this gestation period often can result in a bountiful long-term benefit (by way of a novel, say) to that same community. The fear for enterprising writers, I think, is that they would lose the momentum (and equity) they had built with their audience. It’s quite a high-wire balancing act.

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