It's the End of the Word as We Know It

So, you want to be an author?

Before I launch into my jeremiad on the publishing industry -- both traditional and self-imprint, from both the perspective of abysmal failure and colossal success -- consider this surreal statistic: more content is pushed to, and churned up on, the Internet in 48 hours than in all of the 20th Century. I don't know what bespectacled MIT genius, employing what head-scratching algorithms, calculated this, but I believe it.

The Internet is a veritable tsunami of content. It may have officially made landfall some three decades ago, but the periodicity of the waves is shortening exponentially, the surges are growing increasingly more powerful -- and, in my opinion, more destructive -- and unlike most natural disasters -- if, indeed, that's what it turns out to be -- it appears to have an amplitude greater than all the forces of the known, and unknown, universe, and, worse, there's nothing stopping it: it's a rampaging river with an illimitable source: us; the collective human seven billion of us on this sagging and increasingly energy-impoverished planet who are propelling it.

Call me an eschatologist, castigate me as a Luddite, but the greatness of the Internet -- its promise to deliver us everything at our nimble fingertips -- bears within it the seed of one of humanity's greatest tragedies: the death of the word, in all its preternatural beauty, to communicate the euphorias and dysphorias of the human soul.

I envision a Sahara so vast, so littered with the debris of our spent yearnings, vouchsafed full and unchecked rein, that no post-apocalypse imagined in any of our intracranial theaters can even begin to glimpse its consequences.

As we all know, the Internet totally dismantled, then radically transformed the music industry in a matter of a few years. In seismically shifting the newspaper and magazine world from analog to digital it jettisoned thousands of talented journalists in favor of cheap-labor content farm writers. One only has to glance at the home page of the once-venerable The Hollywood Reporter, a trade paper reporting hard news on the entertainment industry for over half a century, that is now barely distinguishable from The New York Post or -- and it all happened in less than a year!

Combined with going digital and using second-by-second analytics it's very clear to their advertisers what THR's readers want to read: gossip (law suits, drug busts, worst and best lists), gossip that lingers in links depending on its clickability rates. Esteemed film critics, such as Kirk Honeycutt -- and J. Hoberman of The Village Voice, Carrie Rickey of The Philadelphia Inquirer -- are being axed because, well, analytics quickly reveal that no one is reading their latest insightful review of Aki Kaurismäki's Le Havre. Readers now are in almost total control of print media content by what link they click. And if it's Kim Kardashian's latest jejunery, then that's what we're fed.

The film industry, as an entertainment content provider, is barely staving off disaster because downloads of feature films are still painfully slow, but that's swiftly changing, too. Television is soon going to be all VOD (Video On Demand), all the time. Development of series shows like Breaking Bad and Weeds are radically changing as Netflix and YouTube and others get in the development game with their deep pockets and avaricious need for content. Having a degree in journalism, or a background in film and TV production, or a track record in music, means nothing anymore. It's what the masses want, and as everyone is now finding out, much to their dismay: the masses have no taste, only an appetite. Argue that it's always been so... but never like today!

The publishing (i.e. book) industry is, of course, not immune to the changes that the Internet is rapidly effecting. Cheaply produced self-imprints can now make anyone a published novelist or memoirist or non-fiction writer on any topic known to man. The Internet now daily introduces -- with the vast marketing arms of Facebook and Twitter, not to mention LinkedIn, GetGlue, Goodreads, Google+, social media ad nauseum -- us to a veritable inundation of new book titles. Call me Rasputin, but I'm practically convinced there are more people publishing -- not just writing, but publishing! -- books than there are reading them.

Kindle exploded -- a book's instant availability, relative cheapness, and zero footprint being a huge lure -- and is now giving way to iPads and Nooks. Soon, in less than five years I predict, all paper books will be as anachronistic as music CDs now are. Hardcovers might survive as quaint, retro decorative coffee table possessions, given as gifts for their evanescing tactility and palpability, but how long will they last? And, more important, who is reading? What are they reading? We now spend 5-6 hours a day staring into a screen that isn't our TV, and I don't think we're reading James's A Portrait of a Lady or, God forbid, War and Peace on our tablets. "Angry Birds" is more like it.

The floodgates have opened. Everyone's a writer, a filmmaker, a musician, an artist. It's dizzying. In less than a decade, content has now officially overwhelmed the multitudes required to can consume it in any meaningful or enduring way.

In 2003, I sold my novel Sideways -- a book adapted into a movie, that was about to go into production with prominent director Alexander Payne (The Descendants) -- to St. Martin's Press for a mere $5,000, pressured by various individuals to do a deal on a manuscript that had been rejected over 100 times (in many instances by the same publisher) -- in three separate mass submissions over a period of four years -- for fear that it would be an embarrassment if there were a movie of an unpublished book. There almost was. You would think with a publishing contract, a high-powered agent, a movie in the works, that I was the most grateful writer on the planet. I was... and then I wasn't.

My dealings with St. Martin's Press on Sideways will constitute the first part of this blog. Then, it'll be on to my even more wretched, and soul-destroying, experience, with the ostensibly venerable Knopf.

I have lived, in my humble opinion, the last dying decade of the traditional publishing world, transited to self-imprint, and have landed squarely on the mantra: I will never write another book again as long as I live. I predict, in less than 10 years time, the traditional publishing industry, now moribund and flailing like a bird on broken wings, will be dead, or will morph into something almost totally unrecognizable from what it was for a century. I predict that literary fiction will be where poetry is today: ensconced in academia obscurity and barely kept alive by higher education syllabuses.

Sure, the Internet, mowing down everything cultural in its gargantuan path, will be largely to blame, but the publishing industry also earned it, with their nearsightedness, their clinging to their superannuated 20th-century model and, worse: their treatment of writers; writers who had made it through the now destroyed nets of their winnowing process, only to find themselves shipwrecked on the shoals of their insensitivity and market stupidity...

I have a lot to say on this subject of books, which, by the way, I so love, and which have given me so much in return. It's sad in a way that I have reached the conclusions I have, and I expect sizable contention and disagreement. The story starts with my little novel Sideways and its journey to publication...

Stay tuned. The blogposts will come fast and furious.