As I’ve mentioned before, I do feel that there are some problems with the traditional publishing model. I also have a possible, partial solution in mind, which comes out of me experience, eons ago, working as a carpenter and stagehand off-Broadway.
Off-Broadway is where new playwrights get their big chance. This is because off-Broadway, unlike the big houses in midtown that put on the flashy megabuck musicals, is non-profit theatre. The people who run off-Broadway are dedicated to putting on quality theatre, on nurturing the art. They will take a chance on an unknown playwright. The reason they can afford to do this is because they are non-profit. I was shocked when I found out how little of a production’s budget is covered by the price of a ticket. The rest is made up by people who donate money to keep quality theatre going.
The same is true of other art forms. The worlds of dance and classical music would be very different if concerned people were not willing to donate money to keep them going. Without that support, much of what we generally consider to be the highest expression of art and culture would cease to exist.
Why couldn’t we have an off-Broadway of fiction? I think we could, and Iconoclastic Press would love to be part of it. Here’s one way it might work:
We would solicit manuscripts from writers. Each manuscript would be sent out to several members of a network of volunteer readers. A manuscript that received a certain level of positive feedback would then be considered for publication. We would print a small number, say a thousand copies, of each manuscript that made the final cut. The non-profit would keep a few hundred copies to sell, to cover basic printing costs. The remaining copies would go to the author, who would then be free to market them as he or she sees fit. All rights would remain with the author, who, if the book attracted any favorable notice, would then be free to sign up with an agent, sell the book to a commercial publisher, and have a chance at the big time, just as a successful off-Broadway play can be picked up by the for-profit theatre houses.
Or, the author could choose to remain with the non-profit press, and plow some of the revenue back into giving others a chance at publication.
The beauty of this plan is that it would be low-cost, and it would give a lot more authors the chance to be discovered than is currently the case.
And the reading public would have a say in who gets published.
Am I naïve? Possibly. Certainly there are a lot of horrible manuscripts floating around. But there are sapphires hidden in the mud as well; you can count on it. And with enough of us looking for them, more of them will be found. Some of those gems might be pretty small; too small for the big boys to take a risk on. But fine things sometimes come in small parcels. And art has much to do with the taking of risks.