In some ways, it was easier to get published back in the day. Not self-published, obviously, but published in the traditional manner, or what used to be the traditional manner before self-publishing dominated the market 10-1. Before the onslaught of technology and social media with all its opportunities, freedoms and demands, a talented writer could get noticed just by being a talented writer. Sometime before the year 2000, if you were a gifted writer or even a competent and educated writer, it was easier to find an agent or publisher willing to consider your work and respond in a timely fashion. And while the agent or publisher was considering your book, you didn’t have to spend your spare time posting blogs, tweets, and instagrams to convince them that you were a media marvel with a massive platform of followers. Instead you spent your spare time thoughtfully writing your next book, LOL.
Before the revolution of social media, it was also easier to find a group or “salon” of interested and interesting writers who would sit with you in person and listen to your stories with uninterrupted focus. No cell phones, safari, or slew of not-so-clandestine texting interrupted the flow. After reading your story, your critics wouldn’t ignore or un-friend you, they would look you in the eye and tell you what they thought. And because it was an educated community, they were usually right. The writing world, or at least mine, was more supportive than competitive, because the world of writers—of people willing to commit their lives to their art on faith alone—was small. There was room enough for everyone with that ethic.
But then something unexpected happened.
Out of nowhere, the ebook floodgates lifted and opened, and the whole wide world swam in. Now everybody with a story has a chance, however slim, to make a million, star in a reality show, and dazzle the world. It is the epic opportunity of our time–the great publishing sweepstakes of the 21st century. Who’s in charge now? We all are! We are all witness to the staggering democratization of what was once a closed and sophisticated world. Not even ten years ago, you needed a healthy combination of talent, education, and a mentor—more or less. Now all you need are the will to write and computer skills.
This is not all bad.
Why? Because there was a negative side to the good old days that tends to be forgotten while waxing nostalgic. Publishing was a narrow, elitist industry in which a single inexperienced intern could be the difference between fame and obscurity. If your story didn’t strike the intern gatekeeper as saleable that day, or if it didn’t fit easily into a rigid genre, it was all over for you and your opus. Now that the power has been seized from the oligarchy, it’s all up to us. And I mean everything—publishing, marketing, and the tedious process of developing and sustaining an online presence. (Be careful what you ask for!)
Where it will all end up, I don’t know, but it provides a chance to succeed for many who would not have succeeded in a different world. Stories will bubble to the top that reflect the true Voice of the future—a relevant Voice that may never have surfaced. Everyone gets a vote on who succeeds and who does not. In the end, that has to be a good thing for all of us collectively, in spite of how many elegant and erudite writers may be kicked to the sidelines or benched altogether.
Fifty or a hundred years from now in retrospect, I believe this will be seen as one of (if not the) single greatest change in human history. The revolution that gave every human being a real voice in what is fast becoming a very noisy world.