Monday, November 5, 2007

Conventional Publishing Challenged - The Tucker Max Dare


I found an article on Comment Is free entitled "Publisher Brought to Book: Unadventurous publishers and booksellers are facing a challenge from new writers who find an audience on the internet." This article basically outlines how Tucker Max, a writer originally rejected by many publishing houses he tried to contact because his book was not saleable. He went online to self-publish 2 books through online publishing houses - Lulu.com & iUniverse.com.

He authored a new type of book that has begun to challenge the publishers and bookstores that leave small independent authors without a voice.

Tucker Max was a "belligerent and debauched" ex-law student who started by establishing a following on the internet and eventually joined the New York Times bestseller list with his book, I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell.

According to sources, the publishers' real problem was they had no idea how to market the book.
This, Max realised, is where conventional marketing techniques have failed to capitalise - not only on his own work but on internet literature in general. What the publishing houses had not fully realised was that Max's site had a monthly hit-rate of more than two million unique visits, and a fan base that was actively teeming with support on the website's message board. After months of constant rejections, the book was finally picked up by Kensington Books, the last independent publishing house in the US. His idiosyncratic self-belief eventually paid off in 2006. The UK edition has since been picked up by Penguin, and he has reportedly been offered a $300,000 advance on his next book.

Because of the subject matter, the book's scope for literary acclaim is limited, but the wonder is that it has seen the shelves at all, and it is the power of the internet that has given Max and authors like him a voice.

Max's success did not go unnoticed in the publishing industry, and a number of other writers have since landed book deals on the strength of their online following. Their subjects are various, but New York Times bestseller successes have been enjoyed by books spun off from websites such as Thebestpageintheuniverse.net, a long-running catalogue of satire, criticism and vitriol that has become one of the most popular non-commercial sites on the web. The subversive cartoon site ColoringBookLand.com and satirical news site Thephatphree.com are other such examples. In the UK, the most recognised of these is probably the anyonymous blogger Belle De Jour, who is also a best-selling author and subject of ITV2's new flagship drama The Secret Diary of a Call Girl.

The sites and their cross-over books have attracted reverence and revilement in equal degree, and because of their content, they are always likely to be sniffed at by literary critics. Regardless of merit, though, their niche appeal poses a unique challenge to the publishing and bookselling industry.

With the conventional bounds imposed by marketing strategies removed, authors can write about what interests them, no matter how niche it seems. Publishers have the choice to publish, regardless of whether it seems saleable (because an unvisited site is much less of a financial headache than a warehouse full of unsold books). Ultimately, readers have the choice of what to read, far more so than they do in conventional bookshops, where deals have been struck to ensure that big books make big profits, while the weak - meaning the original, the untested - fall by the wayside.

This is by no means the end of the predictable McNovels that dominate our bookstores, but with online publishing opportunities increasing, and online booksellers like Amazon, (whose stock is dictated by demand,) becoming ever more dominant, bookstores might finally have cause to rethink the way they fill their shelves.

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