Pynchon Intrigue Abounds Over ‘Cow Country’ - Alexandra Alter - New York Times
Hoax or not, this vividly illustrates what I have felt for some time. There are few ways for quality to be discovered in our algorithmic age. The gatekeepers are playing keep up with lazy readers (and writers who are better at marketing themselves online than creating prose that lasts).
My real concern is, how is it possible for quality work to be "lost in the shuffle" to such a degree? Is there not some lack of curation on the part of Amazon, in identifying the very best prose out there?
What two reviews of Cow Country means is that there is absolutely NO curation. If traditional publishers are putting out 30% fewer titles that five years ago, despite healthy eBook-generated profits, and failing to nurture a stable of talent for the long term, then there is a major gaping hole in the "gatekeeper" role.
Disclosure: I am an author who has just been set free by my literary agent, after a series of manuscript rejections by everyone from Penguin to Soho. My novel is 120,000 words, set in Japan - apparently unmarketable as far as the mainstream publishing world is concerned.(Now publishing a weekly "without a net" serial novel Cowachunga).
I'm thinking of how to position Arisugawa Park in such a way that it does not fall through the Amazon cracks, as Cow Creek apparently did until the Pynchon tie-in angle emerged.
Becca Mills had a thoughtful reply on the kboards Writer's Cafe thread I started on this topic:
"Damon, I'm afraid you're likely to be disappointed. Amazon really does not curate. Well, okay, it does -- in a very limited way. It does have to decide what books it's going to advertise in its emails to customers and display on certain promotional pages. But I'm pretty sure these decisions are sales-based. Amazon is a retailer, not a publisher. There's no bee-hive of editors in Seattle plowing their way through the 20 million (or whatever) books for sale on the site, looking for the best ones. Books come to the company's attention because they're already selling. At that point, Amazon might give those books an additional push, but the sales-chicken definitely comes before the curation-egg.
Also, the emphasis is very much on genre fiction, not literary fiction, because the former is what sells. Indie success with literary fiction? It's not common, so far as I can tell. Darcie Chan did great, but that was ages ago, now. I'm sure there are a few more examples, but the predominance of success for indie publishing is in genre fiction. Those seem to be the readers who have transitioned to ereading and who discover books in the places we can reach (as opposed to The New Yorker and the tables in Barnes & Noble). They're also the readers who seem to care most about the low prices indies are able to offer.
Those of us in the genre fiction business are generally not out to create "prose that lasts." We're more oriented toward entertaining reads with a limited lifespan. If my books get read for the next decade or two, I'll be pleased. After that, I think trends will have shifted, and they'll seem dated. The indie marketplace Amazon has created is very much oriented toward this kind of book, not the aiming-at-the-canon sort you're talking about.
By all means, give it a try. I mean, why not? Indie is very good for finding niches that traditional publishing doesn't think exist. But don't expect help from Amazon or any other sales platform. Getting the book off the ground will be up to you. And yeah, it is very, very possible for good work to get lost in the shuffle. With a new book being published on Amazon every few minutes, there's a Everest of reading material out there. When something *doesn't* get buried, it's a miracle."
I see your point - with the sheer volume of materials published on a minute-by-minute basis, it would be very difficult for any retailer to keep up with the quality of what they are offering.
Notwithstanding the success of "rinse and repeat" genre authors, who apparently do quite well in the indie marketplace (and I am not one of those who places a certain type of literature on a pedestal).... there needs to be an effective form of human "gatekeeping" that involves nudging readers toward quality self-published books. Now sites such as Goodreads, book blogs, and forums fulfill this function to a limited extent....
I would say a large majority of "thinking" readers still expect to receive cues as to what to read from the mainstream publishing industry. By and large, we want painless ways of discovering the best new talent out there. But mainstream publishers have become more risk adverse, as they have corporatized, consolidated, cut author lists. They sink major investments into a few properties they are gambling have the potential to become massive bestsellers. The rest are left with crumbs, if not outright rejection. So quality writers turn to Kindle and find they are on the same playing field as everyone else. Character building one might say, but writing that aims for depth - well it is a completely different mind- and skill-set than promoting and selling. Time that could be focused on the next work is devoted to the minutiae of... well, take a glance at the array of topics in this forum.
I am actually envisioning a new platform that would bring the type of curation publishers used to provide into the digital, self-publishing realm. With the immediacy of social media. (It would be a platform accessible to all types of creatives, from visual artists to makers). I have a lot to flesh out and I want to get the concept out there on my website in a fairly detailed form before I say more. Suffice to say I call it "Fabric" and it will attempt to mimic Doris Lessing in its sheer scope and ambition.