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Death of Publishing, Aspiring Authors, and Interdependence Online

Today's launch of Book Country, a site by Penguin, one of the older and more distinguished publishers around, generated a bit of talk, in Publishers Weekly and general media as well.
Authors want to get published. I know they do; I work in book publishing. Even with recent (and not-so-recent) articles bemoaning the Death of Publishing as we know it, people who write want to reach people who read. How does that best happen exactly in this world of Kindle, iPad, apps, and $.99 downloads? Sites like Book Country are one way publishers are exploring this.
Book Country, as the New York Times describes it, is
A modern version of the slush pile . . . the online “writing community,” a Web site where aspiring novelists can post their ideas, writing samples or manuscripts and open them to comments and reviews from strangers.. . .

Book Country will allow writers to post their own work — whether it’s an opening chapter or a full manuscript — and receive critiques from other users, who can comment on points like character development, pacing and dialogue. Later this summer the site will generate revenue by allowing users to self-publish their books for a fee by ordering printed copies. (The books will bear the stamp of Book Country, not Penguin, and the site is considered a separate operation from Penguin.)

The site will also explain the business of finding an agent, marketing and promoting a book, using social media and handling digital and subsidiary rights.

Writers often seem lonely sorts, sitting by themselves, typing away. "Scribble scribble scribble," as a British royal supposedly said to Edward Gibbon, author of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. But the internet has shown just how much those lonely scriveners really want to write to and for each other. Sites for writers are booming.
I for one am not surprised. Writing has always been simultaneously a very solitary and hugely interdependent activity, as I see it. Writers work often in solitude -- even in Starbucks, each writer at their laptop exists a bit of solitude carved out amid the caffeine buzz. Some may toil in Brooklyn apartments, never speaking to another human for days; some turn off all email and phone while they write; some lock the door to the office and exclude family, friends, and interruptions.
But at the same time most depend on previous writers - to contradict, to work against, to excel, to surpass, to pay homage. Writers stand on the shoulders of the giants--and midgets--before them. And writers don't really exist without readers. If one writes a book and no one reads it, is it actually a book? How many times do I hear a person say, "I wrote a book," and the next sentence is "Will you help me get it published?" There is something about a book written and not read that is so incomplete.
Rather like meditation; meditating is done in solitude or in solitude in a group (not a lot of chatter in the meditation hall, is there? kind of like a Starbucks full of writers ; ) Meditators rest on a lineage, learning from meditators before them. And the fruits of meditation exist in our interaction with others and with the phenomenal world, in the wisdom and compassion we evince in everyday life, in post-meditation.
So I'm all for anything that helps writers write, and reach others. Websites like Book Country aren't a threat to the business I love, just a new expression of it. I mean, look what websites have done for buddhism.
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