Saturday, July 03, 2010

Has Your Ship Sailed?

So the other night Robert and I accidentally watched 2012, and I discovered the underlying, fundamental problem that publishing is having transitioning into the 21st century. HINT: AT THIS POINT, SCROLL DOWN TO THE TEXT IN ALL CAPS IF YOU DON’T WANT TO READ THE WHOLE POST. THOSE ARE THE BULLETED MAIN POINTS FOR SKIMMERS.

First, before I let you in on my startling discovery, I should probably provide some context. I had just fixed the garage door and was feeling rather saucy when the “incident” happened. Well, actually, Robert fixed the garage door, but I diagnosed the problem (Honey, the garage door is broken!), and I was feeling quite smug.

Then Robert pushed one little button and that all changed. Late night movies are like that, you know. You figure you’ll vegetate in front of some B-movie wannabe and doze off, and the next thing you know, your world view changes and you’re re-writing your will, selling your most prized azalea, and re-naming your cat Contessa Biffy Skeffington.

Oh, it was supposedly an accident, but are there really accidents, or are they signs? Signs with big numbers on them, like 2-0-1-2. In case you don’t know, according to a Mayan calendar, 12/21/12 is supposedly the date the when the world ends. It’s the apocalypse (yes, another one), the end of everything as we know it, and even possibly the human race (which means certain politicians, celebrities, and pundits have nothing to fear). I’ve seen dozens of these apocalyptic movies, and they pretty much follow the same format with the same predictable violence, love matches, vows of courage, hopeful despair, strategic survival attempts, etc.

So you’re probably wondering how we accidentally watched 2012. Robert, who thought he was pressing the preview button on the new remote control that came with the new thigamajiggies we were told we had to hook up to our TV or forfeit citizenship, pushed the wrong button. Well, actually several. First the garage door went up. Then it went down. Then one of the cats disappeared and reappeared right in front of us as a dog dressed in lederhosen. Finally, we ordered a movie that neither of us had particularly wanted to see. However, being money-grubbing literary agents, we couldn’t bear to not watch something already paid for, so we did. Besides, we couldn’t have made it go away if we tried.

I usually dig movies with nature gone awry in some way, but I’ve not enjoyed movies based on the end-of-the-world scenario for a long time. However, until I watched 2012, I didn’t really realize why. As the movie progressed, one disaster after another—volcanoes, earthquakes, stiff acting and poorly conceived relationships—made it clear.

I ain’t getting on the boat.

You see, there are two different groups of people in a disaster movie—the ones who will survive to perpetuate the human species and the ones who won’t. There’s always a cataclysmic event looming, in this case a worldwide flood, and there’s always only one way to survive it, in this case four humongous mega-boats, aptly titled “arks.” These arks were built by world governments who then set about deciding who would get a seat on them, and it deteriorates from there.

So, who will get on the boat? Well, let’s see…
  • Rich people who buy, bribe, or force their way on
  • Rich people who are selected to go because they are rich
  • Government types and their families who will supposedly be needed to run the “New World” (in other words, rich people)
  • Scientists such as chemists and engineers (Hey, who else will resurrect Facebook and Twitter and develop patent-worthy male enhancement drugs?)
  • Scientists such as those who figured out the cataclysmic event was coming in the first place so they can figure out when the next one will happen so that movie directors and producers can make a wad of cash off movies speculating about said catastrophe
  • Movie directors and producers, obviously
  • First responder types such as doctors, nurses, firefighters, police, etc., for obvious reasons
  • Soldiers who will keep the peace when resources run low and heads of governments get into squabbles about religion, petroleum, hot pockets, and Frappucinos
  • Librarians who would quietly and in their wonderfully subversive way control the flow of information
  • Oprah Winfrey (Do I need I explain this one? Really?)
  • Experts in the various disciplines from universities all over the world
  • Teachers who will be responsible for taking the blame when the New World public schools fail
  • Scribes (yes, finally we get to the writers—nonfiction this time) who will record the historical events for posterity, at least until the world really does end
  • Entertainers such as singers, dancers, actors, and story-tellers of both the oral and written variety (fiction writers, that’s you) to help the soldiers keep the peace when everyone finally figures out there’s no cell reception in the New World and they forgot to invite a cell tower repairperson along
  • Earl Q. Partleberger of Fritterville, Arkansas, who lost a bet with his drinking buddies and had to sneak aboard an ark without anyone noticing, which he did just before the door closed (sadly, his friends will not be joining him)
So which category do you fit into? Me? I actually fit into about three, maybe four. However, here’s the kicker: Only the top 1% of anyone in those categories is getting on the boat. Space is limited. Resources are limited. And even though there’ll be more room because all the librarians will refuse to board once they find out there’s no room for them AND their personal book collections (and thus will stay behind with their books like the flaming torch lady in Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451), that still doesn’t leave much room for me and you. Only the top of the food chain in each area who meet certain criteria are getting an invite to help rebuild the world. This means that not only do you have to have skills and expertise, but you must be healthy and sane as well.

I definitely ain’t getting on the boat.

However, that’s not such a bad thing if you consider who probably would make the New World Team. How could I sleep at night knowing Dean Koontz stayed behind while I bunked with Joe Biden, Sarah Palin, Nancy Pelosi, and Ronald Reagan’s bones on our journey to the New Beginning? Or Ursula Le Guin? Or Lois Lowry? What about you? Which fiction writer would you nominate to take your place? Which person would you charge with contributing to the entertainment of the New World denizens and also with helping chart their cultural history in creative prose? HINT: THIS IS WHAT YOU SHOULD COMMENT ON. REALLY. FORGET THE OTHER STUFF. IT’S JUST FLUFF.

We all come to that point in our lives where we realize that we either are or aren’t going to be able to cajole, solicit, seduce, force, fight, bribe, intimidate, beg, sneak, achieve etc., our way past a cataclysmic event, and I think this explains some of the attitudes we see in some writers, agents, publishers, editors, distributors, and all others affected by the digital revolution, which is the most frightening event to happen in publishing since agents stopped charging reading fees. WARNING: POINT OF ARTICLE FOLLOWS With all the lay-offs, changes, and folding of many established companies and the shaking up of the complete industry, it’s obvious that some publishing folks have come to believe that, when the Big One in Publishing finally does arrive for sure, there won’t be any room on the boat, or in the space shuttle, or on the mountain top for them, and it may be true.

However, unlike an event that would destroy the world, the big changes in publishing offer more opportunities for those who want to stay in that world to do so. If you aren’t invited onto the boat, you can build your own. Or you can swim. Or you can hop onto a life raft. In other words, the changes in publishing, as fearsome and loathsome as they seem to some, open up a whole new world of possibilities to reach out to the reader in new and exciting ways. I, for one, now realizing that I won’t be getting an invitation to join the President and First Lady on Ark Force One, am thrilled to get to take part in anything remotely resembling something survivable in my profession, and I firmly believe WARNING: THOUGHT-PROVOKING IDEA COMING UP this digital revolution is an opportunity for those who truly want to be in this branch of the entertainment field.

No matter how crazy and unstable publishing may become, it might be worth it—whether you’re an editor, agent, publisher, writer, distributor, etc.--to explore where the massive wave of technology can sweep you. It may be a risky and wild ride, but why not give it a go?

After all, it’s not like it would be the end of the world. :)