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Novels are special, so the novelists say.

Novels are special because they are the skyscrapers of the literary world: pages piled high with wide, sweeping horizons, long histories, complex machines of character and society.  A novels is big, no matter the page count.  The builder must find not only a way to survive the construction of this skyscraper, but the next and the next and the next–each one as daunting as the last.

It is tiring.

The modern writer can only marvel old writers who built the skyscrapers before we were born.  They had one way to build: Publication.  That’s Publication, with a big P because there really wasn’t any other way to do it.

There is now.

Now, we have Publishing, and we have publishing.  We can Publish with the distinguished professionals sitting behind mahogany desks with carefully calibrated price calculators, budget spreadsheets, and monogrammed pens.  And we can publish on blogs and social networks, and independent printers, and independent e-book platforms.

But…

But the professionals behind the mahogany desks were the ones who had the money.  They were the ones who paid for the skyscrapers of the literary world, paid for the sleepless nights the novelist spent noveling, paid for the sleepless nights to come after so the novelist wouldn’t starve before Book 2.

And what now?

Who supports the architects now?

Someone else…

someone equal to the professionals behind the desks with carefully calibrated price calculators, budget spreadsheets, and monogrammed pens, someone who can support a forest of skyscrapers: readers.

Readers don’t pay for a book before it is completed.  Not traditionally.  Readers never paid for the sleepless nights running up to the finished product, and after when there was a new product to be finished.  They didn’t–and should never be expected to–write out our rent checks and our marketing budgets and our salaries.

And yet…

Readers are the secret weapons of the modern novelist.

It is readers, not Publishers, that will be the true support of novelists in the future.  It is readers, not Publishers, that will decide–through crowd funding, and tipping and even “liking”–what books they want written, what series they want continued, what talent they want cultivated.  It is readers, not Publishers who will review the half-formed ideas, the drafts, the unpolished manuscripts.  Even before the first book hits shelves, it is readers, not Publishers, who will know their authors.

They will support the novel.

This is why I talk about readers here.  This is why I talk about Flattr and Kickstarter and indie writing:  these are our future.  The young novelists of the world need to look towards the fast-approaching future.  It is scary, it is new, it is uncertain.  But it is here.

Novels are special, so the novelists say.

Novels are long, they say, they are multi-year projects, they are giant vacuum that sucks all the energy out of the rest of our lives.

Novels, so the story goes, are just too big too fit into the free spaces of the internet where the crowds collect.  They need the support of the professionals sitting behind mahogany desks with carefully calibrated price-calculators, budget spreadsheets, and monogrammed pens.  Even the novels who’ve broken away and struck out on their own seem to follow their lead–secreting away their work, constructing it just so it looks exactly like it came off a bookstore shelf, pricing it and marketing it as though they themselves had become the Publishers.  The idea that novelists could copy the approach of many other creators–musicians, amateur film makers, web comics artists, and others who inhabit the free space with the crowds–is absolutely preposterous in the literary community.  Crowds take years to grow, so the story goes.

Yes, yes they do.

And so do novels.

Years might pass before a novel is complete.  Do you want to pass them alone?  Or with your readers?

Novels and crowds grow slow–let them grow slow together.

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