Very timely, I think, given all of the discussions going on this past couple of weeks around alternative delivery for books, stories, poems, etc.
To that end, here is my soapbox/Dear Diary train-of-thought treatise on the subject:
We all have a common problem: we want to make enough money at writing that we can pursue it full-time (or part-time); i.e., to move it from the domain of hobby to profession. The traditional route of writer>agent>publisher>reader is littered with Punji traps and ferocious beasties and misleading signs, and it is well known that very few will survive that way; and those who do survive may not make it in the same shape they may had once hoped for. For every J.K. Rowling, there are ten thousand Brian Keenes; for every Brian Keene, there are a hundred thousand Jeremy D Brookses.
But, let's consider that path. Why does everything need to flow in that direction? Because, I guess, despite all of the obstacles and heartbreak, it is still the path of least resistence (and on that path will be found electricity, water, and we humans). So what options do we have? There's the real question. Not question: discussion. Because that's what markets are: discussions between parties, each with a consideration and a need.
At its most fundamental level, what is the discussion between writer and reader? You want to be entertained; I want to entertain you. You will pay some amount of something (time, money, used furniture, green stamps, back rubs) to be entertained; I want to be compensated for my work.
Strip it back to the essentials, and the path of least resistence does not flow through Manhattan; not really. In fact, historically, and even moreso moving forward, the path to Manhattan seems like pushing water uphill. New York is full of brokers--and I don't want to in the least discount the value agents and editors and print publishers add to this chain. Their expertise and resources and specialised skills are part of the value-add chain. Without publishers, there is no marketing, no distribution, and no upfront royalties; without editors, our output isn't as good as it can be; without agents, the door to publishers is closed. But, times are tough; many publishers, large and small, are shuttering their operations; the ones that are still open are buying fewer (if any) books.
And it will get better, over time. Eventually. My day job is with a large bank; I've had all the gloom-n-doom I can take for one year, and it's not even February. It will get darker before it gets lighter; but it will, absolutely, get lighter. But none of it will look the same once the sun comes back out.
And I've only just begun to fight my first skirmishes of the publishing wars. And I'm still enjoying it. And I won't succumb to negativity or obstacles.
To that end: my personal goal, in addition to continuing to write my little ass off every night (or, if your eyesight is any good, my big ass), research agents and publishers, send out queries and submit to traditional markets, is to consider, strongly and aggresively, other ways to go about it. E-books, POD, vanity, PDF chapbooks, micro-payments, pay-as-you-read, pay-what-you-want, blog-stories (a la Blood Routes)...I think at this point in the game, everything is on the table, and the time is right to find other paths--provided that the output is as good as it would be coming out of the other end of the Manhattan meat grinder. Because bad output makes us all look bad.
So, that's my soap box report for the day. Back to work.