Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A New Paradigm in Publishing: Literary Chaos Theory

We continued our conversation, with Hammett explaining his unusual theories on marketing, breakout fiction, and cult fiction.

Hammett: Publishing conglomerates such as Bertelsmann, Holtzbrinck, Pearson, Time Warner, and Viacom have swallowed venerable presses such as Simon and Schuster, Random House, Viking, Grosset and Dunlop, Putnam, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Alfred A. Knopf, Doubleday, and hundreds of others. Even before the current recession, the result was a downsizing of the market, which I find Orwellian. But history teaches us that ideas, even those on the fringe, will find expression regardless of environment. In publishing, I call it Literary Chaos Theory.

Cat: Can you be a bit more specific?

Hammett: Think of Jurassic Park. The genetic engineers said the dinosaurs would never reproduce. Jeff Goldblum’s character predicted that the dinosaurs would find a way according to the laws of Chaos Theory. By definition, the inevitable can’t be stopped.

Cat: So the analogy is?

Hammett: Take e-books or POD titles, for example. They haven’t fared so well thus far, and maybe never will, but they represent the power of words pushing back against the shrinking marketplace and those that control it. E-books didn’t have a uniform platform, but Kindle has given us e-books in a different, more usable format depending on how one defines e-books. It’s evolution. As for print-on-demand, most titles may not be that good, but more and more small presses are using POD technology to cut printing costs. Even major houses use POD technology for some nonfiction titles. Again, evolution.

Cat: Interesting. Any major predictions?

Hammett: I think small presses will merge and resist corporate takeovers. Some already have. Also, some individuals are starting to break marketing and distribution barriers with their POD titles. Years ago Dan Poynter wrote a book on hang gliding and published it himself. It was a phenomenal success, as are his other books, and Poynter’s The Self-publishing Manual is now the bible for those who want to have genuine success with self-publishing. It’s a tough row to hoe, but it can be done if you’ve got a good product and the know-how.

Cat: All of this sounds very do-able, but I’m searching for some radical ideas.

Hammett: Mini presses. People publishing two or three titles a year and selling them at book co-ops. Then again, conglomerates might fail, and if that sounds implausible, just look at America’s major lending institutions. Literacy levels have dropped among college graduates, and in a downsized market, the number of new titles might continue to shrink. That will open up new niches for people with innovative ideas. Or conglomerates might well misread the needs of the marketplace. It happens all the time with tech companies. Microsoft, for example, has made some major blunders that allowed others to capitalize and fill a niche.

Cat: Can you give me a specific scenario?

Hammett: A conglomerate might well decide to sink everything into electronic platforms, only to find that a majority of readers still want paper and ink.

Cat: We started out with a theory about breakout fiction.

Hammett: Right. We come full circle. When the literary marketplace starts to fluctuate or evolve, certain titles will find a niche. That’s the key. Niches will appear for reasons we can’t predict, and hence the term chaos. Titles will breakout or become cult fiction. At least one-third of all cult fiction titles, some now taught in schools, were rejected numerous times or were given little, if any, chance of succeeding. Their subsequent success defies explanation.

Cat: So where is William Hammett’s fiction in this milieu?

Hammett: I think metaphysical fiction will become a separate genre, and my work dances on the edge of metaphysics without being New Age. Other than that, my Lennon novel was sent to people who know, or knew, the Beatles.

I didn’t quite know what to say.


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What Is Cult Fiction?
Is Cult Fiction the Same as Underground Fiction?
Cult Fiction and Genre
Cult Fiction and ON THE ROAD
Moby-Dick: The Ultimate Cult Novel
John Lennon and the Mercy Street Cafe: Cult Fiction in the Making?
The Next Wave of Cult Fiction
List of Cult Fiction Classics
Cult Fiction Websites
Current Trends in Fiction
Literary Fiction
Breakout Fiction
Literary Agents
Self-Published Novels
Understanding the Literary Marketplace
Emerging Writers in the Literary Marketplace
Resources for Writers
About Cat Spaulding