Making books is fun. In fact, it’s rather addictive. Once you get started, it’s hard to stop. The process of bookmaking has long been in the hands of a small intellectual elite, heavily guarded by cultural gatekeepers. The internet has disrupted this machinery and exposed its arbitrary rules of admissions.
Now, everyone can make books — at least theoretically — and distribute them on a global scale across a multitude of different ereading devices or in the form of the time-tested paperback. Whether it’s a good or bad thing that every Tom, Dick and Harry can now write and publish their thoughts is irrelevant, because it doesn’t change the fact that they can.
Making books used to be a prestigious business, in some ways it’s still viewed as such, but our ideas are changing slower than our technology. No matter what we might think about it, making books has become more accessible and more transparent than it has ever been before.
Putting The Pieces Together
In some ways, making books has always been a highly compartmentalized business. There was someone who wrote a manuscript, someone who presented it to publishing houses, someone who edited it, someone who designed a cover, someone who printed it, someone who marketed it, someone who sold it, etc.
In the age of independent publishing, a term that has come to replace the outdated and stigmatized self–publishing, all these someones above have merged into one and the same person — let’s call this person the bookmaker (for lack of a better term).
He’s not just a writer, she’s not just an editor, graphic designer or a marketer, but all of it — at least to some degree. And even if he summons other people to help with editing, design, etc. the main responsibility still sits with the bookmaker who prepares, writes and directs the process, and oversees the production from start to finish.
While this bookmaker obviously requires a broad range of different skills, both technical and social, and the work is by no means trivial — the overall process of making a book has been simplified, nevertheless.
Instead of being a compartmentalized process split and segmented across a vast territory of different people, schedules and interests, the process has become more natural, more wholesome, in the sense that one person shapes and molds the book from beginning to end.
From Rocket-Science To Handcrafting
If bookmaking used to be like building airplanes, it has now become more similar to making cookies. Despite — as said above — requiring a wide range of specialized skills, the overall process is not one of over-specialization. The cookie maker gathers the ingredients (preparation), makes the dough (first draft), shapes it into cookies (editing), bakes them (publishing) and offers them for eating (distribution).
Asking how one person could possibly create a quality book without publishing houses and agents is like asking how your grandma could bake cookies without trained industry specialists! All she needs is the ingredients, a recipe (or idea) and an oven, doesn’t she?
Of course we’ve always been able to create manuscripts with a typewriter or even a pencil. But — without stretching the metaphor too far — it’s the “oven” technologies of print-on-demand and direct e-publishing which have made all the big difference in recent years.
While the gatekeepers still would have us believe that without their specialists the survival of good writing is endangered, it’s actually their privileged process which is in jeopardy.
We have the ideas, the technology and the willingness to venture into new terrain. And as much as the specialists may be specialized, there’s simply nothing like the taste of home-made cookies.
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