Literary Publishing in the 21st Century

literary publishing

Photo credit: @mist3ry30 / CC BY

I’m very proud to be a contributor to a new anthology, Literary Publishing in the Twenty-First Century, releasing from Milkweed Editions in April.

The collection features a diverse set of perspectives, including Richard Nash, Sven Birkerts, Erin Belieu, Jessa Crispin, Daniel José Older, and many others. The editors of the collection hope to offer a road map to frequently asked questions, such as:

  • How do editors and publishers adapt to a rapidly changing world?
  • How are vibrant communities in the digital age created and engaged?
  • How can the industry become more diverse and inclusive?

Publishers Weekly reviewed the anthology, claiming it a must-read for anyone in the industry.

Literary Publishing in the 21st CenturyMy essay, “The Future Value of a Literary Publisher,” is the very last in the collection. Here’s how it begins.

Since the late 1990s, I have been educating writers about the publishing industry. For the first ten years, most conversations centered on how to write better, find an agent, and get a book published (and then another). The big question on every writer’s mind was: Do I have what it takes? And I would retort with: Do you have grit? Because dogged persistence was the biggest commonality I saw among successful writers, at least those who could be said to make a “living” at it.

By 2008, the weight of the conversation had shifted to print versus digital challenges. Many of us, both inside and outside the industry, have become consumed by the question of how long print will last, how much we have to compromise our writing and editing time to cultivate an online presence, and if it’s the “most exciting time” to be in publishing or actually the worst.

We’ve all been in that conversation where we’ve made a proclamation about whether we favor print or digital, and when we favor it, and why we favor it. We muse on the difference in hand feel, smell, navigational memory, marginalia, and attention. And all of these things are intertwined with childhood associations, emotional milestones, and matters of personal identity.

But this talk is ultimately a distraction from the real challenges faced both by writers and publications—and especially by literary publishing. The problem is not whether print will survive, but how literary publishing adapts to a world where to publish something has lost value.

As usual, I’ll be at the AWP conference this year in Los Angeles, where I’m participating on two panels to discuss how literary publishing can flourish while the industry moves at electric speed.

Click here to find out more about Literary Publishing in the Twenty-First Century on Amazon.

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Posted in Publishing Industry.

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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