Reviewing Books in an Age of Self-Publishing

A lot of people are talking about whether or not it's possible to develop a literary canon in an age of self-publishing. When there are no gatekeepers, how do we know what to keep for future generations? Those who've had the gates slammed in their faces find the open doors of self-publishing a welcome relief and a source of hope for their material. To them, this question seems archaic. But when anything can be published, the resulting sea of material makes it almost impossible to find the readership that matters, whoever that is. And the plethora of written material that's now available for people to read is mind-boggling—and growing exponentially by the day.

It's kind of like orbital debris. At the moment, it doesn't really affect anyone. But at the rate we're going, it will. Eventually. Future generations will look back on our irresponsibility and cast well-earned judgment.

Not that keeping a blog or self-pubbing your memoirs is literary littering. But sometimes it is.

I think that's why reviewers are important. Good ones. Reviewers who don't just read the books that are already hitting the bestseller shelves, or the blogs that everyone else is already following, imitating, tumbling, and pinning. Reviewers who hunt for new material more voraciously and thoroughly than an acquisitions agent.

I don't think I've said anything new yet, so here it goes: I think we should be paying reviewers. I think we should be finding the good reviewers, the trustworthy, intelligent, hound dog reviewers, and then we should be paying them to cull through the morass of material that's out there—traditionally published and self-published, books and blogs and zines—to find that canon. Otherwise the digital age will actually serve to drown out voices, not to give the silenced a voice. We'll still only hear about the books that have money behind them. And our age will be remembered not for liberating the writer, but for making the writer irrelevant. As things stand now, book reviewers are a dying breed. Granted, there are more self-proclaimed reviewers on the internet than ever (myself included), but they're mostly not getting paid. And the only way to read enough to attempt the attic purge that is contemporary book reviewing is for it to be a full time job. So I would challenge our newspapers and journals not to cut those columns. And I would challenge people looking for a good book to read to first find a reviewer they trust, someone they'd happily take a book suggestion from., and find a way to keep them doing what they're doing.
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