How Underdogs Win

May 10, 2009 § 7 Comments

davidI’m taken by Malcolm Gladwell’s article in the New Yorker, How David Beats Goliath. Offering glimpses into history from the Biblical to T.E. Lawrence, and adding in a pre-teen basketball team and war game tournament, Gladwell dissects the way underdogs can win: stop playing by the rules, since the rules were created by those in power.

It’s a powerful take that has much application to our current political and economic dilemmas. Some of us want to change the rules or ignore them to find solutions and others protest that to do so will cause chaos or that “It’s not fair, it’s always been done that way.” Gladwell’s hypothesis is that the only way we can make real change is to become Davids.

We can see this strategy applied to the literary world. Self publishing is a response to the powers who determined what’s publishable.  Writers decided that if they couldn’t get in the door, they’d build another house – a David’s innovative response. And it has changed the face of authorship.

I wonder what’s next? Now that we are all published, through blogs and social networks, vanity presses and Kinko’s, Kindle and Amazon, where do you think publishing will be in 20 years?

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§ 7 Responses to How Underdogs Win

  • alantru says:

    I agree.

    I’m very curious as to how it will all turn out.

    • This morning, the idea of a collective came to me. There is so much work and it is specialized. But what if a group of writers pooled their talents and everyone did (like the musicians) the pieces they were best at? So the marketers created a plan for several books, etc, someone else did design. Or perhaps collective of all art forms so writers write copy for artists while artists do design.

      You get the idea.

  • alantru says:

    Hey Pamela,

    I apologize in advance for the essay.

    I hope we still have publishers who support and promote their authors. It seems like that’s a rare thing these days. But I’m an optimist. I think the publishing industry can, with some business plan remodeling, still be relevant. I certainly hope so.

    With self publishing, I think the cons still outweigh the pros. At least at this particular time. We hear about the occasional self publishing successes, but not about the many, many people who spend their own money for an order of 10,000 books and only sell 50.

    There are good points to self publishing: You get complete control and decision-making over all aspects of the books creative development, manufacturing, publicity, other marketing initiatives, etc…
    (Most writers won’t get that with a publisher. In some cases your input will be listened to but the publisher will have no contractual obligation to follow-through on your wishes.)

    But I think the downside is that most people don’t have the time, experience and knowledge to carry out all of the functions needed to successfully publish a book (including all aspects of creative development, manufacturing, publicity, etc). At least, I know I wouldn’t…

    • No apologies needed, Alan.

      And I agree with you about now.

      But I wonder if the now that exists, which is too hard for writers to navigate and be successful at, will change in 20 years. What occurs to me is the revolution in the music business that MySpace caused. Musicians are doing, fairly successfully, all the functions you listed and reaching new audiences. Is this because they’ve found one primary place to gather and market their goods?

      What’s missing for them and us, though, is the big pay off. I think that may be a thing of the past and I wonder how that will change the business. Will lack of a big pay off eventually cause natural attrition and narrow the field again?

      • alantru says:

        That’s the interesting question. My hope is that we have a wide range of authors who are making a decent living wage as opposed to the few J. K. Rowlings…

        When the indie musicians on MySpace break through most of them usually end up signing with a major label. As well, there are usually four or five people in the band. So you can divvy out responsibilities. The lone writer usually toughs it out by him/herself.
        Also: Indie musicians make their money touring not on CD sales. So they’re on the road a lot.

        God, another essay… Sorry about this.

        I have no idea if it will change or where it’ll be in 20 years. I think social media is key and that publishers can learn to use it to promote their authors… Writers will still have to do a lot of leg work, (blog, tweet, etc..) but I hope they have publishers to support them.

      • Your points are well made. The article made me think about “the rules” of publishing, who made them and how we could disregard them and make our own.

        I think the publishing industry is a Goliath and we need to be thinking about how to find an innovative way.

        Readers may be the ones to drive the change, bookstores – if any on the street are still left – will have to jump in. Think about Kindle and Twitter. And social media is a democratic process. This will have a strong effect, as yet unknown.

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