Wednesday, October 03, 2012

The Uncomfortable Reality of Paradigm Shifts

Everything you wanted to know about Paradigms,but were afraid to ask. . .
When I was an undergraduate, I studied the history of medicine and medical ethics. One of the core courses I took was a history/philosophy course that studied Kuhn's text for an entire semester. So when I tell you I know all about paradigms and paradigm shifts, it's based on academic experience.

If you're unfamiliar with the use of the term in a social or scientific context, a paradigm shift includes the whole 'oh, the earth is flat and we'll fall off the edge' construct in contrast with 'oh, no, the earth is round, dudes, and has no edges.' A more modern example: In the 1970's it was known that stress caused ulcers. Then scientists discovered H. Pylori bacteria and a whole knew avenue of treating/preventing ulcers was born.

The tricky thing about paradigms is that it's easy from a perspective further along in the time line to say, 'hey, those silly simpletons. How could they have believed that ___________, when we know it's really _________' (fill in the blanks.)

In the ulcer example, guess what scientists have figured out? That chronic stress changes the gastric environment, making it more hospitable to H. Pylori. Not so simple, then, as 'new-truth-trumps-old-falsehood.

Another uncomfortable reality is that holders of the old belief don't magically 'see the light' when confronted by the new shiny. No, the reason our beliefs shift is because the old guard die out and the new believers are the ones who control the message.

What does any of this have to do with writing and publishing?


The rise of the eBook along with distribution channels for eBook sales plus the ability for authors to sell books directly to their readership via those channels is nothing if not a profound paradigm shift in the world of publishing.

Paradigm shifts are messy, painful, and difficult. Just ask Galileo.

So many of the conversations around the 'net about self-publishing feels to me like a room full of scientists arguing about the mechanism of ulcers, or ancient astronomers about the shape of the earth. In the end, neither the ulcer nor the planet really cares what we believe. The words on the page won't either.

So what does matter?

For me, it's about one thing only: providing the best quality story to the right audience, regardless of the delivery mechanism. For some books, that will be via self-publishing, some via small press, some via the agent/editor/publishing house method.

The arguments that try to vilify one side or another are pointless and small.

The arguments that try to vilify one side or another seem driven by fear and a need to control the eventual outcome of an evolving, shifting process.

None of that will make any bit of difference to the process of storymaking and creation.

Ultimately, we live in the world and try to understand it as best as we are able. We treat our ulcers with the best treatment available at the moment. The only thing we can be sure of is that our understanding of things will change.

No one knows what publishing will look like in 3 years, in 5 years, in a dozen years. So holding fast to one and only one way of getting creative work into the world (whichever way you favor) will only make the shift an impossible chasm to cross.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. Are you a reader? A Writer? A publishing professional? Usual guidelines apply--no personal attacks, please.


  1. I'm a writer (you know that lol) and I think both methods are great. I've self published some short stories and have had a great experience with that, and traditionally published some novels. I think we, as writers, are all different people with different needs, desires, and writing goals. I know I'm not well suited to marketing (and, truly, a lot of the nuts and bolts of publishing), so self-pubbing novel length fiction isn't something I'm interested in. Shorts? Sure. However, I will, admittedly, probably self-pub the next novel in my series because it's no longer financially viable for traditional publishers to pick up but the fans want it.

    We gotta do what we gotta do. ;)

    I think that we're living in an interesting time in a lot of arenas as digital goes mainstream. There are so many options and I believe that we, especially writers, need to research and soul-search to decide what's best for us and for each individual project. :)

  2. Thanks, Lisa. There's no one-size-fits-all in the world of publishing. I hate to see internecine "discussions" when there's room for many paths in this business. It's about creativity, isn't it? Even during times of growing pains.... :)

  3. There are times going the self pub route is a great idea especially if you have a niche type story or NF book. Or a series that’s been interrupted like with Tammy. I applaud those that go the self-publishing route. Some of them have very detailed ideas on marketing and it works for them. Some of the success stories that I've heard about, the authors have also published books through the traditional route. So their fan base has followed them. The thing that irks me about a few of the self-published books is that editors, even a critique, would've helped the story. In a couple of books, it would’ve made it readable. (I think someone else did the blurb for them in those cases.)

    It is exciting to be a writer right now. There are so many avenues to choose from. I agree that each person has to make their own decisions after carefully studying all the options, along with the pros and cons.

  4. I'm a writer and I have to admit that I am happily clueless in this arena. Well, semi-clueless. I haven't self-published anything yet, but I probably will in the near future. That said, I already hired an editor for that particular work and -- when I get a break from school -- will work on the the first set of revisions. Honestly, I think that the whole editing process is the key element to it all. Me being a creator-type, I can get carried away and miss some of the easy things that make the book more reader-friendly.

    But I do read a lot of people who smite self-published books at the first sign of a misplaced apostrophe. While I recognize that there are a lot of works out there that are substandard, we don't need to go on a tirade about it. And we don't need to picket the Big Six as old-fashioned stick-in-the-mud's either.

    It's almost sad, but I guess I really am that person on the side of the road asking why we can't all get along.

  5. I'm a writer AND a reader. *wink* (Aren't we all? Writers who aren't readers make me wonder.)

    I'm a firm believer in "All of the above." There is no one-size-fits-all.

    It's true that there is no quality control on self-published books except what the author brings to the table, whether their own work or people (paid or not) to help. However, I've certainly seen many traditionally published books where the editing and proofreading left something to be desired. (My son won't mark up a book to correct it, but he will stop reading to complain about an error.) Provenance is no clue to or guarantee of production value or of the quality of a story.

    I've read good work this year that came from all routes -- self-published, small press, mid-sized presses, large presses. It's harder to find the good self-pubbed stuff unless you know the author, I think, which is a shame. (Says me, who doesn't do any marketing of the self-pubbed stuff.)

    I can't wait to see how things look in 3 years, in 5, in 10, in 20. I only know that I'll still be writing then, and covering all of my bases for publication -- whatever is available at the time.

  6. thank you for your very interesting and insightful comments. Your topic caught my interest as I have worked in the healthcare field for many years, and have worked with patients and familes making decisions about advance directives, placement post hospitalization, etc.
    I went to Amazon and looked up your book, and am curious to read other things you have written. Electronic media has certainly made access much easier for people who like to read. I believe I may be one of the few people I know who does not own some sort of e-reader. I bought one for one of my children, but have thus far not purchased one for myself. At any rate, thank you for your information and hard work!

  7. Love this article. Paradigm is my new favorite word. Raising kids and knowing a lot about nutrition has caused more battles than I care to recall. Now I have a word for the doctors' arguments. Puts the whole thing in perspective.

  8. Haha, you know my opinion on this. But that's all it is. My opinion. And I know I'm wrong. More laughter. I've been seeing those damn Kindle-or-whatever-they-call-them blasted things everywhere, so even I have to admit that the damn things are catching on. She groans.

  9. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.