And it worked. After sending the book to Scott Brian Wilson, a critic at the lit site the Quarterly Conversation, De La Pava scored a glowing review. Levi Stahl, the marketing director of University of Chicago Press follows Wilson, and the rest is history.

"I started agitating to get it published," Stahl says. But the odds were stacked against him: "Fiction isn't something we're known for, and obviously, also, it was a self-published debut novel that was 700-pages long."

But ultimately, after the press's editors vetted the manuscript, they decided to pull the trigger. Stahl believes this will give Singularity a leg up on other literary fiction titles. "If we [at the press] agreed that this was a great book that needs to be published, we have an advantage —we're not FSG or Random House, who say, 'This is the best novel of the decade.' And they do that every season."

Before De La Pava became a success story, he was just a guy without an agent — who also happened to be able to spend thousands of dollars to put his book into the world and had the great good fortune to be married to someone with vast knowledge of contemporary fiction. An author of equal merits might not have the same luck. Even De La Pava thinks so.

"It's better to have someone pay you to write than for you to pay to put your book out," he said. "I'm not here to discourage anybody from doing it, but the truth of the matter is, 99.9 percent of the time [self-publishing is] not going to work out from a strictly economic standpoint."

At least, under the old regime, a writer could hope to get paid for his troubles. If the publishing industry blew up tomorrow, fiction would become the exclusive provenance of those individuals with the money and time to publish and promote it.

But Clay Shirky's interview with reveals the situation to be even direr:

The question isn't what happens to publishing — the entire category has been evacuated. The question is, what are the parent professions needed around writing? Publishing isn't one of them. Editing, we need, desperately. Fact-checking, we need. For some kinds of long-form texts, we need designers. Will we have a movie-studio kind of setup, where you have one class of cinematographers over here and another class of art directors over there, and you hire them and put them together for different projects, or is all of that stuff going to be bundled under one roof? We don't know yet.

Newsflash: that movie-studio kind of setup where editors, designers, and fact-checkers all congregate in some magical place, already exists. It's called a publishing house. But let's ignore, for a moment, a nightmare world in which every talented editor and designer needs to become an independent contractor with no health benefits. What happens to the writer? Would this new system better-serve her? As her own publisher, she'll need to track down the appropriate professionals to work with her book. Moreover, she'll need to have the money to pay them. This new model sounds less like egalitarianism and more like the Bush administration, intent on outsourcing government jobs to private contractors. In both publishing models, somebody's still paying, and in self-publishing, that someone is the author. That doesn't seem especially meritocratic.

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Related: The self-published come to BEA, Jonathan Lethem braves Talking Heads’ Fear of Music, Turn the page, More more >
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