Just before a tsunami, the sea rushes out further than the low tide mark. That's a warning of the impending tumultuous torrent of devastation about to ensue.
After I finished writing 'Milkshake' I wasted several months trying to track down likely agents and publishers who would preferably accept emailed manuscripts instead of insisting on half a ream of paper being sent halfway around the world. I reluctantly sent one to Australia. It cost $25. They declined.
So there I stood, in a desert of frustration, with no prospect of anyone ever getting to read 'Milkshake' in the form of a book. Except it wasn't a desert, it was a beach, and the sea had retreated far over the horizon.
A tsunami was imminent...
A number of aspiring writers were slowly realising the potential of self-publishing. Lead by the likes of Smashwords and Amazon, the internet was finally developing a viable model to exploit the full potential of the novel, in the same way musicians were already embracing the web as a way of cutting out the middle-men record companies who'd traditionally taken the lion's share of royalties and passed on a few cents to the artist.
Writers now had the ability to not only self-publish their work. Not only that, there were mechanisms in place to market and sell, potentially on a global scale, 24/7. Meanwhile, back on the beach, a distant roar could be heard. Traditional publishers stood looking out to sea, and wondered what that strange sound was.
So now the wave has hit us, swamping the unsuspecting publishers who stood, Canute-like, expecting the water to just rise uncomfortably above their waists. Instead, it simply washed over their heads.
But some were prepared. A few writers had already prepared their raft. They'd anticipated the power of social networking and realised without the luxury of a corporate marketing budget, their success depended on branding. Never mind the story, the sale was as much about the attraction of the author as it was about the written word.
Not everyone has the skill to build their own raft. Luckily a few entrepreneurial types had the foresight to build lifeboats, and so we saw the rise of a huge number of publishers. In many cases this is a misnomer, since they offer little more than the time and technical expertise needed to convert Word documents into files capable of being sold on Amazon. Others will offer editing and critiquing services. Again many of these are not founded in any kind of formal training or acquired skill or learning.
Nevertheless, many inexperienced writers prefer to jump on board the relative comfort and safety of one of these newly-constructed 'lifeboat-publishers'. The kudos of a 'published by' together with an eye-catching logo gives many writers the desired 'warm-fuzzy' feeling of having genuinely been published.
Of course, one of the other benefits is, hopefully, there are also other people on the 'lifeboat'; fellow writers able to support and publicise each other's work.
Meanwhile the traditional publishers frantically try and construct their own lifeboats using the flotsam and jetsam bobbing around in the wake of the biggest tsunami to hit publishing since the printing press.
...and I've not even mentioned pirates yet...