Sunday, 7 February 2010

Self Publishing

Yes, that old chestnut again.

It's not a hobby horse, I hasten to add before you click the 'back' button and head off somewhere else. There are enough of them around the cyber community as it is. I have never self published, nor do I preach against it with missionary zeal. But it always fascinates me how polarising a subject it is among writers.
Until fairly recently self-publishing was the only kind of publishing. Virginia Wolfe had to set up Hogarth Press, initially as a small printing press on her kitchen table, to get her books out into the world. At one time being published was a luxury only afforded to the wealthy. You had to have the means to support not only your writing but the ability to print it.
In the last hundred years publishing has flourished making it more attainable as well as a potentially lucrative career for some writers. In recent years Print on Demand technology has put the printing side of the process within everyone's grasp. And that's where the arguing begins. Should it be?

The anti brigade say no. Not everyone has the ability to write a readable book and their clumsy efforts devalue the medium, bringing the whole industry into disrepute. Without proper editing any book will be too rough to appeal to enough readers to make it viable.
The pro brigade say that's elitist. Why should they have to succumb to the filtering process policed by self-proclaimed gatekeepers of editors and agents? Publishing their work is the right of every person and they will go it alone whatever the consequences, thank you very much.

The internet has brought an additional complication. The success of and other online retailers has helped bring about the demise of not only independent bookshops but large chains like Borders. Then there's ebooks, with the potential to download books without need for paper or presses at all. However much old timers like myself resist the march of technology, is this the way of the future? Are paper books on the way out? If so, the process of self-publishing becomes even more attractive and cost effective.

If you were reading this hoping for a definitive answer I'm sorry to disappoint, but I really don't know what I think of self publishing. Writers want to be read and they are resourceful enough to find ways to that end. We'll just have to wait and see what the future of self publishing is. I suspect it could well be another DIY craze, like the one a few years back that gave rise to hardware chains like B&Q. Once the skill shortage became apparent the enthusiasm wore off pretty quick.

Here's an interesting post by literary agent Nathan Bransford on the subject. Typically for him it's open minded and thoughtful and food for thought.


Michael said...

>>Not everyone has the ability to write a readable book and their clumsy efforts devalue the medium, bringing the whole industry into disrepute. Without proper editing any book will be too rough to appeal to enough readers to make it viable.<<

But even with professional editors and the other skilled hands at a major traditional publisher, Sarah Palin's bestseller is still a lousy book.

Michael N. Marcus
-- president of the Independent Self-Publishers Alliance,
-- author of "Become a Real Self-Publisher: Don’t be a Victim of a Vanity Press,"
-- author of "Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults)," coming 4/1/10.

Sophie Playle said...

Great post, Sandra. A very good point you make about the history of publishing.

I think there are big changes happening in the publishing industry at the moment. Perhaps in a few years time they will have settled into something more familiar.

MessageForce said...
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BookWhirl said...

It's possible to explore a lot of options, given the fact that technology has a lot to offer when it comes to publishing and marketing books. Defining success for a writer can mean a lot of things. But it's good news that aspiring writers are given a chance to be read through self-publishing.

Melanie Walsh said...

A lot has changed in recent years. Technology advances have enabled a new era in publishing, and current issues regarding the price of e-books will stir things up even more (see Kindle Nation's early survey results). I think it is fair to say that self-published (independent) authors are taking heed of past criticisms and appreciating what is involved in producing a quality product. Time will tell, as you say, Sandra.

Nadine Galinsky Feldman said...

I self-published a bereavement book for grandparents 10 years ago, and it has done well and has been a deeply rewarding experience. I'm glad I did it! Yes, I can look at it now and see flaws in the book, but it helped a lot of people, and I learned from the experience. Had I gone the traditional route, I might still be waiting for a publisher. I am about to take the plunge again with a new book because I ENJOY self-publishing.

Kate said...

just butting into the conversation to let you know I've just tagged you with a blog award from over at 'A Patch of Dirt' :-)