I love my blog and I love my readers. But whenever I post on something with wider implications to the publishing landscape, I always get new readers who come and rabble-rouse in the comments. Don’t get me wrong. I love getting new readers. And new readers can agree with me or not. In fact, I love it when they bring intelligent dispute into the comments. But if I post on anything contentious, I can guarantee that I’ll get some new readers who just want to vent their spleens. This happened in the comments for yesterday’s post. I would usually let it go, but the pro-self-publishing argument some of them are saying is just ridiculous, so allow me a quick rebuttal.
These people are citing the literary geniuses of old who self-published their books in a completely different era, as if it had any bearing on what is going on right now. (As Thomas pointed out in comments. Thanks!)
I really hope that my readers, who I know are savvy about today’s publishing realities, can tell the difference between self-publishing, readership, distribution, and publicity then, when self-publishing was one of the only options available to writers (and called for a large money and time investment, as it still sometimes does), and those same elements of the book trade now.
That self-publishing has a rich history is a totally irrelevant argument because the industry of publishing and technology in general have changed so much. Sure, Walt Whitman self-published. But I bet he didn’t code his poetry into an interactive iPhone app that he tried to hawk for $2.99 per download. In fact, if I delve into Walt Whitman’s history of self-publishing Leaves of Grass, it says, “The first edition of Leaves of Grass was widely distributed and stirred up significant interest.”
So that’s where, already, the story of self-publishing in the old days is different from self-publishing in the 21st century. On two very crucial points: distribution, and significant interest. Back then, books were more difficult to come by than they are now. Most people could become a visible competitor on the playing field just by showing up. And the printed word was usually one of the only ways for people to express themselves publicly AT SCALE. Now, anyone can start a blog (hi there!) and rant. Back then, you had to get up on an actual soapbox and shout or you had to self-publish a pamphlet, book, or article. Whole towns could start a lively discussion based on one pamphlet that got read, passed on, distributed widely. People would clutch books and pamphlets to their chests and duel about them in the town square. If only today’s self-published, or traditionally published, for that matter, books could stir such passion!
It’s interesting that self-publishing used to be the norm and, now that traditional publishing is in flux, the curve is arcing back toward self-publishing again, but, other than that, all the sarcasm about literature’s greatest voices self-publishing is overstated.
And now that traditional publishing has amassed market share, guess who publishes the greats of yore now so that they they can enjoy a mass audience? Traditional publishers. I’m sure that James Joyce and Charles Dickens aren’t rolling over in their graves when they see their work on shelves around the world.
Also, to the guy who made the huge list of classic books that got rejected … that’s not an argument for self-publishing. That’s a fact of life. EVERY SINGLE BOOK AND AUTHOR THAT IS PUBLISHED TODAY HAS GOTTEN REJECTED AT LEAST ONCE. Stephenie Meyer. J.K. Rowling. Stephen King. James Patterson. For every publisher who buys a project, there are at least five or six who pass on it (either because they reject it outright or they get outbid in a competitive situation).
Which only goes to prove perhaps my biggest point about publishing in general, one I’ve made many times on this blog: publishing and writing and literature are subjective. Some people love self-publishing. Others don’t. To each their own.