Self-Reliant

Mason's book was originally self-published.

Mason’s book was originally self-published.

An array of slightly too-shiny paperbacks with offbeat covers winks from a back shelf at the local bookstore.  These memoirs, mysteries, family histories, and science fiction novels are by unknown writers…and you have never heard of the publishers.

You know what that means.

The nouveau self-published.

Until a couple of years ago, self-publishing was frowned upon.

Writers who published in traditional venues, whether in the New York Times or the most lacklustre local magazines, tended to despise those who publish their own work.

The rest of us are not snobs, but we know that editors have probably rejected the books before the authors go this route.

And when people give us copies of their self-published novels or poetry chapbooks, we are polite, but do we read them?

Attitudes are changing as new technology, like self-published e-books formatted for free at  Lulu and Smashwords, makes self-publishing almost trendy.

Opus Print on DemandNot long ago, journalists wouldn’t have bothered to report on the self-publishing trend.  But in I recently read a story in The Washington Post about an Open Mike party for self-published authors at Politics and Prose, a Washington bookstore that has printed 9,000 books by self-published authors via an Opus Espresso Print-on-Demand machine.

It’s not just the Washington Post that is softening up.  Michiko Kakutani, a  tough book critic at The New York Times, chose  Alan Sepinwall’s self-published The Revolution Was Televised, a book of TV criticism, as one of her best books of 2012.

In Forbes last August, David Vinjamuri mused about the potential of self-published e-books in the midst of an Old Media publishing slump.  He wrote about breakthrough “indie” novels by Hugh Howey, Amanda Hocking, and John Locke.

But he says self-publishing raises the hackles of major publishers and writers.  He quoted Sue Grafton, who had told LouisvilleKY.com:

“Self-publishing is a short cut and I don’t believe in short cuts when it comes to the arts. I compare self-publishing to a student managing to conquer Five Easy Pieces on the piano and then wondering if s/he’s ready to be booked into Carnegie Hall.”

Yes,  we’ve heard this kind of criticism before.  Last year several well-known journalists said that bloggers, tweeters, members of GoodReads, social media users, and others they perceive as online cranks have wrecked the sovereignty of editors, critics, and writers.

Howard Jacobson’s novel, Zoo Time, centers on the death of publishing.  It’s very funny, and perhaps it’s true.

Bur as long as E. L. James, George R. R. Martin, and R. K. Rowling… writers with initials instead of names…and, oh, yeah, Stephen King…continue writing, publishing will survive.  That is, if the publishers stop and publish a literary book occasionally.

Self-published authors are only a threat to traditional publishers insofar as they are better able to distribute their work than they were, say, 20 years ago.

A self-published science fiction book.

A self-published science fiction book.

Naturally, some self-published writers get respect. Hugh Howey’s science fiction omnibus, Wool,  Amanda Hocking’s Y.A. books, Zachary Mason’s literary novel, The Lost Book of the Odyssey, and Collen Hoover’s romances have been picked up by major publishers.

Yet is this the point?  Do all self-published writers want money and celebrity?

I suppose it would be strange if they didn’t.

But perhaps some are doing it for fun.

Everyone in my family writes.  The older generation have been self-publishing books at Kinko’s for years, and I assure you that none of these books was submitted to a publisher first.  I have at least a dozen of their memoirs, poetry, family histories, genealogy (may I just say here I hated those trips to cemeteries off the interstate?), and The Kinfolk Cookbook, a collection of family recipes ranging from picnic hamburgers to peanut butter chicken (ugh!) to mustard pickles to crumb top rhubarb pie to Never Fail Syrup to soap.

I also have a book, kind of.  I wrote a number of light essays in my freelance days before I burned out and turned to blogging. The copyright reverted to me after three months.

Type them up and publish them in an e-book, my family says.

Well…

I described my  life without a car, how I lived in a rain forest of a leaky apartment, and bicycled long distances, even up mountains, on a fat-tired Schwinn.

If I self-publish it, I’ll let you know.

Poets are encouraged to self-publish their chapbooks.

Do you know a lot of poets?

Everyone’s a poet.

So many of my friends have self-published lovely chapbooks, small pamphlet-liked books, folded and stapled, with lovely covers.

Poets get respect.

They read their poems at Open Mike Night.

Some are good, some are bad.

I’ll stick to blogging.

4 thoughts on “Self-Reliant

  1. I defend self publishing because it worked for me. For years I collected resource material about American silverplated flatware. Now there’s a specialty for you! Nobody cares about it except the people who care about it. Perhaps in that way it is somewhat similar to family genealogy. I wanted to share my information with those few collectors who did care, and I did so with self-published books which I sold through my website and on eBay. I didn’t make much money but that was not the point. It paid its way, and I sold 100s of copies of books that no commercial publisher could afford to touch.

  2. SilverSeason, I am all for self-publishing. There are niche books for a few, and it seems silly to bother with publishers. It is wonderful that you were able to reach your readers!

    I certainly would go the self-published e-book route!

  3. I have edited a couple of self-published books and was even asked to write a forward for one. I say, why not? I think historically, quite a few of our ‘well-knowns in literature’ went the self-publishing route. I am surprised at Ms. Grafton’s sneer. Perhaps because she has been so successful with traditional publishing. I say get the word out any way you can.

  4. Oh, that’s really nice that you edited them and wrote a foreward. Writers need another pair of eyes. And you are right: didn’t D. H. Lawrence have to self-publish Women in Love?

    I’m surprised that Sue Grafton or any published writer would talk like this about self-published books. I very much enjoy Grafton’s books, but, as you say, she has been successful. Why not let others take their chance?

    I do intend to read some self-published books, but it is remarkably hard to find out about them. I know of the authors who have “made it,” but there might be others that are much more to my taste.

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