Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Publish, Perish, or Self-Publish

I remember, back in the olden days, when the thought of self-publication was a smear against the quality of a writer's work. Vanity publishers were seen as predators, swooping in on misguided, deep-pocketed wordsmith-wannabees. The prevailing wisdom went like this: if your book deserved to be published, there were people sitting in cubicles in New York City high rises that were bred to decide that. And then the Internet came along.

The term "vanity press" has been replaced with "print-on-demand," and the ease of availability of merchandise online--including books--has made it almost impossible for the consumer to distinguish between traditional and--what shall we call this new approach to publishing? Progressive?--methods of publication. The primary argument against businesses such as Infinity and Lulu is that without trained pros separating the literary wheat from the chaff, who's to know what's good and what's not? The answer to that is, of course, the people. It's hard to hide online, and if you're successful in publishing your volume of crap, and you manage to sell a bunch of copies by duping people, you won't last long. Of course, the obverse is true, too: it's easy to hide online, to morph your image, to continue peddling sub-par writing.

The annals of publishing are filled with stories of boneheaded "pros" who failed to recognize a good thing--either commercially or literally--when they saw it. John Grisham's A Time To Kill was rejected by scores of publishers. Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance earned 122 rejection slips before finding a home. And it's worth being reminded that Ernest Hemingway privately published his first volume, called Three Stories and Ten Poems.

What does this have to do with The Innkeeper's Husband? Sure I've thought about self-publishing it. But I believe it can withstand the scrutiny of the publishing world, I think it has the chops, so I'll keep sending it out. This got back into my consciousness recently when a book I worked on as a content editor made it to press. Called Beautiful Brown Eyes by Cliff Wilkerson, it's a short story collection. When I was working on it, Cliff told me he just wanted to see his name in print. And now that he's got his book out through Infinity Publishing, I think he's realized he's done more. He worked very hard on this book, and if he'd been involved in an MFA program, he'd have a master's degree in writing as well as a book.

The point I'm making is this: Self-publishing is no longer the domain of deep-pocketed hacks--if it ever was. I've been involved with several projects where the writing was excellent and deserving. Ultimately, it will be up to the market to decide. Or maybe the publishing industry will demonstrate what aloof wisdom they possess and fall on their faces like the automobile industry, the airlines, the banks, and all the rest of the world we've been taught to place our trust in. And then we the people will own them, too, and we'll all be self-publishing.

Check out Cliff's book by clicking on the cover:

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