I have been wrong before. I maintained a false attitude about Harlequins and got schooled as to how wrong I was. I got royally schooled at Princeton about inspirational romances and the community of women who read them, and the corporations who distribute them.
So I think I may have been wrong about self-publication. Yes, there is no curation and some of it is outrageously crapalicious. Indeed, there is a stigma to flipping a book over and seeing “iUniverse” instead of “HarperCollins” or “Berkley” – like flipping a greeting card over and not seeing “Hallmark.” iUniverse, in my mind, often meant, “In my universe, I couldn’t get published.”
I think I am wrong about that attitude, and will be proven wrong soon enough.
In the future, self-publication operations will have to be included in the discussion as to where publishing is going, and how it’s going to change, mostly because the structural foundation of distribution and marketing as we know it is changing faster than expected in a sour economy.
Distributors are going under and everyone suffers. Why else were there February paperbacks still in drugstores in April in Walgreen’s in Florida? Mass market authors with March releases got screwed in a place most often seen in erotica, and it weren’t pretty.
Publishers are downsizing left and right in all departments, and the promotional efforts fall even more on the shoulders of the author now. And recently authors have started to speak very candidly about what they spend their funds on, and how much it all costs.
NOTE: This is not to say that publishers aren’t doing jack shit, because I know that many publicists inside houses are working their asses off – because they have a miniscule budget with which to promote and a fuckton of books about which to bring in the funk.
What’s that song with Miley Cyrus whining how it’s all about the climb? When the climb is never-ending and looks from all angles like futility, it’s time to stop and look for other options to ascend.
If publishing houses are streamlined and cut back to the point where they are places of curation and production, and the majority of publicity and marketing shift to the author, self-publication firms should be welcomed to the discussion about the future of publishing simply because it will become a viable, profitable choice.
This article in the United Airlines Hemisphere magazine discusses self-publication as sort of a work-around to avoid the “high barrier to entry” in print publishing as fewer acquisitions are made in the face of dwindling profits.
Of course, undermining its own point, the article highlights three books that achieved “legitimacy” by… wait for it… being acquired by New York publishing houses. Two of the three authors featured, Brunonia Barry and Lisa Genova, hired book publicity firm Kelley & Hall, which sells itself as a firm which takes self-published novels and scores deals with NY publishers. So: good self-pub novel plus publicity firm equals potential million dollar Big Pub deal. It’s the same end point: big money in NY Print.
The Washington Post published an article by Eric R. Danton from The Hartford Courant in March that examined self publication as it compares to indie rock bands and bloggers. Josh Jackson of Paste magazine is quoted in the article discussing the parallels between bands and writers:
Bands have the comparative luxury of writing songs and then performing them before they ever record them, which helps hardworking (and lucky) groups build audiences for the albums that might eventually follow. Writers, by contrast, traditionally have relied on finished products, such as books, to build their audiences, although that’s starting to change as more post their writing on blogs.
“Maybe that’s where the parallel is,” Paste’s Jackson says. “You have bands going out and playing live shows, and you, as an author, can congregate an audience through a blog….”
The Washington Times also featured an article this past Friday 22 May which included the Bowker statistic that:
Traditional publishers released fewer books in 2008 than in 2007 — 275,232 new books, a drop of 3.2 percent. However, on-demand publishers, the route many writers take to self-publish, released an astounding 132 percent more — 285,394 in 2008.
The idea that self-pub isn’t the doghouse of dreck is important. With that slow disintegration of established distribution channels and the shifting roles of author and publisher, self-publication may ultimately be an equal option independent of big houses for writers to publish and distribute. Eventually, perhaps with some form of (please God) curation, the self-pub stigma will disappear. And as it does, profits will speak louder than reputation.
Everyone’s role is going to be redefined in the next 5 years, I think, and the old publishing model and path to publication won’t remain, or even look like itself. Defining what it means to be an author, a publisher, or a reviewer, even, will be a changing task as the economy and the changing landscape of book sales force a whole mess of navel gazing. Self pub is often accused of being the formal output of the relentless navel-gazer – if that’s so, and if they’ve learned anything from the process of self-publishing and self-evaluation, they may end up ahead of the game.
Have you self published? Would you consider it? Do you think the stigma of “vanity press” will ever go away entirely? What’s your take?