Sunday, April 12, 2009

A Publishing Revolution

I doubt that anything has changed the world more in the last decade than the emergence of the internet. Think about how the ready availability of the internet has changed so much of what we do every day in: personal and business communication, banking, study, research, shopping, voting, paying taxes, etc. Everything has been so impacted, sometimes for the good and sometimes not, that it is hard to remember what pre-internet life was like.

I was reminded this morning of how much the world of publishing has changed in the last several years by this Houston Chronicle article on the emergence of "self-publishing," a change I enthusiastically applaud:
Long derided as the “vanity press,” self-publishing often has been synonymous with pet projects by wealthy people who could afford the hefty fees for committing their life stories to print.

But the Internet has dramatically changed that. For a nominal fee, writers today can upload their stories and photos to a Web site and contract with a company to design, publish and distribute books to online retailers. The companies print copies as demand dictates.

Online retailers also act as salespeople of sorts.
The process is not without drawbacks.

For one thing, the self-publishing companies do not have the distribution capabilities of, say, Random House and other giants that can promote their titles and get them into every brick-and-mortar Barnes and Noble in the country.

And then there’s the stigma. If a book is any good, the thinking goes, why can’t the author find anyone to publish it?

Traditionally, literary agents have been entrusted with weeding out the bad stuff. Without that vetting processing, many people assume that self-published work is substandard.

“People hear self-publishing and expect to see a lot of typographical errors,” said Taylor, a former Houston Post reporter who handled his own editing and proofreading for the book.

As a result, he acknowledged, newspaper book review sections have generally paid little attention to self-published books.

That is slowly changing.
The article focuses on one local author but what it has to say about self-published books has to be encouraging to anyone who has suffered the frustration of trying to find an agent or otherwise attract the attention of a traditional publisher.

In fact, several of my favorite novels and short story collections of 2007-2009 have been self-published efforts - proving (to me, at least) my theory that publishers are more interested in selling commercial trash than in publishing good literature. Thank goodness so many good writers have found a way to beat the system, but now the next step in the process needs to happen. Agents who have a bit of common sense or imagination should be looking at self-published novels as a way to scout new talent or to place self-published books with major publishers. It's a win-win situation for everyone: writer, publisher, bookstore, and reader.

Come on, guys, get with the program.


  1. My usual protest against self publishing is that the great majority is mediocre at best and dreadful at worst, even though there are here and there some true gems.

    That said, having read some real duds that did manage to jump every hurdle and get published by major publishers, I am beginning to think that traditional publishing isn't so hot either.

    With tha accessibility of self publishing and online reviews from real people as well as professional reviewers perhaps one of the internet's greatest contributions to literature will be the leveling of the publishing playing field.

  2. No doubt about it, Alissa, there is a higher percentage of mediocrity in self-published books than in traditionally published ones. But I've generally been able to eliminate the duds right up front without having to waste any time reading them - and the "gems" make it all worth the extra effort. I'm amazed that a few of the self-published books I've read in the last few months could not find a publisher.

    I love your last comment because I so much agree that book-blogging is all about "leveling the publishing playing field." I sincerely think that bloggers are doing at least a little bit of good that way.

  3. I remember reading that it's God who lifts one man over another.

    Once agian, the Lord seems to have come to the aid of the little guy.

    Could it be because the major publishers have chosen to force-feed us those sinful, steamy, more details than I need to know, sex-oriented works versus the good old, tell me the nitty gritty, novels that allow us to use our imaginations.

  4. Interesting point, WriteOn. Everything seems to run in cycles if you look at the bigger picture. I think the fact that self-publishing has gotten so much cheaper is going to make the next decade or so an exciting time for readers and writers, alike.