Behind the Scenes
In a recent blog post at PANK, a writer shared some very interesting thoughts about his experiences (both good and bad) with self-publishing his first novel. In the comments, another writer remarked that the DIY, self-publishing approach is quite celebrated in the independent music scene while self-publishing is rather maligned in the writing world. That was a really interesting observation and he’s right. Musicians will upload their music to the Internet and sell homemade CDs out of the trunk of their car and they become folk heroes for their efforts. When a writer stands up and says hey, I’ve got this book and I am my own publisher, he might as well run around the room shouting, “I am a leper.” We (generally speaking) judge people who self-publish.
There are many reasons to be wary of self-publishing. Vanity presses are largely corrupt enterprises only interested in parting deluded and/or naive writers from their money. Many self-published writers act like they’re opting out of mainstream publishing. They act like they are making a choice when in fact a choice has been made for them because they cannot sell their work to any publisher because their writing is simply not good by any measure.
Once in a while, a good writer goes the self-publishing route for any number of reasons and they find some level of success–be it personal pride or sales, or in rare instances garnering the attention of a publisher. Those successes are few and far between because paying someone to print your book is one tiny part of what it takes to publish and sell a book. If it were as easy as just paying someone to print a book, it wouldn’t be so challenging for writers to get a book deal.
There’s a lot to be said for working with a publisher, big or small, for several reasons. Writing has an opportunity to be vetted–just because you write, does that mean you should be published? Writers also have the support (to varying degrees) of their publisher in terms of the logistics, ranging from editing to copy editing to marketing to distribution. It is very easy to demonize publishers as exclusive and elitist gatekeepers but I still believe that good writing will always find a home with a publisher, eventually. We won’t all get a deal with Random House or Penguin, but there are a great many other publishers out there who will take on the many kinds of writing currently being produced.
Having said that, if a writer believes in their work enough to put their own money behind their words, why is such a stigma attached to self-publishing? Why does the DIY approach seem to find more success in the music scene? Is self-publishing really that different from publishing with a micropress?