Monday, April 26, 2010

Steve Almond Self-Pubs!!!

Steve Almond, who once sneezed and the residual "At-choo" found its way into a mid-tier literary magazine, just self-published a short work on writing, and he goes into his reasoning for the decision here.

With John Edgar Wideman, that makes two established literary writers self-pubbing so far in 2010.

"So what?" you contend. "These writers are both well established players in the game. Of course they can self-publish. They already have a readership."

Very true, but ten years ago, few literary writers would consider self-publishing, at least publicly. The commercial publishing world had developed--for some good reasons, some others not so good--a bias against self-publishing. (There are these things called vanity publishers who charge the writer way too much for...Oh, you've heard this one.) And despite self-publishing's honorable lineage that includes names like Joyce and Austen and Twain, most literary writers were afraid of the contemporary stigma of self-publishing. They wouldn't dare dip their toes in that pool for fear of some catching some E. coli-type virus that might contaminate their entire literary careers.

Scary stuff, but in the late 1990s/early 2000s, with the advent of print-on-demand technology, all of a sudden there was a way to self-publish without dealing with vanity vermin, and without a huge up-front investment in books. And while there were still plenty of companies that charged too much for this new service, there were others that didn't. The world was developing a new way for a writer, at least financially and at least on the front end, to go it alone.

While writers of other genres started publicly experimenting with this new form of publishing, much doubt still persisted in literary circles. For many in this group, a deep mistrust of anything that cost a writer money ruled. How little money and how good the product were of no consequence. If it was self-published, it was evil. Nice and clean, black and white. (Oddly, the opposite of the nuance and complexity literary fiction is known for.)

So, a decade removed from the democratization of publishing, at least two literary writers--tired of the narrowing perspective of commercial publishing and craving a chance to design their own books--have publicly taken the self-publishing plunge. Minds can change after all. It just takes a while.

Will these literary writers make self-publishing any easier for those who don't bring a huge readership and a cadre of cred with them to their project? I don't know. I like to think it bring us closer to a day when every book will be judged by its ability to engage rather than by its method of publication.

Yours in laying down the law,


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Duolit Consulting said...

It's great to see so many more so-called "literary" writers making the self-pubbing plunge. I hate that it has to take something like that to bring an additional measure of respectibility to self-publishing, but I'll take whatever we can get! Like you, Art, I dream of a day when books are judged on their individual merits instead whether or not it was self-published. Perhaps that day is getting closer and closer...

Celia Hayes said...

I think once established authors realize that a) it is doable, and b) they can keep a bit more of the profits and c) not feel they are pressed by their publisher into a direction with their writing that the author really doesn't want to go ... that the stigma of 'vanity publishing' will vanish, or at least be considerably diminished.

N. Gemini Sasson said...

Little steps. And it only takes a handful of brave souls, to begin the shift. I'm on a couple of discussion lists for historical fiction, and just in the past year I can see an emerging open-mindedness toward self-published works - even from established, traditionally published authors.

James W. Lewis said...

I think established authors are finally realizing the freedom of self-publishing. There's no worry of an editor changing the author's words or receiving an unwanted cover design. Potential for higher profits is there, too, especially with publishers not shelling out as much advances to authors these days. It just makes sense.