I’veÂ receieved a number of emails latelyÂ inquiring aboutÂ the validity of self-publishing. It’s aÂ well-worn topic and my personal perspectiveÂ isn’t much different thanÂ everyone else’s.Â In the right conditions, handled properly, withÂ realistic attitudes,Â self-publishing can be a viable business decision for certain people. But I don’t believe in resorting to it just because you think theÂ mainstream publishing industry is comprised ofÂ meanies who aren’t smart enough toÂ comprehend your art.Â
In addition to theseÂ queries about the validity of printing your own books, a handful of theÂ emailers also wanted to know why self-publishing is so reviled.Â I think there are a couple of factors that contribute to theÂ negative perception. First, there are undoubtedly snobs whoÂ look for a chance to sneer and chuckle.Â Elitist assholes exist in every industry so it’s absurd to think there aren’t folks in the publishing biz who love nothing more thanÂ an opportunity to pooh-pooh the self-published hoi polloi.Â Second,Â notÂ every one, butÂ some self-published authorsÂ invite theÂ very ridicule they hate.
You remember Bobby?Â That weird kid in high school whoÂ wentÂ out of his way to wear plaid pants, day-glo sneakers, a green mohawk, maybe a little goth makeup, and sucked on a pacifier all day? Bobby spent more time planning his anti-conformity outfit (because, “you know, he just does his own thing, he’s such an individual“) every morning than Jenny the Cheerleader dedicated to her hair. But then he alwaysÂ bitched and moaned about howÂ Pam the Prom Queen ignored him.Â Some self-published authors are the same way. They act like idiots and then wonder why they face such disdain.
Not Just an Author, but a Published Author!Â
I’m lucky enough to spend a fair amount of time in the company of writers. I’ve been around bestsellers and the most beloved literary icons. And not once, not ever, have I heard these people introduce themselves as a “published author.” They meet a non-bookish person and they say “I’m a writer.” They don’t ever feel the need to include the published qualifier.
In 1932, when Clark Gable famously asked Willliam Faulkner “Oh, do you write?” Faulkner responded with one of the best zingers in the history of literature. He did not respond with “yes, I am a published author!”
However, the type of person who gives self-publishing a bad name adores that phrase.Â These misguided folksÂ thrustÂ business cardsÂ that proclaimÂ ”Joe Blow, Published Author.”Â Mr. Blow strong arms the local bookstore inÂ holding a signing andÂ he takes out an ad thatÂ entices readers to “come meet published authorÂ Joe Blow!” He talks about how “they” can focus their efforts on stealingÂ an athlete’s championship memories or a country boy’s high school diplomas, becauseÂ he’s a published author andÂ ”they” can never take that away from him. Joe Blow gets a PUBLSHD1 vanity license plate on hisÂ 1984 Plymouth Reliant K and he pre-orders his tombstone that reads:
Here lies Joe Blow, Published Author,
Ignored by the Industry, in all their hauteur.
Since heÂ lacked a famous last name,
editorsÂ wouldn’t play his game,
but his writing meshed, and for all eternity
he will remain, forever Pub-lished!
For the people whoÂ inviteÂ the derision, their obsession with the Â ”published” tag makes all the difference in the world. And they don’t seem to realize how it’s a meaningless title when you bestow it upon yourself. If I go down to the YMCA and play a round of pickup basketball, then pay myself afterwards, does that give me the right to claim to be a professional athlete? If I form my own team, can I insinuate to friends that there’s no difference between me and Kobe?
I’ll Just Create My Own University!
The current mainstream method of selecting books for publication, editing them, and distributing those texts is archaic, ineffecient, ineffective, often ill-informed, and frequently unfair. I won’t deny that. But, it remains the system that we have. Does that system pump out horrendous books that are the literary equivalent of roadkill? Absolutely. Does that system overlook and ignore worthy authors and genius books in favor of celebrity crap? Definitely. Nevertheless, it is still the system we have and the system we all understand.
When you self-publish, or go with one of the more questionable print-on-demand services, you are essentially going around that system. You’re taking your ball, going home, and making up your own game in the backyard. Your game might be fun, it might be valid exercise, it might be the perfect thing for your situation, but it’s not the same way all the other kidsÂ play. And to pretend otherwise is to invite scorn and derision.
It’s probably safe to assume that virtually all of this website’s readersÂ graduated from either high school or college. Maybe a few of you had to repeat 4th grade a few times, but that’s okay, I did the same thing with college algebra. I was in that class so many semesters in a row that the professor said to me, “You sure are small to be a football player.” The key here is that you made it, eventually, out of either high school or college.
Now, when someone says they are a college graduate, we know what that entails. They had to take standardized tests, write essays, gain admission,Â complete required courses, accumulate a certain number of hours,Â pass final exams, and maintain a certain GPA in order to graduate. You might have gone to Harvard, Indiana University, or Northeastern Southern CentralÂ Nebraska A&T State at LincolnÂ but regardless of the rigor of your school, you had to meet these same basic requirements. Everyone understands, roughly, what it means to be a college graduate.
We also know people who are intelligent, hard-working, determined, and valid contributors to society who didn’t graduate from college. Bill Gates, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Frank Lloyd Wright are but a few icons of this society who didn’t finish higher education.
Now, let’s say thatÂ Rejected RobÂ applies to every college in this country and they all reject him. His GPA isn’t good enough, his test scores are poor, and he smells bad. Or maybe they just don’t understand a truly individual brand of personal genius. Not a single college or university admits Rejected Rob.
“What do those people know?” he rants. “Bill Gates didn’t finish college, big deal! Plenty of intelligent people fall through the cracks and don’t get in while legacies and rich kids are welcomed with open arms. Who are they to judge me?Â Once I get into the work force, I’ll succeed or fail based on my own merits. All I need is a chance!”
So, fueled byÂ his rage at being excluded by higher education in this country, Rejected Rob decides to form my own college. HeÂ incorporates the nameÂ Rob’s Kick Ass Institute of Learning and printÂ his own diploma. Not content withÂ a dot matrix diploma, he ordersÂ a bunch of business cards that read “Rejected Rob: College Graduate.” HeÂ places advertisements in the local newspaper to “come down on Saturday and meet college graduate Rejected Rob!”Â He tellsÂ people at the local coffeeshop that hisÂ achievement is just as impressive as that of a M.I.T. graduate.Â He appearsÂ at job interviews thatÂ require have a college degree because, you know, heÂ deserves a shot just as much as all you elitists who went to fancy schools. And whenever Rejected RobÂ faces any criticism, heÂ chalks it up to the fact that all you bigtime college graduates are snobs intent on protecting your priviledged position.
Naturally, everyone would be scornful and dismissive ofÂ hisÂ delusions about the prestige of a Rejected Rob Kick Ass Institute of Learning.
The same thing is true of the crazed self-published folks.
Not all self-publishing proponents fall into this trap. Most of them understand their position in regards to mainstream publishingÂ and they realistically and objectively make their publishing choices. They are living proof that self-publishing, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. On the contrary, it can beÂ quite effective and lucrative.
Unfortunately, these reasonable self-publishing advocates suffer the indignities brought on by their obsessed “published author” colleagues.
I’m not going to tell the people who emailed me they should not, under any circumstances, self-publish. I’ll just warn them about being realistic, objective, and honest. I’ll encourage them to focus on sales and quality of writing if they choose that route and not to lean back and applaud themselves for being a “published author.”Â Self-publishing isÂ not necessarily better or worse the mainstream book industry, but it’s definitely not the same.
Remember, self-publishing doesn’t embarrass people. Idiotic, delusional self- “published authors” embarrass people.