SELF-PUBLISH(?) OR PERISH + 5 LINKS RE: THE NEW DIGITAL IMPERATIVE
Back in 2004, the National Endowment for the Arts published a survey with a curious finding: literary reading is down, creative writing is up. With the explosion of blogs and web sites (literary and otherwise), the impulse to write has gained not only a new medium but one that stands to grant immediate gratification: if you build it, they will come. By logical extension, self-published books are flying to the page via print-on-demand (POD) technology and/or being downloaded to the latest and greatest eBook devices. As a writer with a short story collection that went the ‘defunct-small-publisher’ route before it had a chance to get off the ground, do I seize the moment, hitch a ride on this wave of digital books? You don’t have to dig deep to find those stories of writers disappointed with traditional publishing experiences, who took the leap into self-publishing. Likewise for those writers who, frustrated by years of rejection, decided there has to be a better way. Call it timing. Call it faith. Call it going digital.
And yet I admit to some reservations about going full-throttle into digital DIY mode. As a reader I love the feel of a book in my hands, the reflective nature that seems diminished by the visual nature of reading on-screen. As a writer I love the way words take shape in my mind and on the page. The ‘page’ as it exists on a digital reader is not the same: differences in the technology that drives each eReader result in variances in formatting. If I go this route, am I sacrificing my sense of what a book IS and everything it takes to bring one to fruition? Yes. At the same time, as a writer seeking ways to increase my exposure, why not tap that market of readers shelving their paperbacks in favor of viewing books on portable screens? And even if my plunge into the world of self-published digital books carries the risk that my own work (now a thumbnail image in an eBookstore) may get lost in a sea of ‘vanity’ books, all it takes is one good wave to lift it out of the water.
1. It was a recent article in the Wall St. Journal, ‘Vanity’ Press Goes Digital, following on the heels of an e-mail I received re: Apple looking to give more presence to self-published authors in its iBookstore, that got me thinking, what if? Some of the key players noted in the WSJ article were listed as Apple-approved ‘aggregators’ (don’t you love that word?). A good starting point for choosing a publishing/distribution platform.
2. Aggregators offer a variety of services, both for indie publishers and authors going digital. I opted to go with Smashwords, mostly for its cross-platform technology and very user-friendly site. The Smashwords blog, maintained by founder Mark Coker, is a good source of information and links relevant to self-publishing. His July 13th post is worth reading for its insights on traditional publishing vs. self-publishing.
3. The rationale is even more colorfully spelled out by DIY success story Steve Almond in his column at The Rumpus, Presto Book-O (Why I Went Ahead and Self-Published). Using POD technology (Harvard Bookstore’s Espresso Book Machine), Almond produced books (with two covers) to be sold only at readings. Sometimes less really is more.
4. The bottom line: As Diane Gedymin, founder of The Publisher’s Desk, noted at BookExpo America 2010: The Changing DIY Ethos, some 83 percent of Americans dream of writing a book. Ninety-three percent of those who actually make the effort and get published via traditional channels will sell less than 1,000 books. There’s a reason that taking a more proactive role in controlling the means of publishing and distribution is on the rise.
5. All of which brings me back to a simple premise: yes, writing (unless it’s in a journal or diary, for the writer’s eyes only) demands an audience, and yet the impulse to write – steadily, draft after draft, with heart and skill that (hopefully) matures with time – demands solitary hours in a room of one’s own. For a reminder of what drives that impulse, I’ll go back to Janet Sternburg’s The Writer on Her Work, in particular one essay that sparkles with Didion-esque insight, "Why I Write." And all it takes is one click of the mouse to bring readers right to Amazon, and into the book.
--- Deborah Batterman
To read about and order the e-book of her collection, Shoes, Hair, Nails, click here.
For the archive of Madam Mayo guest-blog posts, click here.