Thomas Friedman, columnist for The New York Times, had an interesting quote about the economy recently. He said the young people of his generation, on graduating high school or college, had the luxury of going out and finding jobs. Today, they must invent jobs.
I recently read a blog about an author who persevered through more than 200 rejections before an agent accepted her novel. 200! Is that perseverance or masochism? And her story is not unusual.
What if 100 rejections are more than a person can bear? How about 50? Would a writer be branded a quitter if s/he didn’t shepherd that cherished novel through all that negativity to publication? Many writers don’t, choosing to shelve their work indefinitely.
Of course, the alternative today is self-publishing.
I fought the idea of self-publishing for a long time. To me, it carried the stigma of vanity presses, costly exercises in self-indulgence that dwelled in literature’s shadows during the pre-internet age. And of course, many of the books produced by self-publishers today still fit that description: self-aggrandizement that’s poorly written or edited or designed—often all three.
But much of the stigma has been removed. Other factors have come into play: the market for literature is a small percentage of the entertainment industry; so many talented people find it difficult to be published; the corporations that control publishing are more interested in sales than literature. It’s true that having an established publisher to produce one’s book gives it a sense of legitimacy—it says someone, an expert in books in fact, believes in the work. Still, many works that could or should be published aren’t.
The deals new writers must accept from traditional publishers don’t make that path as attractive as it used to be. Most large publishing houses barely market new authors. Most small ones can’t afford to. I’ve related stories before of authors who must pay for their book tours or endorsements out of their own pockets. The big guys now insist on things like rights to the work in perpetuity and in any format, and sometimes rights of refusal for the next work.
Many authors who have developed followings are opting to go the self-published route. They can get a more lucrative outcome if they produce and market their work themselves. Publishing technology now makes it possible for anyone with sufficient computer skills to do it all. And if that person can do a little marketing, the venture may prove profitable.
To me, it seems the difference between traditional publishing and self-publishing is diminishing. Rapidly.
So back to Tom Friedman. Writers now have the challenge/opportunity to invent their future. Self-publishing is part of that equation.
For more than a year I’ve been meeting and talking with some local writers about creating an entity that could both expand publishing opportunities for local writers and create connections with support craftspeople like designers and editors. We think we may have a viable idea. It’s called Woodward Press, named for Michigan’s Route 1, a legendary thoroughfare that connects Detroit and the surrounding cities, and the road where our usual meeting place is located.
We understand that self-pub is becoming a substantial part of the literary world, and that for many, many writers it represents their best option for publication, from the author who wishes to take greater control of his enterprise, to the writer who has had enough of rejection, to the individual who just wants to create a family memoir.
For these people we plan to offer a series of educational seminars on what’s involved in self-publishing—the necessary writing, editing and technical skills; legal rights and responsibilities; distribution options and marketing. And for those who want, we’ll have a network of trusted specialists in each of those fields to help produce a professional product.
We also know there are plenty of scammers who offer the same services and some questionable ones (like bookstore sales insurance… wtf?). The difference, though, is that we’re writers—real writers with lots of writing, editing and publishing experience. While this is a business, we know we won’t get rich running it (certainly not by splitting the proceeds five ways!). We plan to go live in June, showcasing what we can do with the release of books written, edited and designed by our principals.
Later, we may get a little more traditional by offering to display and market some of the best books we’ve shepherded to publication. But for now, this foray into the future of publishing is a good start.