Tuesday, January 24, 2012

It's time to stop fighting about what "self-publishing" means

Online writers' groups and forums have lots of complaints about the term “self-publishing company.”

I agree that the term makes no sense (but it doesn't matter).

Just as no one can self-educate you, self-medicate you or self-immolate you, no one can self-publish you.

I fought that battle for a year in blog posts and in a book. I even formed an organization for what I called “independent self-publishers.”

After a year, I realized that I was wasting my time. My protests were as pointless as peeing into the wind.

Neither I, nor anyone, can stop changes in language, or prevent ambiguities and imprecision.
  • At one time a “kid” was a young goat, but not a young human being.
  • A girl (“gyrle”) could be a boy.
  • “Don we now our gay apparel” does not now mean what it did when the lyric was written.
  • “Shacking up” seldom happens in a shack -- and a “Radio Shack” is not a shack.
  • A “notebook” can be a notebook -- or a laptop.
  • A “bike” can be a bicycle or a motorcycle (or an athletic supporter).
  • A “jock” can be an athletic supporter or an athlete.
  • An athletic supporter can be a jockstrap or someone who supports athletics.
  • A “cordless phone” usually has two cords.
  • “You guys” often includes females.
  • A “joystick” may not provide joy.
  • A telephone’s “ring” may not sound like a bell, and people “dial” calls on phones with no dials.
Like it or not, companies which used to be derisively called vanity presses or subsidy publishers are now using the term “self-publishing company.” It’s a fact of life. It can’t be stopped. Use of the term is not restricted, like “Realtor” is.

Several years ago I formed my own tiny publishing company. I buy and assign ISBNs, hire editors and designers, buy type and photographs, select printers and execute marketing programs. I’m not the only one who does this.

Some folks have claimed that it’s unfair that we and our books are excluded for reviews for major publications, or that we have to pay to be considered for a review by PW Select and Kirkus Discoveries, and that terrestrial booksellers won’t put our books on their shelves.

On the other hand, some independent (I hate the term “indie”) self-publishers sneer at authors who use self-publishing companies. It's like the members of a minority group who are discriminated against by a larger group, and then take out their frustrations on members of a smaller group.

I have recently and reluctantly come to the conclusion that there is really not a lot of difference between me and the customers of self-publishing companies. I like to be involved in all aspects of publishing, and I like complete control of the process, but my way is not the only way.

Just as my books are not necessarily worse than a book from Random House or Simon & Schuster, they are not necessarily better than a book from CreateSpace or Vantage Press.

Some authors who choose to pay to publish may lack the time, knowledge or inclination to hire designers, editors and publicists. They prefer the “one-stop shopping” that self-publishing companies can provide.

The path to publication is irrelevant. All that matters is the quality of the book.

Edward Uhlan founded Exposition Press—an early and important pay-to-publish company—in 1936. He said, “Most people can’t tell the difference between a vanity book and a trade book anyway. A book is a book.”


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