Monday, October 14, 2013

The Unhealthy Democratic Nature of Self-Publishing

There's good news about democracy and bad news.  The good news is the multifarious nature of democracy's voice.  The bad news--often--is too many voices, all trying to speak at the same time.

More good news/bad news.

Democracy is a gathering of diverse platforms.  That's the good news.  The bad news is that platforms breed bureaucracy, by-the-rules, nine-to-five uniformity, which is often the enemy of originality.

Do not, however, make the mistake of only pinning the tail of bureaucracy on the donkey of democracy.  Most systems, even fascism, devolve somewhere along the way into the logjams of system which, when looked at with a cold, critical eye, equate to bureaucracy.

A similar observation about publishing clamors for attention.  So many  new books.  So many new persons in active pursuit of publication, many of these individuals of bright demeanor and sensitivity.  Of these many new persons in a clamorous state, a great number also have the misfortune to be impatient.

In a sincere but often misguided attempt to avoid what is seen as the conspiratorial nature of so-called traditional or heritage publishing, many persons in pursuit of publication resort to that great ands democratic venture called self-publishing.

For all its flaws, democracy enjoys a good shelf life.  True, some paragons of democratic virtue do not hold up to rigorous investigation without digging up some flaw,  Among our many American founding fathers, many not only supported but held slaves.  Others still, say George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, while advocates of education, set their advocacy for white males.  A noted exception, the third Vice President of these United States, Aaron Burr, openly advocated the education and franchisement of women.

Not to belabor the comparison with extended examples, some self-published books have told excellent stories or argued valid and exciting theses as well as having outsold many a conventionally published work, in some cases as a better written, better edited, better produced work than many books produced by traditional publishers.

The concept at play here can be expressed in another metaphor. An individual who has some skill as a pianist hears an orchestral work, a complicated, polytonal orchestral composition for piano and orchestra, becomes enamored of the composition, then resolves to perform it in concert.  Our theoretical adept at the piano also has the means to hire a hall, then secure the services of a number of skilled musicians, whereupon the performance is advertised, seating is subscribed, and a semblance of rehearsal is begun.

Three or four or even five cheers for individual determination and love of the arts.  Nevertheless, there are enough things missing to keep us from considering such a performance anything beyond inspired amateurism.

Self-published books often give their humble origins away from the get go of presenting a cover from which the judgment of the text being self-published is all too apparent.  So, too, is the content editing, the line editing, and the copyediting.  And while we're at it, so does the layout, the type face, the overall design of the work.

True enough, a good many self-published books find their way into book stores.  Even though most of them are placed on consignment, a number of these in some way earn out for the entrepreneur/author, netting a modest profit.

A perhaps greater truth, however, is that the sheer number of self-published books has inspired many of the more conventional publishers to spend even less time preparing their titles, much less taking on promising work from unheard of authors.

Publication is a time-consuming and often frustrating process because of the sheer number of new titles arriving each week into the open marketplace, where in fact fewer people are reading.

There are a number of self-published books that have overcome their modest origins to sell staggering numbers of copies, giving the impatient-to-publish writer cause to believe his or her work will have the effect on the contemporary publishing world as an unknown baritone or closet soprano hope to have on the worlds of opera or show business by their appearances on American Idol.

Democracy encourages amateurs to enter their chosen arenas after learning their craft.  The problems attendant on the publishing industry today sit on the shoulders of a great many individuals too impatient to find publication and acceptance instead of taking the time to understand how demanding and difficult the craft is to master in the first place.

Many of us are so busy writing books that we scarcely have time to read the good, the bad, and the ugly of conventional and self-publishing.

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