Saturday, March 12, 2011

Authors, liberate yourselves

As I've written here before, I'm increasingly frustrated by this black/white divide between big publishing and self-publishing. Authors have more options than this. Self-publishing companies, out to make big bucks off the backs of authors who feel they'd be better off just doing it themselves rather than waiting around for some uppity editor to tap them on the shoulder for a dance, are ratcheting up the rhetoric with every new ad, article, and post they manage to get out there. As with most things put out there as black & white, there are valuable issues lost in the gray in between. (This is not the case with all issues, of course, such as the Wisconsin nightmare wherein a lunatic governor, Scott Walker, is showing blatant disregard for workers by doing all he can to kill collective bargaining, but as a proud union member, I digress...)

I was reminded of this frustrating dichotomy with the slideshow/ad producted by Smashwords, the self-publisher, as featured at the Scholarly Kitchen. In this slideshow, which I'm not going to reproduce on this page, the good folks at Smashwords compare the author revolution, as they see it, to the revolution in Egypt. Yes, folks, *this* is heightened rhetoric. They see authors as needing to break down the gates that keep them out of being published by self-publishing. They have a list of ways in which self-publishing - with Smashwords perhaps? - is liberating.

The points they make about the problems with "big publishing" are valid, but their conclusion, I would argue, is not always so. In fact, their manner of phrasing the problems and their use of these problems is... well, problematic. One reason you should self-publish your work as an e-book? Bricks and mortar stores are disappearing. Uncool, Smashwords. They're not disappearing, and in fact some of us hope to see a resurgence as Borders pulls back, leaving some communities in need of a bookstore. They also see "oppression of creative freedom," which they then paraphrase as "you suck and don't deserve to publish until publishers tell you otherwise." This is where a red flag went up for me, as Smashwords is obviously playing on the insecurity of writers and their frustration at rejection letters. I get that frustration, but this is cheap and easy exploitation.

They then talk about the joys of self-publishing, which can be reduced to you're in control and you'll get more money.

What I have long complained about in regards to this rhetoric is the lack of collective benefit. (Note the tangent above, re: unions and collective bargaining...) They are saying to authors, hey, you're sitting at home like an a-hole collecting rejection letters. Eff that, right? There is a world of money and creativity and a market waiting to be tapped! Do it for YOU! Let the publishers keep publishing Snooki - ha ha, right?!

But what about independent, non-profit presses? What about presses that publish to a mission and support creative voices, alongside one another? What about finding a group - or even making your own group by starting your own press - that thinks along similar lines, such as The Nervous Breakdown did/is doing. Or find a leader who is committed to publishing and whose aesthetic fits yours - you'd be damn lucky if that person were Richard Nash, for example (an SotB favorite).

Self-publishing works for many people and that's fine, but I hope many of the desperate, vulnerable, over-worked and non-paid writers out there looking to publish their work think through all this advertising being thrown at them by self-publishers. I know models are changing, but we need to beware of changes that become potentially exploitative, especially when there are opportunities to make a positive difference.

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