Monday, September 5, 2011

Vanity versus Independent - time for Indie publishing?

Last Friday night at the September meeting of the Auckland branch of the New Zealand Society of Authors there was the beginning of an interesting discussion about self-publishing. I use the word beginning deliberately, because while some important issues were raised, they need much more time and space to be thought about and talked through.

The advent of ditigal publishing, book selling and distribution, print on demand, and the seeming demise of traditional publishing opportunities (with multi-nationals like Random House or Penguin) are part of the context for the concerns and questions many authors, both published and unpublished, have. Although in fact, these days the very terms themselves - published and unpublished - are no longer clear cut.

One of the concerns many authors express is over who will now set the standards for publication, given that any one is now able to to publish digitally, and that it is much cheaper to print smaller runs.

Under the old model, self-publishing, especially of fiction, was given the put-down term of vanity publishing. It implied your work was any or all of the following: amateurish, second-rate, badly written, unedited, poorly designed, and only of interest to your family or friends. Most of all it implied that you weren't good enough to be taken seriously, reviewed, distributed or sold in mainstream bookshops.

Published, on the other hand, meant that someone other than yourself - usually a recognised publishing company - had chosen your work, agreed to have an editor work with you, took care of the design, production, marketing and distribution and, if you and they were lucky, made a profit. The publisher set the (literary) standard and bestowed the appropriate status that went it. Of course it was still possible to get bad, even horrendous, reviews under this model, and have almost no-one buy the book, but even so, the writer still belonged to a category whose status was well above that of 'vanity'.

Status and standards, and who has the power to define, bestow and control them, are an integral part of any industry or human activity, whether it be the film or wine industry, plumbers' association, architects, rugmakers or writers. And wanting to belong to an exclusive or high status group, that is, being up there with the best, is a natural human ambition. But just like in the music and film industry, changes in technology and access to that technology, give writers the opportunity to take more control of their work, and break down the old distinction between published and vanity. In itself this doesn't guarantee the quality or sucess of their work, and marketing and distribution remain major concerns - these are issues well worth discussing in another post.

Indie music and films are now thriving. There was a definite feeling at the meeting last Friday evening that it's time Indie writers did too.

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