Acclaimed Novelist Experiments With Self-publishing

As reported in Publishers Weekly:

In an unusual move for an established author, critically acclaimed novelist, memoirist and National Book Award finalist John Edgar Wideman is teaming up with self-publishing and print-on-demand service to release, Briefs, Stories for the Palm of the Mind, a new collection of his short stories. The new book will go on sale exclusively through beginning March 14 and will be launched at a series of live readings from the book that will be held in New York and Los Angeles.

Does this whole vanity press thing stink less when it’s done by an established author? Something says it does.

Perhaps it’s because when it’s a first-time author who is doing the self-publishing, there are essences of failure and rejection and a lack of ability, or even just plain bad luck. Package all that up, there’s still the stench of forking out great piles of cash for something that will receive little or no coverage, despite what those imprints advertise. So in this instance, the vanity press is only good for the companies who are filching cash from struggling, jaded writers.

When you’re a pro, with a track record and a fanbase, and years of writing experience behind you, things seem a little different. But we might want to look between the lines here: it could be that the author wants to push some experimental stuff that his traditional imprint shuddered over in their sales meetings, and that’s cool too, right, because art is getting out there, and the fans exist to buy into the project.

Any thoughts on this?

By Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.

5 replies on “Acclaimed Novelist Experiments With Self-publishing”

Doesn’t bother me in the least. Stephen King tried it and quit (I think because he spent so much time with running the thing that it started biting into his writing time…I read someone that his argument against it was that he’d rather spend that time writing and getting published the usual way than waste that time marketing himself–I like that reasoning).

I suspect you’re right that this SPed book is more experimental than his other stuff. But that’s a guess based on no evidence or personal experience with the author.

It’s interesting that Wideman is doing this with a collection of short stories, which aren’t much loved by traditional publishers and tend not to sell all that well. Still, this way the book does get out there, his fans get to read the stories, and he’ll likely make a modest profit from it.

But it is a whole lot more work. He’ll need to handle all of his own editing, copyediting, proofing, and promotion rather than move on to writing the next book. My hunch is if he could have found a traditional publisher for this project, he would have, but he probably feels strongly enough about these stories to experiment with Lulu and see what comes from it all. Who knows? Going this route he may get a little extra publicity too, such as this blog post.

SMD – I forgot about King doing that. I guess someone in his position could afford to hire the crew, but that’s essentially starting his own self-pub firm.

DJM – there is some extra stuff to do, but if you’re in the industry, you can probably hire the right crew to help. Which means you’re forking out for your own set-up costs, and therein lies the issue perhaps.

Personally, I differentiate between vanity publishing and self publishing. They are not the same!

Wil Wheaton uses Lulu as well and I love his writing. I also recognise that going through the usual channels can both filter out the chaff and hold back genuine talent. Therein lies the difference between vanity and self publishing, one is a person of little talent convinced that the world is out to get them and the other is someone with a great deal of talent unable to be heard over the ‘noise’ of all the others vying for the attention of the publishing houses.

How to tell the difference between them? Well, people like Wil Wheaton posted a lot of their stuff online for feedback before going the route of self publishing, or put another way, confirmed that they had genuine talent before trying to get their work published. We all know what the other type does…

Self publishing is a valid route to getting your work out there. As long as you do a public talent check first 🙂

I think you’re confusing vanity publishing, which preys on the desire of writers to see their words in print to make money for the company, with self-publishing, where an author uses some technical tools (in this case Lulu, but it could be a pdf creator or a photocopier) to publish and sell their own work – the DIY ethos in action, if you will.

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