You know that song "Dinosaur" by Al Jarreau. Lately I feel just like that. Despite the success stories I keep hearing about people who've published their own books, despite knowing exceptional writers who have, due to the blindness of publishers, had to publish their own books to prove that their work is marketable, I still struggle with the notion that self-publishing is a legitimate route to book publication. This hang-up is about me, I think, internalizing old media messages.
Maybe it's that self-publishing is also called vanity publishing. After many years of Sunday School, I know vanity is a sin. Perhaps my mind is equating self-publishing with sin-publishing. Hmm. I need an exorcism!
If you look at this poll on self-publishing that I think I created in 2003 or 2004 at a site I rarely visit now but for sentimental reasons am still a member, you'll see that my apprehension about self-publishing is not a new affliction. When I say afflction, I mean torment. The debate keeps me confuzzled.
I can tell you why self-publishing, especially for people for color, is viable and reasonable. I know the history, how many well-known African-American novelists had to publish their own works first because white publishers wouldn't do it and black publishers were nearly nonexistent. I concede that even today, good poets in particular, still have to step out on faith and publish their own books of poetry first.
At the same time, I applaud writers who finish their books because it's something I have yet to achieve. Grrrr! And I cheer them on when they send them to press themselves. "Oh, you go girl!" I say, gesturing thumbs up, weeping on the inside that my book still isn't done.
Furthermore, I know as the African-American Books Examiner, I will be reading novelists who are either self-published now and will be big names in the future or who used to self-publish and are big names now. And yet for myself I don't think I will feel published until I finish a book and sell it to a publishing house.
Even if I wrote a book, couldn't sell it to a publishing house, then turned around and sold millions after publishing it myself, I think the devil on my shoulder would still needle me and say, "Ah, but you didn't really publish a book, now did you?" Clearly I suffer from giving "authority figures" too much power over my value as a writer.
This is insane, I know. It's some kind of mental block, and seeing self-published books that could have used a good edit only reinforces my thinking. This sticky topic is on my brain again most likely because the latest Writer's Digest magazine arrived in the mail this weekend, themed "Pub 101," and over at the WD site, I read Jane Friedman's "The Truth about Self Publishing."
It's good, but I kept wondering can WD tell the truth about self-publishing since it gets advertising dollars from P.O.D. publishers? I think it can. Friedman did not paint a rosy picture of self-publishing. She reminded writers how much of the marketing work is on their shoulders when self-publishing. She also suggested writers pay editors to proof and tweak their books before they publish.
Good for WD, but I swear, it may have been reading Writer's Digest regularly years ago that convinced me self-publishing was a terrible route to go. Maybe I don't adjust to change well. Undoubtedly this post is one more blink in my "Omphaloskepsis for the Midlife Writer." In the original post I mention briefly my self-publishing hang-ups. If I drank, I'd be downing a shot of Bourbon now. I'll have to settle for a prayer.