As a struggling author, avid reader, and professional librarian, I have to say that I am firmly on the fence about the new wave of self-publishing. On the one hand, I try not to be a literary snob when it comes to my reading. Just because it’s self-published doesn’t automatically mean it’s bad. Some such works are produced by perfectly fine writers whose style or subject may be deemed less marketable by publishers. On the other hand, you simply cannot deny that being published (even by a small press) carries a certain veneer of legitimacy–and rightly so.
The fact is, while there may be gold nuggets in the field of self-publishing, you have to pan through a lot of sludge to get to them. For every Amanda Hocking there are about 500 of these far less worthy efforts. And while we can lament that editorial rigor has declined in recent years and that celebrity authors have taken over the bestseller lists, there is one thing that can be said for a non-self-published work: be it small press or large, someone with no prior vested interest in that author judged their work to be of sufficient quality to invest time, effort, and money in seeing to it that it gets on the shelf.
Vanity presses have been around since there was paper and money but what has changed is the ease of creating a good looking product on-demand–no more investing in hundreds of copies, up-front, that languish in storage until you truck them around to various conventions or local book signings. But now, as then, having your book published simply isn’t the same thing as being a published author.
That’s why articles like this one really annoy me.
Throughout this piece, the point seems to be that these children are Published Authors™ by virtue of the fact that their parents shelled out a few hundred bucks at a vanity press. This non-event shouldn’t even make it in the local newspaper, much less a nationally-syndicated journal. These kids may be be perfectly fine writers. For all I know they could be the next J. K. Rowling or Walt Whitman. But it isn’t about the quality of the work–that’s my entire point. None of this is about the quality of their work.
What it seems to be about is self-esteem. They finally decided that “self-esteem usually is not a bad thing for kids this age”. But this self-esteem is based on a false premise. Sure, they’ve invested the “butt-in-seat-time” necessary to complete a book, which is laudable and more than a lot of people do (myself included). But that is it. Being a published author is about more than that. It is, as the article says, about the “adversity and perseverance” of the editorial process.
The parents’ comparison of this to other forms of parental support, like buying sports gear or sending the kid off to some performance camp, is equally flawed. If they bought the kid a word processor and a library of writer’s guides or sent them to a writing workshop, that would be comparable support. This is more like shelling out $500 so they can play on their favorite professional sports team or act in their favorite Broadway show.
“So what if a parent pays some bucks to print out their kid’s masterpiece? Makes a great Christmas present or a keepsake. Let the kids have their fun! What’s it to you?” Nothing, if that is all it was. I’m not trying to dogpile a bunch of junior high kids here. But both the parents and these journalists seem to take the premise that these children are now published authors, with all the veneer of legitimacy that phrase implies, at face-value. They simply aren’t.
Now, don’t misunderstand me: I don’t mean to compare all self-publishers to vanity presses. Many self-publishers are exactly what the title indicates: they are the editor, proof-reader, marketing department, and author/property of a mini-publishing house. I don’t discount the amount sweat, blood, and tears involved in such efforts. And if they can get the sales and editorial nods to back them up, I have no problem calling a self-published writer a published author. But you have to admit, it’s a much longer road to hoe.
The problem is that there is a fine line between self-reliance and self-indulgence. With the technological ease involved in publishing these days, it is far too easy to cross that line and expect everyone to buy into it.