Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Psychology of Self-Publishing

Thanks, everyone, for your comments to the post below.
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To regular readers of Simon DeDeo, this discussion of the psychology of self publishing, posted last August, is old hat, but I found it worthwhile rereading again. Speaking of those who refer back to self-publishing luminaries like Blake and Whitman, he writes (parenthesised phrase mine):
(One red herring that surfaces over and over again in discussions on the subject...) is the idea that self-publishing in the twenty-first century is in any way comparable to the self-publishing of the nineteenth or early-twentieth century. This, to me, seems to be a move made by defenders of self-publishers — and we as a bunch are notorious for having them — to link the act to some kind of legitimizing tradition. Yet whatever history will have to say about Organic Furniture Cellar, the fact remains that the contemporary act of self-publication is a fundamentally delegitimizing move.
He has extenuating things to say about people like Bill Knott, etc.
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For reasons I won't go into here, I took down yesterday's post.

8 comments:

A. D. said...

hmm . . . what if i coptic stitch the books myself, would that legitimize?

what if i had a legitimate writer do the binding instead?

;-)

Anonymous said...

It's odd that in music, self-publishing is considered cool, while in literature, it is not.

Brian Campbell said...

Yes, it has struck me as odd that the two domains play by such different rules -- esp. about three years ago when I returned to poetry after being quite immersed in music for ten years. In music, for instance, multiple submission is de rigeur...no way would a song contest or media outlet think of holding up an artist's career by insisting (at least officially) on absolute control over distribution of his or her work while it is merely under their consideration. At the same time, the roadblocks in music are wide & high: music is a business with serious $$$ involved, and that "self publishing" is comparable to renting a storefront: it's only the beginning of establishing your business. If you haven't a serious business plan -- i.e. a well coordinated team with professional management and lots of money behind you, you haven't a hope in hell of turning your beautifully produced CD into much more than a demo you might as well give away. Basically the differences in the "rules" boil down to control of distribution, and the way it's achieved in different artistic disciplines . In music it is (or at least has been) monopolized by a few companies that have a stranglehold on profitable distribution, although those rules are a-changing (into mere anarchy where almost no one can get a decent return on their investment, it seems -- "all or nothing more than ever" as they say). In poetry you have a such a plethora of presses that it seems a mark of failure if you don't get picked up by one -- and a press has to produce so many titles a year to get into a Small Press Association and get some kind of distribution, etc.

The way the "rules" have evolved in different arts constitute a fascinating & complex issue, worthy of extended discussion -- and yes, if you're into it that much, study.

Jilly said...

I've also thought often about the disconnect between music & literature self-publishing.

Anonymous said...

"In poetry you have a such a plethora of presses that it seems a mark of failure if you don't get picked up by one": thanks, Brian, that made my morning. Should I put a smiley face here, or a frown? :-)

Crafty Green Poet said...

Plethora of publishers for poetry? Not in Scotland! The list of poetry publishers in Scotland I read recently included several small presses set up by individuals to publish their own work and which publish only that one person. Several other small presses here only publish four volumes of poetry a year.

Brian Campbell said...

It's so refreshing to get input from someone in Scotland!

Actually, Crafty Green, it's in places like Scotland that self-publishing makes sense. I am reminded of Greece at the time of Ritsos and Sefaris, or even Russia in the time of Mayakovsky. There, self-publishing was not only the norm, but self-published volumes got regularly reviewed (in small but significant reviews self-published by their editors) and even caused contraversy in educated society. Here in North America the "official channels" so dominate that the little guy who pays out of his own pocket to contribute to the culture is frowned upon, overlooked, etc.

Jessica Smith said...

sometimes, one can be picked up by a publisher and choose not to use them because one would rather have control over the process.

for instance, perhaps one would rather have a coptic-stitched linen-paper chapbook, but the press that offers to publish one's chapbook makes xeroxed, saddle-stapled editions.

i said some more things about this here, if you care.

there is a long history, of course, of self-publishing literature. the sense that publishing one's own book (and doing all the nasty distribution work, getting one's pretty hands dirty) is gauche is a relatively new concept.