Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Seven Aspects of the Novelist's Dilemma (3)

3. Where does credibility lie?
As I was writing this post, an email blast arrived from bestselling author, blogger, internet marketing guru (and my old friend) Seth Godin. Under the heading “Self published” he listed thirteen well-known authors who had self-published, stated that “The question isn’t whether or not you should wait to be picked, the question is whether you care enough to pick yourself,” and included a link to a blog post on the “Information as Material” website entitled “Do or DIY.” You can read that blog yourself, but the site is down at the moment, so I haven't linked to it. Nevertheless it seems worth listing all the once-self-published authors, because the sheer number of important ones speaks loudly. In alphabetical order:
Kathy Acker, Jane Austen, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Kate Chopin, Tristan Corbiere, Stephen Crane, Nancy Cunard, Emily Dickinson, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Benjamin Franklin, Nikki Giovanni, Nikolai Vasilevich Gogol, Ian Hamilton-Finlay, Nathaniel Hawthorne, A.E. Housman, Charles Ives, Rudyard Kipling, D.H. Lawrence, Martin Luther, Herman Melville, George Meredith, Anais Nin, Thomas Paine, Beatrix Potter, Ezra Pound, Marcel Proust, Irma Rombauer, Raymond Roussel, Carl Sandburg, Edith Sitwell, Gertrude Stein, Laurence Sterne, Italo Svevo, Algernon Charles Swinburne, Henry David Thoreau, Derek Walcott, Walt Whitman, Virginia Woolf
Today, it goes without saying, it’s easier to self-publish than ever before. It’s not necessarily easier to sell in commercial quantities (it may be harder, in fact), but that is offset to some extent by how inexpensively one can publish an ebook, compared to a traditional (i.e. offset printed) print book.
So if it’s cheap and easy, and if there’s an illustrious history behind self-publishing, where does credibility lie? I think I would argue that it derives from three things: authenticity (by which I mean an author genuinely striving to be the best she can be), proper editing (everyone needs that), and good packaging (which for the most part can be purchased). If you have all three of those things, you likely have a right to be proud of your work.
Yet, still, among the cognoscenti, when an author tells someone at a cocktail party that she has a novel coming out next month, the question often follows: Who’s the publisher?
Thus the…
Dilemma: Should novelists make business decisions based upon our discomfort at a cocktail party or are we better off learning how to frame a positive response to the question: Who’s the publisher?