Authors Unbound Online

The New York Times released this article about self-publishing. The gist of the piece is this: “The last-century notion that a book was a writer’s badge of having crossed over — from eccentricity to acceptance — may be obsolete. Perhaps a book is just a cluster of symbols, printed and bound and distributed, or not” The author argues that having a published book used to be a sign of one’s expertise, but that is no longer the case. There were over 764,448 titles published last year by self-publishers and microniche publishers, up 181 percent from the year before. (This is relative to the 288,355 title published by Random House in the same year.) Self-published books are saturating the market, and looking increasingly authentic. It is becoming more difficult to differentiate a self-published book from a book that was selected by an agent, editor, and publishing house. Books are not the only form of art experiencing this shift–sites like Etsy allow individuals to sell their crafts online, rather than having to go through a mass producer.

This change has both pros and cons. The ease of releasing one’s work allows many new, Indie voices to be heard. The perspectives available broaden significantly. Books that defy easy categorization or lack overall market appeal can be made available to the niche that desires them. I have several friends who have self-published poetry and prose, and I have appreciated the ability to purchase attractively put together copies of their work. Yet, I think that many of these voices could be heard just as well in different self-publishing formats, like blogs and Twitter.

It feels as though the book is somewhat cheapened as the selection process is lost, and it becomes more difficult to wade through titles without knowing whether they have already received a stamp of approval from a knowledgeable source.   I appreciate the selectivity of the publishing process. (Even with the many barriers to publication, there are more than enough books out there to satisfy all tastes. When I have over 300 books on my personal wish list, I know that the market can appease anyone, without self-publishers adding on thousands of extra titles.) I also like knowing that an agent and editor believed in a book enough to put forth their time and energy to work on it, and risked their reputations to release it.

What do you think of self-publishing vs. traditional publishing? If you have self-published, what was your reasoning behind it, and where the benefits?

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