Self-Publishing and the Blogosphere

There’s a phenomenon particular to the arts, where people don’t realize their degree of talent.  Call this the American Idol phenomenon.  On the first few shows of American Idol, people gawk and laugh at the contestants who have so little clue how little talent they actually have.  Self-publishing is full of the same types of writers.  (Note: this is not in reference to anyone who has contacted the site, so don’t be worried).

Because self-publishing has no filter, there is some stuff that gets released that should never see the light of day.  Really, there’s some stuff that gets released that has no clue whatsoever: books written in unreadable fonts, bad cover design, misspellings throughout – even titles with misspellings.  Spell check couldn’t be easier to use, but people still neglect to use it, even if they’re putting something into print.

Self-Publishing and Blogging

This is no different, really, than blogging.  And because the two are so similar, it hopefully speaks well for the future of self-publishing, as blogging is now a major part of mainstream media.  But traditional journalists have often scoffed at blogging as being an illegitimate form of writing.  The myth of the “guy in his mother’s basement” couldn’t be further from the truth, as professional bloggers can literally make millions a year and are as referenced in mainstream culture as traditional media.  Of course, traditional journalists lash out at blogging because it’s the new kid on the block and is the first step in the demise of traditional print media – that’s not just a projection, it’s a virtual inevitability.

So there are comparisons between how blogging is viewed by the mainstream and how self-publishing is viewed: only self-publishing has a lot further to go than blogging to gain credibility.  The reason is that books are held to a much higher standard than other types of writing.  The fact is that there are thousands of terribly-conceived blogs out there – similar to the problems in poorly-constructed self-published books: grammatical problems, poor layout, no marketing whatsoever, etc.  Except where the blogosphere is concerned, the bad blogs don’t bring down the entire medium.  Nobody things that the Huffington Post is any less legitimate because there’s a Blogspot blog that is virtually unreadable.

Yet where self-publishing is concerned, the exact opposite phenomenon takes place.  The very bad self-publishing books are responsible for the entire view of self-publishing, to the point where self-publishing and “bad” have become synonymous.  Be certain, there are more bad blogs than there are great blogs.  The same goes with self-publishing.  The problem is that people consider putting something into print kind of sacred – more sacred than publishing something online – so self-publishing is more-heavily criticized.

But really print on demand is no different than blogging.  It’s a convenient system for making your thoughts public.  Certainly, there are self-published books that don’t deserve to be in print, just as there are blogs that shouldn’t be online.  But scoffing at self-publishing outright isn’t understanding that this technology is putting more power into the hands of anyone who wants it and it is as significant a development as the blogosphere.  Hopefully this sort of criticism will wane and self-publishing will take on similar prominence as blogging has in recent years.

  • Blogs aren’t held to the same standard because the potential audiences are different. An exceptionally talented writer can make oodles of money off of a blog, sure, but it’s also perfectly acceptable to write little updates about your life, knowing that only your friends and family will care enough to read them.

    You can self-publish a book with the same motive, of course. The difference is that books require a much higher level of time and effort. The expectation is usually that the author hopes to reach a broader audience.

    To avoid the American Idol effect, aspiring writers should show their work to people who will be honest with them before they move on to the publishing stage. Find a writing workshop. Get an editorial analysis. Honest critiques can be painful, but it’s better for an editor to criticize your unpublished first draft than for the world at large to meet your published efforts with total indifference.