Perspectives On Publishing: 5 Writers Talk About Their Paths
The way books are birthed is changing. What used to be a clearly defined publication process has morphed into a buffet of dissemination options. For those of us in the Western world, tools are readily available to help authors get stories in the hands of readers without having to call on a middleman. As liberating as this may seem, the existence of these tools presents a choice, a 21st century quandary, to the writer.
As I go through the process of finalizing my first book (a memoir based on a yearlong journey around the word), the subject of publishing has understandably been on my mind. As I trek through my own process of determining which publishing path – traditional or independent – would be best for me, I thought it might be helpful to check in with other writers and see what they have to say on the topic.
To further explore the matter of traditional vs. independent publishing, I reached out to a few authors in my network, and posed them this simple question:
When it comes to getting your book(s) into the world, why have you chosen the specific approach you use?
My intention here is not to gratuitously pit one option against the other or to create an attention-nabbing confrontation between both approaches. In my opinion, any debate of which publication path is better is a rather purposeless activity, as the decision is highly subjective and based on a variety of personal variables. What is of greater interest to me – and hopefully to you, as a lover of books – is the exploration of the choice itself. So, why do writers select one option over the other?
Now, allow me to introduce my guests.
If you dabble on a little social media site called Twitter, chances are you’ve run across Arjun Basu’s work. He is the brainchild of “twisters,” which are self-contained stories that fit into 140 characters. Arjun’s creativity has won him a Shorty Award for Best Literature. But when it comes to publishing large pieces of work, he’s opted for the traditional route. This is what Arjun has to say:
“In a lot of ways this is a golden age for writers – the options we have now to get our work out in the world are numerous. The one constant, however, is time. It’s still finite. And for this reason, I went the traditional publishing route. I’m willing to pay (or share in the costs) a traditional publishing set up to edit, design, market and distribute my work. I just don’t have the time to do all of that. It helps that my publisher is also competent when it comes to digital. It helps a lot.”
L.A.-based author, freelance copywriter and self-proclaimed Internet geek, Matthew Allard, engages nearly 100,000 followers across his personal Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram accounts. Matt had a diplomatic response to my inquiry on publishing:
“I’m into self-publishing. I guess the main part of it is that I like to make things and I don’t like to wait for people to tell me that I can make something. The tools are available to do it myself, and I’m a bit impatient in that regard. I also like control of what I’m doing, and it allows me to have that from start to finish. I’m really grateful to the Internet for allowing me a bit of an audience that I obviously wouldn’t have otherwise. So I’ve just been able to put things out and see how it goes. Someday maybe the old-traditional route will come for me, but I haven’t ever really sought it out so far.”
Christopher DiRaddo works for CBC Radio in Montréal as a content editor for Canada Writes. For Christopher, it’s not simply about getting a book to readers as quickly as possible, but also the romance of being part of a literary custom, of going through a right-of-passage. Here’s what he had to say:
“I wanted to do things the traditional way. I wanted to find a publisher who would pluck my book from the weeds, see its merits, and then work closely with me to bring it to life. Publishers are often seen as arbiters of quality. When they publish something, the country takes notice.”
Christopher’s first novel, The Geography of Pluto, is forthcoming from Cormorant Books in Spring 2014.
Photo credit: Paul Specht
Roseanne Harvey runs the popular blog It’s All Yoga, Baby. Her mission is to spark investigation into the relationship between yoga, the body and popular culture. In 2012 she curated a collection of essays about how yoga fits into modern western culture. Roseanne assets to the efficiency of self-publishing:
“My co-editor and I chose to self-publish 21st Century Yoga because we were driven by a DIY spirit, and wanted to maintain creative control over our book. We had connected with each other and our 10 contributors through blogs and social media, so we wanted our book to reflect that. We also knew that our book, a critical examination of yoga culture, didn’t have a lot of mainstream appeal or would lead to mass sales. Between the 12 collaborators, we had a wide-ranging network of people, and we knew that was our strongest “market.” We were also drawn to the speed of self-publishing, as the ideas in our book reflect very current ideas and conversations that have bubbled up in our community. It took one year to go from conception to publication, which is so much faster than traditional publishing. Self-publishing is a lot of work (you have to write, edit, design, proofread and market the book yourself), but it’s worth it.”
Roseanne’s anthology of essays, 21st Century Yoga, is available now.
Photo credit: Andrea Hausmann
With fifteen books to his credit, Casablanca-based writer Tahir Shah is a nothing short of prolific. I read his book In Arabian Nights while travelling in Morocco, and knew that he had published in a traditional fashion. So when I reached out for his sentiments, I had assumed that he would provide a compelling argument for brick and mortar publishing. I was wrong. This is what Tahir had to say on the matter:
“Until a year ago, I was published exclusively by Random House and by other leading publishers. But I was so shocked and even horrified by their lackluster attempt to draw attention to my books, and to the fact that I had no control, that I decided to go it alone. Last summer I self-published a large historical novel, TIMBUCTOO, printing it in Hong Kong and paying for it myself. My own publicity machine got me onto BBC World TV and coverage that Random House could have only ever dreamt of. The publishing industry is at a crossroads… I see myself as being at the vanguard of a new era, in which authors are king, and the publishers are insignificant – their grip on us all loosened by technology. I celebrate this brave new world, and that the spell has been broken at last.”
Tahir Shah’s most recent book is Eye Spy.
TAKE AWAY NOTES
For some writers, the greater desire is to focus on writing itself and not get wrapped up in the multitude of side tasks and micro-decisions that self-publishing presents. And the allure of being part of a merit-based tradition of publishing can also provide incentive. Other writers value creative control and efficiency, and are willing to become project managers for their own works.
Essentially, today’s writer has more routes available to birth books. And despite the conundrum of which route to take, the choice itself is a positive progression for writers, and subsequently for readers. Much ink has been spilt over the two options, some advocating one method over the other. But ultimately, does there even need to be a debate?
When the bicycle was invented, we didn’t stop walking.
We just had different ways to get there.