Back after a sabbatical of a couple of years, after taking time out to finish a novel. Nick & Jake — available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble — and once again taking on the issues confronting the lonely writer. How do I get better? How do I get noticed? How do I make a buck at this?
Probably no topic has seen more of a change for freelance writers in recent years than self-publishing. Once it was the scorned stepchild of literature, stigmatized as “vanity publishing,” but no longer. Writers make a living from self-publishing; they even get reviews and critical praise.
What changed? Technology, mostly.
There are lots of precedents for this. Here’s one. In the 1940s, after World War II, new technology for pressing records changed. Suddenly producing a record, which had once been only possible for big companies like RCA Victor and Columbia, became affordable for the shoestring entrepreneur, and since shoestring entrepreneurs couldn’t sign up Frank Sinatra or Harry James, they had to find a new kind of music. It turned out to be the music that was being made by a new generation of African-American musicians in cities like Chicago and Kansas City and New York and Los Angeles and Memphis. Rhythm and blues! Rock and roll! Terrible music, the establishment said. Jungle music, the racist element of the establishment said. It’ll never last. It will ruin our culture, destroy our youth. (How it could do all that while at the same time never lasting, no one quite explained). But it did last, and it did change our culture. For the better. Chuck Berry. Charlie Parker.
Now technology says you can publish your own book. Companies like Lulu and CreateSpace have made producing an actual book affordable. But it goes farther than that. New technology means you can be read, and read very saisfactorily, without even producing an actual book. And that means you have an advantage even the independent record producers of the 1940s didn’t have…easy, unlimited distribution.
For a small record company, strange as it may seem, a breakout hit record could be a disaster. The shoestring entrepreneur would have to expand his/her operation, contract with a larger pressing plant, set up new distribution network. If more big hits didn’t follow, it meant bankruptcy.
With electronic publishing, that worry is history. Now you can do it all. You can really do it. All you need is…
We’ll be looking at that over the next few columns.