Wherefore Print-On-Demand by Marc Schuster

By | on December 18, 2009 | 57 Comments

JC: Usually when readers have something to say to us, they put it in the comments or send us an email. Marc Schuster, however, has a lot to say. He’s the author of The Singular Exploits on Wonder Mom and Party Girl, and the editor of excellent site Small Press Reviews. Here’s an essay he sent about Print On Demand:

Wherefore Print On Demand?

by Marc Schuster

The turkey Panini came highly recommended, but nobody mentioned that the man who operated the Panini press had a girlfriend who happened to be a writer. This latter fact came out while the Panini was cooking and the man behind the counter asked what I did for a living. When I said that I was an English teacher, a friend of mine, who shall remain nameless, added that I was a writer, too. This, it turned out, was the opportunity the man behind the counter was waiting for—a chance to plug his girlfriend’s book. It was a book of poetry, he explained, as he scribbled his girlfriend’s name and the title of her book on a sheet of wax paper. I should look the book up on Amazon.com, he added, and I promised that I would, largely because my Panini was beginning to burn.

The book was, in fact, available on Amazon.com. It had an ISBN, a bright cover, and a four-star customer review that described the volume as “unique.” It was also published by Outskirts Press, one of a handful of printing services that utilizes print on demand (POD) technology to turn aspiring writers into published authors the quick and easy way. “Say goodbye to the rejection of traditional publishers and the two-year publishing cycle,” reads the Outskirts Press website; “Say hello to the flexibility and control of self-publishing combined with the full-service support and confidence of a book publishing company, all under one roof.” To a lot of writers, this probably sounds like a dream come true. The problem, however, is that when writers say goodbye to rejection, they tend to say goodbye to a lot of other things, too—editing, revision, and a critical eye chief among them.

In a recent CNN.com article titled “More Authors Turn to Web and Print-on-Demand Publishing,” Gail Jordan, the Director of Public relations for POD publisher Lulu.com echoes the sentiments of Outskirts Press: “Anyone can publish, that’s the beauty of it… Nobody’s going to say, ‘We don’t like your cover. Chapter 10 should be Chapter 6.'” On one hand, this sounds great insofar as it gives everyone, even the least literate among us, an opportunity to share a number of bound pages of printed text with the world at large. On the other hand, what if Chapter 10 really should have been Chapter 6? What if making that or other changes would have turned the book in question from a good book to a great book? Without an editorial process in place, there’s no means of improvement, no way of (gently or otherwise) suggesting to a writer that another round of revisions may be in order.

That most print-on-demand publishers also offer editorial services (at a premium) doesn’t do much to mitigate the problem—particularly in light of the fact that all of the marketing for these enterprises centers on ideas like those expressed by Jordan: writers don’t need “the man” to tell them what to do. Case in point: the XLibris “loser” ad campaign from a few years back, which encouraged potential customers to place themselves in the company of authors like James Joyce, who also had to self-publish. They did it, so why shouldn’t you? the ads all but demanded. But after convincing potential customers that “the man” is unnecessary, turning around and trying to sell the services of “the man” to the customer comes off as somewhat disingenuous.

At the end of the day, what’s lacking in print on demand publishing is a mechanism for ensuring that someone other than the author has seen a book before it goes to print. The reason this matters is that writing is not a solitary pursuit despite what popular sentiment and the purveyors of print-on-demand services might have us believe. T.S. Eliot had Ezra Pound. F. Scott Fitzgerald had Maxwell Perkins. In the case of the former, Pound challenged Eliot to pare The Waste Land down to its essential core. In the case of the latter, Perkins wrought Fitzgerald’s mangled prose into Standard Written English.

While it may be true that publishing houses don’t—as the almost constant handwringing over the current state of the publishing industry insists—have editors like Perkins anymore, editing is still a major part of the publishing process. I have a number of writer friends whose books have been published by the “big houses,” and all of their work, without fail, has gone through a fairly intense round of editing before it has seen print. The same holds true for my friends who have agents: before the manuscript goes before an editor, a good agent will usually offer suggestions for strengthening the work in question.

For those not in a position to be dealing with an editor, writers’ workshops serve a similar function: they put your manuscript in front of someone before you unleash it on the public. In the best of situations, this someone—or these someones—will share a writer’s aesthetic sensibilities and challenge the writer to make a writing project as strong as it can be. Again, look at Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot. Pound’s heavy pen cuts huge swaths of verse out of Eliot’s manuscript for The Waste Land, and his comments are unrelenting: dogmatic deduction but wobbly as well, verse not interesting enough as verse to warrant so much of it, make up yr. mind, and (bluntly) bad—but cannot attack until I get typescript. Though hopefully more tactful, a good writers’ group can be equally frank about the quality of an early draft while, at the same time, championing its potential.

Needless to say, such frankness can be daunting, but in the end, it’s better for a writer to be told that a passage in a story isn’t especially interesting (or is simply bad) before it’s gone to press than to find out from a reviewer afterward. And that’s what print on demand services don’t sufficiently address in their marketing rhetoric. By insisting that anyone can and should publish anything and everything while passively making editors and agents out to be villains, these services fail to note that some writers need to spend a lot more time on their craft before foisting a book upon the world at large. Or, more bluntly, they don’t admit that some writing is just plain bad.

None of this, however, is to say that POD technology doesn’t have a legitimate place in publishing. The concept actually makes a lot of sense insofar as supply is always equal to demand. Additionally, there’s no telling how many trees the print on demand phenomenon has saved—assuming, of course, that everyone who’s gone that route would have otherwise ended up publishing hundreds of copies of each tome through a more traditional vanity press. Finally, there’s the fact that some print on demand services charge no upfront costs. Considering the vagaries of the book market, print on demand is clearly an idea whose time has come.

Given the benefits of POD technology, it would make a lot of sense for a latter-day Maxwell Perkins to start a press and work with a small number of authors to hone their work and share it with a worldwide audience via a service like Lulu or Lightning Source. One editor who has been doing something along these lines is Lily Richards of Casperian Books. Working with authors like widely-published small press author Curtis Smith to publish his novel Sound + Noise, Richards has developed a catalogue of twenty titles, each of which has gone through an extensive and thorough editing process.

According to Richards, each book that Casperian publishes takes about a year to go from the initial query stages to the final product. This process begins with a dialogue between the potential author and the editors at the press: if the editors like what they read in a query, they ask a number of questions to make sure, among other things, that the author understands how much time and effort goes into turning a manuscript into a book. Assuming Casperian decides to acquire the title, the editors then begin a lengthy dialogue with the author.

“Once we get a contract in place, the editorial process begins,” Richards explains. Most of the times, this process involves two to three rounds of edits in advance of a final copy edit: “The first round is just a general e-mail after contract signature where we list the items that should be addressed manuscript-wide and usually request that the revised manuscript is submitted together with a timeline for the MS… The second round is usually a rough edit from us, together with nitpicking of specific and localized problems within the manuscript, such as, ‘Your timeline’s broken right here.’  This step might be repeated once or twice based on author edits and rewrites. After that, it’s off to copyedit, before the manuscript moves into production.”

For Richards, this editorial process is the key distinction between what Casperian does and what most POD services offer.

“I think it’s important to distinguish between a POD service—which in essence is used for self-publishing purposes–and small presses/publishing houses utilizing a POD service to print books with reduced inventory and risk,” the publisher notes. “The primary reason I say it’s important to distinguish between a POD Service and a small press though, has less to do with the logistics, distribution and finance, and more to do with editorial standards and the peer review process.  POD services that have no editorial process and basically allow anyone who want to self-publish their books regardless of quality are, in essence, what gives POD a bad name. At least vanity publishers usually throw in a basic edit, which gets rid of typos and punctuation errors, even if it does nothing about the quality of the book itself.”

Of course, sentiments like this aren’t what many writers who take the POD route want to hear. The day before the Panini incident, I took part in a panel discussion on the craft of writing, during which I expressed the opinion that workshopping, revising, and editing are all essential to the writing process. Interestingly, I never explicitly said anything about bad writing, but a few people in the audience were sharp enough to intimate that revision implies room for improvement and that room for improvement implies that there’s a difference between good writing and better writing. Extending this logic a tiny bit further, at least one member of the audience drew the inevitable conclusion that I was also suggesting a difference between good writing and bad writing, and that I was unfairly lumping her work into the latter category.

The woman was 93 years old and working on a collection of poetry that she intended to publish. When the panel discussion was over, she touched my wrist and gently informed me that I had no right to tell her that her poetry wasn’t good enough for publication. This was America, she said, and people have the right to express themselves however they see fit. Nobody, she insisted, could tell her what she could or couldn’t write.

“I write for myself and only for myself,” she said.

To which I did not reply, “I guess that explains why you’re publishing a book.”

Instead, I nodded and told her that what she was doing was wonderful. I was glad that she was writing a book, I said. And I really was happy for her. I’ve never in my life said that anyone shouldn’t write. But there’s a difference between writing for oneself and writing for an audience—and that’s a difference that most POD services do their best to obscure.

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57 Responses to “Wherefore Print-On-Demand by Marc Schuster”

  1. December 18, 2009

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . .great stuff, MS! . . .of course, editorial considerations aside, the other big problem with POD is distribution . . .yes, yes, i keep hearing how digital is the wave of the future, but without brick and mortar distribution, without the advocacy of a sales rep, booksellers, co-op, etc, it’s awfully hard to sell more than a hundred books, particularly literary fiction or poetry . . . i’ve been saying for years that POD needs to be integrated into the brick and mortar marketplace . . . i love paper books, but there’s no need for publishers to pay the shipping twice for inventory that doesn’t move . . . how about a brick and mortar store where the consumer could interface with the book world digitally– look through catalogs, watch trailers, read author bios, get recommendations from booksellers then explore them further (something akin the listening stations tower records used to provide), then walk right over to the POD machine, type in the ISBN, and viola– a perfect bound paperback product . . .and now the espresso machine is finally here! third place books here in seattle is one of the first retail stores to integrate one . . . for me, this is the best of all possible worlds, and in the long run it’s way lest wasteful and fiscally responsible . . .

  2. December 18, 2009

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . .great stuff, MS! . . .of course, editorial considerations aside, the other big problem with POD is distribution . . .yes, yes, i keep hearing how digital is the wave of the future, but without brick and mortar distribution, without the advocacy of a sales rep, booksellers, co-op, etc, it’s awfully hard to sell more than a hundred books, particularly literary fiction or poetry . . . i’ve been saying for years that POD needs to be integrated into the brick and mortar marketplace . . . i love paper books, but there’s no need for publishers to pay the shipping twice for inventory that doesn’t move . . . how about a brick and mortar store where the consumer could interface with the book world digitally– look through catalogs, watch trailers, read author bios, get recommendations from booksellers then explore them further (something akin the listening stations tower records used to provide), then walk right over to the POD machine, type in the ISBN, and viola– a perfect bound paperback product . . .and now the espresso machine is finally here! third place books here in seattle is one of the first retail stores to integrate one . . . for me, this is the best of all possible worlds, and in the long run it’s way lest wasteful and fiscally responsible . . .

  3. December 18, 2009

    jonathan evison Reply

    that is LESS wasteful . . .

  4. December 18, 2009

    jonathan evison Reply

    that is LESS wasteful . . .

  5. […] December 18, 2009 in Uncategorized Thanks to Three Guys One Book for running my recent essay on Print on Demand publishing, “Wherefore Print on Demand.” […]

  6. December 18, 2009

    Patrick T. Kilgallon Reply

    I myself learned from bitter personal experience that I should have researched the POD issues in depth and join book groups like this one instead of going the self publishing route. I hope to learn from my mistakes from my first novel, gather the weeds, and apply them to my second book. This article is timely and important for writers desperate to get their stories told. It was Blake who said that the tigers of wrath are wiser teachers than horses of instruction. How true that is. To those who wants to check out my book, you can come over and pick out a copy for sixteen bucks at my house. I still have about hundred and fifty left that are unsold. Heck, I’ll even sign them for you!

  7. December 18, 2009

    Marc Schuster Reply

    One part of the problem with POD that I didn’t address in my piece is the way it’s discussed in the mainstream media. The general tenor of many news items on POD suggests (in line with POD marketing rhetoric) that every self-published title is a best-seller waiting to happen. For example, the CNN article I cite above points to Lisa Genova’s novel, Still Alice, as a POD success story: after being told repeatedly that the book would not sell to mainstream audiences, Genova, against the advice of seemingly everyone in the book industry, published Still Alice through a print-on-demand publisher. Some months and several favorable reviews later, Simon and Schuster picked up the title, and it went on to spend many weeks on the best seller list.

    At first glance, Genova’s is a great story: the underdog going it alone and triumphing despite overwhelming odds. Beyond that, however, it doesn’t hold much practical value for anyone interested in writing and publishing. In fact, the story probably does more harm than good in that it sets some fairly high expectations for anyone considering self-publication.

    While the piece in no way suggests that Genova’s story is the norm, opening with it (as the CNN piece does) is a little bit like opening an article on wise investment strategies with the story of someone who bought a lottery ticket and hit the jackpot. We’d all like to believe it can happen to us, but, statistically speaking, it isn’t going to.

  8. December 18, 2009

    Marc Schuster Reply

    One part of the problem with POD that I didn’t address in my piece is the way it’s discussed in the mainstream media. The general tenor of many news items on POD suggests (in line with POD marketing rhetoric) that every self-published title is a best-seller waiting to happen. For example, the CNN article I cite above points to Lisa Genova’s novel, Still Alice, as a POD success story: after being told repeatedly that the book would not sell to mainstream audiences, Genova, against the advice of seemingly everyone in the book industry, published Still Alice through a print-on-demand publisher. Some months and several favorable reviews later, Simon and Schuster picked up the title, and it went on to spend many weeks on the best seller list.

    At first glance, Genova’s is a great story: the underdog going it alone and triumphing despite overwhelming odds. Beyond that, however, it doesn’t hold much practical value for anyone interested in writing and publishing. In fact, the story probably does more harm than good in that it sets some fairly high expectations for anyone considering self-publication.

    While the piece in no way suggests that Genova’s story is the norm, opening with it (as the CNN piece does) is a little bit like opening an article on wise investment strategies with the story of someone who bought a lottery ticket and hit the jackpot. We’d all like to believe it can happen to us, but, statistically speaking, it isn’t going to.

  9. December 18, 2009

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . .good point, marc . . . i think another important distinction when we talk about POD success stories is the marketing possibilities of fiction vs. non-fiction . . . a self-published non-fiction title written by somebody with a good, specific platform(say, a doctor, or a proven investment capitalist) stands a much much much better chance at finding a market than a 400 page coming-of-age novel that doesn’t take place anywhere in the emerging world. . . topicality plays a huge role in garnering the sort of media coverage necessary to drive POD sales . . .

  10. December 18, 2009

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . .good point, marc . . . i think another important distinction when we talk about POD success stories is the marketing possibilities of fiction vs. non-fiction . . . a self-published non-fiction title written by somebody with a good, specific platform(say, a doctor, or a proven investment capitalist) stands a much much much better chance at finding a market than a 400 page coming-of-age novel that doesn’t take place anywhere in the emerging world. . . topicality plays a huge role in garnering the sort of media coverage necessary to drive POD sales . . .

  11. December 18, 2009

    Paul Bens Reply

    Great article, Marc. Thanks.

    I do have to say that there are a number of authors I know who do go the self-publish route but they have many, many, many people help them with the editing process (other writers, readers, grammar fanatics) so that the end result is damn good. Of course, finding these authors in the legions of people who do POD is not easy, but every once in a while you stumble on them and stay with them.

    And love seeing Lily interviewed!

  12. December 18, 2009

    Marc Schuster Reply

    That’s a good point, Paul. And the flip-side, of course, is that there are plenty of books that go through a publisher’s editorial process and still aren’t very good.

  13. December 18, 2009

    Marc Schuster Reply

    That’s a good point, Paul. And the flip-side, of course, is that there are plenty of books that go through a publisher’s editorial process and still aren’t very good.

  14. December 18, 2009

    Patrick T. Kilgallon Reply

    I myself learned from bitter personal experience that I should have researched the POD issues in depth and join book groups like this one instead of going the self publishing route. I hope to learn from my mistakes from my first novel, gather the weeds, and apply them to my second book. This article is timely and important for writers desperate to get their stories told. It was Blake who said that the tigers of wrath are wiser teachers than horses of instruction. How true that is. To those who wants to check out my book, you can come over and pick out a copy for sixteen bucks at my house. I still have about hundred and fifty left that are unsold. Heck, I’ll even sign them for you!

  15. December 18, 2009

    Paul Bens Reply

    Great article, Marc. Thanks.

    I do have to say that there are a number of authors I know who do go the self-publish route but they have many, many, many people help them with the editing process (other writers, readers, grammar fanatics) so that the end result is damn good. Of course, finding these authors in the legions of people who do POD is not easy, but every once in a while you stumble on them and stay with them.

    And love seeing Lily interviewed!

  16. December 19, 2009

    Jason Rice Reply

    “To a lot of writers, this probably sounds like a dream come true. The problem, however, is that when writers say goodbye to rejection, they tend to say goodbye to a lot of other things, too—editing, revision, and a critical eye chief among them.”
    The best part of this. This is what people who self publish need to understand. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. But you’ve also made the point that some books that get published shouldn’t have been. The industry is too big, they need bad books to survive. Sad.

  17. December 18, 2009

    Jason Rice Reply

    “To a lot of writers, this probably sounds like a dream come true. The problem, however, is that when writers say goodbye to rejection, they tend to say goodbye to a lot of other things, too—editing, revision, and a critical eye chief among them.”
    The best part of this. This is what people who self publish need to understand. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. But you’ve also made the point that some books that get published shouldn’t have been. The industry is too big, they need bad books to survive. Sad.

  18. December 19, 2009

    DH Reply

    I associate JR’s comment: “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” with Marc’s encounter with the 93 year old woman looking for self-expression. Self-expression and artistic expression are not the same thing. Artistic expression is a function of the community of which it is a part. The editorial process and the vetting of the writer through a publisher and through brick & mortar distribution are paths to legitimacy. We seem to be exploring other paths these heady days with advances in technology. But it’s still as difficult as ever for anyone who is not an artist to understand the rigor that is required to create art.

    In my view the chief value of amateur self-expression is that it nurtures an environment that is more likely to be receptive to serious works of art. This is a messy process as we can see. And “serious” is a dirty word in American culture. But art can’t be taken seriously unless it is vetted in some very rigorous way. Thanks a lot for starting this discussion, Marc!

  19. December 18, 2009

    DH Reply

    I associate JR’s comment: “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” with Marc’s encounter with the 93 year old woman looking for self-expression. Self-expression and artistic expression are not the same thing. Artistic expression is a function of the community of which it is a part. The editorial process and the vetting of the writer through a publisher and through brick & mortar distribution are paths to legitimacy. We seem to be exploring other paths these heady days with advances in technology. But it’s still as difficult as ever for anyone who is not an artist to understand the rigor that is required to create art.

    In my view the chief value of amateur self-expression is that it nurtures an environment that is more likely to be receptive to serious works of art. This is a messy process as we can see. And “serious” is a dirty word in American culture. But art can’t be taken seriously unless it is vetted in some very rigorous way. Thanks a lot for starting this discussion, Marc!

  20. December 19, 2009

    Jason Rice Reply

    Art, who can say what is good and bad. The consumer or the industry? Dan Brown is a good example. Laughed at by the critical establishment (which has shaped a world of books, and created a space for Dan Brown), loved by the buying public. Serious “art” is taken seriously by the establishment, the rest of the world, if educated, will come see it, if not educated, they might be curious. Education…not college, but literacy in what ever serious “art” you’re talking about of making. Not talking about college educated here. Knowing what you like, and reading it, making it, is the most important part. But knowing what it is that you’re making, knowing it’s history, will help you make better decisions. Like knowing the rules of writing, and reading a lot of books, because you love it, writing becomes a natural extension, not always the rule, but most times. Art is the same way. But in the end. POD or not, you either have it, or you don’t. No shame in not having it, but be honest about it.

  21. December 19, 2009

    Jason Rice Reply

    Art, who can say what is good and bad. The consumer or the industry? Dan Brown is a good example. Laughed at by the critical establishment (which has shaped a world of books, and created a space for Dan Brown), loved by the buying public. Serious “art” is taken seriously by the establishment, the rest of the world, if educated, will come see it, if not educated, they might be curious. Education…not college, but literacy in what ever serious “art” you’re talking about of making. Not talking about college educated here. Knowing what you like, and reading it, making it, is the most important part. But knowing what it is that you’re making, knowing it’s history, will help you make better decisions. Like knowing the rules of writing, and reading a lot of books, because you love it, writing becomes a natural extension, not always the rule, but most times. Art is the same way. But in the end. POD or not, you either have it, or you don’t. No shame in not having it, but be honest about it.

  22. December 19, 2009

    Marc Schuster Reply

    The issue of subjectivity is definitely worth considering. As Jason notes, who can say what’s good and bad? That’s why I think DH’s observation about community is so important: ideas about what’s good an bad are defined by each community. By the same token, communities are essential to establishing the kinds of aesthetic criteria I mention in the article. I’m thinking, for example, of the grunge scene in Seattle in the early nineties; in that instance (as with most scenes), the bands from the area informed each others’ music and created a distinct “sound” that everyone now associates with that era. Or, to go back in the past a bit further, the French expressionists also formed a kind of community with a shared set of aesthetic ideals; the establishment at the time hated them, but they were (for a while, anyway) the future. The important thing in both cases, though, is the sense of community and all that it implies: an audience and a shared set of values. Curt Cobain wasn’t making music alone in his basement, and Claude Monet wasn’t just doing his own thing, either. They were involved in a larger discussion of what art “should do.”

  23. December 19, 2009

    Marc Schuster Reply

    The issue of subjectivity is definitely worth considering. As Jason notes, who can say what’s good and bad? That’s why I think DH’s observation about community is so important: ideas about what’s good an bad are defined by each community. By the same token, communities are essential to establishing the kinds of aesthetic criteria I mention in the article. I’m thinking, for example, of the grunge scene in Seattle in the early nineties; in that instance (as with most scenes), the bands from the area informed each others’ music and created a distinct “sound” that everyone now associates with that era. Or, to go back in the past a bit further, the French expressionists also formed a kind of community with a shared set of aesthetic ideals; the establishment at the time hated them, but they were (for a while, anyway) the future. The important thing in both cases, though, is the sense of community and all that it implies: an audience and a shared set of values. Curt Cobain wasn’t making music alone in his basement, and Claude Monet wasn’t just doing his own thing, either. They were involved in a larger discussion of what art “should do.”

  24. December 19, 2009

    Jason Rice Reply

    There is no community now. Unless you count our blog as a community (or the internet blog world). You have to work very hard to be apart of a community of writers. I think POD demonstrates that you can live and write and publish no matter how cut off you are, and you might just be in that cut off place because the community or establisment rejected you. Now you’re on your own. Fuck it you say, I’m going to publish it anyway. What communities do we know? Writers and artists, sure there are retreats, Breadloaf, and Yadoo, but they are very elitist, impossible to get in to. How does Jonathan Franzen’s work get affected by his community? Did it? Where is the larger discussion that he was part of when he wrote The Corrections? What writer has a group to bounce ideas off of. I know Craig Nova has mentioned a group of riters he sends drafts of his novels to, for feedback. But what about a larger group think? A movement, a style, a voice, Lethem and Brooklyn Lit doesn’t count. Where do these people who write form their feelings, and get it onto the page? By staring at their laptops surfing the web? Work, drive, eat, sleep, do it again. Writing is a solitary act. Why shouldn’t publishing be in the age of POD. That’s what it’s breeding. Not bad books, directly. Just people who have had enough of the gate keepers saying, “I really liked this, but I just couldn’t get behind it.” You go out into the retail world and find books that have no business being published. Why is that? Did a group think create that? Or did a group of editors looking to make a score, tap into something of the moment, trend or otherwise decided, “Fuck, I can make my career on Chicken Soup for the Asshole Books. Lets do it.” Which begs the question, how different is the world of publishing from the Art world?

  25. December 19, 2009

    Jason Rice Reply

    There is no community now. Unless you count our blog as a community (or the internet blog world). You have to work very hard to be apart of a community of writers. I think POD demonstrates that you can live and write and publish no matter how cut off you are, and you might just be in that cut off place because the community or establisment rejected you. Now you’re on your own. Fuck it you say, I’m going to publish it anyway. What communities do we know? Writers and artists, sure there are retreats, Breadloaf, and Yadoo, but they are very elitist, impossible to get in to. How does Jonathan Franzen’s work get affected by his community? Did it? Where is the larger discussion that he was part of when he wrote The Corrections? What writer has a group to bounce ideas off of. I know Craig Nova has mentioned a group of riters he sends drafts of his novels to, for feedback. But what about a larger group think? A movement, a style, a voice, Lethem and Brooklyn Lit doesn’t count. Where do these people who write form their feelings, and get it onto the page? By staring at their laptops surfing the web? Work, drive, eat, sleep, do it again. Writing is a solitary act. Why shouldn’t publishing be in the age of POD. That’s what it’s breeding. Not bad books, directly. Just people who have had enough of the gate keepers saying, “I really liked this, but I just couldn’t get behind it.” You go out into the retail world and find books that have no business being published. Why is that? Did a group think create that? Or did a group of editors looking to make a score, tap into something of the moment, trend or otherwise decided, “Fuck, I can make my career on Chicken Soup for the Asshole Books. Lets do it.” Which begs the question, how different is the world of publishing from the Art world?

  26. December 20, 2009

    Marc Schuster Reply

    Jason — I largely agree that there’s no longer a single “community,” but I also think (as the opening line of your post suggests) that the internet has allowed for a redefining of the term and also for multiple communities or, for a lack of a better term, movements to emerge. Of course, these communities and movements are few and far between, but some of them are doing a good job of creating a shared literary aesthetic. One that comes to mind is the Bizarro movement. The movement (or community, to use the term somewhat loosely) consists of publishers who specialize, as the name implies, in bizarre fiction. They discourage individual authors from using print on demand services because they feel as if an editorial process is essential to ensuring the quality of literature they produce. “Quality,” of course, is a subjective term, but within the context of the movement, it means something fairly specific. (As I’m not part of the movement, I can’t say for sure what that “something” is, but I’ve enjoyed the few bizarro titles I’ve read.) I wouldn’t go so far as to call this group think; ideally, it’s more of a dialogue that reflects the ongoing evolution of the movement. That the movement is small compared to the market that mainstream publishers shoot for may be true, but movements like this, I don’t think it’s really about market so much as about audience, which is to say it’s not about units sold but about being personally invested the body of literature they’re producing.

    Granted, I find it hard to come up with other movements or communities that are doing something on par with what Bizarro is doing. I hope they’re out there, and, assuming they are, I think that, given their size, they can use POD as a cost effective way of circulating ideas and continuing the kind of dialogue I describe above.

  27. December 19, 2009

    Marc Schuster Reply

    Jason — I largely agree that there’s no longer a single “community,” but I also think (as the opening line of your post suggests) that the internet has allowed for a redefining of the term and also for multiple communities or, for a lack of a better term, movements to emerge. Of course, these communities and movements are few and far between, but some of them are doing a good job of creating a shared literary aesthetic. One that comes to mind is the Bizarro movement. The movement (or community, to use the term somewhat loosely) consists of publishers who specialize, as the name implies, in bizarre fiction. They discourage individual authors from using print on demand services because they feel as if an editorial process is essential to ensuring the quality of literature they produce. “Quality,” of course, is a subjective term, but within the context of the movement, it means something fairly specific. (As I’m not part of the movement, I can’t say for sure what that “something” is, but I’ve enjoyed the few bizarro titles I’ve read.) I wouldn’t go so far as to call this group think; ideally, it’s more of a dialogue that reflects the ongoing evolution of the movement. That the movement is small compared to the market that mainstream publishers shoot for may be true, but movements like this, I don’t think it’s really about market so much as about audience, which is to say it’s not about units sold but about being personally invested the body of literature they’re producing.

    Granted, I find it hard to come up with other movements or communities that are doing something on par with what Bizarro is doing. I hope they’re out there, and, assuming they are, I think that, given their size, they can use POD as a cost effective way of circulating ideas and continuing the kind of dialogue I describe above.

  28. December 20, 2009

    Jason Rice Reply

    The group you’ve mentioned is just like McSweeney’s, probably even more narrow. They’ve gone off the grid, and made their own rules, and exclude anyone who doesn’t “write” what they’re looking for, they’re no better than the people at Random House, for instance, who won’t even read a query letter, or Agents who don’t read past a query letter. Everyone is looking for something, but is there a place where good writing can find a home? Good writers with a solid platform can get their voice heard, in a larger arena? Is that what it’s about? Eggers is nothing more than a vanity press for his friends, and his occasional book. I’m thinking about your point of the impressionist movement. What movements are there today? Can my style of writing fall into that movement? Independent presses are looking for ONE thing, don’t be fooled, they are. It seems that clubs and cliques have formed outside the mainstream, and it’s impossible for anyone not in that clique to hear another frequency. Abstract art in the time of Pollock, what made that happen? Does Lethem and Whitehead fit into a clique? Kate Christensen, Walter Kirn, Arthur Phillips? They are not modernists that’s a term from Frank L. Wright, and not even post modernists, it’s a kind of writing that is self observed and developed to meet and please a demographic. Essentially sifted from a river, where gold was once found, and now what are we looking at? Why can’t John Irving’s book really work anymore? What novel has been good, start to finish? What voice is coming out of our times? the late 90’s and 00’s? Palahniuk’s career may have begun and ended with Fight Club. The internet has driven people into themselves. I think. No group or style can come of it. If a book is good, it will find a home. You know what? That and fifty cents will get me back to the laptop.

  29. December 19, 2009

    Jason Rice Reply

    The group you’ve mentioned is just like McSweeney’s, probably even more narrow. They’ve gone off the grid, and made their own rules, and exclude anyone who doesn’t “write” what they’re looking for, they’re no better than the people at Random House, for instance, who won’t even read a query letter, or Agents who don’t read past a query letter. Everyone is looking for something, but is there a place where good writing can find a home? Good writers with a solid platform can get their voice heard, in a larger arena? Is that what it’s about? Eggers is nothing more than a vanity press for his friends, and his occasional book. I’m thinking about your point of the impressionist movement. What movements are there today? Can my style of writing fall into that movement? Independent presses are looking for ONE thing, don’t be fooled, they are. It seems that clubs and cliques have formed outside the mainstream, and it’s impossible for anyone not in that clique to hear another frequency. Abstract art in the time of Pollock, what made that happen? Does Lethem and Whitehead fit into a clique? Kate Christensen, Walter Kirn, Arthur Phillips? They are not modernists that’s a term from Frank L. Wright, and not even post modernists, it’s a kind of writing that is self observed and developed to meet and please a demographic. Essentially sifted from a river, where gold was once found, and now what are we looking at? Why can’t John Irving’s book really work anymore? What novel has been good, start to finish? What voice is coming out of our times? the late 90’s and 00’s? Palahniuk’s career may have begun and ended with Fight Club. The internet has driven people into themselves. I think. No group or style can come of it. If a book is good, it will find a home. You know what? That and fifty cents will get me back to the laptop.

  30. December 21, 2009

    Monica Reply

    I am going to take this discussion in a different direction because I think POD speaks to larger issues in American life.

    First, it speaks to Americans’ inability to deal with rejection and, consequently, the self-reflection and change that occurs after being rejected.

    It also represents yet another manifestation of the American innovative spirit, which now largely focuses on developing ways to circumvent pain, disappointment, or difference. Writers who may not have otherwise been published now have POD to make them feel accepted and successful; unhealthy eaters now have Tums and Rolaids to mask the aftereffects of their bad eating habits; and sad people now have antidepressants to relieve their pain (no matter how temporary or normal that pain might be). Basically, whatever your issue, “we have an app for that.”

    Additionally, POD enables another American vice: the need for instant gratification. Writers, like anyone else in this culture, don’t want to wait for anything. They don’t want to send out a million pieces and wait around for that acceptance/rejection letter that may or may not ever come. POD allows writers to put what they have into the world with no questions asked, which then gives writers the instant experience and pleasure of being published.

    The last problem with POD was first addressed by DH, who accurately stated, “The editorial process and the vetting of the writer through a publisher and through brick & mortar distribution are paths to legitimacy.” This is so true and should not be overlooked. POD, like many other DIY outfits (including, in my opinion, online/for-profit college degree programs), is just another way of undermining how we define credibility and validity. Should we give equal acclaim to someone who met the stringent demands of the publishing world as someone who used POD? Should we give the same praise to a student who completed a degree program at the University of Phoenix Online as someone who completed one at UPenn? Regardless of what we would say or think about these individuals, the POD person can still say he’s published, and the University of Phoenix person can still say she’s got a BA. At the end of the day, they are all equal even if not viewed as such. This completely, and dangerously, transforms the way that we look at authenticity.

    “Say[ing] goodbye to rejection,” as Marc states, is not only a problem for aspiring writers who will lose out on valuable constructive feedback; it’s a problem, in general, for a nation that can’t take criticism, can’t deal with pain, and looks to find any possible way around participating in the accepted system of things.

  31. December 21, 2009

    Monica Reply

    I am going to take this discussion in a different direction because I think POD speaks to larger issues in American life.

    First, it speaks to Americans’ inability to deal with rejection and, consequently, the self-reflection and change that occurs after being rejected.

    It also represents yet another manifestation of the American innovative spirit, which now largely focuses on developing ways to circumvent pain, disappointment, or difference. Writers who may not have otherwise been published now have POD to make them feel accepted and successful; unhealthy eaters now have Tums and Rolaids to mask the aftereffects of their bad eating habits; and sad people now have antidepressants to relieve their pain (no matter how temporary or normal that pain might be). Basically, whatever your issue, “we have an app for that.”

    Additionally, POD enables another American vice: the need for instant gratification. Writers, like anyone else in this culture, don’t want to wait for anything. They don’t want to send out a million pieces and wait around for that acceptance/rejection letter that may or may not ever come. POD allows writers to put what they have into the world with no questions asked, which then gives writers the instant experience and pleasure of being published.

    The last problem with POD was first addressed by DH, who accurately stated, “The editorial process and the vetting of the writer through a publisher and through brick & mortar distribution are paths to legitimacy.” This is so true and should not be overlooked. POD, like many other DIY outfits (including, in my opinion, online/for-profit college degree programs), is just another way of undermining how we define credibility and validity. Should we give equal acclaim to someone who met the stringent demands of the publishing world as someone who used POD? Should we give the same praise to a student who completed a degree program at the University of Phoenix Online as someone who completed one at UPenn? Regardless of what we would say or think about these individuals, the POD person can still say he’s published, and the University of Phoenix person can still say she’s got a BA. At the end of the day, they are all equal even if not viewed as such. This completely, and dangerously, transforms the way that we look at authenticity.

    “Say[ing] goodbye to rejection,” as Marc states, is not only a problem for aspiring writers who will lose out on valuable constructive feedback; it’s a problem, in general, for a nation that can’t take criticism, can’t deal with pain, and looks to find any possible way around participating in the accepted system of things.

  32. December 21, 2009

    Marc Schuster Reply

    Some of the issues you’re raising may be a matter of perspective in that what looks like a community from the inside can appear to be a clique on the outside. Speaking from my own experience, I’m fortunate to live in a city that has a fairly vibrant writing community. Here in Philadelphia, we have Philadelphia Stories magazine, the Mad Poets Society, the New Philadelphia Poets, and DonRon Publishing, which puts out a biannual anthology called Philly Fiction. There’s a good bit of crossover among the various groups, and we also talk with each other at our local writers’ conferences. At the same time, though, each of these groups is looking for something fairly specific for their publications and does exclude work that doesn’t meet those needs.

    As a member of the fiction board for Philadelphia Stories, I can honestly say that we’re not trying to be exclusive or cliquish when we reject submissions, but as someone whose work has been rejected by the Philly Fiction editors, I can certainly understand the temptation to imagine that there’s a private party going on and that I haven’t been invited. But then I remember that I’ve heard the same grumblings about the publication that I work for — that it’s exclusive, that it only publishes work by friends of the editors, etc. — and my perspective softens because I know that none of these things are true.

    With respect to the issue of going “off the grid,” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, I think that POD is perfect for off-the-grid communities, which is to say relatively small groups of readers and writers who are trying to have a discussion amongst themselves about what constitutes “good” writing. In essence, such communities are creating their own grids. It’s conceivable that such communities might spawn “breakout” writers who eventually appeal to a wider, mainstream audience, but what really matters (in the context of my argument) is that these communities foster dialogue among their members about what they value in writing.

    To return to one of your comments a few posts back, I do see this blog as an example of community, especially since it fosters exactly the kind of dialogue I’m talking about. So while part of me agrees that the internet has driven people into themselves, I don’t think that this necessarily has to be the case. The internet can allow users to form communities; it just doesn’t do a good job of encouraging us to do so. The same, I think, goes for POD. It can be a great tool for developing writing communities, but the marketing behind it encourages a self-centered vision of writing and publishing.

  33. December 21, 2009

    Marc Schuster Reply

    Some of the issues you’re raising may be a matter of perspective in that what looks like a community from the inside can appear to be a clique on the outside. Speaking from my own experience, I’m fortunate to live in a city that has a fairly vibrant writing community. Here in Philadelphia, we have Philadelphia Stories magazine, the Mad Poets Society, the New Philadelphia Poets, and DonRon Publishing, which puts out a biannual anthology called Philly Fiction. There’s a good bit of crossover among the various groups, and we also talk with each other at our local writers’ conferences. At the same time, though, each of these groups is looking for something fairly specific for their publications and does exclude work that doesn’t meet those needs.

    As a member of the fiction board for Philadelphia Stories, I can honestly say that we’re not trying to be exclusive or cliquish when we reject submissions, but as someone whose work has been rejected by the Philly Fiction editors, I can certainly understand the temptation to imagine that there’s a private party going on and that I haven’t been invited. But then I remember that I’ve heard the same grumblings about the publication that I work for — that it’s exclusive, that it only publishes work by friends of the editors, etc. — and my perspective softens because I know that none of these things are true.

    With respect to the issue of going “off the grid,” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, I think that POD is perfect for off-the-grid communities, which is to say relatively small groups of readers and writers who are trying to have a discussion amongst themselves about what constitutes “good” writing. In essence, such communities are creating their own grids. It’s conceivable that such communities might spawn “breakout” writers who eventually appeal to a wider, mainstream audience, but what really matters (in the context of my argument) is that these communities foster dialogue among their members about what they value in writing.

    To return to one of your comments a few posts back, I do see this blog as an example of community, especially since it fosters exactly the kind of dialogue I’m talking about. So while part of me agrees that the internet has driven people into themselves, I don’t think that this necessarily has to be the case. The internet can allow users to form communities; it just doesn’t do a good job of encouraging us to do so. The same, I think, goes for POD. It can be a great tool for developing writing communities, but the marketing behind it encourages a self-centered vision of writing and publishing.

  34. December 21, 2009

    Marc Schuster Reply

    Quick note: My comments were in response to Jason Rice’s post, but I also think that they’re in line with everything Monica is saying as well!

  35. December 21, 2009

    Marc Schuster Reply

    Quick note: My comments were in response to Jason Rice’s post, but I also think that they’re in line with everything Monica is saying as well!

  36. December 21, 2009

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . . great post, monica . . .

  37. December 21, 2009

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . . great post, monica . . .

  38. December 21, 2009

    Patrick T. Kilgallon Reply

    Would it be ironic if I need a truckload of anti-depressants after my diasterous experience self publishing?

  39. December 21, 2009

    Peter Reply

    Monica,
    All of your comments are correct, though, they are correct only part of the time. Not every POD writer is publishing work b/c of an “inability to deal with rejection.” Independent DIY musicians are not tarred with this label, nor should all self-published writers. Certain bands didn’t fit into big record labels’ idea of what should be recorded and sold (or fit into niche oriented indie labels’ idea of what to record and sell) so they recorded and sold their music themselves. There are hundreds of well-respected bands and artists that have done, and are doing, this. Fugazi and Ani Difranco are two of the most well-known and respected. Also, many started out releasing their own work and then “graduated” to an established indie or even major label. Putting out work themselves was a way of growing an audience which then became large enough to attract the attention of the gatekeepers that initially rejected them. This model applies to DIY film makers as well, (just substitute production companies and distributors for record labels). Why should a talented writer, who doesn’t fit the mold of what agents and the big houses in New York are looking for, who POD releases his or her own work, be viewed differently?

    Again, I think your point about avoiding rejection, and Marc’s points about the need for other people to provide feedback and editing, are correct in most cases. But not all. Self-released writing for some reason carries a stigma that self-released work in other artistic fields does not carry. And while it’s probably warranted most of the time, you need to be very careful about sweeping generalizations about it. I think this is especially so b/c as the big players in publishing continue to shrink and as technology makes it that much easier for a talented but not mainstream (or at least not deemed mainstream by the gatekeepers) writer to release his or her own work, more and more quality work WILL be released independently POD. A lot of crap will be released too of course, but so will a lot of great stuff. I’ve fallen in love with scores of bands’ music over the years that they released themselves. I don’t see why I can’t be turned on to DIY writers the same way. With technology – for example, sites that feature excerpts of “unsigned” writers’ POD work, that should happen more and more.

  40. December 21, 2009

    Peter Reply

    Monica,
    All of your comments are correct, though, they are correct only part of the time. Not every POD writer is publishing work b/c of an “inability to deal with rejection.” Independent DIY musicians are not tarred with this label, nor should all self-published writers. Certain bands didn’t fit into big record labels’ idea of what should be recorded and sold (or fit into niche oriented indie labels’ idea of what to record and sell) so they recorded and sold their music themselves. There are hundreds of well-respected bands and artists that have done, and are doing, this. Fugazi and Ani Difranco are two of the most well-known and respected. Also, many started out releasing their own work and then “graduated” to an established indie or even major label. Putting out work themselves was a way of growing an audience which then became large enough to attract the attention of the gatekeepers that initially rejected them. This model applies to DIY film makers as well, (just substitute production companies and distributors for record labels). Why should a talented writer, who doesn’t fit the mold of what agents and the big houses in New York are looking for, who POD releases his or her own work, be viewed differently?

    Again, I think your point about avoiding rejection, and Marc’s points about the need for other people to provide feedback and editing, are correct in most cases. But not all. Self-released writing for some reason carries a stigma that self-released work in other artistic fields does not carry. And while it’s probably warranted most of the time, you need to be very careful about sweeping generalizations about it. I think this is especially so b/c as the big players in publishing continue to shrink and as technology makes it that much easier for a talented but not mainstream (or at least not deemed mainstream by the gatekeepers) writer to release his or her own work, more and more quality work WILL be released independently POD. A lot of crap will be released too of course, but so will a lot of great stuff. I’ve fallen in love with scores of bands’ music over the years that they released themselves. I don’t see why I can’t be turned on to DIY writers the same way. With technology – for example, sites that feature excerpts of “unsigned” writers’ POD work, that should happen more and more.

  41. December 21, 2009

    Patrick T. Kilgallon Reply

    True on that. It was Stephen King who reinforced the quote, ‘it’s the tale that tells, not he or she who tells it.’ even though I automatically buy his work every time.

  42. December 21, 2009

    Marc Schuster Reply

    One distinction worth making between bands who release their own material and authors who utilize POD is that bands tend to have a degree of dialogue built into their creative process. That dialogue can take a number of forms. In Fugazi’s case, for example, it involved being part of a scene, working in the studio with a producer, and touring — not to mention the kind of give-and-take inherent in being in a band. Such dialogue, I think, is on par with being part of a community of writers or working with a professional editor, but it’s lacking in instances where writers attempt to go it alone and self-publish without any external input whatsoever.

  43. December 21, 2009

    Marc Schuster Reply

    One distinction worth making between bands who release their own material and authors who utilize POD is that bands tend to have a degree of dialogue built into their creative process. That dialogue can take a number of forms. In Fugazi’s case, for example, it involved being part of a scene, working in the studio with a producer, and touring — not to mention the kind of give-and-take inherent in being in a band. Such dialogue, I think, is on par with being part of a community of writers or working with a professional editor, but it’s lacking in instances where writers attempt to go it alone and self-publish without any external input whatsoever.

  44. December 21, 2009

    Patrick T. Kilgallon Reply

    Would it be ironic if I need a truckload of anti-depressants after my diasterous experience self publishing?

  45. December 21, 2009

    Patrick T. Kilgallon Reply

    True on that. It was Stephen King who reinforced the quote, ‘it’s the tale that tells, not he or she who tells it.’ even though I automatically buy his work every time.

  46. December 22, 2009

    Jerry Waxler Reply

    Marc,

    This is an interesting article about an interesting subject. Nice job. I read my first book about self-publishing in 1974. I remember the year because I read it in the apartment where I was living just before going to India. It was a Pushcart Press book, I believe. I recall something about Anais Nin manufacturing her own paper. So anyway, the point is, I’ve had a few thoughts about this issue, and I ought to be able to add a couple to the mix.

    First, all of us (writers) are in the same boat, trying to create, and wanting to figure out how to expand our art and find readers. A little compassion for our collective desire is in order here. I applaud the 93 year old lady for her creative passion.

    Second, being told we are not good enough is fine if we are going for the NBA. But aren’t we teetering near the precipice of creative bullying here? “You are not good enough. You shouldn’t be writing.” Sound familiar? Every writing teacher is familiar with the problem of helping people overcome these fears.

    Third, I’m all for learning every god-blessed micro-skill in the writer’s toolkit, dialog, characterization, plot, style, word choice, voice, structure, and now thanks to the new requirements of publishing in the 21st century, learning social networking, public speaking, self-marketing. But I have not yet developed the skill to track down gatekeepers and beg. I’ve had a few interviews at writers conferences with agents who say, “you’ve got good ideas. Come back when you have a platform.” So I’m using the internet to build my platform and some day those agents are going to come and find me. (Yeah, right.)

    Fourth, I love the idea of building micro-communities on the internet. I’ve been blogging for a couple of years and gradually building a micro-community of aspiring memoir writers. Through the process, I’m expressing myself, making friends, and building voice.

    Fifth, my self-published books (or as writing mentor Jonathan Maberry calls them, “Workshop packets”) are perfect for my face to face audiences, and an occasional sale over the internet.

    Sixth, as a book reviewer, I have not completely given up on self-published books, but find it harder and harder to justify the time to wade through them, because as you and others have said, too many of their authors are looking for quick, easy, and solo when in fact the whole process of achieving quality is long, hard, and collaborative.

    Jerry
    Memory Writers Network

  47. December 21, 2009

    Jerry Waxler Reply

    Marc,

    This is an interesting article about an interesting subject. Nice job. I read my first book about self-publishing in 1974. I remember the year because I read it in the apartment where I was living just before going to India. It was a Pushcart Press book, I believe. I recall something about Anais Nin manufacturing her own paper. So anyway, the point is, I’ve had a few thoughts about this issue, and I ought to be able to add a couple to the mix.

    First, all of us (writers) are in the same boat, trying to create, and wanting to figure out how to expand our art and find readers. A little compassion for our collective desire is in order here. I applaud the 93 year old lady for her creative passion.

    Second, being told we are not good enough is fine if we are going for the NBA. But aren’t we teetering near the precipice of creative bullying here? “You are not good enough. You shouldn’t be writing.” Sound familiar? Every writing teacher is familiar with the problem of helping people overcome these fears.

    Third, I’m all for learning every god-blessed micro-skill in the writer’s toolkit, dialog, characterization, plot, style, word choice, voice, structure, and now thanks to the new requirements of publishing in the 21st century, learning social networking, public speaking, self-marketing. But I have not yet developed the skill to track down gatekeepers and beg. I’ve had a few interviews at writers conferences with agents who say, “you’ve got good ideas. Come back when you have a platform.” So I’m using the internet to build my platform and some day those agents are going to come and find me. (Yeah, right.)

    Fourth, I love the idea of building micro-communities on the internet. I’ve been blogging for a couple of years and gradually building a micro-community of aspiring memoir writers. Through the process, I’m expressing myself, making friends, and building voice.

    Fifth, my self-published books (or as writing mentor Jonathan Maberry calls them, “Workshop packets”) are perfect for my face to face audiences, and an occasional sale over the internet.

    Sixth, as a book reviewer, I have not completely given up on self-published books, but find it harder and harder to justify the time to wade through them, because as you and others have said, too many of their authors are looking for quick, easy, and solo when in fact the whole process of achieving quality is long, hard, and collaborative.

    Jerry
    Memory Writers Network

  48. December 22, 2009

    Monica Reply

    Thanks for the interesting debate, everyone!

    I just want to address a few of Peter’s points. I just want to clarify that I did not say POD or DIY is JUST for people who have been rejected by mainstream outfits. What I did say was that it gave people who otherwise MAY have been rejected a way to feel successful. My argument remains that there are far too many ways to skirt the system, which enable people to avoid self-reflection and criticism in favor of the easy way out. I think Jerry, as a reviewer himself, makes this point nicely when he states, “as a book reviewer, I have not completely given up on self-published books, but find it harder and harder to justify the time to wade through them, because as you and others have said, too many of their authors are looking for quick, easy, and solo when in fact the whole process of achieving quality is long, hard, and collaborative.”

    That being said, I would also like to address the discussion of Ani DiFranco as a model DIYer. Peter stated, “Certain bands didn’t fit into big record labels’ idea of what should be recorded…so they recorded and sold their music themselves…Fugazi and Ani Difranco are two of the most well-known and respected. Also, many started out releasing their own work and then “graduated” to an established indie or even major label. Putting out work themselves was a way of growing an audience which then became large enough to attract the attention of the gatekeepers that initially rejected them.”

    As a HUGE (and I mean stalker-level) Ani DiFranco fan, I completely agree with you about the success that she, and many other DIY artists, have achieved. However, what is different about DiFranco is that she refused to sign with corporate labels. That was her choice. She, like many other artists, saw DIY as a way around the “Faustian” (as she called it) corporate system. She did not use the DIY system because she wasn’t fitting in; in fact, she was never rejected by her audience or by mainstream labels to begin with. She just didn’t want to go corporate and sell out. Creating her own label was part of her politics.

    In this case, I totally support DIY. If you’re a great artist and your audience loves you and you’re selling your work and you STILL want to give a big middle finger to mainstream, corporate America, then good for you!!! That’s why she’s a righteous babe. But, I think her story is much different than most. CHOOSING to go DIY seems different than HAVING to go DIY.

    And, to answer Patrick, no it would not be ironic…in fact, it would be ironic if you DIDN’T take anti-depressants after being rejected. I mean, that’s why they were invented, right?

  49. December 22, 2009

    Monica Reply

    Thanks for the interesting debate, everyone!

    I just want to address a few of Peter’s points. I just want to clarify that I did not say POD or DIY is JUST for people who have been rejected by mainstream outfits. What I did say was that it gave people who otherwise MAY have been rejected a way to feel successful. My argument remains that there are far too many ways to skirt the system, which enable people to avoid self-reflection and criticism in favor of the easy way out. I think Jerry, as a reviewer himself, makes this point nicely when he states, “as a book reviewer, I have not completely given up on self-published books, but find it harder and harder to justify the time to wade through them, because as you and others have said, too many of their authors are looking for quick, easy, and solo when in fact the whole process of achieving quality is long, hard, and collaborative.”

    That being said, I would also like to address the discussion of Ani DiFranco as a model DIYer. Peter stated, “Certain bands didn’t fit into big record labels’ idea of what should be recorded…so they recorded and sold their music themselves…Fugazi and Ani Difranco are two of the most well-known and respected. Also, many started out releasing their own work and then “graduated” to an established indie or even major label. Putting out work themselves was a way of growing an audience which then became large enough to attract the attention of the gatekeepers that initially rejected them.”

    As a HUGE (and I mean stalker-level) Ani DiFranco fan, I completely agree with you about the success that she, and many other DIY artists, have achieved. However, what is different about DiFranco is that she refused to sign with corporate labels. That was her choice. She, like many other artists, saw DIY as a way around the “Faustian” (as she called it) corporate system. She did not use the DIY system because she wasn’t fitting in; in fact, she was never rejected by her audience or by mainstream labels to begin with. She just didn’t want to go corporate and sell out. Creating her own label was part of her politics.

    In this case, I totally support DIY. If you’re a great artist and your audience loves you and you’re selling your work and you STILL want to give a big middle finger to mainstream, corporate America, then good for you!!! That’s why she’s a righteous babe. But, I think her story is much different than most. CHOOSING to go DIY seems different than HAVING to go DIY.

    And, to answer Patrick, no it would not be ironic…in fact, it would be ironic if you DIDN’T take anti-depressants after being rejected. I mean, that’s why they were invented, right?

  50. December 23, 2009

    Charles Dodd White Reply

    One thing that’s frustrating about the POD word is the confusion between the technology and the original DIY business model. Several small presses (similar to Casperian) and also many university presses are turning to digital printing. It makes financial sense if you expect to sell under 2000 copies. I do look askance at POD self-publishing in many of the ways stated above, because I think it injures the reputation of small presses that are simply using technology intelligently.

    Also, to address something JE said above. A small press POD book should do much better than 100 books if any kind of promotion is put in place. A quality small press book with sound editing, good reviews and any author involvement whatsoever should expect to crest 1000 copies in its lifetime. This is very similar to what a university offset printed book would sell as well. So while the numbers are small, they’re not as small as some suggest, regardless of distribution inequities.

  51. December 22, 2009

    Charles Dodd White Reply

    One thing that’s frustrating about the POD word is the confusion between the technology and the original DIY business model. Several small presses (similar to Casperian) and also many university presses are turning to digital printing. It makes financial sense if you expect to sell under 2000 copies. I do look askance at POD self-publishing in many of the ways stated above, because I think it injures the reputation of small presses that are simply using technology intelligently.

    Also, to address something JE said above. A small press POD book should do much better than 100 books if any kind of promotion is put in place. A quality small press book with sound editing, good reviews and any author involvement whatsoever should expect to crest 1000 copies in its lifetime. This is very similar to what a university offset printed book would sell as well. So while the numbers are small, they’re not as small as some suggest, regardless of distribution inequities.

  52. December 23, 2009

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . . thanks for that, charles . . .

  53. December 22, 2009

    jonathan evison Reply

    . . . thanks for that, charles . . .

  54. December 23, 2009

    Patrick T. Kilgallon Reply

    I would have thought it would save a lot of time if the book reviewers follow a simple rule for reading books the way readers do: “If it grabs my attention and sustained it to various degrees, I’ll continue to read it. If it doesn’t, it might needs to be buried or better edited.”

  55. December 23, 2009

    Patrick T. Kilgallon Reply

    I would have thought it would save a lot of time if the book reviewers follow a simple rule for reading books the way readers do: “If it grabs my attention and sustained it to various degrees, I’ll continue to read it. If it doesn’t, it might needs to be buried or better edited.”

  56. December 24, 2009

    DH Reply

    Patrick, my new rule…which I didn’t invent…the credit goes to a writer and I don’t remember the attribution right now…is: read page 99!

    This is less arbitrary than it sounds. A good story has a woven texture…if you read page 99 you should have some feeling of where the story is coming from and where it’s going. You should see those interwoven threads…and there should be some good dialogue…the kind that draws you in on page 99. If these two factors aren’t present, then throw the book out. I have…multiple times.

  57. December 23, 2009

    DH Reply

    Patrick, my new rule…which I didn’t invent…the credit goes to a writer and I don’t remember the attribution right now…is: read page 99!

    This is less arbitrary than it sounds. A good story has a woven texture…if you read page 99 you should have some feeling of where the story is coming from and where it’s going. You should see those interwoven threads…and there should be some good dialogue…the kind that draws you in on page 99. If these two factors aren’t present, then throw the book out. I have…multiple times.

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