Self-publishing: just for losers?

We all know that the only reason books are self-published is because they’re amateurish and inept, their authors barely capable of stringing two words together.

Except…wasn’t Virginia Woolf a “self-publisher”? After all, she released her work through Hogarth Press, which she co-owned along with her husband, Leonard. It was a going family concern—Virginia’s sister Vanessa Bell designed some of the book covers.

And I know for a fact Ezra Pound wasn’t averse to paying out of pocket, if it meant seeing his erudite, obscure poems get into print.

Robert Browning, ditto.

If I’m not mistaken, James Joyce put up part of the publication cost of his first collection, The Dubliners (regardless, his nervous publisher held the presses for years, wary of violating Ireland’s stiff obscenity laws).

I guess I’m saying that historically self-publishing, the vanity press, whatever you want to call it, wasn’t always the province of the hack and the wannabe. And I think the same is true today. There is a lot of shit out there, don’t get me wrong, but there are also a few genuinely talented, innovative authors in amongst the dross.

Don’t give up on us.

Keep looking…

One comment

  1. robertday154

    Having spent some time trying to promote a number of non-fiction projects, most of which get turned down for not being sufficiently commercial – even by specialist publishers – I’ve concluded that self-publication is probably the only way to go to put stuff into a more permanent form than a few sparky thoughts or memories carried around in my head. The most recent project I’ve come up with is something I’m tentatively calling “My Father’s War”. I completely failed to write down any of his stories whilst he was alive, but I heard them so often that I can probably make a reasonable stab at telling the important ones. And although this is distinctly second best, it will at least fix those stories in the written record for others to see if they fill a gap in their own narratives.

    No mainstream or even small publisher is likely to be interested in Dad’s story, because he was never at the sharp end in major, historically significant actions (although he did see active service in Italy), and his story never involved direct interaction with Big Names (although his CO was, for a brief period, Nicholas Mosley, son of the infamous Sir Oswald and later noted novelist; but their paths hardly crossed). Without at least one of those two plus points, no publisher is likely to be interested. Even if it were a first-hand account, no publisher would be that excited by a memoir that had no major hook to hang the venture on.

    So self-publishing it will have to be. And it will be a clear warning to others to write down significant stories from earlier generations that they have access to.

    The same goes for my European railway book, ‘Return to the End of the Line’. Even publishers who know the original book – Bryan Morgan’s ‘The End of the Line’, from 1956 – say that much as they admire the earlier work, they would never be able to sell a sequel to a sixty-year-old book that most modern buyers will never have heard of. And there is a sense that in today’s UK, anything intelligent about Europe is likely to be considered toxic.

    I increasingly feel that these are going to be projects for my retirement, even though that’s still six years off. But if I can do some groundwork now, it will hopefully make the actual writing job a lot easier.

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