Anyone who has glanced at the hefty list of pre-publishing requirements has likely had something bordering a heart attack. Generally, our fantasies concerning publishing resemble young and hopeful writers sending off their manuscripts blindly into the great melting pot of big-name publishers. More realist fantasies might include the inevitable rejection letter and the returned manuscript scribed bloody with ink. The process, while necessarily heartbreaking, is still rather simple.
What our fantasies don’t account for is the thousand factors which lead up to this step; query letters, cover letters, synopses, follow-up letters, and then of course, the eventual rejection of a perfectly clean and hardly read manifesto of three or more years’ labor. There is also the matter of agents to deal with; the publishing houses that will reject due to lack of solicitation; the exhausted editors who take but a glance at the opening sentence before dooming the pages to the rejection table.
In short, mainstream publishing is such a heavily guarded field that it’s a small miracle that people even submit their pieces to the big houses anymore when they have a 1/19,000 per cent chance of seeing any actual feedback.
In lieu of publishing’s fortifications however, scribbled pages can still see clean dust jackets and even bookshelves without the added emotional turmoil. This is of course the avenue offered by self-publishing, a long-chastised and still relatively small market which has nevertheless allowed for authors such as Edgar Allen Poe and Oscar Wilde, and books such as Eragon and (of course) 50 Shades of Grey to make their way into the literary limelight (for better or for worse).
The arguments for self-publishing’s less-than-glowing reputation is relatively simple: everyone can do it. This is of course true, and yet it’s an answer that begs introspection. Everyone can self-publish, yet not everyone can write, much less write a book. For anyone who has tried, the process is tedious to say the least. To say the most; it’s barbaric, heart-rending, emotionally fulfilling and emotionally flushing; and beautifully satisfying in ways only writers can know.
Unfortunately, what writers feel or what writers know is seldom on the agenda of big-name publishers, whose concerns are business foremost and literature secondary. Editors and publishers can’t afford to make personal connections with the writer or the piece for fear that prejudice will muddle the true question: will it sell? (A question which goes very well explored in a recent Paris Review article: http://www.themillions.com/2012/08/a-right-fit-navigating-the-world-of-literary-agents.html)
Too often, writers forget this golden rule when submitting their manuscripts. The romanticism of writing takes precedence almost always for the writer, and when the coldly formal rejection comes, it is seen as a vindictive affront, which the writer might coolly disregard only after muttering the artistic cliché they just don’t understand me.
Editors, publishers, and agents however understand you and your work only too well. It is their job to understand your fit and to tell you when the fit won’t work, and for this reason one might as well bear the sting of rejection within the frame of “I think you should see other publishers.”
Self-publishing bypasses this process in favour of personal relationships and the quality of the piece itself, and not the quality of the piece on a global market. Because the manuscript is self-invested, publishing’s lavish display of formality is rendered superfluous, and the process becomes centralized upon the piece itself. In so many words, self-publishing is the writer’s market.
Unfortunately even in the writer’s market, writing doesn’t count for everything (or else the world would be far too simple a place) and the author feels particular concern for his audience; namely, whether or not there will be one. It’s a concern every writer faces and one that has but one remedy: confidence.
The best writing will infallibly speak for itself, regardless of where or by whom it is published. History comes to the author’s aid here more than anywhere, positing such notable self-published authors as Proust, Austen, Blake, Twain, Cummings, and Shaw.
It’s a tragic reality to think that, in the society of contemporary publishing, the world might never have seen A la recherché du temps perdu or Huckleberry Finn because of an editor’s bad day. Self-publishing is ultimately motivated towards the belief that this ultimatum needs not be completely encompassing. One may draw the distinction between two questions: big publishing’s can it sell, and self-publishing’s is it worth selling.
Staff Writer @Holonpublishing New Media Journalist & Student at Indiana University http://holonpublishing.com