In a continuing series on my writing views and experiences, I ask what it means to be “published.”
On more than one occasion I’ve been involved with discussions about publishing, more specifically, debates about what it takes to be a “published author”? I’ll give you my thoughts, and then you have three options: 1. Agree, and buy me a beer, 2. Disagree, and buy me a beer. 3. Have no opinion, but still buy me a beer. FYI – I prefer 1, I’m okay with 3, but 2 is more interesting.
First, to lay the groundwork for my treasured opinion, I’ll need to discuss the legal, or semi-legal, or barely legal definition of what it takes to be “published.” Most of you reading this likely have a blog. If you do, you have the legal right to refer to yourself as “published.” Congrats, and make sure you tell everyone at Thanksgiving how you’re now a published author. Hope that works out for you. Considering that any idiot can have a blog, then any idiot can refer to itself as “published.” Yay.
About twenty or so years ago, there were a lot of people opting for what was called “vanity press.” For those not aware, a vanity press was a company you would pay to print your book, for however many copies you were willing to shell out. The first vanity titles go back as far as the 1940’s. The idea was that you would pay maybe $10 a copy and then turn around and sell them for maybe $12 a copy, and it was the kind of thing you would do for an elderly family member as a keepsake. Nice, I guess, and most people couldn’t really tell the difference between a vanity and regular press. Not until they opened it and saw all the mistakes and bad formatting. That often gave it away. Legally, the author could call themselves “published.” You agree?
Then somewhere between then and now there came “self published,” which is really the same as vanity press but mainly done online. With self-published books, you could actually have a physical, print version or just a Kindle-ish digital copy. In most cases, the cost is almost nothing, and you might literally spend more money on the electricity used by your laptop than to get the book for sale on Kindle or IPad or whatever. Few books sell enough copies for a writer to make a career out of it, but things sometimes happen. Some writers, such as whoever the hell wrote Fifty Shades of Grey, come up with an idea interesting enough that millions of people are willing to shell out millions of dollars, regardless of how poorly written it might be.
Even if the author couldn’t pass a 6th grade grammar test, money is money and sales are sales. At the same time, I could type ten years of shopping lists into a word processor, upload it to the Kindle website, and I would have a book for sale. Sure, it’d be less than crap, but it’s a book, and I’d be entitled to call myself “published.” Would you?
In addition to self-published titles being available for Kindle and other digital formats, these titles are usually available in print through something called Print On Demand (POD), in which books are only printed as ordered by individuals and not by the case to arrive at bookstores to be sold. Now you’ve got writers waving a paperback in your face and calling themselves “published,” and they appear even more righterer than beforerer.
Can it go even further? Damn yeah. I know a guy, won’t say his name, who proudly calls himself a “published author” on his blog and author page on Amazon. Is he self published? Worse. He paid a company to self publish for him. So he didn’t even have the energy or ability to self-self publish.
You can argue legal, official, technical, online, bookstore, vanity, self-self, or whatever else you want because it seems that anyone, literally anyone can call themselves a published author. But – would you? Here’s how I make my decision:
What do you want? What is your goal? If you can honestly say that having a first or second draft available on Amazon is satisfactory enough, then go ahead and call yourself published. If you can truly self publish, sit back, and say, “My work is done. This is all I want,” then you do that. But I don’t know any writers like that, or at least I hope I don’t.
Unless I have a book that’s in stores, and I don’t mean I snuck into Barnes and Noble and tucked a few on the shelf. I don’t mean that I showed up at a book store in New Hope, Pennsylvania, where I signed six copies but two went to the owner. I don’t mean that 80% of my online sales are to my family and friends. Until I have a book in stores and on shelves, until I have gone through the traditional process, I will not be satisfied, and I will not call myself a “published author.”
I’m not saying that you can’t or shouldn’t. I’m not saying self published is bad. I’m just saying it’s not my real goal. Is it yours?