Writing 2.7 – Are You “Published”?

In a continuing series on my writing views and experiences, I ask what it means to be “published.”


Snoopy dark stormy kiss

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?

1467530999.01.LZZZZZZZThen 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?


34 thoughts on “Writing 2.7 – Are You “Published”?

  1. I will select option number two, just to be difficult! No, seriously, I would want the traditional publishing route if possible. You would think most everyone would want that, but maybe not. Maybe some people just want to put out a book for the satisfaction of having done it. I can see getting to that point, especially if the process took a long time. I agree that “published” doesn’t mean as much these days. I can “publish” everyday. Now, I’ll have that beer now. What? Aren’t you buying?

  2. My goal is to be published in the traditional sense. Having had a children’s book published by a small press (that has since gone out of business) in 2002, I can call myself “published.” (I have a cardboard box of bound books in my closet as proof). However, I also think that there are more/different ways of being published that enhance and build one’s writing resume. Being published in art/literary magazines whether online or bound, having a blog of ongoing work, having articles/essays published in magazines all add to your publishing career. Here’s to the bound volume on the bookstore shelf, and here’s to the small writing steps in getting there. Just my two cents worth

  3. I vote for the “Dear Gentlemen, please publish my book and send me fifty thousand dollars.” I can technically call myself published because a short story I wrote as a child was published in a children’s magazine distributed to elementary schools. I’ll take whatever I can get 🙂

  4. I completely agree. No disrespect to those who opt to self-publish and a few do become successful, but I think that an unknown humor writer has as much chance of success self-publishing as I do of marrying Scarlett Johansson (i.e. she doesn’t return my calls) I also think that a book of my greatest humor columns has as much chance of being picked up by an agent as I do of getting a call back from Scarlett Johansson. (Note above.) For most of us, the only real path to any manner of writing success is to write a very good book that will interest an agent or publisher.

    • If you had not missed the last Scarlett Johansson stalker club meeting, You would have known that she has a new number. This is what you get for going rogue.

      Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts, which I totally agree with, which you already knew, Which I should stop now.

  5. If i were to be published in any format – and right now that’s not my goal, I write only for myself; if you happen to like it, fine – I would want to go the traditional route. That said, I’ve been asked by several people (mainly family and friends) to put some of my writings together an “publish” them (i.e. self-publish). Were that to happen, I would call myself self-published, for that is what I would be.

  6. does it count if i was a recurring guest columnist in a chain of local papers? either way, i would love to have a children’s book published in the traditional sense. are we even on the beer if we each buy for the other one?

  7. I don’t remember the options, but I’ll buy you a beer although you probably would prefer something involving Malibu rum. 😉

    Years ago I wrote a how-to booklet for a provincial youth federation. The pay was decent, decent for the amount of work I poured into it. When the contract was done, the person who hired me told me “There y’a go. You are now a published author.” I felt robbed. I want to be published, but for real. I’m all for supporting indie artists, as long as it’s not me? Maybe.

    Until I get something picked up and published with the marathon of re-writes and revisions, I will call myself a wannabe writer. But if I do get published, I’ll have the joy of calling myself an author.

  8. A blog is not “published”. In high school (80s) I “vanity published” a poem along with thousands of others i.e. not “published”. I have an idea for a “self-published” ebook on croquis drawing but have been too lazy to complete it. But even if I managed to complete the project it would not make me “published”. I too want the full experience and an editor for Christ sakes.

    So, my friend, I completely agree with you. However you’ll have to buy me the beer, preferably Guiness.

  9. I agree with you. Recently I told a group that I was published. Speaking of my blog. However that is not how I feel. Well maybe I do but I still I want the traditional publishing, an agent, editor and all. I want my book on the library shelves. Right in the front where they put the popular new releases. Are Corona’s okay?

  10. Very interesting post, Rich. I completely appreciate your perspective. For me all that matters is reaching readers (whatever the medium) and keeping their interest once I have them. Fortunately there are lots of ways to achieve that now. IMO most people in the real world (i.e. non-writers) don’t care how you classify yourself, only that you’ve entertained them.

    Now for the real reason I showed up… is the Guiness still on tap?

  11. Being successful is more important than the title of “published” to me. When it comes to writing I am not (yet) successful, but I have, technically speaking, been published. I had a couple stories published in anthologies last year.

  12. How about we just call someone a “published author” when a publisher hires the author (possibly for no compensation), and “self-published author”, if it was the other way around?

  13. Pingback: Writing 3.5 – A Personal Update | brainsnorts inc.

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