It is no small thing to write a book. It takes dedication, concentration, discipline, singleness of purpose, long hours of isolation and, above all, ideas. Years ago, before the rise of the Internet and the ease of digitization and the proliferation of e-readers, those who self-published were considered the bottom of the publishing barrel, rejected by mainline and established publishers, ignored by agents and dismissed as ego-centric wannabes.
For many who had hopes and dreams of obtaining authorial credentials by being taken on by the publishers who controlled the marketplace and the distribution chain, the prospects were grim to nil. Publishers and agents relegated their manuscripts to what the industry referred to as the “slush pile” and most, if not all manuscripts, were returned unread by clerks who inserted printed rejection slips and returned the manuscripts in self-postage ready envelopes.
For many, those days are over. The “Vanity press” has morphed into “self-published,” now a reasonably respectable process that allows anyone who writes a book to be digitally “shelved” with those authors who have passed the filters of the traditional publishing companies. The stigma that once relegated the army of “rejected” authors no longer applies.
The motivation to write has not changed. In fact, the new technology has encouraged people who held off pursuing their dreams of authordom for fear of rejection and humiliation to get into the fray, pursue their creative muse and live in hope that somehow, someway, their work would find an audience.
As a pioneer in e-books, I have been astonished by the vast avalanche of authors that have now published outside the well-trod path of the traditional publishers. I should have known. The desire to write, to communicate, to become known, to pursue fame and fortune, however illusive and almost impossible, is something deeply embedded in the human psyche. It is the same impulse that has made Twitter, Facebook and social networking in general an international phenomenon. Notice me. Watch me. Follow me. Here I am.
There is obviously a crying need for people to be seen and heard, to be known, to tell their life story, to chase the goddess of celebrity, to be understood, loved and admired. Millions want their thoughts and experiences to be preserved through the written word, to tell their stories, whether true or imagined, to offer others their point of view, to educate, instruct and elucidate. The urge to communicate is a universal impulse and in a literate society, the most personal way to do this, beyond face to face interaction, is through the written word.
This is not to denigrate other ways of communication through music, art and performance, but the written word is universally available and the means to disseminate these words and package them through technology is simple and affordable. Indeed, a vast network of commercial companies have sprung up to further simplify the process of bringing a manuscript into a respectable product, not unlike those books being published by traditional publishers.
That said, producing a book, whether an e-book or a physical book, is only one part of the process. Since a book is a one-on-one communication system, if it does not attract a reader, it is merely a static artifact. A reader must have a reason to take the time to immerse him or herself in an author’s production.
The obvious task of an author is to produce his or her work and, by using modern technology, make it available. Beyond that, he or she must figure out how to make it discoverable in a pool of millions of available books. Of course, the book must offer something to benefit the reader for his investment of time, whether it be knowledge, insight, entertainment, self-help, a compelling story or something else of perceived value.
In the area of fiction, there are well-worn genre paths. Even children and young adults, stimulated by the extraordinary success of Harry Potter, are getting into the publishing game on their parent’s dime. Why not?
Note I am making no judgments on the quality of these offerings and the demand they fulfill and I am ignoring the value of talent and skill in organizing and creating the manuscript.
The given here is that the urge to write is profound and that there are millions of people worldwide who desperately want to fulfill this need. I suspect that anyone who writes a book, especially novelists, believes in their gut that their book is an important and durable contribution to the genre or the literary canon. I’ll leave such judgments to others.
With fifty thousand books published every week in every category and no self-published books ever going out of “print,” there will be shortly millions upon millions of books of every category available to readers. How will a reader find and choose a book? How will an author get read or recognized? If there was ever an example of the old chestnut, finding a needle in a haystack, this is it.
For the self-published author with no visible track record, no public platform, no branded name, however small, the odds of making a readership dent are long. This does not mean there won’t be psychic pleasures, like being recognized as a genuine author, being given the opportunity to speak at book signings and book clubs, perhaps being interviewed for one’s hometown paper or being asked to a local radio and television show to showcase their book.
For many, that might be more than enough satisfaction. Indeed, there is surely destined to be some self-published author who breaks through every barrier and is lauded and lionized and well rewarded commercially for his achievement. After all, someone does win the lottery.
But beyond the writer’s hopes and dreams, beyond ambition and the secret craving for artistic respect or the thirst for recognition and commercial success, is the personal satisfaction inherent in scaling the toughest climb of all, writing the book in the first place. Just accomplishing that mission alone is certainly worthy of an enthusiastic high five.
Warren Adler’s latest novel “The Serpent’s Bite” will be published in September.