We Are All Gutenberg Now

The e-Publishing Diaries

August 2 (P Minus 30). Yesterday I ordered the ISBN for Oscar’s Gift. Somehow that feels official, solid, something to celebrate.

Gutenberg with Kindle

But I’m getting ahead of myself. This post is about the beginning: thinking about why someone would want to e-publish.

“[N]ow that anyone is free to print whatever they wish, they often disregard that which is best and instead write, merely for the sake of entertainment, what would best be forgotten, or, better still be erased from all books. And even when they write something worthwhile they twist it and corrupt it to the point where it would be much better to do without such books, rather than having a thousand copies spreading falsehoods over the whole world.”

The above warning is not about ebooks or indie authors or any kind of modern self-publishing. The source is a 15th century letter, quoted in William Powers’ Hamlet’s Blackberry, and the target is the printed book, made possible by Johann Gutenberg.

Just as in Gutenberg’s time, no one today really knows what the future of publishing will look like, as much as we might enjoy speculating. Best-selling author Dean Wesley Smith recently put it this way: 

—No one knows which publishers, which imprints will still be around, and which new imprints and publishers will grow into the challenges.

— No one knows what the agent aspect of this business will look like in three or four years. Or if agents will even be a part of publishing.

— No one knows which writers will make it through. (I actually think the bestsellers are in the worst danger.)

It is that crazy.

His advice for writers?

Write like crazy.

Then with what you have finished, spend the next two years indie publishing your own stuff, learning all the tricks of being an indie publisher, and getting your own trade paper books into bookstores.

Then when things settle down in traditional publishing, you will be ready and practiced and have some work to present to traditional publishers. Read More

On the other hand, a  New York Times article the very next day, “Options for Self-Publishing Proliferate, Easing the Bar to Entry,” cautioned that “industry experts say the average self-published book sells fewer — often far fewer — than 150 copies” and offered examples of authors paying as much as $15,000 to for “content editing and copy editing, indexing, citations and footnoting, and promotions like book trailers, placement in Google searches and other goodies” and “150 paperback and 50 hardback copies of your book.”

The thought of paying $15,000 to find a few dozen readers is not what most hopeful indie authors have in mind.

As with so much in life, giving careful thought to why we want to e-publish (or not), or to use Stephen Covey’s phrase, to “begin with the end in mind,” can save a lot of frustration and disappointment later. Here are what seem to me a few not-so-good reasons:

  • To prove you are a real writer. You prove you are a real writer by writing. Period.Yes, publication is important, but we have to be careful not to spend more time thinking about, reading about, dreaming about, or even planning for publication than putting words on paper or screen.
  • Desperation. That’s not to say that e-publishing isn’t a good option after pursuing other avenues, but seeing it as a last-ditch effort seems a sure road to writer’s remorse.
  • Impatience. Let’s face it: those 10,000 hours of practice do take a long time. There are no short cuts. The problem is that somewhere at about 1,000 hours we suddenly feel we should be published, forgetting that writing is a vocation without prodigies and that rewards longevity.
  • Big, bigger, and biggest bucks.  E-publishing success stories may put millionaire dreams in our heads, but even Amanda Hocking admits that “Nobody knows what makes one book a bestseller. Publishers and agents like to pretend they do, but if they did, they would only publish best sellers, and they don’t.”

Tomorrow we’ll look at some better reasons to consider e-publishing. What are yours?

Thank you to everyone who has left comments or used the form in yesterday’s post to indicate what you hope to get from this series. Your ideas and questions are very helpful. Keep them coming!

1 thought on “We Are All Gutenberg Now

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: