Self-Publishers’ Declaration of Independence
Take control of your own destiny. We the people are creative, it’s in our nature, we hold this truth to be self-evident, but what we lack is discipline. Find that discipline to take our own writing seriously. Once we do this, the rest is just detail. “I don’t want to be involved in PR, I don’t want to think about how to get my book into the hands of the reader, I’ll only self-publish to get noticed by a real publisher.” Stop it. Wipe your nose and dry the backs of your ears. Understand one thing: we are all real publishers. In the digital age, we all have the technology to write, distribute and promote our work ourselves. If our dream is to write, then write. If what we write isn’t worth publishing, then we must learn the craft, and make it worth publishing. Only we ourselves can do that. Leaving our dreams in the hands of others is just laziness or cowardice. We cannot allow either to enslave us.
Do not confuse books with the publishing industry. Books matter. Books are a conversation between writer and reader about our civilisation; books record, mirror and in the best cases, challenge what we know. Books are sacred creations. Each represents a piece of knowledge that will outlast us when we are gone; it’s our shot at immortality; not the superficial immortality of fame or notoriety, but that of discovering a universal human truth: this is what it is like to be alive; this is what we have learnt; this is what we bequeath to the future; this matters. The publishing industry? Who cares about that?
Ebooks are not just the future, they are the present. And this is our moment, right now. As long as the Big Five publishing houses still cling to their outdated business models of promoting paper products over ebooks, they are stuck with a byzantine system that is creaking under the unmet demands of the readers and writers. Meanwhile, ebooks are gaining ground. Now is the time to write, publish and define what’s possible.
Ebooks are forever. A well-made paper book is a thing of beauty. But beauty is fleeting. Far from being something permanent, like all physical things, the paper book fades and dies over time. An ebook exists forever. It may be virtual, but it’s very real and very permanent. And, by the way, paper mills are not things of beauty, or better for the environment, or use less energy than an ebook. But let’s not sweat the details when there are principles to be affirmed…
Ebooks are democracy in action. There are no publishing gatekeepers or massive outlays of cash barring access to book creation. What determines success is up to “us” not “them”. Publishing is too important a matter to be left to the experts. Writers are readers and readers are writers. As publishing has become accessible to all, the act of writing a book is not some rare act by a member of a tiny elite, but something that is within every literate person’s ability. And more than that: it is our right to publish.
With the right to publish comes responsibility. Writing is a craft. Learn the craft because the reader deserves respect. A book, even an ebook, is not the same as writing a throwaway blog post. If the book is to maintain its importance to humanity, it must be more than a rant, more than a blatant attempt at self-promotion. A book, yes, even an ebook, requires that intangible something of lasting value. And there’s no better way to finding that value than with a well-edited, well-designed and dare we say it, well-promoted book. But self-publishing does not mean you should do it all by yourself. It must be a communal effort to succeed.
The traditionalists will sneer, let them. Democratic publishing is revolutionary and the old guard will throw everything they have at ebooks and self-publishers as we grow in power. The attacks are along familiar ground that is getting shakier every day as it becomes clearer they are self-serving barbs from monopolists bitter that writer and reader have escaped their stranglehold: ebooks are not real books, they will whine (paper is real and digital is not?); the decline of the bookstore means the decline of books and reading (not so, we have never had as good a selection or read as much since the advent of the internet); and it’s all the fault of Amazon! Attributing all the woes of the monopolists to Amazon is like blaming Ford for the end of the horse and trap. The old guard are still in the driving seat with their dominance of old media, but as people come to understand what we are capable of doing by ourselves with the tools we have right now, the appeal of the legacy publishers will decline to just one: that of the snob. They must adapt, or die. That is their problem.
Ours is to define the future.
Thanks for reading. I wrote this declaration in 2012, but still stand by every word. If you’d like to read something I wrote more recently, I recommend my humorous short story, “I am not foreigner” and the first Hana Walker mystery novel, Half Life. Sign up for my newsletter and receive both for free.