Saturday, April 03, 2010

iPad Could Help Writers Who Want to Self Publish

We're at a very interesting time in publishing.  For a long time authors needed presses to connect them with their readers, their audiences.  Authors needed the publishers to get their books into bookstores.

But now with the internet and blogs, we are all very much connected.  And with digital books, that's also not needed as much.

What's a writer to do?

Some writers are taking things into their hands (a la' Walt Whitman) and self-publishing their books.

NPR had an interesting story on this morning about how the iPad (and Kindle) could help writers who don't want to go through a regular publisher.  And it seems, self-publishing is not just for unknown writers, in fact, John Edgar Wideman (PEN/Faulkner Award winner/MacArthur Genius Grant winner) has just self-published his own book of short stories, Briefs, on

You can read (or listen) to the whole NPR article here.
Here's a bit of it...

Take a writer like Mark Morford. Ten years ago, if Morford had written a book, he would probably sell it to a major publisher. He's got 50-thousand regular readers for his provocative column on the website of the San Francisco Chronicle. He took on the recent controversy around school text books in Texas with a column entitled, "Dear Texas, Please shut up. Sincerely, History."
He also has a forthcoming book, The Daring Spectacle, a collection of his columns. Initially, Morford did meet with agents, and he had a lot of interest from traditional publishers.
"I encountered a lot of excitement for the book," he says, "agents and publishers alike said, 'Yes this is a great idea. We like it.'"
But the book deals they offered book deals were not what they once were. There were no more big advances, and national book reading tours with stays in swanky hotels. Morford says he was told, "that whole idea has sort of vanished, has sort of gone away. There is no more marketing money."
Morford began to wonder if he even needed a big publishing house. He looked around and discovered a burgeoning industry of companies that help authors publish their own books in any format they like, from the traditional printed book to e-books and the Kindle, and now for the iPad. Morford decided to publish with a company called Bookmaster.
I know Reb Livingston has successful published quite a few books through The Bedside Guide to the No Tell Motel can be purchased there along with her book, Your Ten Favorite Words.
Anyway, the world is a-changin' poets and writers.  I'm interested to see how this all plays out.
I'd love hear others' experiences in regards to self-publishing--the good, the bad, the digital...


  1. I self-published my first book, in 1976. This was a little before personal computers, and as I recall (though I don't know the exact date) computers with video screens had barely begun to exist.

    A skinny book, I think it was 36 pages including everything, if I remember right.

    I typed the pages with a manual typewriter, with the text inside an 8-and-1/2" by 11" rectangular area (centered in the middle of the page), so the text would fit in the pages of the book. No typesetting, just typewritten.

    I did the front cover with press-type (a kind of rub-on type with a choice of several fonts, common back then, though I'm not sure if it still exists these days).

    No artwork or any other fancy stuff.

    I went to a small local printer who worked out of the basement of his house, and had the book printed, 500 copies, and I had the him fold the pages.

    I took the printed folded pages home, and collated and saddle stapled them myself by hand, all 500 copies. (I found an extra-long stapler, that would reach far enough to staple at the spine.)

    The whole project took about a month, as I recall, from typing the pages through completed book.

    I gave away most of the copies, mostly over the next year or two. I think I still have about a dozen left.

    It was a great experience, wonderful to find out that I could start something like that and take it through to the conclusion. It's been one of the things that has sustained me over the years since then, knowing that if all else fails, I can always just publish myself.

    The title of that first book (incited by political events during that year) was The C.I.A. Plans the Invasion of Portugal.

  2. I think Mr. Moford probably made the right choice. He already had a built in audience. I think that is when self-publishing really can work.

    My husband and I went into the Apple store today and played with the iPad. The reading feature is really nice, much better looking than on devices like the Kindle but at $500 for essentially a really big iTouch? I'm still not buying :)

  3. I've had a lot of play on queries for my memoir, and usually get lovely comment son my poetry manuscript. And yet, it does seem very near the time when publishers can / should / will be circumnavigated. I hold on to my romantic vision of an editor and press saying yes, and designing a beautiful and well-edited book. Still, do we need every Tom, Dick, and Henriette publishing their manifesto and diary? Is that a good thing? How do you market in all that noise? What happens to the art? Is that last question silly?

  4. Lyle, I love the idea of hand-stitched books. I had a friend do that with his chapbook. Of course, he said his hands ached for weeks afterwards.

    Your book sounds like a complete experience and maybe it turned out so well because from your description it sounds like a passion for doing it and a love the art and the gift of it.

    Maybe this is a good question for the poet/writer when self-publishing-- what are you expectations? What are you trying to do by self-publishing your own book?

    Thanks for sharing that.

    Jessie-- I agree about the built-in audience. I thought about that as well.

    And I so agree about the iPad being a giant iTouch! That's how I've been seeing it. I'm interested to hear from people who are using it and any extra benefits it may have. I'm not buying it either...(yet.) I guess it's just something that I don't think I need.

    Benjamin-- You know, I'm with you. I went the contest route with my poetry mss bc I too carried that romantic notion of having someone else choose me and publish my book. Maybe I even needed/wanted that validation. I'm sure I did.

    Right now, most Tom/Dick/ and Henriettes are publishing their manifestos, though they're digital and called blogs. I don't necessarily think it's a good thing, but I also don't think it's a bad thing either. I think readers vote with their wallets.

    I like your question about "How do you market in all that noise?" That's a really interesting question. Of course, I think some fiction writers feel that just trying to get their book noticed in Barnes and Noble is marketing through a lot of noise.

    What happens to the art is NOT a silly question at at all. In fact, as with everything, I hope that in the simplicity to publish, the writer will maintain his/her integrity and craft.

    Of course, I know many won't. But some will.

    And I guess with everything, I hope the junk sinks to the bottom and all that keeps the ocean sparkling, floats to the top.

    Really good points and perspective. I too currently lean towards publishers (though again, my concern is that it's more ego/validation driven for myself than anything else), but I'm paying attention to what's going on...

    Thanks for your note. Good thoughts.


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