Independent Authors, Publishers and Booksellers Unite!

A call to action from a POD author/advocate
No one is more entitled to publish an authorís work than the creator of that work. Many famous authors have published their own work and not only in the beginning of their writing careers. Mark Twain created a publishing company, Webster and Company, Publishers. He hired his nephew-in-law, Charles Webster, to operate the firm. In his book, Mark Twain on Writing and Publishing, he states that he established the firm mainly in order to publish and profit from his own work, but he later expanded the opportunity to publish the memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant. Virginia and Leonard Woolf owned a publishing company that published their works as well as that of other writers. Elbert Hubbard, the famed author and founder of Roycroft Shops, who went down with the Titanic, was another self-publisher. There are numerous other famed authors who have self-published, but far too many to list here.

Self-publishing today has become even more common, as technology and affordability allow thousands of would-be novelists and experts publish their work through online, Print On Demand publishing services. Hence, there are unseasoned authors who self-publish without line editing that can result errors that should have been corrected. Closer editing in many cases would have greatly improved the work.

Granted, these days we also see books published by the major houses in which editorial assistance seems to be lacking and/or spelling and typographical errors occur. In other cases we see books published by the majors in which one must ask whether the cause of Literature might have been better served if they had saved the paper. Scan the stacks of remaindered books in the aisles of bookstores in any city, and especially those of the big box stores. Just as an MFA does not guarantee the quality of the writing, publication by a major publishing firm does not guarantee the quality of the writing or its success in the marketplace. Furthermore, the notion that a book published by a major firm guarantees the authenticity of its content is undermined by the claims of plagiarism and falsification made against some of their better-known authors.

Skeptical Reviewers and Buyers
Reviewers and booksellers argue that there is so much stuff out there, they do not have time to consider self-published or P.O.D. books. This is a lame excuse. A quick sampling of a few pages of any work, self-published or otherwise, can determine whether the material is worth pursuing further.

Worldwide media conglomerates, mainly interested in the bottom line, now own most major publishers, and this creates the chase to publish a few stars and celebrities rather than good literature. The bias of many reviewers and booksellers in shunning self-published works also works against free speech. It denies the distribution of many books that often surpass the quality of books published by the main houses. Much literature of merit now depends on small presses and author/self-publishers for exposure.

One begins to wonder if well-known writers too often get a free pass with publishers and reviewers, while much quality writing is spurned because it is self-published or POD. After all, many best-selling celebrity books are ghost written, churned out by professional writers but ďbrandedĒ with the celebrity author name, for just one goal -- profit. Superstars like Madonna and David Beckham have been embroiled in recent controversies about the authorship of their books, and even bestselling author Robert Ludlum, who died of a heart attack in 2001, pre-planned the ghostwriting of a series of thrillers under his name.

Self-Publishers Unite!
Authors who self-publish or use PODs should organize to support each other with newsletters and websites that would include book reviews and notices of new releases. This would generate interest and support for books of merit. Among its goals should be providing greater exposure for memberís books. Self-written or commissioned reviews should be permitted, but first screened by individuals qualified to judge their merit. This would be the qualification for publication through the associationís newsletters and website.

Reviewers and booksellers who give author/self-publishers and author/PODs a fair shake should be listed and supported by members of the association. They could provide networking support and patronage while encouraging their friends and other contacts to do the same.

Membership should include writers who have been published by outside presses, but who support the self-published concept. The high road of good literary and quality production should be supported by the membership. Print on Demand (POD) has to be the coming thing for authors and self-publishers as well as for the small presses. Storage costs, losses on remainders, expensive upfront printing charges make it common sense to utilize POD. Such inexpensive production creates opportunities for more original voices to be heard. Some may in time come to be recognized as giants.

Publishing for a New World of Readers
Readers and booklovers all over will benefit from the creativity and variety of books offered. Cooperative efforts that utilize the Internet can increase the exposure of many fine books to a broader readership. If the big guys continue to ignore author/self-publishers and author/PODs, we should take control of our own destiny and help each other. We can work with and support bookstores that cooperate in giving exposure to books of author-publisher/PODs, and these mostly independent bookstores can surely use the help to survive the onslaught of the big box stores with big bucks. Some of these bookstores find that selling a combination of new and used books works well for them, and maybe adding POD is the next big step forward.

A Successful Cooperative Effort
One successful grass roots effort has been the New Mexico Book CO-OP. In a recent article by Paul Rhetts in the Span Connection (June/2005), a newsletter for the Small Publisher Association of North America, he relates how over 200 local authors and independent publishers partnered by setting up a book store in the local Cottonwood Mall in Albuquerque to sell books by New Mexican authors during the holiday season Thanksgiving through Christmas. Sales were over $41,000 with 3,400 books sold exposing 425 local books to retail book buyers, libraries, schools and other bookstores. Many follow-up sales came later. Participants took turns running the store. This was a great way to help each other.

There must be thousands of author/self-publishers and author/PODs who could benefit and would support such cooperative projects. Iím sure many would be willing to pay a modest membership fee to support a website and newsletter. Perhaps a small fee of $25 or so would cover the cost of reviews or to have their own reviews screened by competent people to maintain quality. Judgment criteria could be predetermined to weed out poor production quality, errors and typos in spelling, grammar and poor literary merit.

An Opportunity Waiting to Happen.
Iíd be happy to become one of the first members of such an association. Even though my writings have been fairly widely published in journals, I have personally chosen to self-publish several books, simply in order to maintain control and quality of production and to make the publisherís profit. I have utilized the POD route on one occasion and plan to do so again. I would create an association to promote author/self-publishers myself, but at my age with my time running out and so many more books yet to write, I must not allow myself to fall to the temptation to take on such a project. This is a worthwhile opportunity that a young person with time and drive should tackle. If someone is already performing these services for author/self-publishers and not bilking the writers, Iíd love to hear about it.

Letís work together to build our own market following for quality author/self-published works. Let the big guys have the stars, celebrities, crooks and perverts.

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If you would like to add input or be posted on future developments please email or write:

J. Glenn Evans
1100 University St. #17A
Seattle WA 98101

Ph: 1.206.682.1268 email: info@poetswest.com

(This article appeared previously published in the Working Writer.)

J. Glenn Evans can spin a good story from his more than twenty years as stockbroker-investment banker, with ten of those years as president of his own firm. He also operated a mining company in Idaho (a second novel?) and co-produced a cowboy Christmas film featuring Slim Pickens. Originally from Wewoka, Oklahoma, he majored in business at East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma, and also attended Oklahoma State University and Santa Rosa (California) Junior College.

Evans has lived in Seattle since 1960 and is a member of Seattle Free Lances, Washington Poets Association, Academy of American Poets, Seattle Writers Association, PEN, the Association of King County Historical Organizations, and Pacific Northwest Historians Guild. He has written one novel, two books of poetry, several local histories, two biographies, and a book on old Sweden. He is poetry editor and publisher of PoetsWest. A poet activist, he received the Washington Poets Associationís 1999 Faith Beamer Cooke Award in recognition of service to the poetry community of Washington State.