Indie Groundbreaking Book: Bibliodiversity
Ambitious New Text Looks at the Variety Independent Publishers Bring to the Book World
This month’s indie groundbreaking book should be doubly appealing. Not only is this book hugely ambitious in both scope and purpose, but it also deals with a subject that just so happens to very near and dear to our hearts here at Independent Publisher: independent publishing. Imagine that!
Titled Bibliodiversity: A Manifesto for Independent Publishing, this groundbreaking text is fewer than 100 pages in length, but still tackles a massive range of topics—from the financial goals of corporate publishers to the more adventurous titles and authors that have been given voice thanks to the independent publishing movement. Susan Hawthorne, the author of Bibliodiversity hits upon fascinating points and contentious arguments throughout, and if you are involved with or interested in independent publishing, then you will certainly find segments in this book that leave you thinking for hours or days after you’ve read them.
Hawthorne is an interesting authority to take us through these arguments. Hailing from Australia, Hawthorne has certainly earned her stripes over the years in terms of literature and poetry. Between novels, non-fiction books, tomes of poetry, writing awards, and a post as an Adjunct Professor at the James Cook University writing program, Hawthorne’s voice is a well-heard one in literature and feminism. Nevertheless, hers’ is not a voice we have heard before in the conversation about corporate publishing versus independent publishing—a fact that in part makes Bibliodiversity such a thoroughly involving read.
Still, as a co-founder of Spinifex Press—the publisher credited with the publication of Bibliodiversity—Hawthorne knows the industry and its current challenges. Many of those challenges are outlined in these pages, not the least of which are the financial obligations that many major corporate publishers face. With investors, board members, and CEO salaries to consider, most of the bigger publishers can’t afford to take risks on adventurous, exploratory, niche, or left-of-the-mainstream manuscripts. Because of this, the books that get published and promoted from the bigger publishers are often the least risky. They are aimed at a homogenized cultural audience, are packed with familiar stories or stock characters, and don’t make controversial arguments or present many new ideas.
In short, many of the books being pushed our way by the corporate publishing system these days are recycled versions of what we’ve already read. We’ve seen that a ton recently in the children’s and young adult sections of the bookstore, where imitators of hugely successful series like Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games have struck gold by following the trends instead of creating wholly fresh concepts. Those are just a few examples, but with Bibliodiversity, Hawthorne is arguing that a similar “follow the leader” trend is happening across the publishing industry. And as she notes, the consequence for this homogenization is that we all miss out on some of the most groundbreaking and important books out there.
“In megacorp publishing each book is expected to pay for itself and all the externalities of publishing such as offices and CEO salaries,” Hawthorne writes. “It means that books which take off slowly but have long lives, the books that change social norms, are less likely to be published.”
That point comes right in the introduction to Bibliodiversity, and it’s the crux of everything that Hawthorne discusses here. As she states, independent publishers help to get these game-changing texts out there. Heck, it’s the purpose of this very column to shed a light on just a few of those exemplary titles each year. But still, it seems rather ironic that the freshest and most adventurous books in the world are rarely able to reach an audience—simply because the publishers who could deliver those books to an audience aren’t willing to take the financial risks necessary to do so.
Bibliodiversity is a dense read. Throughout these pages, Hawthorne tackles everything from the implications of digital publishing on the diversity of available titles, to the long-term insignificance of measuring literary accomplishment in terms of sales numbers. And since the book is essentially one extended metaphor that compares the publishing industry to a biosphere, Bibliodiversity often reads more like a science textbook than it does like a “manifesto” about independent publishing.
Still, the points that Hawthorne has to make here are enlightening and important, and whether you are the owner of an independent publishing company, a writer who works on books in your free time, or simply a reader who wants to discover the best texts out there, Bibliodiversity is a must-read.
Interested in learning more? You can buy Bibliodiversity: A Manifesto for Independent Publishing on Amazon.com, or directly from the Spinifex Press website. Bibliodiversity will be released in early 2015 by Independent Publishers Group in the USA and by Fernwood in Canada.
Craig Manning is currently studying English and Music at Western Michigan University. In addition to writing for IndependentPublisher.com, he maintains a pair of entertainment blogs, interns at the Traverse City Business News, and writes for Rockfreaks.net and his college newspaper. He welcomes comments or questions concerning his articles via email, at firstname.lastname@example.org.