In the early 60s, Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters toured America in an old bus, promoting the use of LSD as a way of revolutionising society. People who thought of themselves as ‘Pranksters’ were considered to be ‘on the bus’; if not, you were ‘off the bus’.
I feel somewhat the same about Print on Demand publishing. I have a novel that I’ve self-published, Altered Life, and I’m proud that it’s out there and being bought, gradually, by people I don’t know.
By the same token, I know that I’m off the bus – I haven’t gone through a process of being chosen by an agent, sold to a publishing house, edited by a professional editor, proof-read by a person wearing thick glasses … I’ve done all these things myself. So part of me feels slightly like a second-class citizen, faking it, pretending to be an author when I’m actually someone with a lot of persistence and chutzpah.
Yet out there in POD-land, I come across many folk who consider themselves writers because they’ve put themselves in print, and people are buying their books. And I can’t decide what I think about this – and about their claims (and my claims) to be published authors. They show diligence, self-belief, marketing awareness and the ability to project manage. Some of them can even write a bit. But if you’ve not gone through the commercial publishing process, are you really a writer – or just a self-publicist?
For example, I have an acquaintance who has published a book through a large and well-known publishing house. I’ve read the opening pages … and that’s as much as I’d care to read. The reviews on Amazon.com have been mixed – some poor, some good. Yet the book is still 270000th on the hardback sales list (compared to my humble 1.4 millionth in paperback), which will be almost entirely down to the marketing clout of the publisher and the fact that the book is on bookstores’ shelves. It’s not, I believe, down to quality.
So are we PODders deluding ourselves? Just because a book is nicely printed by our publishers, doesn’t mean it would cut it in the commercial world. Are those of us who call ourselves writers just people who can string a sentence together but don’t have anything to say that would interest a commercial editor or publisher? I guess it comes down to what criteria you’re using – commercial acceptance or personal achievement. I suppose I view ‘writers’ as those who’ve managed the first of these. To publish by POD is certainly the second, and not to be sneezed at. But is it enough? I’m not sure.
I want to be on the bus, but I have a feeling I’m actually off it.