On or off the bus?

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.




Filed under Articles, Blogroll, Essays, Publishing, Writing

4 responses to “On or off the bus?

  1. Writers are writers, regardless of how they’re published. There are more than a few POD published authors that have gone on to traditional houses, as well as traditionally published authors that have gone POD. I don’t think that what makes a *writer* is limited to how they’re published, though some see it as a badge, a validation, which it certainly can be after so many years of work and disappointment or putting up with naysayers. Granted, there are a lot of “wannabes” that go POD and their work is just terrible, but as technology and the industry changes so does the norm.

  2. Keith;
    I too chose to go the POD route with my first novel. However, I don’t question my status as a writer. I might, had I not made my living as a freelance writer for the past 15 years. But having written a weekly newspaper column for nearly 5 years along with hundreds of magazine articles, I am confident of my place at the table.

    That’s not to say my book, Burritos and Gasoline, is the Great American Novel. To some, it’s an etertaining read. For others, it’s a remarkable story that examines the frailty of the human spirit. Sadly, there will be others who are sure it’s hardly worth reading. The painful truth is, they’re all right. Books, like music, movies, plays and all other forms of art, are totally subjective. We like what we like, we read what we want to read, we write about the subjects that move us. Beyond that, there are no absolutes.

    To make the case that POD books, or self-published books, are somehow less worthwhile than traditionally published work simply because of the method that brought them to market is idiotic. The quality of a book is not dependant upon who pays for the paper it’s printed on. If it’s true that you can’t judge a book by its cover – and I believe it is – it’s no more fair to judge one by its publisher.

    I’ve never met anyone who buys their reading material based on the name of the publisher. I’ve also never heard of a reader who has passed on a book they were interested in, simply because they were unsure of the publishing house that produced it.

    If you write, you are a writer. If you’ve been paid to write, you’re a professional writer. If your readers enjoy your work and seek it out, you’re a good writer.

    It’s just that easy – and just that frustrating – and it never, ever stops. I’ve never met a professional writer who can sit down at the keyboard and write much that’s worth reading without putting in some substantial effort.

    So welcome to the club. Good luck to you, Keith. It’s good to have you aboard.

  3. jaterry

    Don’t make succeeding in this biz any more difficult than it already is by questioning yourself as a writer, simply because of the method in which your book was printed and/or published.

    Here’s something for you to chew on…

    “Gone are the days when self-publishing was virtually synonymous with self-defeating.”
    – Paul Nathan, Publishers Weekly

  4. More fodder…

    Due to so many self-publishing successes, Publishers Weekly will now look at self-published books, something they would never have done five or ten years ago.

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