Wednesday, July 29, 2009

To Be or Not To Be: Published

Writer’s Digest estimates that there are 24 million people in the United States that consider themselves writers but less than 5% are published. Published? What exactly is published?

With the advances in technology these days, print on demand specifically, anyone can become “published;” if published is defined strictly as written material that is accessible to the public.

Many authors who have chosen the publish on demand (POD) route, insist on sharing the title of published. It’s true their books can be bought on internet sites, can be ordered in bookstores, although they are not, as a general rule, stocked by bookstores, and are available as bound physical copies, mostly trade paperback.

But isn't there more to being published than being available to the public? Are these authors really published or have their books just been printed? After all, no third party has objectively reviewed their work and deemed it marketable. No publisher has risked their resources, through paying an advance, printing several thousand (or in the case of a small press – several hundred) copies, and devoting marketing efforts to promote the title.

The publishing industry seems to consider publish on demand books second class citizens as well. Many newspapers will not, as a matter of policy, consider POD books for review. Quite a few authors' associations, The Author's Guild to name one, don't accept POD books as qualification for joining. Acquisition editors at publishing houses and literary agents don't consider a publish on demand book a writing credit.

Many bookstores including Barnes and Noble will not stock POD books. Yes, you will find a few copies in bookstores here and there. Bookstores want to support local authors.

I asked Michael Powell Will books published by POD publishers ever reach the mainstream of the bookstores?

Michael’s answer: “No. While the physical appearance of these books has improved over the last few years, the quality of the inside content hasn’t. There’s no recognizable imprint of a house, you don’t know what you’re getting. There is no editor to vet the book, there is no sales staff in place, no catalog, no distribution system, the sales terms aren’t the norm. I don’t think those types of books will ever make it outside the ‘local author’ or ‘regional book’ arena.


It’s not that I begrudge the status of published to any other writer. Or that I believe there are only so many publishing slots available, and I have to elbow the other writers out of the way, a dance of musical chairs for books if you will.

Just because a title has been accepted by a commercial publisher doesn’t mean that it is necessarily better than any other specific self published book. And not all good books eventually find a publishing home.

There is almost a backlash from publish on demand authors, a bitterness, or jealousy, of commercially published authors. I’m not sure why.

What is the definition of published?

Co-author of The Making of a Bestseller: Success Stories From Authors and the Editors, Agents and Booksellers Behind Them and several other books.

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