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Publish, perish

“I really like your blog.  You should publish that stuff sometime.”

Ever hear that? It’s an interesting point, this question of what counts as publishing. Certainly, when you press the “Publish” button and send off your work to the ether, it is made public in a way that anyone can access. But is it publishing?

Put another way, would Walt Whitman, famous self-publisher, have been content to be a blogger?

Self publishing, except possibly for Walt, carries an onus to start with; that’s why vanity presses are called what they are. As if convincing a paying publisher somewhere of the value of your work removes vanity from the picture. Ultimately, WordPress, Blogspot, Tumblr, and even Facebook and Twitter are vanity presses, well within the usual meaning of the term. Walt would undoubtedly have been all over them.

So, what do people mean when they say you ought to publish your blogs? Two things, I think. First, there is a long standing distinction between publishing in a serial medium, such as a newspaper, magazine, or, yes, blog, and publishing a book. Dickens, Conan Doyle, Mitchener, all followed serial publication with book publication of essentially the same material. The distinction even allows, perhaps invites, revision. Serial publications are akin to drafts, in a sense.

The other thing people mean, however, goes to the heart of vanity vs. commercial publication: It’s not “real” unless you’ve convinced someone else that it’s worth an investment of time and money. The implication is that anything published commercially is better than anything self-published. A trip to any bookstore (if you can find one!) should disabuse you of that notion, but there it is. Commercial publication is still regarded as proof of value.

It’s not enough to have the heart of a poet; you need the soul of a salesman to really arrive. I wonder, though, how much of all this is changing, and how fast.

7 thoughts on “Publish, perish

  1. So true. Self promotion is the main reason some writers create a Fbook account. My only gripe is when people self publish then try and pass it off as being published without including the self. Just be up front about it. I have experienced this first hand several times.

  2. When I submit my short stories to lit mags, I’m finding more and more that they will not consider things I’ve already “published” on my blog.

    Good point about the vanity involved in traditional publishing routes. As a bookseller, I have to say that there are not many self-published books in our bookstore, for various reasons.

    • Well, there it is, damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Blogged poetry is certainly considered previously published by mags. But you don’t get the props.

  3. Until recently I was still labouring under the impression that commercial publishing, in my case in the music industry, had greater value than simply self releasing, so that having a record label release your music was somehow a mark of quality. I have since learned that nobody cares anymore whether you’re signed to a label or not, it doesn’t affect their decision whether or not to like your music. It mattered to me though that somebody else was prepared to invest time and money into something I created, probably because I needed someone else, apart from me and my mother, to say “yeah that’s cool, I like that”, because otherwise how do you really know that you haven’t produced just another piece of self indulgent rubbish? The irony is of course that you still don’t know and never will, so the thing to do is stop caring and self publish and leave it up to everyone else to decide what they think. For what it’s worth, I think you should publish your writing, either commercially or “selfly”, it wouldn’t make any difference to me I’d still read it.

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