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.