Why Self-Publishing Is a Tragic Term

The Birds Tree by ploop26 / DeviantArt
The Birds Tree by ploop26 / DeviantArt

Today’s guest post is by Ed Cyzewski. You may recall him from his previous post here, When Self-Publishing Is More Useful as a Marketing Tool.

My friend Shawn recently released a book that shares his journey into full-time writing. It involves a failed small business, $50,000 in debt, a difficult return to his parents’ basement, and a plan to rebuild his life through writing. It’s a unique, inspiring story, but that’s not what really caught my attention about his book.

Shawn invited nine colleagues to share their own stories about writing full time. I shared how I advertise my freelance blogging and editing services. I’m sure there are plenty of books out there that include short stories and case studies, but Shawn actually wove each contributor’s essay into his own story, explaining how each of us provided ideas for his work.

Technically speaking, Shawn self-published this book. However, his community-based approach provides lessons for both commercial publishing and self-publishing.

Self-Publishing Doesn’t Have to Be Lonely

Writers are already cooped up in corners of their bedrooms or in back corners of cafes. Must the publishing process add another layer of isolation?

Many authors have wisely moved away from the term “self-publishing.” I’ve seen words like “independent” or “indie” publishing tossed around. They help characterize this kind of publishing as an independent business model, not necessarily a solitary pursuit. The very use of the word “self” belies a tragic individualism and reliance on “self” in publishing today. To speak of “self-publishing” is a linguistic mistake that could hint that publishing is all up to you.

There’s No Such Thing as Self-Marketing

I am one of many nonfiction authors whose nose has been rubbed in the word “platform” long enough to realize that I can’t sell books on my own. Nonfiction authors especially need tribes, subscribers, followers, friends, pins, backers, and enough Facebook shares to convince hipsters that your writing is “so over.”

People have to decide that our work is valuable and share it, buy it, or preferably do both.

Shawn didn’t just build a community in order to market his book. He built a community around creating a book—including the writing and cover design. When it came time to promote his project, he had a community of writers who were eager to share his creation because we all shared a part in it.

Is Community Publishing for You?

Shawn’s book is one of many projects that have prompted me to rethink my future publishing plans. While I’m already pitching several book projects with a variety of co-authors, I’m beginning to explore what “community publishing” could look like.

I’ve already worked hard to build a community of writing colleagues through blogs, social media, and writing conferences, and now I’m trying to match these colleagues with my own community publishing projects. One particular proposal involves a series of essays about leaving and returning to the church. My own story creates the framework for the book, but brief essays by my colleagues add depth and insight that I could never offer on my own.

I’m still hoping to publish these community projects commercially, but the thought of self-publishing them isn’t quite so daunting since I wouldn’t be on my own throughout the publishing process.

The word self-publishing tells a lie of sorts—at least, it’s a lie for most of us. It hints that you can publish a book successfully on your own. For most of us, that simply isn’t true. For the great majority of us, self-publishing a book on our own will also be lonely and unpleasant.

I’ve seen authors and publishers produce incredible books with community-driven models. While I’ll still pitch some projects that are solely my own, my long-term publishing plans revolve around sharing my work with a community of writers and rising together.

If community publishing strikes you as too intimidating, keep in mind that many bloggers already know how community publishing works. Bloggers who host guest posts make community publishing work. In fact, many of the most popular blogs accept guest posts.

Perhaps community publishing is a passing fad, but I’m betting that it provides an ideal way forward for writers who are tired of staring at the wall in a café. If it flops, at least I’ll have a few friends willing to buy me a cup of tea so we can talk about our next project.

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