Publishing Vanity — or Self-Publish?

Anyone who has not heard the acronym UGC is living under a rock, these days. User-generated content is all the rage. The term started with blogs and wikis, those self-authored web pages full of family photos and conversations with the two-year-old. It has since morphed to include anything written on the net by consumers. This includes comments on blogs, book reviews, or anything posted in Twitter, Facebook or MySpace.

I’m not going to get into Twitter or Facebook or MySpace, right now. Those are social media sites that generate a vast amount of UGC meant to share information and conversation. What I do want to propose is that user-generated content is nothing more than self-publishing. If you write a blog or comment on a blog or post to your Twitter page, you are creating UGC. It’s yours. You’re sharing it with the world, but it’s still yours, published openly, on the web.

People who recognize the value of UGC – beyond the journaling some folks do, beyond the comments to political blogs, beyond the fashion sites, etc. – are now considering UGC as worthwhile information to put into a book. The people determining this are the bloggers themselves, and even some publishers. Bloggers are being approached by publishers to put their words into print. They get to by-pass the slush-pile and go right to signed contract.

Granted, that’s still rare. But bloggers being published in print, isn’t. A company called Blurb is here to assist bloggers wishing to turn their posts into print publications. According to the Blurb homepage it’s as simple as, “Download, create, and share & sell.” They say, “Your blog. Automatically slurped into a real book.” The details are worth exploring and the pricing is in line with other printing options. The key here is that this is user-generated content, gone digital.

Today’s technology gives consumers control of their work, their world, and their words. The elitists among us may still cling to the old world view that only a Random House or a Simon and Schuster can publish a “real” book, but we are leaving them behind. These shortsighted folks are more into vanity publishing than 21st Century writers – it’s pure vanity that drives them to court the “respectability” of a dead-tree publishing company.

For those writers who are living in the 21st Century, Blurb is one choice. Another is to tap into expert bloggers like Denise Wakeoff and Patsi Krakoff who offer something called “Blog to Book”. They not only work with bloggers wishing to create a published (print) product, they offer a guarantee: “Our Guarantee: We provide our educational programs, ebooks, blog training materials, and expertise in digital form. We want to be fair. If you honestly feel our program isn’t what you expected and needed, we will return your money upon your request within ten days after purchase.” I know these ladies, and I know they can offer this guarantee because they’re that good.

On the other hand, Ranse Parker will tell you that self-publishing using print-on-demand is an option. He doesn’t blog, but he did self-publish his novel. According to this article in Happy News, his book idea came to him in a dream. His family bought into his desire to fulfill that dream and helped support him in the effort. “The manuscript and major editing were completed after four and a half years of work,” he tells us. “Queries were sent to a few dozen reputable agents and publishers. No one was interested. Self-publishing seemed the next best course of action.” POD was his choice.

“What’s unfortunate,” he says in the article,” is that because of [the official policy of reputable media refusing to review self-published books] all self-published books are dismissed arbitrarily without any other consideration… I find it somewhat ironic that the first thing the book related media does is judge a book by its cover.”

Parker created his own publishing company to assure inclusion in Borders and B&N. This does not negate the fact that his book was self-published. This does not negate the fact that the content in the book is as much user-generated content as any blog post or any Twitter note. No one sent Parker a contract or paid him an advance to write the book. Parker took the initiative to publish his book and to find a way to defeat the vanity press system that still thinks only big companies can produce good work.

User-generated does not have to mean “badly produced.” Blurb knows it. The Blog to Book experts know it. You know it. When your book is ready to be published, will you go the vanity route—or take charge and self-publish?

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One Response to “Publishing Vanity — or Self-Publish?”

  1. April L. Hamilton May 30, 2008 at 8:15 am #

    Ms. DiVita –

    You raise some good points. I'm an author who's chosen to go indie based partly on the harsh realities of today's highly-consolidated, blockbuster-centric American publishing industry, and partly based on emerging technologies that have made self-publication easy and affordable while providing professional-quality results. I've never regretted my decision for a moment, and wondered why more of my peers weren't likewise going indie. I think it's a combination of things: fear of the unknown, old biases, misinformation, and a lack of education. I've tried to address the last of these issues with my new how-to reference book, The IndieAuthor Guide, but the other problems are firmly rooted in emotion and psychology. No amount of instruction can overcome those stumbling blocks, but hopefully, the numbers of successful indie authors like myself will reach critical mass one day: the point at which indie books are as accepted and respected by the general public as indie films and music. I don't think it's a question of if, but when.

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