Wednesday, 07 May 2008

An argument for self-publishing - Joop Bersee

Should one self-publish or not? Some believe self-published works range from being second class at best to plain rubbish at worst. It has been said that self-published works are all crap and that those who self-publish are basically publishing books not good enough to be published through established publishers. In fact one could turn this around and point out that there have been many books published by the "recognised" publishers that should never have been allowed to see the light of day! The same thing can of course be said about self-publishing - at times it is great, at times it is not. But self-publishing is not a form of literary masturbation.

Self-published does not have to mean unedited. People that self-publish can get others, perhaps friends who write as well, to read their work beforehand. Or the poems in the publication have perhaps already been published by poetry journals. So it does not always mean no third party has seen the publication before it is released on the unsuspecting public! The author can follow the same road as those who use a publisher to get their work out there.

The idea that self-published books can not count in the greater scheme of things or that it is unimportant is simply wrong. Especially in the South African context. There are many "undiscovered" authors in South Africa who can't find publishers to put their work out simply because they ARE unknown. Some authors might be hot from the start, others need time to build up steam. Whether we are speaking of poetry, prose, folklore, the short story, plays or novels, to deny the reader of potential books/authors in this way is wrong. Let the reader make up their own mind. But let it be published, one way or the other.

Not all South African publishers are looking for the possible gem among the dross, they are interested in making money. It is as simple at that - they have a business to run. Profit margins make the decisions! If they come across a new author and recognise that they are good but the genre is wrong for them (i.e. they don't think it will sell in big numbers) then they simply do not publish the book. These authors are then after a while forced to go the self-publishing route. It comes down to paying a publisher money to have your book printed. He doesn't care what it is, as long as you pay. Or printing on the home/library/a friend's printer and getting it out to the public. If you, as the reader, pick up one of these self-published works and don't like it then you simply don't buy it. When I go to a bookstore and see a book I might be interested in I first read chunks here and there.

Often with self-published authors the driving force is that they believe they have something to say and so it is not financial gain that is driving them but the desire to share their writing with the general public. It lies in the satisfaction of being heard and not in making a profit out of the book. In fact the opposite is true - many self-published publications end up costing the author more than they can re-coup from the sales they get.

The arguments for and against self-publication can be pretty heated. Who is right? Is there any hope of a compromise? I believe so! If we accept there are many authors out there that want to be heard and have a right to be heard, we also need to accept that there is good and bad, excellent and crap. Is there a need to have a middle road? No. Just publish and let it fly. The reader will decide what to read. Stuff that sucks has a long shelf life: it will stay on the shelf. We are in an advisory capacity. Please, no censorship like in the apartheid days. The writer could go to a writing workshop or a writing course to improve skills. Personally, I never was taught how to write poetry. I just started writing and hey, guess what, the first few poems I ever wrote were published by a poetry magazine and I was asked to read the poems they accepted. Within six weeks or so I was published and had read my work in public.

Without help it leaves the "unknown" authors floundering around, trying hard, only to be told they are not "proper" authors. It is might be the reason for someone to quit all together and this may be the greater wrong!

Joop Bersee

Check out Joop's poetry at

1 comment:

Vanessa said...

A very convincing counter-argument can be found here. Of course, it is written by an international literary agent, and does not always apply to our local market.

But, as an unpublished writer, this continuous contradiction is increasingly confusing.