Tuesday, March 19, 2002

When a local band that can't get signed to a major label puts out their own CD, we call it the underground. The musicians who issued the music are assumed to be far cooler than any of the commercial noise that the official music industry pushes at us. There are fans who won't by anything but independently issued CDs or tapes, and there are radio stations that cater to them.

Independent filmmakers are called mavericks. Their artistic vision is too original and vast to fit into the boxes created by Hollywood. The theatres that show these movies are called art houses, and any city with a population over 5,000 sets aside two weeks each year to honor them with an independent film festival.

It goes without saying that commercial television airs nothing but trash. As a nation, we've decided that the airing of quality shows is so important that we allow a tiny percentage of our tax dollars to support public television. The mission of PBS is to present those shows that could never find a home on bottom-line focused network TV.

But, when it comes to the publishing world, we still look askance at the lowly self-published author. We let the literary establishment set the rules by which all books must be judged. If everything published by "real publishers" were of great literary value, I'd be willing to accept their judgement. But let's look at the record.

For every truly original new novel by an un-established writer, there are two books on how to be a millionaire, three diet-of-the-weeks, four true crime or celebrity biographies ripped from yesterday's headlines, and one novel by an established popular author which may or may not be trash.

Is there anything wrong with that? No! Publishing is a business, just like music, movies, and TV. They will publish what they can sell, and what sells, more often than not, is not great original groundbreaking literature. That leaves a lot of potentially great books unpublished simply because they are not commercially viable. That's simply the free market system at work.

When authors have taken control of their own work, and published without the backing of an established company, it's been derided as "vanity publishing." Let me tell you about my experience with self-publishing.

I self-published my fiction collection, Aaron's Intifada and Other Short Stories, with iUniverse. I'm an unknown writer working in decidedly un-commercial territory. I don't blame the big publishing houses for not beating down my door. Aaron's Intifada is not going to be a million seller. If all goes well, over the years, I hope to sell a few hundred copies.

I believe that's quite modest. Vanity has nothing to do with it. Vanity would be my expecting a major multi-national corporation to take notice of my book, invest its own resources into promoting my work, and my becoming a household name. Not only do I not expect that; it is not even my goal. I'm self-published, and I'm proud of it.

Before choosing iUniverse for my book, I browsed the site and ordered a few titles. I was quite pleased with what I saw, and what I read. I'm glad to be a part of the Print-On-Demand self-publishing revolution.

We are the mavericks, we are the underground, and, from what I've seen, we are a lot cooler than most of the trash on the best sellers lists. This is not about vanity, it is not about losers looking for validation; it simply about us telling our stories and getting them in print. Don't mess with us: we are the POD rock stars!

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