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5.02.2010

Authors Unbound Online



http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/02/magazine/02FOB-medium-t.html?ref=books

An interesting (but not very in-depth) article from the NY Times about the growing sector of self-published books. Again, not very in-depth, but it does bring some intriguing issues to the table: mainly, if everyone can make books nowadays, how do we measure quality and how do we know which ones are good? David Carnoy says "less than 5 percent of decent, and less than 1 percent are really good."

The problem I see with self-publishing is that sometimes these authors aren't patient enough. They do not sit down and look at their work enough and look at the nitty-gritty stuff that might not be working. Ariel Gore, author of How To Become A Famous Writer Before You're Dead (fabulous book by the way) says that writers need to put themselves out there: you need to control the press. I am all for controlling the presses. But I have met many self-published authors. Richard Shapero, for example, spends time traveling to colleges and giving out free copies of his hideous novel Wild Animus. I mean, this book is shit. Full of metaphysical conversations that don't flow (e.g. people don't say this kind of stuff), and just wasted words. This was self-published. This was crap fueled obviously only by the desire to self-promote (Shapero is a venture capitalist).

To a certain extent, writing is solitary: you need that alone time to write. Self-publishing shows that solitariness. It's only you and you alone. But you cannot be the only one in the process. That's why there are editors and workshops and that's why writers ask their lovers to read over this page, or maybe this one. Plus writers are always so in love with their own work, they don't see their own flaws.

Mistakes are always good, that's how you learn, but once it's published, it is a social instrument of sorts. It's out in the public for us to consume, to ponder about, to change the world quite possibly. And furthermore, some of these authors are very bombastic and they're more businesspeople than they are wordsmiths (but this is also true with traditionally published authors--have you met Sandra Brown, she will continually tell you to buy her book, just buy it; same thing with J.L. King--these people love the money)--and while business is good, money necessary to survive within capitalist systems (don't talk to me about surviving, I'm eating ramen noodles till the end of the week!)--I will always love the writer more than the businessman. Businessmen don't care about the words, they care about the money.

But then again, it's also about controlling the press and the freedom to use it. Self-publishing is a right because free speech is a right. A.J. Liebling: "Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one." As the NY Times article points out, with the age of the internet, there is no better time (thus far) to exercise that freedom. But of course, that doesn't mean other people can't speak out against your work and call it crap. Like I do here:

Dear Rich Shapero, 
Don't write again. Ever.
Love,
Eric Nguyen

(P.S. I love the books pictured in the NY Times article; I'm thinking about making my own publication business/venture/experiment. Something radical and handmade because I've always wanted to learn how to hand-make books. Does anyone know how to make hand-made books out of cardboard and paper and duct tape?)

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