If writing is art, then why publish?

There are a lot of reasons why writers write. For some it’s a natural means of self-expression. For others it’s a passion. For yet others, it’s because the characters in their head won’t leave them alone and insist—nay, demand—that the writer write down their stories, even if it means invading their dreams and their showers and dragging them, kicking and screaming, to the computer, nearly to the point of grabbing the keyboard out from under the writer’s hands and threatening to write it themselves. Okay, maybe that last one is just me.

Most writers who identify themselves as writers will tell you one or more of three things:

  1. They love it
  2. They hate it
  3. They can’t stop

And unless writers are writing just for business (some do), many will also tell you, quite legitimately, that they’re artists.

But wait—

Art GalleryPainters and sculptors and potters don’t submit their work to galleries with the expectation that the gallery owners will come back and say, “We’d love to display your art, but you’ll need to make some revisions with an editor first.”

It’s art. Art is expression. Expression doesn’t need to be revised and edited and tinkered with by someone else after the artist declares it “finished.” Does it?

The answer, in true Jewish fashion, is “It depends.” It depends on what the writer wants to do with their art. If you consider it complete and finished and perfect the way it is, it is truly art and you can upload it to Lulu and print a few copies for yourself and friends and family.

But most writers are not satisfied with simply writing. They want it published. And not just published, but published and available in bookstores.

Now it’s no longer art. Now it’s a business.

And as a business, it now involves an editing team and a design team and a marketing team and a technology team and a distribution team and legal contracts and registrations with various book industry organizations and a major investment of effort and money and time, to the tune of thousands of dollars and 1-2 years before the book even hits bookstore shelves.

line in the sandThis is the line in the sand. Writers who want their work published, whether they decide to self-publish, or pay someone else to publish (either through a subsidy contract with a publisher [author pays all costs], or a partial subsidy like a book-buy [author commits to buying a pre-determined number of books to help offset printing costs], or a sleazy ripoff online vanity publisher), or find a royalty publisher, must check their ego at the door and understand that their art is now a business product.

That product will be edited and tweaked and designed and packaged and marketed and distributed and sold. And the writer might not have much to do with most of that process, depending on how much author input the publisher is willing to accept. (Here at Yotzeret, we love author input, though we reserve the right to veto some ideas depending on market conditions, cost, and publishing and bookselling standards.)

A note on ebooks and Amanda Hocking

If you haven’t yet heard about Amanda Hocking, the 26-year-old Austin, MN phenom who has grossed around two million dollars from ebooks she uploaded herself (she now has a four-book deal with St. Martins Press), you probably will. Clearly she is a writer. Though it needs to be said that because she uploaded her work unedited, she also received a lot of complaints which have now led her to finding an editor for her work. She is also a businessperson, and she approached her writing as a business. That, and her subject matter (vampires and zombies with action and romance), and her willingness to invest time and effort and money (for print copies for book review bloggers) and probably some amount of luck got her to where she is today.

Not everyone can share Hocking’s success, and the moral of her story is not that anyone can upload anything and make a million bucks. The moral is that you should follow your dream, and you will need to put forth some effort (eg: marketing) and make some compromises (eg: editing) along the way.

Will author-uploaded ebooks become the future of publishing? I doubt it. Will it become another source of revenue for authors? Absolutely, depending on the genre and quality of the ebook.

Will author-generated content and self-publishing (electronic or print) ultimately make publishers obsolete? No. Because publishers (yes, even small presses) provide three things that authors generally can’t on their own:

  1. Vetting manuscripts so that the ones accepted have a reasonably good chance of doing well in the market
  2. Access to distribution channels
  3. Someone else to do the business part of publishing

Tell us

What about your work? Is it art? Is it a business? Or is it something else?

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