By Geoff Hoff
The history of publishing is a long and crooked one. People have written books for as long as people have written. Originally, to “publish” a book meant to have it hand-copied, and there were whole monastic orders that were dedicated to that craft. Each copy of the book was an original work of exquisite art. Since few could actually read, this seemed the way to do it. This is, of course, the ultimate “self-publishing.”
Then people began carving plates in order to print the pages so that each copy looked like every other, and more copies could be printed. This was the way of it until Gutenberg invented the movable type printing press, produced the first “mass produced” books, which, among other things, included an edition of the Bible.
Fast forward to the late 1800s and early 1900s, when there were actually publishing companies. Several prominent authors still published their own work, but it was starting to beless and less acceptable.
In the fifties, a new industry rose up. The “Vanity Press.” For a fee, these companies would publish anything you wanted them to. And that means anything. And because it was anything, they quickly took on a reputation of being, shall we say, not the sort to be seen with or mentioned in genteel company.
With the advent of ditto and then Xerox machines, poets and novelists, and, notably, fringe political and religious thinkers, started self-publishing their work and handing them out on the streets of cities like San Fransisco and Seattle. The few of these I’ve encountered were at least odd and often scary.
Although some notable books did come out of the vanity press and self-publishing trend, the dim reputation continued on through the nineties and early 2000s. Then something interesting happened. Amazon created their “CreateSpace” and Kindle Direct publishing programs. Suddenly everyone could publish. Yes, lots of it is, shall we delicately say, crap, but a lot is wonderful, and, with Amazon’s reach and marketing ability, a lot of the wonderful has bubbled to the surface and found an audience. Some if it a rather substantial audience!
Now, some major players are starting to use this “self-publishing” model, to the point where many of the more famous writers’ literary agencies are beginning to include a self-publishing service to their clients because the demand is so huge. Here is just one example, award-winning playwright and author David Mamet’s literary agency now has a self-publishing arm and he will be using it for his next book.
So self-publishing is becoming the thing to do, bypassing the major publishers and gate-keepers. Writing a book has become fairly easy, also, with blog posts being the proving ground for content. So what’s holding you back? Go forth and publish!