The Xerox commercial is at it again. You know the one. The
smart-ass kid shows up the old-fart professor by explaining that
on demand publishing, everyone can get published.
It is, of course, a crock.
It is a crock because
on demand is not really what people
want when they want to be published. Sure, you may get an ISBN. And it may
be possible for someone who has been browbeaten into searching for
your book on the web to order your book. And you might even sell a
copy or two to someone who is not related to you and is too far
away for you to bully. But that is not what people want. And I am
pretty sure they do not want the derisive laughter when they tell
people they are published
on demand. Not to put too fine a
point on it:
on demand is to being an author like flying a
kite is to being an astronaut.
What is this?
But the Xerox ad is running, so I am getting email. I need to
compose a boilerplate reply. I waste too much time on these people.
They do not want my advice, you know. Many of them think they want
my advice; but those really just want me to tell them what they
already believe. Others do not believe they want my advice; they
know they want me to use my godlike literary influence to pluck
them out of unpublished obscurity — but they pretend they
So I'll have a go at a form letter:
The normal state of affairs is that publishers pay you for the
right to publish your work. People who ask for anything from you to
publish your work are called "vanity presses." That term doesn't
refer to a piece of bedroom furniture favored by ladies.
The Writer's Market people put out a whole book
listing people who will look at your work and decide if it is worth
putting up money to have it published. They are called
"publishers." You can probably find a recent edition of
Writer's Market at your local library where you can
consult it for free. Most publishers cooperate with the editors of
Writer's Market, even if it is to say they are not
reading at this time.
If you cannot afford to send query letters by regular mail, and
to make a couple of copies of your manuscript to send out in case
your queries find an editor who is willing to look at your work,
you certainly cannot afford a scam like
on demand whose
cheapest package seems to be around $300.
I have to wonder what you think
being published means,
and what exactly you are aiming at.
If you want a few hundred copies to give as gifts to friends and
families, you can find printers that are surprisingly cheap,
especially if you are in no great hurry and the printers can work
on your book at times when their equipment would otherwise be idle.
You should take many bids. It is a very price competitive
Otherwise, it appears to me that you have some kind of fantasy
notion of what
being published means. I was raised in a
family in which the facts of publishing (and mostly the facts of
not getting published) were a part of everyday life, so I have
difficulty understanding fantasy publishing, but so far as I can
make out, the fantasy seems to be something like:
- First I get published,
- a miracle or something happens,
- then there is demand for my book and I get at least a little
more famous (or respected) and possibly at least a little money to
If you think that is publishing, any money you put into getting
published would better be spent on Lotto tickets. And when you ask
anyone else to invest in your book, you are asking them for money
they could better spend on Lotto tickets.
This, of course, is exactly backwards of reality publishing.
In reality publishing:
- First I become respected as a writer and make a little money at
it and create at least a little demand for my work,
- a little bit of ordinary luck occurs when my query happens to
hit the right desk on the right day (which bit of luck has been
helped along by my sending many queries, many places,
- then I get published.
Get it? You do not get published and then do the writerly
things. You do the writerly things and then get published.
If you are interested in reality publishing, let me ask you,
where are you reading your work? What poetry slams are you
attending? Which coffee houses with open mikes do you frequent?
Have you discovered which
little magazines are the real deal
by checking the contents of the Pushcart Prize volume?
How many of them have you submitted work to? Enough so that one of
them might nominate you for the next Pushcart Prize
Did you submit your Pushcart Prize piece to
Harper's', The Atlantic, etc. for their
reprints sections? Where is the nearest entertainment and arts
weekly newspaper? When did you meet the editor of it? Does it ever
use fillers or run short poems — you do know the answer to
this question off the top of your head, don't you? Because you did
ask and you did hear the answer from the editor himself, right? How
long did you beg the editor to let you review one of the many books
of poetry they receive? Did you find out who really puts together
the book section and ask her out to coffee?
(Okay, that is boilerplate for a poet and would be a little
different for a mystery novelist. But it is pretty much the way
reality publishing gets started. We even have a term for it. We
call it "paying our dues.")
Do you want to skip that and be published? You just don't have
time for it? Other things get in the way of you're being able to do
that? Yeah. I know. I'd like to be the CEO of a major