by | Sep 28, 2006 | The Joys of Publishing, Writers

To self-publish, or not to self-publish; that is the question.  The wisdom in the industry is that if you do, you will never be taken seriously and will never get reviewed.  Your book will never make the front table at B&N, it will never be chosen as the book of the month, and you will never appear on Oprah.  You will linger pitifully for years, then finally die of tuberculosis in an unheated garret room surrounded by boxes and boxes of your unsold work.

In 18th century London, you got published by convincing a book-seller to print up a few hundred copies.  The public then got to decide, largely by word-of-mouth, which books would continue to be printed.

Laurence Sterne, author of Tristram Shandy, pulled off a great marketing ploy.  He happened to be seeing a vivacious young actress who in turn was acquainted with David Garrick, who was the greatest actor of the age.  London has always been a theatre-crazy town.  Sterne had his squeeze write a letter praising his ‘terribly clever book’ to Garrick, who promptly read it and praised it to all his friends.  Sterne became, for a time, the most-read author in Europe.

Unfortunately, I’m not currently seeing any vivacious young actresses.  Unfortunately, I’m not seeing anybody right now.  So I will be relying on my readers.

Who says that guys in skyscrapers get to decide?  I doubt they would have published Sterne.  Sterne didn’t write anything at all like Samuel Richardson, who had produced two blockbusters: Pamela and ClarissaClarissa comes to about twenty-seven thousand pages, and consists entirely of letters written back and forth among the characters in the story.  I had to read a much-abridged edition once, only about five or six hundred pages, and I hereby confess that it was the only college reading assignment that I did not complete.  Sorry, Professor Petersen.  Skipped huge chunks of it.  Clarissa, which in its time was hugely popular – church bells rang all over England when she finally married the cad who had been trying to seduce her throughout so many forests’ worth of paper – would be forgotten today but for college courses on the 18th Century Novel.

Sterne’s book died during the 19th century, which found it too bawdy, but now enjoys a small but devoted following.  Yes, I’m aware that it has just been released as a most peculiar film.  Unfortunately, the chances of it playing here in Colorado Springs are somewhere on the high side of nil.


The printer emailed me yesterday – the proof is done.  I’ll have it by early next week, and as long as it looks good, the book will be printed and bound in ‘ten to fifteen working days.’  Hey buddy, would you like to buy a book from a fellow American?


I am mildly sympathetic to the mainstream press’ plight.  It costs a lot of money to set up shop in a skyscraper, so it’s understandable that they’re focused on blockbusters.  But I don’t think that’s the only way to publish books.  I’m having 2000 copies made up, and my hope is that the internet will allow us to get back to the 18th century model, in which the readers decide what is worth a second printing.