All Is Not Vanity: The rise of literary self-publishing.
This article makes some interesting observations on various Post-Gutenberg publishing issues… despite still being too tied to the old model in some ways, with many assumptions based on it.
I would argue that the Post-Gutenberg Revolution places the responsibility, if not duty or test, of discernment and taste, upon the reader… As the author of the article rightly points out, all the leading, traditional, review publications are corrupted by the advertising dollars of the mega-publishers, just as much as an author who would pay someone to review their book on Amazon or elsewhere, which was recently in the news.
It seems to me the Internet and social networking provide the potential reader with the opportunity of knowledge of a writer’s work, and therefore the possibility of exploring it further. As has been observed, a great book judges its reader as much as the reverse–all the more true in the current Post-Gutenberg world, tired of the “taste” of the corporate gatekeepers, but still too often in limbo waiting for the new world to be born, not actively enough bringing it into being. For a long time I’ve thought of this as the reader not realizing how much power they actually have.
Self-publishing is at a stage analogous to the early days of Wikipedia, when users were
reluctant to trust information contained in a communally written encyclopedia…. Whether
the increasingly virtual world of selfpublishing will eventually learn to regulate itself is an
It’s not a matter of regulation, which would mistakenly re-install an hegemony, but a further extension and development of democratic space and openness, wherein perceptive voices can identify, nurture, and cultivate taste, persuading through merit and argument. What is the literary tradition in all national literatures if not that? Convention and revolt with newly digitized tools…
“‘E-books make the Gutenberg system, which still characterizes the industry after 500 years, absolutely obsolete,’ insists Jacob Epstein, the veteran publisher who invented trade paperbacks and founded the New York Review of Books.” “E-publishing radically decentralizes the marketplace,” Jacob Epstein.
The decentralizing of post-Gutenberg publishing is something that I can speak about with intimate knowledge and ties in with my book of poems Into the Ruins and other books. In the mid nineties I became disgusted with the conventional avenues of cultural and literary publishing, both books, journals, and magazines. I had more than a decade of rejection slips from ignoramuses who demonstrated not the slightest understanding or familiarity with the manuscripts I sent them, along with a number from highly respected editors at major publishers, one, for instance, telling me he thought my book The Grove of the Eumenides should receive a hearing but did nothing to make it happen. I came to think very little of nepotism, especially in publishing. Other editors, publishing their post-modern drivel, enjoyed indulging themselves at my expense, they apparently thought. I quite consciously walked away from the whole conventional publishing scene, and the university in 1996, and began seeking ways to go around the stranglehold of both, directly to the reader.
I first thought the way to go around the decadent post-modern establishment and open a new path for literature, seeking to revive and renew its deepest humanistic traditions, was the time-honored route of typical self-publishing and brought out Into the Ruins through the printer McNaughton Gunn in 1999 under my own independent publishing company, Earthrise Press. While I sold some books through Borders and Barnes & Noble, through Baker & Taylor, I found them all to be opposed to an independent voice. A selection from the approximately twenty Reviews from that time are on my website. Despite a few insightful reviews, no one really understood what I was fully attempting with Into the Ruins. Thus far, the same has proven to be the case with The Bower of Nil in 2002 and The Grove of the Eumenides in 2007.
Along the way, I evolved into using POD (Print on Demand) technology through Lightning Source and thought the way around the stultifying post-modern status quo would lie in that direction, which nevertheless opened up the way to the global reach of the Internet booksellers to an amazing degree, shocking me that I could sell books around the world. Very early I recognized the value of Jason Epstein’s Espresso Book Machine, though it’s yet to fulfill its potential.
Along in there, too, ebooks increasingly became a possibility, and I published all of my books into ebooks, available worldwide and going around all of the conventional gatekeepers. The record of much of the evolution of my thinking is in my Publishing in the Post-Gutenberg Age https://www.fglaysher.com/Post_Gutenberg_Publishing.html
Like everyone else, I’ve evolved along the way with a website since 1998 and a blog, eventually Web 2.0 social networking… Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.
Through all that, I continued to study and work towards my epic poem, the earliest notes for which are from 1982, recently finishing the fifth draft in March of 2012. It’s not only the methods of publishing that I’m talking about, but how the identification and promotion of disparate views and visions of life, in literary terms and otherwise, evolve and reach the broader culture. I have not devoted over thirty years of my life writing an epic poem to allow a corrupt, conventional corporate publisher ever to touch it. Everything I’ve written is about the freedom of the individual soul, and the poem must be published in such a way as to affirm it.
My writing an essay on Rabindranath Tagore, three or four months ago, led to an interesting experience that I find myself continuing to think about. As an undergraduate and graduate student at the University of Michigan in the first few years of the 1980s, I would often study in the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library. My favorite places were deep in the catacombs of the stacks, 4 South, or the Sixth Floor humanities collection. Since Google digitized the holdings of U of M and those of other major libraries, along with the proliferation of classics online, Amazon and ebooks, and statewide inter-loan services, I, for some time now, have less frequently found myself needing to visit the Library, as I used to, for decades, two or three times a year.
In Tagore’s case, I discovered there were some books and sources I couldn’t obtain by other means, so I took a day last October for the sixty-mile trip to the Hatcher grad library. I started with 4 South, enclosed seemingly in the center of the old library, with very low ceilings, like the cellar of an old monastery. The floor has the bulk of the holdings in religion, especially Islam, Hinduism, and other non-Western faiths. I had on my Android Nexus S phone a list of books and articles related to Tagore and world religions that I wanted to check, complete with call numbers and so forth, from Mirlyn, the library Catalog, which I had accessed online from home. As usual, I was the only person on the floor. One or two might have wandered through that afternoon, cutting across on the way elsewhere. I found the sources in the stacks and piled them up on a desk, about twenty-five books or so.
Before combing through them, I booted my Netbook and turned on the Portable WiFi Hotspot on my phone, so that I could check U of M’s online Catalog, if needed. No reason to run downstairs anymore. I also took out my DocuPen portable wand scanner, so that I wouldn’t have to carry anything downstairs if I wanted to copy an article, which I did with several, emptying the memory, when it became full, onto my Netbook, in PDF format.
Scrutinizing chapters and articles, bibliographies, I found a few things I wanted to pursue further, so I obtained their call numbers with my Netbook, through the Catalog, went back into the stacks, dug around, loved every minute of it. And so it went. Since a few other sources were on the Sixth Floor, which houses mostly literature, having exhausted 4 South for that excursion, I packed up and changed locations, taking about another twenty-five books off the stacks upstairs, from the Tagore holdings of about three hundred books, and burrowed my way through them. I remember being reminded of my time on an NEH summer seminar at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in 1995, and using the Perkins Library at Duke University, especially its excellent collection of Indian literature.
After some time, though, as the afternoon went by, I discovered I was developing a list of books that even the Hatcher Library didn’t have among its several million volumes. I fired up my Netbook again, and, while sitting in a study carrel, logged on to MeLCat, the State of Michigan’s library inter-loan system for the majority of universities, colleges, and local libraries. Working through my list, I found most of the books I needed at other state institutions and ordered them, right then and there, from a shabby old Harland Hatcher carrel, on the Sixth Floor, where over thirty years ago I had enjoyed so many fruitful hours of study.
A couple of books that I particularly wanted were not available at the graduate library nor through MeLCat. I went online to the HathiTrust Digital Library, found one of them, and added the eBook to my account. The other was on Google Books. I downloaded it and later transferred it to my ereaders.
The MeLCat books began showing up at my local library in Rochester, Michigan, about a week later, when I was ready for them, having read the material I had taken home in digital format. An email notified me when the books were received and available for pick up. I read them in the comfort of my own library.
I am highly conscious that Google Books made my discovery of Milton’s “Of True Religion” possible. Without Google’s digitizing much of the intellectual heritage of humanity, now available from anywhere on earth, I would never have found this piece by Milton, since modern scholarly editors thought they knew better than Milton what was worth writing and reading. I feel, therefore, it is incumbent on me to give credit where credit is due. Literary, intellectual study and scholarship have and will continue to benefit from what is clearly a Post-Gutenberg Revolution. As a writer and poet, I am constantly now, even for years, finding one thing after another impacted by the exponential transformation in the availability of knowledge and information, the most nuanced, substantive dimensions of literary and aesthetic study, classic works, books, and publications. The world has truly entered into a new age, properly called the Post-Gutenberg Age.
Less recognized is the fact that the requisite spiritual vision appropriate to sustaining it is evolving, has evolved, and is manifesting itself in lived experience. In time, the world too will increasingly awaken to that transformative recognition.
ANN ARBOR—On September 22, 29, and October 6, the theatre company, Apollo’s Troupe, will stage the theater adaptation of the poem, The Parliament of Poets, written by Michigan poet Frederick Glaysher and published in 2012 by Earthrise Press. Continue reading →