When I first got my iPad, I accidentally bought a self-published book on Amazon. I started sweating profusely and googled ‘how to get refund for wrong purchase Amazon iPad’. Luckily, it was a straightforward and quick process, and Lust’s Labours Lost (well, that wasn’t what it was called, but essentially it was, or similar) went back into the great book warehouse in the sky.
Self-publishing cops a lot of flak, and I guess I’m receptive, to a degree, to the charges of low quality and other misdemeanours laid at the door of books produced this way. This is partly because I know how much work goes into editing, designing, publishing and marketing a book, and self-published books often (huge generalisation again, I know) miss the mark in some of these areas. It’s pretty rare that I read a self-published book, although I have a few that I’m dying to read sitting on my bookshelf. Anyhow, what I’m saying is that although I’m aware of the general feeling towards the sector, I’m not really an expert in the area – not in terms of books, anyway.
What I really wanted to talk about (or, rather, had a brief thought about it and am now trying to flesh out into an actual idea) was the idea that blogging is self-publishing. This seems so obvious that you are all welcome to type “*facepalm*” into the comments section if you are so inclined. But what is blogging but self-publishing? The blogger is at once their own writer, editor, publisher, design coordinator and publicist. From that angle, I see self-publishing as one of the most powerful, freeing things a writer can do. Obviously blogging – at least, the way I do it – is a vastly different affair to writing a book-length manuscript and seeing it through to publication. But just as blogging has reached a level of ubiquity and diversity that is now recognised as valuable by previous pooh-poohers, I found myself wondering when self-publishing will reach a similar acceptance by the broader public. Even given the successes of DIY writers like EL James, and Darrell Pitt’s recent eight-book deal with Text Publishing (Pitt’s books were popular before he was signed by a publisher), there’s a lot of snobbery and a lack of familiarity with the possibilities of self-publishing.
Anyhow, I hadn’t meant to draw such a big bow: I know that blogging and self-publishing are oranges and apples, and there’s little point in comparing them further here, except for in how valuable they are for the authors themselves (a difference being that self-publishing may involve more costs on average, especially if print copies are involved, than blogging). In classes I’ve taught, I’ve put a lot of emphasis on how I wouldn’t have any kind of writing opportunities or balls if I hadn’t started this blog. That’s me personally, as I am a wimp, but the blog was a way to hone my craft, do it regularly, and try to do it better each time.
One of the challenges of being a writer is trying to find the right publisher or publication for your work. This can be incredibly intimidating and stressful if you’re starting out, and the pressure of performing well for editors you’d like to impress can be counterproductive or painful if you’re not even sure if you have writing chops. I’m not saying that emerging writers should aim low when starting out — not at all. But for an anxious little bud like me, the lessons of blogging have been invaluable in writing for publication and in publishing others. Among other skills, I learned how to come up with ideas, how to come up with appropriate titles, how to write for a specific audience and how to deal with external stakeholders like publicists and media. You learn what is interesting and important to you, and what is not. You learn what is interesting and important to readers, and what is not. You develop a voice. You have a space to publish writing that is more experimental in nature, time-sensitive, or can’t find a home for elsewhere for whatever reason. And of course, the most important thing is that I am, no word of a joke, ten times better at writing now than I was when I started blogging.
As the Emerging Writers’ Festival rocks up again for another fantastic year, I’ve been thinking about what I can take away from my experience, especially the things that I never really thought about before doing them. Blogs aren’t for everyone; not everyone is comfortable writing online, or often, and not everyone has enough leisure time to devote to blogging. But it’s been a really useful tool for me while writing. I never set out to ‘become a writer’; I just wrote, and waited to see what happened, and my blog was the first step. And it’s been pretty good so far.