Last week, I attended an event at my public library (where I am employed, but that’s not relevant to this post), featuring Betsy Warland, writer, poet, editor and author of Breathing the Page: Reading the Act of Writing. She began with a performance poem, a gesture of casting a net which drew the audience into an intensely personal view of writing in the area of memoir. Ms. Warland spoke of family dynamics, the death of her mother and the necessity of challenging the taken-for-granted assumptions about one’s life which she calls the “coma story.” She also introduced “Oscar,” an interactive online salon on her website built around her work-in-progress, Oscar of Between. Ms. Warland invited other writers and artists to engage in this conversation.
Ms. Warland’s talk was followed by a conversation initiated by representatives of the Community Arts Council and library staff on the theme of resources for writers — including self-published ones. This was truly refreshing. Self-published authors have grown accustomed to exclusion, and here were community institutions reaching out, requesting our suggestions. Needless to say, suggestions burst forth, jostling against one another, combining and amplifying. It was a most rewarding evening.
I was happy to set this positive experience against the dreary slog of comments in another forum — discussions on LinkedIn’s Fiction Writers’ Guild. There, the argument on the theme of “Is Self-Publishing Evil?” went on and on, with at least one vocal individual saying over and over again that 99% of self-published material is “crap,” generated by self-indulgent slobs too lazy to learn the craft and earn the privilege of being published by a Real Publisher.
Returning to the presentation at the library, which reminded me that writing is a bigger field than the arena of TP versus SP. Publishing is a subset of writing, and the sharing of creative efforts through the internet cannot be labelled with the scornful term “not good enough to be traditionally published.” People write for many different reasons and define success in many different ways. While it’s true that writers aspiring to make a lot of money by selling their novels have to create a particular type of written product, that is by no means the only way to achieve success in the art of the written word. No longer are “traditional,” “vanity” or “none” the only available publication options. Technology has opened avenues for writers and many are racing down them.
A few final thoughts — publishers and editors are made, not born. Many publishing companies were started by groups of writers who wanted to get their stuff out. Editors begin as readers and writers. Writers are people who write, not exalted members of an anointed elite.