My colleague David Owen has often heard me predict that soon enough at least part of our academic work will be eventually self-published on our websites. This is why he emailed me a very juicy article by Dave Lee about “The authors who are going it alone online – and winning” (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-16469000). The article highlights a few key issues: The Chicago Tribune’s groundbreaking decision to review self-published books (e-books, actually), the re-fashioning of the self-published author as “an entrepreneur,” the rise of services designed to help you publish on the internet, and, oh yes, the success of novelist John Locke, who’s sold more than one million copies of his self-published works on Amazon.
Self-publishing has been around for a long time, as authors have always been free to spend their own money on having their work printed, distributed… and ignored. ‘Vanity’ publishing –as Lee points out– has traditionally been regarded as a major ego trip, which is why reviewers would not touch books without the stamp of a publishing house. The novelty is the current popularity of e-book readers, which makes the expensive business of printing, storing and distributing a paper volume redundant. Also, the availability of payment systems online that make selling your own stuff as easy as using e-Bay. Just think: authors usually get 8 to 10% on the book price –how tempting it must be to get 90%. Leaning towards the conservative, Lee warns readers that, in the end, not everyone can write a marketable book, which is why editors will always be needed (not necessarily publishers – a difference we don’t understand well in Spain). Distributors too: it turns out that Mr. Locke has a “distribution deal with Simon & Schuster.” Oh, well.
This is indeed the key point: distribution, which means visibility. Whether literary or academic, self-published book authors are like bloggers (we are self-published authors also) in the sense that you are read only if you’re noticed on the internet, not necessarily depending on the quality of your writing (sorry, does this sound smug?). Academic writers, as far as I know, make very little money out of writing, which is why I tend to think of self-publishing as a way of curbing down the impact of peer reviewing, and not as a way to limit the profits of academic publishing houses in favour of authors. That might also be desirable but my point is that, at least in the Humanities and particularly in literary and cultural criticism, academic creativity is often limited by prejudiced peer-reviewing, which can be easily avoided with self-publication. How to make self-published articles visible is quite another matter, unless MLA starts accepting them (it doesn’t, does it?), in the same spirit that has made The Chicago Tribune open its pages to self-published books.
One day I’ll do the experiment: I’ll write an article for publication in a peer-reviewed publication and a second version for self-publication on my web (I don’t have one yet). Then we’ll see which version has a higher impact. Yes, yes, it might well be that nobody will read either version, as I doubt anyone at all reads what I publish anyway. But you know what I mean, right?