May 9, 2009

Literary Worth

I wrote one of my favorite posts I’ve written for the Self-Publishing Review. One of the reasons I’m so attracted to self-publishing is that it is so maligned. The same goes for UFOs. Something with such profound implications is treated as a joke. Self-Publishing is the UFO of literature. People mock it, denigrate it, but at its core it is such a great development: all writers have the ability to reach readers. No one is without a voice, no one is locked out.

That type of free expression should be celebrated, but it is more often criticized. It is a total mystery. Self-publishing’s not perfect by any means, but its positive implications outweigh its flaws.

So I wrote a post about how writers have often not been accepted during their own time. The method of publication should not determine a book’s artistic worth. The book had the same value before and after it was accepted by the artistic establishment. To say otherwise is to say that money determines artistic value. Just wrong. I write:

On the Road was written in 1951 – but it was not published until 1957, towards the end of the decade. Jack Kerouac did most of the writing that’s part of his legacy before On the Road was ever published. Is On the Road a better book in 1957 than it was when it was initially written in 1951? I think most people would say no: publication doesn’t determine worth. The book is the book.

There is something to be said for the magic of a movement. Kerouac’s On the Road wouldn’t have meant the same if it wasn’t a literary phenomenon that represented an entire generation. An argument could be made that if Kerouac was able to self-publish via print on demand in 1951 this would have limited his artistic impact. That’s a fair point, but it says nothing about whether or not the book is more or less worthwhile once it hit it big.

In our world, crap rises to the top- the lowest common denominator is often the most successful, so to say that success equals literary worth makes no sense at all. And who knows, maybe self-publishing can be a literary movement like the Beats, giving rise to artists taking over the system. In this day and age, maybe an On the Road being released through Lulu is exactly what leads to that book’s reputation. It’s a much different environment than 1951. If that’s even a possibility then self-publishing’s got merit, which is why people should let up with the criticism.


Jason Weaver said...

Virginia Woolf chose to self-publish. She also published 'The Waste Land' and turned down 'Ulysses'. As you say, the book stands or falls on its own merits, not its method of publication.

Nate Fakes said...

I think self publication is the direction that publishing is going. I focus on that (self publication) more than submitting to editors. Leaving my work in the hands of an editor typically is more trouble than its worth. Yes, there's money in publishing, but as for the content of the work, I've seen a lot of great writing that is self-published.

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