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Writing about Reading: Community Self Publishing

Sometimes I feel like a zeitgeist. When I was 11 I started putting granola in my yogurt. Suddenly in a few years Dannon is selling little prepackaged granola pots stuck on top of plain yogurt. My 14 year old self thought I should have patented the idea.

I’m feeling a little vindicated (read: smug) at the sudden interest in self publishing from libraries. From our ebook project, enki’s inception, I didn’t want to woo the Big 5, arguingw that there were tons of amazing titles we could have from publishers who wanted to work with us. There were already plenty of national organizations in talks with the big publishers. It wasn’t my fight. So we made a strategic decision to really pursue the great independent and small presses.

I also first met Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, in 2012. I was so excited to meet him, because he’s been such a visionary in making self publishing work for individuals. He has a style guide, he provides resources on getting great covers made; in short, he wants to support people in telling their awesome stories. And he talks a lot about libraries being able to support building a “community of authorship.” Being a NaNoWriMo geek (National Novel Writing Month – write a 50,000 word novel in a month) since 2008, this excites me. In fact, I’m personally going to be putting some of my edited NaNoWriMo novels up on Smashwords soon (it was a New Year’s Resolution).

Ok, so I’m totally biased towards Smashwords – full disclosure. And mostly I’m biased because they will provide publishing portals for libraries for free. Freeeeeeeee! Los Gatos Library has been using it for a year or so now – you can see how they implement the platform (did I mention that it’s free?) on their site.

But even beyond that, I’m really biased towards empowering people to write their stories, and supporting them in that. I can’t tell you how many people, when we were first building enki, said things like, “oh, that’s going to be a collection of self-published works…no one’s going to want to be part of that.” Seriously, people (you know who you are) said that to me.

Oh what a difference two years makes! At BookExpo I first heard about the Library Journal/BiblioLabs self publishing partnership, Self-e, in which libraries can put up a portal and have their patrons submit their works. If the works are chosen (by a team at LJ) they will be included in a collection that is hosted on BiblioBoard. So then of course the library can subscribe to the collection on Biblioboard – which is unlimited simultaneous user access.

Another partnership that seems to be making news is the Recorded Books partnership with FastPencil. FastPencil is a competitor to Smashwords, but from what I can tell they have services like designing cover art, editing, and other ways to make a book look and feel a bit more professional. I’m a little confused by their entry into the library market, because back in 2012 they announced a partnership with AutoGraphics. Recorded Books has a habit of finding great products to sell (like Zinio, their magazines product) and I applaud them for being so forward thinking.

While it doesn’t directly relate to libraries pursuing relationships with publishers, which is what most of this blog is about, I think it’s relevant to the discussion because self-published/indie books are only going to get bigger in the next couple of years (especially once I add mine to the mix) (that was a joke) (sort of) and the whole point of projects like enki are for libraries to take ownership of the eBook process, and the relationships with the publishers. When the authors and publishers are your patrons already, there’s a great opportunity to have a great relationship with them.

For example you can:
– build local collections of novels by local authors
– have workshops where successful self published authors teach others about the process
– support NaNoWriMo and other writing events by having write-ins at your library, and then putting on editing workshops after the events, providing self publishing tools, and finally having a collection of books by the local authors – like the My Town National Novel Writing Month Winners! collection. I’d read that stuff.

The success of story sharing sites like wattpad are all the evidence I need that people will read self published stories, and they’ll love them. Sure, there’s a lot of stuff on Smashwords that doesn’t meet the standards of a library’s collection development policy. But they have like 300,000 titles. Of course there’s going to be some work involved with separating the wheat from the chaff (is that how that saying goes?). There’s some really great stuff there, and it’s just getting better.

You know, back during the days when Eastman Kodak was first starting with their inexpensive cameras, photographers and artists freaked out about laymen taking pictures. In 1899 Alfred Stieglitz wrote,

“The placing in the hands of the general public a means of making pictures with but little labor and requiring less knowledge has of necessity been followed by the production of millions of photographs. It is due to this fatal facility that photography as a picture-making medium has fallen into disrepute.”

I look at that quote now and call it snobbery. It’s great that we all have cameras on our cell phones! It doesn’t take away from the amazing artwork that the world has seen since then. It just means more pictures in my instagram feed! More cute cats and more cute babies and more pretty sunsets. Sure, there’s a lot of junk, but that doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t have cameras.

The same goes for self publishing. And it’s my contention that the libraries should jump in and support their local authors – who are writing and publishing already, and want to do things like donate ebooks to their library and get support from the library. And I’m glad that there are more and more libraries and vendors who are jumping on board.