What Does It Mean When They Say ‘Publication’?


Adrienne has asked me, for reasons that baffle, to prepare a few articles on the process of publication. In particular, I’ll be discussing ways that don’t involve megacorporate publishers and year-long manuscript turnaround. I’ll offer baseless and self-aggrandizing comments on self-publication, publishing technology, e-reading, and related subjects. This is the first installment.

A textbook always begins by defining terms. This is not a textbook, but it seems like a good idea to define what we mean when we say, “I wanna get my stuff published. Where do I go? What do I do when I get there?”

So what is ‘publication’ and why, in God’s name, would anyone want to do it?

Publication is a word in the dictionary, meaning, ‘the preparation and issuing of a book, journal, or piece of music for public sale’ (Compact OED). But in this century, the meaning (and the definition in law) goes far beyond the strict definition, to include any product of the human mind deliberately made available to the public, whether for sale or not, or whether in tangible form or not.

It’s the rendering into a final fixed form, like a book, an e-book, or a podcast, of our intellectual efforts. Those efforts may have stretched over years, but necessarily involving sustained concentration and physical and emotional strain. It’s immensely gratifying to hold the product in your hand. A hardbound or perfect-bound book, or even an e-book offered for sale, is concrete proof of our achievement, even if no one but our mothers ever read it.

It’s closure. As children of Western culture, we’ve been taught that there must be a purpose to every activity, an end product to which we can point, to justify the sacrifices we’ve made and that we’ve demanded of those closest to us. An activity without a goal is sloth. If not sloth, well, there must be some other deadly sin out there that fits.

It’s vanity. What gall we have! What bloody nerve! To imagine that others would sacrifice their evenings, their commuting time, their leisure, to sit down with something we’ve written. If we’ve taken a slice of our lives to create something, they should at least feel obliged to read it. In a real sense, all publishing is ‘vanity publishing’.

It’s faith. Our stories begin as dreams in the subconscious and emerge as movies in our heads. As artists, we’re compelled to transmit that film story into the heads of other human beings. We believe that they’ll see the same images, feel the same emotions, react to the same crises, as we did during the act of creation. We believe that our readers share our values and that they’ll connect and empathize with our characters, or at least take our words seriously. We may even believe that this mystical communion will change their lives.

It’s immortality. Our words can outlive us, as they’ve outlived the words of so many other creators. Perhaps we dare to fantasize that, long after we’re gone, some browser in a dusty bookshop will find our novel and be captivated. They’ll wonder, “Why wasn’t this person more famous? They don’t even have a Wikipedia entry.”

It’s success. Admit it. You know who you are. Even we wordsmiths who insist, “I write to please myself,” have a dark cave in our brains where we nourish that vision of a glittering banquet hall. After a lavish introduction, we rise from our head table seat to receive—with appropriate humility—the Golden Condom Prize, or the Smutwright of the Year Award, with royalty checks to match. Who wouldn’t want to see our new novel, ‘The Librarian’s Back Door,’ stacked on the first table as we stroll into our neighborhood Barnes and Noble, W.H. Smith, or Chapters? How will you feel when the bookstore staff rush over to greet you, and announce on the store’s PA system that you are here and have agreed to sign a few copies, but only for the most do-able women (or noshable men) in the place?

And possibly the shiniest crown of all—to have ‘The Librarian’s Back Door’ banned, or attacked in the press and by Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck as ‘another way in which liberals are scheming to rot America from the inside’.

To those of us who care to be honest with ourselves, there are plenty of reasons why we should want to see our work in print. Compared to twenty, or even ten years ago, publication is no longer a high citadel that only a few can penetrate. Publication is available literally to anyone, no matter how talented, or un.

That is what this series of articles is about. In future installments, I plan to address a wide range of subjects. Other ideas will be gratefully considered and perhaps not trashed out of hand.

Self-publishing: threat or menace?

A checklist for choosing between traditional or self-publishing.

Printing technologies: offset, print on demand.

The bookstore of the future.

Ebooks vs podcasts vs print.

Publish your book in less than an hour.

What happens when you buy an ISBN?

Using POD to line-edit your novel.

Now that it’s self-published and all my relatives have a copy, what else can I do with it?

Small publishers: entrepreneurs on a budget.

The single-author publishing house.

William Gaius
February 2011

“Kill Electrons, Not Trees” © 2011 William Gaius. All rights reserved.

Pin It on Pinterest