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Discoverability: A problem for authors AND readers

November 23, 2012

Interesting piece in the Guardian book blog: the paper’s reviewers want to cover independently published books but are unsure where to start.  So they solicit their readers for ideas on how to discern the good stuff from the not-so-good stuff.

The comments are notable for a thread about curation. Wouldn’t it be nice, some say, if there were a website that helped the good stand out from the bad, the job that traditional publishers have done in the past. Hmmmm…Is that just replacing one set of gatekeepers with another? But clearly readers want reliable sources of recommendation as do authors.

Another pattern emerges from the comment stream: self-published writers apologize again and again for recommending their own books. One of them points out, fairly, that with so few opportunities for their work to be promoted,  self-promotion is their only recourse.  Hmmmm…why do authors get knocked for self-promotion when, surely, that’s almost the entire basis of celebrity in this culture? Self-promotion is the currency needed to get attention. When you don’t have a publisher or publicist to get attention for you, then it’s DIY time. Or as one writer put it, self-publishing=punk rock.

One commentator, novelist Alan Skinner, offers this suggestion: “Nothing will give self-publishing as much credibility as winning a prestigious literary prize. I’d love to see a self-published ebook on the long list for the Man Booker, for example. Given the nomination fee, this is unlikely to happen, though. There are other prestigious awards and prizes and it might benefit us all in the long run for a few of us to get together, find some worthy self-published contenders, and set-up a blog to gain some momentum.”

His suggestion is a smart one. Rather than self-published writers talking to one another about their books–or rather, blurting blurbs about their books at one another as in the Guardian thread–what if they banded together to professionalize their independent approach to publishing, gain credibility in the minds of readers, and create a forum for recognition and discoverability…well that would be kind of like punk rock going mainstream. And that would be a good thing.

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