Summer Reading and Prep

Time to set the bar.

For the Fall semester I will be teaching my graduate level Electronic Publishing Overview course, my undergraduate level Electronic Publishing Overview course and a new course on web development for grad students in the Masters in publishing program. There's a lot that need to be done over the summer since I need to update the overview classes and finalized the web development class. I also want to build web pages for all the sites as I tried it this semester and I think it worked really well.

As part of my prep, I'm giving myself a reading list to help enhance the lectures and maybe take the labs to a next level. I want to post this to keep track of the list and to offer some transparency on how I'm developing the classes. I wanted to be more transparent in my classes to help students go beyond the class, but it turns out transparency is more time consuming than I thought.

The list:
I'm hoping one of these will stand out as a possible new text as some of the feedback from students this year was that our textbook wasn't the greatest and felt a bit dated. I also need to start reading up on CS5 as they are installing it in the lab this summer (and maybe my office computer), so that my exercises are trouble-free (slight differences frustrate students as I learned from developing exercises on CS3 and seeing small differences on CS4 in class. Not the time to notice them.)

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Self-Publishing's Growth

Back at the end of April, Virginia Heffernan wrote a piece in the New York Times Magazine about the change in attitude on self-publishing: from the view of it as some kind of vanity press to, well, a way to get published. The article is a look at the different services out there with the wrapping of looking for crackpot theories and quackery that was the primary product of these self-publishing ventures (not entirely true, but they seemed to scream louder than the rest), making sure that our view of self-publishing is still associated with pseudoscience, egotistical ramblings and conspiracy theories.

Boil the story down to the facts and you get a list of sites that are self-publishing or help people self-publish and some statistics from Bowkers. According to Bowkers, self-publishing was responsible for 764,448 titles in 2009. Compare this to Bowker's numbers of titles produced by more traditional publishers: 288,355 titles. The self-publishing titles show a 181% increase while traditional publishing is down. An interesting set of statistics. What can we glean from this? That lots of people want to self-publish their work. Not as the article states, "Book publishing is simply becoming self-publishing," unless you want to look solely at title output for the year and ignore number of copies sold, availability of titles and formats.

There has always been a large undercurrent of self-publishing that appeals to small niches, or microniche if you look at Bowker's designation of this type of publishing. They have no appeal outside their limited audience and will never sell more than a few dozen copies. This is like looking at the explosion of zines in the 1990s and claiming that journalism has gone the way of the xerox machine. It doesn't add up.

I have had several students and friends who have used these services to print anywhere from a single copy of a book to a dozen or so for class projects. They never make it to the marketplace and were never meant to be sold. These books are final project, portfolio pieces and gifts to friends and relatives. The real story is what part of these self-publishing ventures are making it out into the market. I don't mean some anecdotal evidence about a book that started life as a self-published title and then was picked up by mainstream publishing that turned it into a best-seller, since it's still the traditional publisher who adds production and promotion to the mix. As Lisa Genova states on her Still Alice blog "After being self-published for ten months, I found an agent who sold the book to Pocket Books. The Pocket Books edition of Still Alice came out on January 6, 2009. Barnes & Noble sold more in the first two days than I sold in ten months." A traditional edition of a self-published work became a best-seller not the self-published work itself. Editions matter!) What I want to see is some facts and stats about the best-selling copies from lulu.com and iUniverse and how well these are selling. Are they doing just as well as first novels and literary fiction published through traditional means? What about non-fiction and poetry?

I'm not discounting self-publishing, in some ways I think it may be a better path for some authors who won't get more support (marketing, publicity, placement, distribution) from traditional publishing houses than if they self-published. And for certain niches like poetry, literary fiction, etc. or for authors who are already known brands, it may make more sense to go this route (Hi Wil!)

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