Last month, in a post titled The blogging saga … I discussed, in connection with the reported decline in reading, the obvious increase in writing. I mentioned Blogit, which hosts some 25,000 bloggers.
That post got quite a response. Dirk Lenaerts of Brugge, in Belgium, who joined Blogit in March, wrote to say he found it a lot of fun but cautioned against doing it “for the money, as you put in a lot more than you ever can earn. … No, your only motive must be the joy of writing and reading, otherwise you become depressed pretty soon.”
Dirk’s post reminded me that the word amateur means “lover” and we might all do well to remind ourselves of those many amateurs, especially among the British, who pursue an interest not for fame or fortune, but for the sheer love of the subject or activity.
I, of course, do write for money — which is to say I have a job that involves writing. It also involves publishing what I write, so I have a lot to be happy about. True, what I write is largely of an ephemeral nature, but much of life is ephemeral.
Still, what about all those other people who are writing away? They’d like be to read, too. Which explains why the self-publishing business is booming, as Sarah Glazer demonstrated in The New York Times Book Review last month. I wouldn’t be too quick to dismiss this phenomenon. Suppose someone starts a blog and it catches on. Readers like what the blogger writes and like the way the blog is written. I imagine if that blogger put together a book and advertised on it on the blog, fans would likely want to read it.
For a book review editor, the growing number of self-published books poses a particular problem. As it is, not even many commercially published books get reviewed. But it seems dumb to completely ignore the self-published ones. Recently, I ran a review of one — James A. Freeman’s Parade of Days. Inquirer staffer Marc Schogol voiced one reservation, but otherwise rather liked the book, saying that characters’ “stories stay with you.”
Freeman may have published this book with Xlibris, but he’s published quite a few books the old-fashioned way and is a tenured professor of English — in other words, he’s really a pro who just happened to choose this time to do the publishing on his own.
I put another self-published book out for review also, but the results were less encouraging. I had read the first 50 or 60 pages of the book and found it intriguing and thought it had possibilities. So did my reviewer — after reading the first 50 or 60 pages. But ultimately, he didn’t think the book worked and thought it wouldn’t serve any purpose to review it.
The problem, obviously, is figuring out which self-published books are worth reviewing. The self-publishing houses themselves could help, by differentiating between books aimed at a specialty audience and those aimed at the average reader. After all, Random House doesn’t go out of its way to promote every book it publishes. It focuses on the ones it thinks have the best chance to sell.
I think in the long run it will be buzz in the blogging community that will bring certain self-published books to wider attention. Another reason for people like me to pay attention to what is going on in the blogosphere.