Mass Authorship and the Rise of Self-Publishing
2016 Computers and Composition Distinguished Book Award
“This is a highly polished, well-organized, topical, and informative work that provides a detailed and knowledgeable snapshot of contemporary practices of authorship. It refutes the facile sense that authorship is being wholly and radically changed in the new digital environment, while being attentive to genuine novelties there. A finely wrought and worthwhile book.”—Mark McGurl, author, The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing
“Publishing is undergoing significant change, and Laquintano offers a way to rethink self-published e-books as something other than a threat to traditional books. In his detailed case studies of sophisticated and active self-published e-book authors, Laquintano shows the varied jobs these authors accomplish to get their work published and read.”—Spencer Schaffner, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
In the last two decades, digital technologies have made it possible for anyone with a computer and an Internet connection to rapidly and inexpensively self-publish a book. Once a stigmatized niche activity, self-publishing has grown explosively. Hobbyists and professionals alike have produced millions of books, circulating them through e-readers and the web. What does this new flood of books mean for publishing, authors, and readers? Some lament the rise of self-publishing because it tramples the gates and gatekeepers who once reserved publication for those who met professional standards. Others tout authors’ new freedom from the narrow-minded exclusivity of traditional publishing. Critics mourn the death of the author; fans celebrate the democratization of authorship.
Drawing on eight years of research and interviews with more than eighty self-published writers, Mass Authorship avoids the polemics, instead showing how writers are actually thinking about and dealing with this brave new world. Timothy Laquintano compares the experiences of self-publishing authors in three distinct genres—poker strategy guides, memoirs, and romance novels— as well as those of writers whose self-published works hit major bestseller lists. He finds that the significance of self-publishing and the challenge it presents to traditional publishing depend on the aims of authors, the desires of their readers, the affordances of their platforms, and the business plans of the companies that provide those platforms.
In drawing a nuanced portrait of self-publishing authors today, Laquintano answers some of the most pressing questions about what it means to publish in the twenty-first century: How do writers establish credibility in an environment with no editors to judge quality? How do authors police their copyrights online without recourse to the law? How do they experience Amazon as a publishing platform? And how do they find an audience when, it sometimes seems, there are more writers than readers?