June 2010 | L. D. Mitchell

Collecting Self-Published Authors

If one were to survey a very large and random group of book collectors, I strongly suspect that not a single one of them would fess up to collecting self-published authors.  Scott McKenzie penned an interesting rant on Slushpile a few years back which suggests why this is so:

You remember Bobby? That weird kid in high school who went out of his way to wear plaid pants, day-glo sneakers, a green mohawk, maybe a little goth makeup, and sucked on a pacifier all day? Bobby spent more time planning his anti-conformity outfit (because, "you know, he just does his own thing, he's such an individual") every morning than Jenny the Cheerleader dedicated to her hair. But then he always bitched and moaned about how Pam the Prom Queen ignored him. Some self-published authors are the same way. They act like idiots and then wonder why they face such disdain....

McKenzie's point was not that self-publishing in itself is necessarily a bad thing, merely that the editorial processes which exist in the "real" publishing world help save most authors from themselves.  That being said, the sheer number of books that have been self-published over the centuries almost guarantees that many advanced book collectors have not a few self-published volumes on their shelves: think Atwood, Blake, Proust, Whitman...the list actually is quite lengthy.

The more interesting question is not do book collectors have the occasional self-published title on their shelves, but do any of us go out of our way to collect such titles in the same diligent, methodical way that we collect Shakespeare or hypermodern firsts or fine press or whatever it is that rings our bells.

Scholars are quite fond of extensive, well-considered book collections that tell them something they did not know previously.  What would an extensive, well-considered collection of self-published authors tell future scholars about the state of publishing, the distribution and reception of texts, etc., in this Late Age of Print, awash as we are with print-on-demand and other technologies that make it easier (and less expensive) than ever to self-publish...?