By Maryam Piracha with research by Raiya Mansoor
No,Â not everyoneâ€™s an author.
When I initially flipped open the cover and started reading first time author, Khadija Khanâ€™s “The Mind of Q”, it was with some trepidation and borderline excitement. That was then. Three pages in, reminded as I was by O-level grade English essaysâ€¦ and not the good kind, I back tracked to see who in their right minds would publish and/or support such talentless drivel (the book seems to have garnered outstanding reviews in local media). In retrospect, media critics should be lynched! When I spotted the publisherâ€™s name, it all made perfect sense: Lulu. Lulu is one of the more established names in a specialized business thatâ€™s made its money on the belief that everyoneâ€™s got a book in them: Print on Demand (PoD) publication, or as itâ€™s known within literary circles, â€œvanity publicationâ€.
The book was fraught with multiple issues, from the differing fonts spread across the document to the dubious structure or lack thereof; to poor characterization and the inability to set the stage and adequately build up a scene; to the understanding that had it been substantially and professionally edited, there would be a marked difference between each characterâ€™s voice, instead of a monotonous homogeneity that spread across the book. There is a reason why the publication business is not an easy one to break into (unless of course, youâ€™re Sarah Palin and you can afford to hire a ghostwriter), and why it is factâ€¦ not fiction, that not everyoneâ€™s a writer.
PoD publication allows writers to pay the so called â€œpublication housesâ€ to publish their book; while would-be authors handle the bookâ€™s layout, cover and marketing and such additional services like editing and copywriting cost extra. ISBN numbers are now also provided by all PoD establishments. The largest PoD outfits are Lulu, AuthorHouse (although its â€œauthorsâ€claim they were ripped offâ€¦ not unlike the feeling their readers must get), Amazonâ€™s CreateSpace service (Kiyani Yousaf, another Pakistani author recently published “What If” with them), Trafford Publishing and the list goes on. The name â€œPoDâ€ comes from paying for as many copies as youâ€™d like to have printed. For the purposes of recipe and cook books and perhaps the odd family tree history or two, itâ€™s a great bargain. Not so much for mainstream novels which need to go through the publication machine; editors value books based on their market appeal and whether it would be profitable for them to publish such a novel, for social, political, and pure aesthetic appeal. PoD books rarely fit the bill and with good reason.
Mainstream publishing houses, literary publications, book critics and freelance writers whose job it is to review books, normally place PoD self published books on theÂ slush pile Â (The NewYork Times refuses to reviewÂ vanity publications ). Why? Plagued by typos, editorial gaffes, poor structure and in the case of fiction, characterization, plot holes, messy dialogs (from this writerâ€™sreading, The Mind of Q ticks the boxes of all the above), PoD self publications present an overall lack of professionalism in the finished product. The author claims Al Hamra (the sole publisher she approached in Pakistan) rejected her because of her age. Thatâ€™s not a good enough excuse, sorryâ€¦ Kamila Shamsie was 23 when she published “City by the Sea” which was much, much moreÂ polished than the PoD Q. Sure, there are the occasional hits in PoD publications, but those areÂ few and far between.
Authors claim that traditional publication houses reject them, citing examples of D.H.Â Lawrence, Virginia Woolf and in case of local publications, Bapsi Sidhwa without realizing theyâ€™re pooping on their own argument. There is a marked difference between Print on DemandÂ vanity publication and traditional or â€œtrueâ€ self publication, which is largely dead. Lawrence wasÂ given no other choice in a censored England, when he self published “Lady Chatterlyâ€™s Lover”.
The man went directly to the printing press and undertook full responsibility for its publication.Â Similarly, Woolfâ€™s dilemma had more to do with her stream-of-consciousness style which sheÂ published through the publication house jointly owned by herself and her husband. HogarthÂ Press subsequently provided the channels for other writers facing the same issues. Ms SidhwaÂ on the other hand, was working in an environment that simply didnâ€™t allow women to write inÂ English. She peddled her book to one bookstore after another, asking them to stock the nowÂ bestselling “The Crow Eaters” on shelves. It couldn’t have been easy, but then there is nothing easy about the writing life.
True, not every traditionally published author is brilliant (case in point, Dan Brown andÂ Stephanie Meyer) and there are quite a few losers out there, but PoD will unleash more thanÂ what discerning readersÂ deserveÂ .
The business of writing isnâ€™t about getting published: itâ€™s about making a difference in the livesÂ of your readers. Anything less than that, isnâ€™t worth aspiring to.
Writers, if they choose to go into the profession, must contend with a life of rejection withoutÂ opting for the easy way out. Because as long as you can pay, outfits will publish your work andÂ if your sole ambition in life is to be published, then Praise the Lord, Hallelujah you have anÂ answer! (Cue doves and choir music) But if you are writing with a purpose and with the belief thatÂ you hold something truly important, there are other options. Send your work to internationalÂ literary journals (a full list is available at Duotrope.com, NewPages.com, EveryWritersResource.com and others), consider small presses (independentÂ publishers who are still selective, but donâ€™t require you to pay for the services) and strive to getÂ your work out there. The Internet Age was made for the success of small time people with bigÂ time dreams like ourselves. Put up samples of your work on the net, see what sort of reviews andÂ feedback you get. Chances are, if youâ€™re liked by more than your friends and a handful of people,Â youâ€™re not going to need to pay your way into publication glory.