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Personal Publishing: Blurring the Line?

Published on April 2, 2012, by in Commentary.

Two articles in Sunday’s New York Times caught my attention by the juxtaposition of values they convey.

The first, a front-pager titled “Young Writers Dazzle Publisher: Thanks, Mom and Dad!” questions the value of parents helping their children to self-publish their writing. This is apparently a growing segment of the self-publishing market, one that in the opinion of Times author Elissa Gootman “raises as many questions about parenting as publishing.” Does this blurring of the line between publishing and self-publishing represent “a lost opportunity to teach children about adversity and perseverance,” presumably by robbing them of the experience of rejection those seeking traditional publishers go through? Or does it, as one parent suggests, deliver a shot of self esteem, not such a bad thing for most young people?

The article deftly defines the self-publishing options on the market, checking in with Lulu, Author Solutions, and KidPub Press, which specializes in young authors. Perhaps the most important takeaway, for me, is a quote from publishing-industry veteran Alan Rinzler who suggests that parents hire a professional editor to work with their children, to expose them to the realities of publishing as well as the satisfactions.

 

Flip to the Obituaries section and an interesting counterpoint appears: “Patience Abbe, Chronicler of Her Childhood Travels, Dies at 87.” 

By age 12 Patience Abbe had co-authored Around the World in Eleven Years, a view of her wandering life with a celebrity photojournalist father among friends like Fred Astaire and Ernest Hemingway. Abbe dictated the book to her mother, with sections by her younger brothers as well. Two subsequent books soon followed, Of All Places in 1937 and No Place Like Home in 1940. When published in 1936 Abbe’s book was praised as “uncannily shrewd” and “exceedingly funny” and was translated into half a dozen languages.

What’s the difference between articulate and observant Patience encouraged by her mother to publish at 11, and the young people taken to task in the other article for daring to bypass the gatekeeping system that traditionally keeps individuals from calling themselves “published authors”? The high-octane connections required to bypass those gatekeepers 80 years ago, apparently.

I tend to agree that a young person–or any person, for that matter, who wants to publish–should undertake to produce a good book that meets professional publishing standards. That means paying attention to the finer points of structure, language, and subject matter that grab and hold readers’ attention, as well as the technical processes, like copy-editing and layout, that the publishing industry typically provides. Sweeping away the gatekeepers shouldn’t mean dispensing with the standards they existed to uphold.

That said, I do think everyone, young and old, deserves encouragement should they set their sights on publishing.

Patience Abbe did not publish another book in her lifetime–but she did finish writing her memoir three weeks before she died. Her family hopes to have it published.

 

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