Self-Publishing News: 3.24.2021

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I love this piece from Barbara Winard of Travel Awaits, in which she chronicles her own path and progress from childhood as a reader to an adulthood as a travel writer. As she does so, she sets out to answer the all-important question: How can a person, much less a woman, much less a woman past 60, become a successful–and well-paid–travel writer? According to Winard, the answer is rather simple: First, become a reader; second, become a traveler; and third, embrace those unexpected changes that life tends to throw our way. (And let’s admit, after the year we’ve had, change is now something of a constant.) Winard closes her article with a series of lists, including tips for writers and those looking to raise their own profiles as travel-writers, and some reflections on what she might have done differently if the opportunity had presented itself. Spoiler: Winard credits her experiences as they were lived, rather than wished, with a great deal of her own personal evolution. She sees travel writing as a cluster of enriching events that she would rather not have gone without. Her full piece is well worth a look.

There has been plenty of talk over the last decade over the role of platform in empowering and promoting marginalized voices, from communities of color to voices from the LGBT+ community, from the deaf community to women as a whole. Even here on our news blog, we have lifted up and amplified the volume of news relating to the democratizing influence of self-publishing on the larger world of words. In this article from Forbes’ Bianca Barratt, Barratt opens by noting that “However far we like to think gender equity has progressed, the truth remains that the world of books is still very much a man’s one,” and points to statistics reflecting the numbers of men versus women winning literary awards, and the ease with which men (or women posing as men) pass through the agent and manuscript review process, compared to women. With all that has been spoken and written on the subjects of equal pay for equal work and equal advancement for equal contribution, this is (regrettably) far from a fresh topic than it is a retreading of familiar ground with the added message that one possible route to making progress in lifting up the voices of female entrepreneurs is by way of self-publishing. It is somewhat unfortunate that we still require tools such as these in the year 2021, but the good news is that all of us involved in self-publishing might just be in a position to help make a difference.

Substack, an e-newsletter platform, has been mixed up in the conversation about self-publishing from the very beginning, and its rapid expansion in the age of the pandemic has only expanded its presence in that conversation. This may not be quite right, opines Peter Kafka of Vox, who covers the current controversy surrounding Substack’s profit model. Kafka spoke with Jude Doyle, a non-binary influencer who started putting out newsletters through Substack in 2018 but is now choosing to abandon the site in favor of another, nonprofit, newsletter platform. Said Doyle, “Substack isn’t a self-publishing platform [….] It curates its writers. It pays them, sometimes massively, and it makes choices as to who gets paid well and who doesn’t.” It is not, Doyle argues (and Kafka records), truly aligned with the payment model most associated with self-publishing. While straightforward in splitting subscription fees with its authors and its payment processing company, the company also commissions authors to produce content by way of its “Substack Pro” deal, and in that model “the general thrust isn’t any different from other digital media platforms we’ve seen over the last 15 years or so.” From what we can see from the Vox article and others, the argument isn’t so much that the subscription model doesn’t work but that hidden contracts like those offered by “Substack Pro” lack transparency and cast a pall over all authors using the platform, even those legitimately self-publishing via its services. It’s a difficult and complex story to summarize, so we not only recommend reading Kafka’s article but also Megan McArdle’s opinion piece on The Washington Post (Opinion: The Substack controversy’s bigger story) and Annalee Newitz’s post (on Substack about Substack, in the most meta account of all) which helped kick off the entire discussion to begin with (Here’s why Substack’s scam worked so well: They paid a secret group of writers to make newsletter authorship seem lucrative). If you are an author who has been using Substack to self-publish or promote your other self-published work, we absolutely do not mean to cast any possible aspersions on your valuable work. Whether you choose to stick with this particular popular newsletter platform or move to one of its competitors (there will be more news soon from Facebook on this score, and both Medium and Ghost are providing additional color to the dialogue), we want you to receive the credit–and payment–due your hard work.

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As a self-publishing author, you may find it helpful to stay up-to-date on the trends and news related to the self-publishing industry.This will help you make informed decisions before, during and after the self-publishing process, which will lead to a greater self-publishing experience. To help you stay current on self-publishing topics, simply visit our blog each month to find out the hottest news. If you have other big news to share, please comment below.

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