Published a Book, Might Delete Later
Authorship in an Age of Insta-Creation
For Christmas, I published a book of love poems and gave it to my wife. I’ve written a number of poems about and for her over the years, and the simplest, easiest way for me to gift a single copy to her was to publish it for the world to see. And that is really quite telling, isn’t it?
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The trappings of instant creation
It seems these days we live in what I am cheekily calling “Insta-Creation Culture.” That is, if you want to create something, anything, and share it with the world, you can. No delays. No buffering time.
Right here, right now, you can post it, publish it, launch it—for the whole world to see.
Want to snap a picture and share it with hundreds, if not thousands of people?
Just pull out your phone—likely in your back pocket already—and take a not-terrible photo without having to worry about the ISO, white balance, or anything like that.
Then post it on Instagram or Facebook (or both at the same time). You don’t even have to worry about waiting for it to upload, which used to be a thing, believe it or not. Within seconds, you can start to see the comments pouring in. If you add a hashtag (or thirty), you may even meet some new people through something as simple as a selfie.
It really is amazing.
Or let’s say you have a thought—an idea, a phrase, a quote, a something. You can share that, too, using your thumbs—again, on that trusty phone of yours that is tracking more of your movements than you or I care to think about.
Tap, tap, tap in the app, hit the TWEET button, and voila! You’ve just shared your very clever idea with the world. Maybe no one will notice it—or maybe a million will. There’s really no telling, and that’s part of the excitement that keeps you coming back for more.
The same, it can be said now, goes for any creative effort. A book, a song, a piece of art. It is virtually effortless to share something you made right now with maybe, perhaps, everyone. And with the emergence of artificial intelligence, you don’t even have to do the work. You can just sit back and watch people marvel at “your” creation!
But something is missing in this approach to creative work.
A call back to craft
What of the woodworker in his shop who loves the feel of the lathe going back and forth under his hands, slowly turning a block of wood into… something?
What of the years of painstakingly shopping a novel, taking each rejection in stride, using failure as motivation, furthering one’s conviction that the world really does need another story?
And what of the monotonous routine of standup comedy, playing one club after another, doing hundreds of gigs all to get the perfect set ready for its intended audience?
What I’m saying is this: where, in today’s culture of self-publishing and instant fame, is there room for the long, arduous journey to good work?
Please don’t hear me being a humbug about any of this. I’ve built my life’s work and livelihood (thus far) off of such technologies; and I think, taken as a whole, being a creator now is a net positive. But these advances and opportunities don’t come without consequence.
My fear is not that there will be more junk in the world thanks to the modern ease of connection and communication—that much is given.
There is something like ten times the amount of books being published today as there was fifteen years ago. I don’t know about you, but I’m not seeing ten times the quality of output. What I am seeing is a lot of noise, a lot of hoopla; and it’s getting harder and harder to find something worth paying attention to.
There is a reason for that.
Getting reacquainted with self-publishing
When I published my wife’s book, it was a simple process. Determined to do all the work myself, I played around with a few self-publishing tools until I found one I really liked to help me lay out the thirty-seven poems I’d compiled.
Then I logged in to KDP (Amazon's self-publishing platform), where I was surprised to see that the first book I ever published had generated over 75,000 sales in the past ten years. I had no idea. This was a boon to my current self-publishing endeavor and piqued my curiosity about future projects.
I played with the setup wizard, trying a few stock covers, none of which I liked. So I went to Canva.com and signed up for a free trial, searched “minimal book cover designs,” found one I liked, and edited the text on it.
I downloaded the print resolution version, went back to Amazon, uploaded the image, chose a solid color background for the back cover (that seemed to match the front cover’s colors), added some copy, grabbed a headshot of me, ignored all the warning messages, and hit publish.
Three days later, Amazon informed me that the image I uploaded was not a high enough resolution to print. Ugh, come on. I was just trying to create something better than a bunch of handwritten notes in a spiral-ring notebook.
It took me maybe twenty minutes to figure out that Canva can export even higher than the highest quality stated. You just have to set a custom export file size by sliding the slider to the highest DPI.
Once I did that, Amazon immediately approved the book. I clicked PUBLISH, lowered the price as low as I could make it, then ordered a copy for delivery. It was faster and cheaper to do that than to order even an author copy, which was not eligible for free shipping with Prime and wouldn’t get to my house for a couple of weeks.
The book arrived fifteen days after I began the publishing process and about a week after all the final approvals went through. And my wife? She loved it. And she is, thankfully, OK with the world reading secret poems I wrote just for her (she added that in when I asked her to edit this piece).
Why share all this? I’m not a designer. I can’t do anything in Photoshop or InDesign or whatever tools designers use these days. I don’t know much about typesetting. I have no idea what it takes to print a book. And yet, after a couple late nights of lying to my wife saying I was working, I figured out how to publish a book all by myself.
As soon as I had done it, I thought, Maybe I should do this again. And maybe I will.
I also recognize a risk here, which is the same risk of blogging, the same risk of being on social media, and certainly the same risk of poking around on any website that has your credit card information already saved to your profile. And that risk is ease.
When things are easy, they often become faster. More expedient. More common. Because we can, we do. And again, to be clear, I am a fan of this technological advancement—for the most part. I think, overall, we have met some incredible musicians, artists, and authors because of the way the world has changed recently.
But, and there is a big but here, we have also seen hate groups find each other with greater ease thanks to these tools. We’ve become pseudo-experts culpable in spreading all kinds of misinformation as a result of our access to all kinds of crazy theories. We have even become famous for all the wrong reasons.
Somehow, still, we have the audacity to blame the technology.
We watch the documentaries and read the long-form articles and make the Zuckerbergs and Bezoses of the world our nemeses—when in reality, we were the ones swinging the hammer.
My job is to observe things and write about them, and what I’ve seen in the past ten years of being an avid user of this insta-creation culture is that these tools should come with a warning label.
Before you hit publish on your next novel, tweet, or photo, there should be a little note that asks, “Will the world be a better place when you share this?” And you have the option of saying: YES, NO, or I DON’T KNOW. You can publish the thing, regardless, even if you choose to disregard the question. But at least, you are considering it.
Like those long terms of service that very few, if any of us, read, you have to choose to ignore your responsibility.
But let’s get real here
I don’t think this sort of thing will happen anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean we can’t ask ourselves that very question each time we publish something—and of course, so many of us are doing that very thing on a daily basis, sometimes multiple times a day.
We are publishing emails.
We are publishing status updates. (Do we even call them that anymore?)
We are publishing texts and phone calls and product reviews, creating a record of where we were, what we did, and how we thought about it at the time.
I tell people that I work in publishing, but it appears we all do now. Or, rather, we exist in a world that is constantly being published.
It used to be that there were certain gatekeepers in charge of what news was actually “fit to print” and what types of songs belonged on the radio. Of course, that meant some voices—many, in fact—were never given the opportunity to be heard.
But I’d like to believe that some of those gatekeepers had an earnest desire to share only the best stuff with the public. I’d like to believe some of these people still exist, that there are still editors and journalists and music producers who care about good art more than what is trending.
In the past, these professionals had a certain set of standards, a list of what made a piece of work good enough for the whole world to hear about it. I am certainly not suggesting we go back to having a handful of men decide what gets to be published.
Even if I wanted that, though, those days are long gone. Rather, I am suggesting we become those people, the kind who take the time to ask the right questions before pressing PUBLISH. Anyway, I published a book. Might delete later.