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What Does "Published" Mean?
Finding Your Fiction
The word "published" used to carry status, marking a personal, usually cathartic event, after years of toil and "blood on the brow" and indicated that a "publisher" thought you were good enough for them to take the enormous risk of trying to sell your novel. Normally it meant that someone in New York, or possibly Los Angeles, was going to copyedit your work, send you galleys, receive your final changes, create a professionally designed cover, develop a marketing plan, and sell. It meant that you would make a little money, probably not much, but some. But it also meant that you could get lucky and strike a cord with the public, that they might enjoy your talent when even you doubted it, and you make enough money to work on your next novel without having to worry about finding another publisher. "Published" was distinctly different than "self-published." Self-published meant using a "Vanity Press." Self-published meant you were usually a bombastic outsider, a self-promoter, more of a marketer than a writer. (With exceptions like William Blake and others.)
Now "published" means that you decided to become a writer because you heard that some teenager wrote a Kindle-Nook-IPad ebook of only 26 "pages" with Justin Bieber’s name in the title and sold a million copies and is now working on a follow-up fantasy for preteens called Ga-Ga-Gone. Now "published" means you’ve written a blog for an ezine, or that you posted on several sites, and a few people have made comments. It means you write for Hubpages-Ehow-Gather and earn a few Adsense dollars. "Published" means that you created and self-published a novel using a Print-On-Demand (POD) company like lulu or amazon’s Createspace. Now even great works like Huckleberry Finn are ebooks with annoying spaces between paragraphs, along with amateurs who decline to fix even basic technical problems in their ebook, who word-process out one ebook after another. And sites offer thousands of ebooks for free, where the author gets nothing, except the chance to be noticed, to win praise, or online contests, possibly akin to American Idol, singing off key and cursing the online community. Do these free electronic books devalue the writer? One ebook provider boasts that they’ve "published" 1,999,284,947,936 words. Soon they will have a bigger number than our national debt.
Do we need a new word for published? Instead of saying, yes, I have published, I feel the need to qualify and say, yes, I am published but it was a legitimate publishing company. I did not pay a dime for the privilege. And just to make sure you believe in my authenticity, I add, even got a great review in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Some editors thought my work was good enough, that they might also make a few bucks. Unfortunately, I was "published" in 2008 on the first wave of the Great Recession and "my publisher" succumbed in 2010. I have had stories "published" in quality literary magazines, one nominated for a Pushcart Prize. But I am also now "publishing" via Kindle and Nook and others. Look for my ebooks. Search Jeffrey Penn May! So in commanding you to search my name (with an exclamation!) have I now become one of the bombastic vanity press self-published authors of the past? Or have times changed? Now experienced writers are lumped into the pool with the inexperienced. The sometimes haughty demarcation between "self-published" and "published" has blurred. Is this good or bad or both? What do you think?