Everyman's Library of Failure

Among the flakier delusions spawned by digital technology is that everything it makes possible is exciting and virtuous. Thus, people who lack all aptitude for writing rejoice in their freedom to blog their obsessions, often illiterately, to tiny audiences. Some imagine that their habit confers upon them the title of “citizen journalist” and believe that they are partisans in a revolutionary movement.

Unsurprisingly, the notion that self-expression, no matter how inane, should be shared has spread beyond mad barks about current affairs. Writers who cannot fathom why no publisher will place their incoherence in the public domain are not a novelty, but self-publishing the novel or play you have failed to sell has never been simpler. Equipped with the most basic IT skills, you need only create a PDF, clip-art a cover and send both plus money to a self-publisher. Pay enough and your book will be delivered within days.

Net-savvy authors can accelerate the process still further by ignoring paper. Publishing a novel online may win plaudits from nobody more objective than your significant other – attracting attention in our fragmented multimedia world is no doddle – but if publication alone is the objective, cyberspace meets it. Never mind the quantitative gulf between the potential audience and the actual readership. A similar gap exists in print. If your book is excellent it will succeed.

Nevertheless, so straightforward and cheap has the process become that it is easy to forget that self-publishing is usually a response to failure. Practitioners promote it as a way to escape censorship and retain independence. They point to great writers who have self-published for these reasons.

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