Friday, January 7, 2011

Self-Publishing Lessons from Gandhi Part 2: What We Can Do Today

Note: I've decided to litter this article with pictures of Gandhi as a young man in South Africa. He looks different from what you may expect, and yet still somehow familiar.

source: Wikimedia Commons

A lot of things have changed in the world of publishing in the last twenty years alone, and we can expect rapid changes and experimentation. And yet as the cliche goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Here are some things we can take from Gandhi's foray in self-publishing we can still apply today:

1) Have a message. It's easy to take this for granted, and perhaps it would mostly be people who have experienced the limits of conventional publishing who would immediately appreciate the freedom accorded of doing it on your own. Still, don't waste the possibilities afforded by self-publishing and just publish material willy-nilly.

It need not be fully radicalized like Gandhi's satyagraha. If you want to tell stories of your childhood, or share fashion tips, you can make that your message. What's important is that you explore that intentionality.

I would caution that it really is too easy to say what everybody else is saying. You admire what this artist or writer has done & want to make something as clever, ornate or emotional. However, the world would be  better served if you bring yourself to the table.

2) Be dedicated. It's the story that's retold over and over again, but never changes. Publishing in general entails so many tasks and demands, from producing content, to printing and distribution. If you will forego a big traditional publisher, you will have to utilize as many resources available to you as possible.

It definitely helps to find other people who are interested in publishing the same things as you. Not only will you be able to share resources, but you will also establish a support network for each other.

Here I would point out a common misconception regarding online publishing. It's too easy to assume that success is a lulu e-book or app subscription away, but that's only 1/3 of the work. You should still treat it like publishing on paper, with the budgeting & promotion & everything. If you don't know how to do these things online, you need to learn them to be successful.

3) Let the experience affect you. For Gandhi, the research, writing, publishing, and distribution of Indian Opinion led to his realization of the realities of Indian inequality under British rule. Whereas he initially intended to work within the British justice system, he gradually moved towards Indian independence, in keeping with what Indians needed, not just what he thought Indians needed.

Again, you may not experience something as radical as Gandhi, but you'll want to treat it like a feedback mechanism to inform your ongoing and future work.

4) Be ambitious. Not necessarily the kind of ambition that gets you in the New York Times Bestseller list, although that is good too. Think about how you want your work to influence people. The depth of that influence will determine how your work will be remembered for posterity.

And of course, you may not want or be able to apply all of these learnings in your personal self-publishing efforts, so just pick up and use what you can use.

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