The combination of a small professional college and the allure of the printed word has a strange effect on Unitarian Universalists: a writer can adopt a good reputation (or bury a bad one) by getting books published. It is a dire shame there are so many sloppy works out there, by which I include substance and style. A sloppy production job cheapens a good idea. I’m thinking of a perfectly adequate liturgical work published by one of the UU professional organizations so riddled with typos — was it proofed at all? — that halfway through skimming it I picked up a pencil and added typographical marks.
Which leads me back to Will Shetterly’s post about self-published works that started me thinking about this. At Day Job, I work with the production (less) and sale (more) of books in a not-for-profit organization, and know first-hand that producing and promoting good books takes more time and money than most imagine. A good but plainly unprofitable work will not get published by an established press. Sometimes the market is too saturated, or there’s no clear audience. If a press won’t take the work on, pity the self-publisher who tries.
That said, there is a place for works too marginal to be profitable, and I wonder if online versions or PDF versions won’t increasingly fill the gap. That said, most of the work that would do into the production of a good book would also have to be put into a good PDF, save the actual act of printing and mailing printed copies. Shared proofreading and editing, honest feedback, and a cultivated eye for plain-if-honest style would go a good way to making self-published works bearable. Asking the hard questions with candor — does anyone care? or need this? — would save later hurt feelings. Finding one’s audience before the effort is made is even more important. Small publishers often ask authors for the names of two hundred or more likely customers before they even accept the manuscript for review.
Thus some resolve: I’m thinking of creating a couple of PDF books of important Universalist documents, but I’ll see if there’s interest here first.