I knew that the process of writing and publishing was scary. I thought this class would banish some of the fog, demystifying the process and the industry. If there is one thing that I have learned about the Publishing world through this class it is this:
Publishing is so much more frightening than I thought.
The big imposing publishing houses, the unpredictable market forces, the relatively low profit margins; they all form a monstrous specter that discourages the would-be writer. So, with all of these monsters looming over their heads, why do writers publish at all?
Yet people do, and have for centuries. Despite all of its pitfalls and risks, it is the life aspiration of countless thousands. The strength of their desire surpasses their fear of the system. Their passion for their message that drives them.
But what if the corporate meat-grinder proves to be too much for them? What if a valuable opinion or a strong message is not what the world wants to hear at the moment? What other weapons does the writer have in their arsenal?
A brief example from the former U.S.S.R. will serve to illustrate. Joseph Stalin initiated a policy of censorship in the Soviet Union. His successors continued this to various degrees. Thus, for the entirety their history, people were not free to speak or publish according to their wishes if their views were seen as “un-Soviet.” An underground community of intellectual dissidents arose. This movement attracted poets, historians, musicians, professors and many others throughout the educated population. Many felt burdened to inform their fellow citizens about the state of the Soviet Union. However, no publishing company or press would ever produce their work for fear of political reprisal. The very act of associating one’s name with a controversial piece of writing could lead to arrest or imprisonment.*
Yet the dissidents were undaunted. They began what was known as samizdat – illicit self-publication. This was frequently done by hand, by women at typewriters in their own homes. Pamphlets and short books were typed, compiled and secretly distributed to like-minded people at home and abroad. It did not matter that few wanted to hear their message. The strength of their conviction and the determination to make their voices heard drove them to extreme lengths.
Publishing is terrifying and hard. That is what makes it audacious. Take courage. If your message is important enough that people need to hear it, there will always be a way.
* For information on the Soviet dissident movement, I highly recommend The Thaw Generation by Ludmilla Alexeyeva (Pittsburgh Universtiy Press, 1993).