The Old, Dead Paradigm


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With the recent news that Penguin and Random House were merging (which led to this great conclusion by John Scalzi), I have heard many people — writers and readers alike — let out a collective and exasperated, “Great, now the Big Six has become the Big Five and we have even less options!”

But really, when were those actually options for 99% of the writers out there? And for readers, do you even care which publishing house put out a book before you consider purchasing it? I mean, when’s the last time you were interested in picking up a book and saw that it wasn’t published by Random House so you decided against it? Ever?


I was having lunch the other day with a writer friend about her manuscript. I get into these conversations quite often with incredibly talented writers and each time, I feel lucky to share with what little insight I have. Inevitably, the question comes up and my answer more often than not is:

Yes, I think you should self-publish your book.

It’s 2012. Nothing is like it used to be. But we still hang on to this antiquated model of the publishing industry. We still frown upon self-publishing. Vanity press, we call it, emphasizing the word vanity with such disdain. We act as if Joyce and Whitman and Thoreau and other notables never self-published. Furthermore, when we see musicians putting out albums through their own labels and filmmakers making their own films on their own or painters and sculptors creating without a gallery backing them, we applaud their drive, their decision to control their art.

But with writers. Nope. If you self-publish, you must not be too good. Listen, as a publisher running a business, I am not sitting here saying that the publisher is obsolete. What I do believe is that once writers learn it’s all bullshit, that they’re the ones who hold the most valuable commodity, then not only will it open up so many more possibilities for them, but it will actually create more opportunities for small independent publishers like Writ Large Press. Writers will be able to focus on finding a publisher that suits their wants and needs. Small presses will be able to showcase their strengths — whether it’s design, PR, just all around street savvy — to neutralize the multi-million dollar budgets of Big Media and compete in a level playing field.


In the past few months, a handful of different people have pointed out to me one of the most important things that I need to do as a small press to get our books reviewed by serious reviewers is to get rid of this seemingly meaningless end page.

That barcode on the last page is a tell-tale sign of a “self-published” book, I have been told. This means it’s not legitimate enough for reviewers. So our options are either exacto those pages out (messy and unconvincing) or spend a chunk of up-front money to order a batch from a different printer without that barcode page.

There are many problems with the rules of this game.

First off, that’s more cost, unnecessary cost just to feign an arbitrary rule of legitimacy. Our writers aren’t self-published obviously. But because of the POD printing service we use, we have The Mark. We can’t in good conscience spend more money just to play a game of pretend with reviewers, costs that will be counted against the author’s royalty payment. Lose-lose situation.

Most importantly, the idea that the presence of a barcode on the last blank page is more important than the content contained in the rest of the book is ludicrous. Once again, in music and films, we have come to accept that quality work comes from the independents, the artists unchained from corporations. We are a point where we actually expect the product that released by the majors to be bad.

Yet in literature, where we should be elevating the quality of content over everything else, we have somehow ended up so backwards in our thinking.

It’s about time we change that.


About the author

Chiwan Choi

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Chiwan Choi is the author of two poetry collections, The Flood and Abductions. He is also Co-Founder and Editor of Writ Large Press, a downtown Los Angeles based literary small press.

  • Alex Lane

    Chiwan scores again!! Bravo!!

  • Kathleen Blurock

    Please expand on this. Write it again and again. You know they say in advertising it takes 5 times before it sinks in. Please expand on this point that independent filmmakers and musicians are accepted, but the perception is that self published authors are less than.

    • @chiwanchoi

      in film, we celebrate fimmakers who do it on their own, raising funds on their outside of the studio system to bring their visions to light. the old "he used to make great films before he sold out to the studios…" criticism (Robert Rodriguez with El Mariachi for example)

      in music, right now we're seeing the amazing Cat Power go through bankruptcy because along with her health issues, she financed her current album entirely out of her own pocket because she wanted to maintain artistic integrity. and while we feel bad for what she's going through, we praise her for wanting to put out art untampered and ruined by a big label.

      in publishing, it's the opposite. it's as if you're selling out by doing it on your own. it's as if the little penguin logo on the spine of your book is some sort of stamp of artistic integrity.

      which seems very backwards.

      • Adam Leipzig

        Perfectly put. I'll go even further — when authors go the traditional route, they are giving it away: giving away their control over their work, and giving away a lot of money. The traditional publishing system is so costly that authors get scant royalties, and they still have to do their own marketing (no publishers don't do that for you any more).

        I am coming out with a book in a few weeks for Independent Filmmakers. i decided to publish it though Cultural Weekly Press (it'll be our first book). Why? In addition to the reasons I cited above, a traditional publisher would not have been able to get it out for at least 9 months, and I wanted to get the information to indie filmmakers now.

    • carrie white

      That will change….Oscar Wilde stood on corners with his chapbooks hailing for readers.. :) Notice no more record stores when music changed and book stores will re-invent cos Writers will never stop writing……we are really in the toss up of 52 pick-up and will determine after cards land how to play them. I love Chiwan has all his publishing order in order….. with social media today, we become our own everything if we want and freedom from BIG CORP dependency. Enough "hits and veiws and tweets and FB posts" anyone can get attention, lets hope its for the BETTER writer like Chi than the scuzball trash of well no name s mentioned…. :)

  • carrie white

    YOU are the best………….I love this wrap up: Yet in literature, where we should be elevating the quality of content over everything else, we have somehow ended up so backwards in our thinking.

    It’s about time we change that.