Today's indie author revolution can trace its roots back to the Free Speech Movement that began at U.C. Berkeley forty-seven years ago.
My visit to Berkeley represented a homecoming of sorts for me. My parents were U.C. Berkeley students in the '60s, I was born there in '65, and my mom, who was active in the Free Speech Movement, brought me me along to many of the demonstrations (first in utero and later in a stroller). I returned in '83-'88 for my business degree.
Mario Savio Channels Author Angst
On December 2, 1964, Mario Savio delivered his now-famous "Bodies Upon the Gears" speech on the steps of Sproul Hall. I embedded it below.
I listened to this speech for the first time this weekend as I prepared my ASJA presentation. I was struck by how Savio's feelings of injustice (he was upset at the university administration for limiting free speech on campus) map so closely to the angst so many authors feel today.
Although I've always felt authors should have the right to publish, it wasn't until I watched the video and reviewed the origins of the Free Speech Movement that I fully grokked the connection between book publishing and free speech.
A tweet or a blog post is free speech, but a book -- especially the long form variety -- is about the weightiest form of deep-thinking, deep-expressing free speech possible.
Big publishing is in the business of selling books, not publishing authors. It wasn't always this way, and there remain welcome exceptions among progressive independent publishers and university presses.
Publishers acquire books they think they can sell. They say no to most authors, thereby preventing those authors from expressing themselves through the communications vehicle that is their book.
I don't fault publishers for saying no. After all, it's not their responsibility to enable your free speech rights when they think Donald Trump, Snookie or Justin Bieber have more important things to say.
Until recently, if a publisher refused to publish an author's book, it limited an author's ability to reach readers. Sure, you could self-publish in print, as the great Dan Poynter has advocated for the last 30 years. However, without distribution access to brick and mortar bookstores -- something the big publishers controlled -- it remains nearly impossible for self-published print authors to reach readers.
The indie e-book revolution has changed all this.
Now, the e-book printing press is free and available to all. Indies enjoy the same (or better) distribution opportunities as traditional publishers. Major e-book retailers such at the Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Sony and Kobo are all hungry to carry self-published ebooks. Indies can out-compete the big boys with faster time-to-market and lower prices.
The big publisher gatekeeper-as-curator is being replaced by readers, as it should be.
Say No to No
My challenge to you, the author, is to throw yourself upon the gears of big publishing. Take a stand and say no to those who tell you no.
If your book is finished and ready to stand before the judgment of readers, you have the freedom to get it out there today as a self-published e-book.
The tools for ebook publishing and distribution are fully democratized. Any author, anywhere in the world, can publish instantly and at no cost. All you need is a finished well-written and well-edited manuscript, a word processor, an e-book cover image, an Internet connection, and the desire to have your words heard.