Press releases are rarely exhilirating. A notable exception: one I received this morning for Marty Beckerman's The Heming Way. My excitement had next to nothing to do with the book itself (though the tongue-in-cheek paean to Hemingway as a drunk, womanizing ubermensch could be amusing). No, it was the press release that did it: I read it all the way through.
Beckerman's credentials---two-time author, former features editor for Esquire --- obscured the fact that The Heming Way is self-published. Typically, I don't give self-published books a second glance. Call me old-fashioned, but I have faith in cultural gatekeeping. Not necessarily the holy trinity of the Sunday Book Review / New Yorker / fancy imprint (though that sometimes works), but the kind practiced by any editor when they decide to release any book. Hell, why not? Fact is, there are so many books written and published every year that, when you write about them, it's almost impossible to consider each one. Further, in the last few years, a number of heart-stoppingly great independent presses have emerged to publish quality titles overlooked by the major houses. Even vanguard digital publishing ventures like Byliner and the Atavist rely on the public's predisposition toward hierarchy.
That said, the Beckerman release made me realize what a dinosaur I am. I have no idea if Beckerman attempted to sell his book to a publisher, and I don't really care. A few years ago, The Heming Way (or any other cleverly conceived book by an established writer) could have come out on a major publisher. Just because it retails at the Kindle store for $3.99 doesn't lower its rung on the culture ladder. Digital publishing hasn't only killed traditional publishing models, but the system by which harried book critics evaluate press releases. (God bless those prescient critics who already evaluate everything equally. There is a special place in Heaven for them.)
No, I'm not some 90s throwback or Shirky-ite. I'm in no way arguing for the democratizing gale blow of the mighty Internet (ebooks are hardly egalitarian, but that's another blog post). Rather, I'm just a stodgy late-adopter who's reached an epiphany: thanks to digital publishing, a legitimate writer can self-publish a legitimate book and reach a (semi-) legitimate book critic constitutionally opposed to self-publishing. That means the majordomos of the book review biz are soon to follow. When will Michiko review her first self-published digital exclusive?