Originally posted on November 19, 2012 at 12:30 PM

The other day a friend of mine told me that a guy at work had come running out of his office saying “I’ve been published!” my friend added that this guy is a real doofus and he is a chemical engineer. I found this quite surprising as all engineers are cool in one way or another though obviously, some engineers are cooler than others. My friend confirmed that this guy was both an engineer and a doofus. When asked what he meant when claiming to be published this individual said “I’ve written a blog and people are responding to it. I’ve been published!”

I guess most of us wouldn’t count ourselves as published authors on the mere basis of having a blog but think how amazing the whole process of E-mailing itself let alone websites and blogging would have been to Ben Franklin, Will Caxton or even Ernest Hemingway. When I was in college way back there in the Dark Ages, a Communications History prof I had asked us to try to define what constituted publication. Did handing out Xeroxed copies of ones work on the street corner constitute publishing? Certainly many well-known ballads still sung to day were originally handed out as broadsheets in London, Dublin or elsewhere, sold for a penny or a mug of ale. How much greater is the potential circulation of a piece of writing when submitted to electronic channels such as this one?

In a never published (never edited actually) science fiction novel I wrote in high school I predicted that sometime in the 21st Century publishing as we had known it would cease to exist. People would submit articles, stories, books to a “Computer bank” Readers would search the bank using robotic programs which would match reader’s interest with selections available and would pay a modest price for items received. Editting would largely be a thing of the past in the sense that nobody would gate-keep anyone else’s access to publication. Anyone could do it.

Contrast this with the process still very much alive today, of submission, acceptance or rejection, agent contracts and all the rest that discourages so many people who might at some other time made reasonably good writers. And yes I have published a fair amount under that paradigm, not so much as I would have liked surely but a respectable smattering. The problem I have with the editor/agent/publication company conspiracy is while the outcome of these processes should offer some confidence of quality output to the bookstore, much of what gets published is rubbish. Other things are going on besides critiquing and wordsmithing. In general though, the process tends to reach more people than those of us with blogs or Xerox machines tend to reach on our own.

When I was growing up if one claimed to be published someone would pretty quickly ask if we were paid for the publication and as before, yes I have been. I’ve also sold an article that so far as I know, was never printed so being paid isn’t the only condition necessary for publication. Is it then the number of people reached which makes the difference between being published or not? A single copy of the Fax or laser printer wouldn’t qualify as publication otherwise anyone who writes a letter is publishing.

Perhaps we can take an analogy from the world of insurance sales. During a brief stint I did as an life insurance agent I was told that I could only sell a certain percentage of policies to friends and relatives, meaning I was expected to make contacts I didn’t previously possess in order to close sales. I think this perhaps is the key to publication. Are we reaching readers who are not included among our day to day circle of friends and relations, people we might engage with some frequency in conversation oral, written or electronic? Are people we’ve never met likely to see our work.

Under this definition our Doofus friend (remember him?) might very well have been published. If he could find a way to get someone to buy some of his material as an electronic download then so much to better but I don’t think being paid for one’s work is necessary for publication I think it is that process of striking out and creating new subscribers that is the key. When I give a copy of a bound book or an article to a friend or chance acquaintance I like to tell them “It you don’t want to read it, pass it along to someone else. If you don’t like it then give it to someone you don’t like. Publish it for me.”