February 6, 2014

Self-publishing gets schooled: university offers masters degrees to DIY hopefuls


via Shutterstock

via Shutterstock

As a reality TV superfan/apologist, it’s tempting to visualize applicants to the University of Central Lancashire’s new MA program for self-publishing as reality TV contestants: the logical successors to wannabe singers, models, and hairstylists who don’t realize they’re taking the worst possible route to a dream that won’t come true.

Course leader (and ideal host for future TV show) Debbie Williams adamantly disagrees. In an article in The Guardian, she defends the landmark decision to create the world’s first degree for self-publishing, which begins next fall:

In the last two years, self-publishing has stopped being a dirty word, and is a legitimate option for authors. . . . Everyone has a book in them—and many of us have a manuscript sitting in the drawer, unsure what to do with it. Think of all the literary treasures that have never had the chance to see the light of day because their authors were put off by the traditional publishing model. Our new MA will help guide these individuals through the process to help them realise the dream of seeing their book in print.

She may very well be right. In an effort to hush the haters (“Don’t self-publish. That’s as good as admitting you’re too lazy to do the hard work,” hates Sue Grafton), the university served up statistics from Bowker stating that the number of titles self-published in the U.S. has increased 59% since 2011, and a whopping 422% since 2007. And, perhaps more importantly, Williams notes that the idea for the course was fueled entirely by student demand. Of course, the fact that more self-titled books are being published doesn’t necessarily mean the marketplace is healthier today than it was in 2007.

The program will consist of modules focusing on various aspects of self-publishing, such as marketing and production, explored through “a mix of lectures seminars and workshops, featuring expert industry speakers.” There’s no word yet on grading methodology, but it’d be particularly fun (and motivating!) if students’ final grades were listed as pass or fail based solely on whether they can get their book published.

Indeed, the program does not guarantee publishing success by any stretch of the imagination, or even a fun waste of time, but it does guarantee practice—practice in the skills required to get your book into the world, and, at the very least, practice investing money in a venture that will not bear fruit.