Now, I’m fairly certain Athanasius of Alexandria didn’t have access to CreateSpace, or even an Amazon Prime account.He did write the classic Life of Antony (or Anthony), which I took the opportunity to read recently.I’m not going to go into this life with great detail—Athanasius does that, in as far as he can—but the reading of this book raised the perils not only of demons but of easy self-publication.As usual, there’s a story behind it.Antony was famous for being an early monk who fought demons so effectively that they feared him.His story wasn’t written in English, seeing that the language had not yet evolved.When I tried to find an affordable copy that I could access quickly, I found the edition pictured here.It was fairly obviously a conversion, likely from a PDF (based on my own so doing, in the line of duty).A minimal cover was applied and it was offered cheaply on said Amazon (with free shipping).
Those who work in publishing know how to spot a print-on-demand title.That means the book is printed when it’s ordered, or, printed a few copies at a time so that the overhead of offset printing (how books were traditionally made) can be avoided.Self-publishers can name themselves a press—this one Beloved Publishing—and anything in the public domain can be reproduced and sold to rubes like me.When a scholar, erstwhile or while, approaches a book s/he wants to know certain facts about it.Who was the translator?What was the original language?When was it written?Who was (in this case) Athanasius?Some of this I knew simply by dint of studying ancient texts for most of my adult life and having attended and taught in seminaries.Still, an introduction of some sort would have been appreciated.
This edition appealed to me because the Life on Antony is a short book.Most mainstream publishers bulk books like these up with hefty introductions and notes and charge four times as much for it.They usually put in other works too, since this one weighs in at less than a hundred pages, even with loose typesetting.Sometimes you just want the contents, with minimal introduction.So let it be with Antony.Or so I thought.This edition, which has a few quirks, contained Athanasius in English, which is what I needed.The translator remains unknown.It is print-on-demand.It is also affordable.In case any readers of this blog wonder why I sometimes tend not to engage with the contents of the books I review, I would point out that this is what my own books are for. A guy has to try to make a buck somehow, now and again.(Antony forgive me!)
I have to confess that the easy self-publishing of ebooks is a real temptation sometimes. Perhaps it’s one of those inexplicable side-effects of earning a Ph.D., but sometimes you have the impression you have something to say and traditional publishers just don’t agree. In my work life I see many clever ideas that, well, let’s be frank, just won’t sell. Publishers do have to keep an eye on whether a book can earn back the money put into it, and sometimes a good idea leads to no cash payout. So when you can easily sign up online—you don’t even have to talk to anyone—and post your unedited words right on Amazon and call it a book, well, anyone can be an author. So I was looking up books with the terms “Bible” and “America” on Amazon when I came up with Donald Trump in the Bible Code. I found the self-designed cover frightening, and the sentiments expressed in the description grounds for terror. Then I noticed it was only 15 pages long. I’ve written student evaluations that were longer than that.
At three bucks, that’s—wait while I get my calculator—twenty cents a page. Now anyone who’s been able to read the original Bible Code and not cover a snicker or two will possibly find such a jeremiad palatable. After all, it’s a book! Somebody published it. Well, actually, all you need for self-publishing is an internet connection and at least one finger to type and click. Or a toe. You too can become an expert! No education required. Publishing fiction in such a format is one thing, but when people can’t tell a prestige publisher from a vanity press when it comes to factual material, we’re all in trouble.
There’s an old saying: “those who can’t do, teach.” I think I first came across this wisdom in a Peanuts cartoon, with all the gravitas that such implies. Editors, it seems, are not required for publishing. In fact, some of us who live by the word seem destined to die by the word. Even with connections I have trouble getting my ideas published. More than once I’ve lingered on Amazon’s CreateSpace page with my finger hovering over the mouse. Publication is one click away and some people make six digits a year publishing only on Amazon. Since I produce about 145,000 words a year on this blog alone (apart from my other writing), the urge is very strong at times. Then I look at that cover and I stay my finger as it hovers. I’ll wait a little longer. At least until November.