The timeline of independent publishing’s history is more divergent than straightforward. Independent publishing fills a void in the larger literary landscape by providing services similar to those provided by traditional publishers, but in new and inventive ways.
Independent publishing also gained a new form with the birth of the digital space. The non-physical form allowed for a number of significant benefits, including a faster turnaround time, a more connected environment for remote writers, and, most notably, the use of various sorts of new media. These not only gave more creative freedom, but more importantly provided a much wider and invaluable platform for publishers to reach their audience and vice versa.
Truly, independent publishing has reached new heights, and with the advent of newer technology, can go even higher. For the third day of INDIEPUBCON 2021, independent writers and publishers convened to discuss the transition from indie writing to publishing, and the rise of the digital space in indie.
Creating Spaces Through Publishing
Guest speakers Edgar Samar (Palanca award-winning author of the Janus Silang books) and Katrina Olan (local bestselling indie author of Tablay) discuss how they started their publishing careers by being writers. Kat Olan shares: “My dream as a writer began at 7-8 years old. I started writing on bond paper, stationeries or prescription pads! I started writing novellas at 12-15 years old. It was a way to escape the worl. I started to become an indie writer at 14-15 with Skies Above. As you grow older, your worldview changes and it also affects your writing.”
Meanwhile, Edgar Samar also shares a similar story of how he got started in the craft. “Noong bata ako, interesado na akong magsulat talaga. Mayroon kaming sari-sari store, nagsusulat ako sa likod ng palara at notebook. My earliest access to comics is Liwayway magazine around late eighties to early nineties. It is very clear ealy on what I want to be: I want to be a writer.”
For both Kat and Egay, the idea to delve into publishing started when they both gained success and recognition for their writing. For Kat, she realized that she can be a writer when she got buzz from social media. “The story lives beyond you. It is when you hear that people start to talk about it in other circles outside of your friends and family, like twitter and IG. I’m so amazed that complete strangers would advocate for the story.”
For Egay, winning contests was the route. “Siguro swerte ako sa literary compositions. Malaki ang element ng luck so hindi siya end all and necessary sa literary path. Important breakthrough is Walong Diwata ng Pagkahulog. Special sa’kin yung first novel kasi wala pa ako kinakatakutan at pinapatunayan pa kaya nagawa ko lahat ng gusto kong gawin sa nobela.”
Turning Rejection to Opportunity
Like all good stories, both Kat and Egay turned rejections and failure into opportunities. For Kat, getting rejected several times made her decide that she needs to publish on her own. “It took a lot of work to familiarize the operational side of it, since you are not privileged to have your own social media, marketing and events planner so you have to work multiple hats. I also funded every single book I sold. I realized I have the power to build my own future and I don’t have to be reliant on big publishers. Yes it will take a lot of your own time, but you have full control of everything. In the end, you need to believe in the story that you write. You make it and break it because of your own efforts.”
Egay shared his own story of self-publishing and how he did everything from scratch just to publish and also help others get published. “Around 2014, I started with my 2 former students with the idea of publishing Filipino novelists. Ang roots ko talaga ay novel as literary form so I’m interested na makatulong sa publication ng iba pa. Nakakapagod since last 2014 wala pang online sites like Shopee or Lazada. Gusto ko makatulong sa decent compensation sa lahat ng involved sa publication process. Interesado ako sa publishing hindi lang dahil sa panitikan kundi dahil gusto ko makatulong sa production and distribution ng writings ng iba. Kagaya nga ng lagi kong sinasabi, kung di man ako makakapagsulat, kaya ko naman maging masaya ng nagbabasa.”
Overall, both panelists mentioned that while going down the indie route for publishing, takes a lot of work and dedication, it is worth it if not just to give a platform and voice to those without the opportunity to read or be published.
The Physical and Digital Publishing Spaces
It is clear from the rise of digital publishing that it is here to stay. However, it does not mean that traditional physical publishing will go out of style. Both spaces are important and serve different but equally important purposes.
Ronaldo Vivo Jr. of UNGAZ Press discussed how the digital space made way for newer forms of literature especially during the pandemic. “Pandemic became a catalyst in finding new ways to publish and interact with the audience. Online is more transactional but it also mandates that creators become more creative in interacting with audiences or readers. Memes, video content, vlogging, IG live, ask me anything etc. platforms that create for free and challenge the model of traditional publishing. It democratizes publishing in general.” Furthermore, he adds that social media and online platforms help greatly with marketing the publication as a business.
“Malaki ang role ng online and social media platforms sa pagtitinda ng libro. Mas madaling naabot ang mga mambabasang nasa malayo at mga mambabasang naghahanap ng alternatiboing babasahin. Madali na ang acess sa mga librong usually wala sa bookstores.”
Kate Velez of LitArt Hub Publishing also agrees that going online makes it easier for publishers to reach an audience, and actually makes it more convenient for them to consume content. “We also have to think about the convenience and accessibility of posting online. We can just save stories, and the advantage is it serves those with short attention spans. Stories online are usually short, something you can read while you are on break at work or while commuting.”
On Digital Humanities
The transition of the digital publishing space started with the digital age and the proliferation of the internet. We can now publish words online. With the advent of digital publishing, the definition of literature became more varied. With traditional publishing, the definition of literature is only print. Now, we have podcasts, videos and audiobooks. It gives us more publishers more creativity and more freedom.
The importance of digital publishing’s contribution to the overall state of digital humanities is understated. According to Maria Kristelle Jimenez, Rebo Press founder, “We lack the resources to create physical events due to the pandemic. With the rise of technological advancements, we need to expand our digital humanities side so we can keep up with traditional publishing. While Rebo Press started as a physical firm, it slowly adapted to the needs of consumers and the need to provide literature to its readers.” This is echoed by moderator Marius Carlos Jr., who gave a more in-depth explanation of digital humanities:
“Digital humanities is a defining feature of the time. The things we consume online are also subject to this study. Digital humanities is the organic growth and systematic studies of these online. We not only look at the content and form, but also the format. It can be published anywhere and in many different forms depending sa tools na ginagamit. The common thread is it is all mediated by technology. Independent publishing creates different avenues for digital humanities.”
Vox Senior Contributor Elisha Aguinaldo also opines the same: “Digital humanities is the digitalization of traditional humanities. It is like the digitization of what we can see in a library: archives, mga journal at libro. Importante ito dahil mas mare-recognize tayo kapag sa digital tayo mag-publish. Mas madami makakabasa sa isang literary piece.” Meanwhile, According to Vox Features Editor, Micah Salonoy states that digital humanities actually helps in the free proliferation of knowledge, especially when it comes to research:
“I was under the special sciences curriculum and we needed to research. We relied a lot on journals and articles we see on the internet. We eventually got an idea where to find free journals. I am part of the first batch that graduated online because of the pandemic, so it is a big help especially since we cannot get books in the physical library.”
The demarcation of physical and digital publishing has its own advantages and disadvantages. According to Micah: “When I got to Vox, I’m no longer in physical publishing. The biggest shift and adjustment is there is a wider audience. For instance, as compared to campus journalism that can only be read in school and whose topics only revolve about the school, digital publishing is much more open to different topics and a different environment.” Vox Senior Contributor Elisha Aguinaldo also suggests the same:
“Hindi po ako ganoon ka-experienced sa physical publishing, and as compared to digital, mas matagal yung process. Now sa digital, mas mabilis. I can upload sa internet and mababasa ko siya agad. Mas madali po in a way yung digital publishing kasi mas madali siya i-revise and publish. However, may disadvantages din siya kasi kapag lagi akong nasa screen, mas nali-limit yung nakikita ko at pwede kong isulat as compared kapag lumalabas.”
Melding physical and digital spaces
Ultimately, the future of indie publishing is the coexistence of the physical and digital spaces. When asked about the possibility of this happening soon, Kristelle was not too optimistic. “We still have a long way to go with digitalization and accessibility of text. The Filipinos are the most engaged with social media but we are also the ones with the poorest internet connection. To make readings more accessible, we need to reintroduce reading. Nagkakaroon agad ng barrier, tulad ng gatekeeping, copyrighting; nalilimitahan nito ang paglaganap ng teksto. Kailangan natin magkaroon ng mas mainam na distribution. Physical and digital humanities must combine and work together to provide opportunities for people in general.
Kristelle however championed that she has so far succeeded in creating this mixed space with founding both Rebo Press and Vox Populi PH. “Rebo Press and Vox Populi PH work together in combining the physical and digital space. Hopefully, maipasa ang model na ito sa other communities and other schools. Kaunti lang tayong manunulat, marami tayo kailangang pagsilbihang mambabasa, at kung mas mapapalawig pa natin ang espasyo, it will help us na mapabuti ang sistema at maibalik ang kultura ng pagbabasa at pag-iisip ng mga Pilipino.”
Finally, when asked about what advice she has for those in traditional physical publishing who want to delve into the world of digital publishing, Kristelle mentioned that they need to be prepared for new learning and gaining completely new skills. “Your writing will go places when you post online. But if it is not doable for you, especially with the necessity of maintaining and creating platforms like blogs, using WordPress and social media accounts, the best thing is to submit to different publications. You just need to understand that publications also have different standards. If you don’t want to compromise with this, you will need to create your own space, but you will need to shoulder it on your own.”
All in all, the key takeaways for the discussion is that digital publishing evolved from the rise of the internet and online word processing. Digital and physical publishing work together and serve different functions. Lastly, digital publishing space is here to stay, and as writers and publishers, evolving in the community means embracing these developments.