Publishing your work
Kathryn Lambert, October 2007
Self publishing is not a new phenomenon. It is the publishing of all media by the author/artists of those works rather than by established, third party publishers. Although self publishing has been around since the beginning of publishing , it has seen a huge increase in activity with the advancement of publishing technology and the World Wide Web.
The roots of self-publishing lie in social protest and freedom of speech (1993, Kritzinger). Self-publishing, known in the Middle Ages as unlicensed printing, was incredibly risky bussiness, sometimes even punishable by death. What should and should not be made public in printing was strictly controlled by Church and state. A striking historical example of self-publishing is John Miltons Areogapitica (1644) speech on unlicensed printing, published at the height of the English civil war .
First page of Areopagitica, by John Milton, 1644
Self-publishing is a powerful and essential tool for artists working in the 21st century that can offer a wealth of creative and professional possibilities.
Self publishing is possible both on and off line using desktop, print and electronic publishing. There are a number of reasons that an artist may choose to self publish, ranging from getting your work seen and heard by as broad and new an audience as possible, to harnessing the creative potential inherent in publishing itself.
There are huge opportunities for artists to use self publishing to attract exhibition, purchasing and publishing interest from galleries, festivals, organisations, publishers and collectors. A website for example, can simply act as a calling card for interested people to find out more about your work and get in touch. Or alternatively, can be used to make a strong public statement.
Essentially, electronic forms of self publishing follow radically new models of distribution and consumption by eliminating third party publishers or gatekeepers. Therefore, it can offer artists the ability to act with greater entrepreneurialism and independence by limiting restrictions set out by publishers and galleries and will not only help eliminating potential issues of censorship but will also allow you to directly target specialist audiences and markets for your work. However, this mass marketplace creates new difficulties in achieving an impact with your work as self publishing is now so easy that it is difficult to reach end users and achieve a dent in the marketplace or 'hits' to your work.
One of the most powerful possibilities of electronic publishing is the interactive capability of the internet, that will help you build your regional, national and international networks through a wide range of ever increasing social networking sites and other online collaborative possibilities such as the tools mentioned in the chapter “Working with others”. These ever increasing tools provide platforms for receiving both peer review and audience feedback for your work which has been so difficult to achieve in more traditional forms of publishing, presentation and distribution.
There are also possibilities for you, the author or artist, to retain greater control over how your work is experienced. Although there are some direct challenges for artists to ensure an end user has the experience of their work that was originally envisioned, self publishing does eliminate the need to work within the constraints of a publisher's or gallery's editorial or curatorial control.
In addition to the issue of control, many artists or authors may choose to self publish as it is far cheaper than traditional publishing methods and you can also scale production to an audience or consumers demand. For example, Print On Demand publishing (POD), a digital printing technology employed by publishers to print a book after receipt of order limits wastage of print and makes small scale book publishing affordable.
There are many artists working online who are interested in directly challenging and harnessing the creative potential of self publishing and exploiting this new model of engagement in a more direct conversation with audiences. For example in the Autumn of 2006 artist duo Human Beans established 'What's Cooking Grandma' , a series of films documenting grandmas cooking their favourite recipes that played with notions of brand, product placement and market need.
However, in the age of digital media, although a whole new set of possibilities have flooded the domain of self publishing, this has also brought about an increased set of challenges for artists to face. For example, limitations of control in terms of ensuring appropriate and quality end user experience and the variety of implications of intellectual property, copyright and plagiarism that need to be considered in this domain.
Limitations of streaming and sharing content can also prove problematic when dealing with varying access to bandwith and choosing your optimum publishing formats. Choosing a format is difficult because of the lack of standards in some parts of this domain, or the refusal of certain software companies to comply with those standards, as for example standards regarding CSS . When you choose FLOSS publishing formats to share your work there is a great need to educate your audience about the differing formats one can use and also the value and impact of using them. The dominance of certain non-free formats is limiting the freedom of both artists and audience. This can only be changed by growing numbers of people choosing free and open formats to publish their work. For example, when working with embedded video, using Flash is the only way to reach a large audience at this moment. Free solutions are on the way though. Flash video from ffmpeg  and Gnash  the GNU Flash Player could provide free alternatives in the very near future.
Another key area of online publishing that needs new consideration is tackling interpretation online through text, spoken word, moving image and a range of rich possibilities that can be explored. Artists are well placed to maximise the potential of new forms of electronic interpretation in a variety of interesting ways. There are also challenges of monitoring impact that artists will need to explore further to monitor the success of their publishing endeavours.
Although there are challenges to navigate, the opportunities often far outweigh the difficulties and can have real impact on your practice, profile and professional development.
 Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) is a simple language for adding style (e.g. fonts, colors, spacing) to Web documents written in HTML or XHTML
 Kritzinger, A., 1993. Self-publishing: An honourable history, a new dynamism and a bright future. Logos: Journal of the World Book Community, 4/1, 21-25
 Areogapitica: A speech for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing to the Parliament of England, is a text by John Milton, published November 23, 1644. Milton published his text in the form of a pamphlet, defying the same publication censorship he argued against.
 First page of Areopagitica, by John Milton, 1644. This image is in the public domain.