Ben Heckmann is much like any other aspiring writer. He had an idea he loved, wrote about it and got published.
Except Ben Heckmann is in the eighth grade, and his parents paid $400 to publish his two books about a fictional rock band.
The Sunday New York Times published an article titled “Young Writers Dazzle Publisher (Mom and Dad)” subtly criticizing a new trend: self-publishing by parents for their children.
But this criticism is unwarranted and misplaced. What’s more important is the good that this trend represents — open access and opportunity — as well as well as the bad: a growing culture of vanity.
The New York Times frames this story as any elite traditional institution would. It demeans Heckmann as nothing more than a 14-year-old aspiring writer and belittles the fame his books have garnered, along with the message he took away from self-publication.
“You can basically do anything if you put your mind to it,” Heckmann said.
Many famous writers and established publishing professionals were quoted in response.
“What’s next?” novelist Tom Robbins said. “Kiddie architects, juvenile dentists, 11-year-old rocket scientists? Any parent who thinks that the crafting of engrossing, meaningful, publishable fiction requires less talent and experience than designing a house, extracting a wisdom tooth or supervising a lunar probe is, frankly, delusional.”
If Robbins thinks that Heckmann’s parents, or anyone’s parents, are publishing their children’s work because they think their children are his professional equivalents, he’s delusional.
If children have their books published, it is not the end of the world. It doesn’t mean that the quality or integrity of the publishing and writing world is on the decline.
The larger trend at hand has both good and bad aspects to it, but the bad is nowhere near what Robbins points to.
Self-publishing allows college students like us to chase our dreams much sooner than members of older generations could. It is slowly tearing down traditional walls that have long been a part of many professional worlds — especially those that revolve around writing, such as publishing and journalism.
Self-publishing, however, is also an indication of a vain culture, one that is so inundated with access and sharing that access is often assumed, and sharing results in sensory overload.
The generation below ours is even more digital than we are. The obsession we have today with all things online and the expectation of the possibilities the Internet will grant us is only going to grow.
I know we hear it all the time, but it’s true: We are the digital generation — of Facebook, of smartphones and of social media revolutions.
Self-publication is an incarnation of our age, and one of which we should be both proud and wary.
Elena Kadvany is a senior majoring in Spanish.