“Self-Published” is not a Dirty Word

By Maeve Maddox

In the old days, publishing companies that catered to writers who were willing to pay to have their books printed were called Vanity Presses.

Family historians aside, writers who paid to publish were assumed to have failed in selling their work to a “real” publisher because it wasn’t good enough, but they were determined to see their words in print anyway; hence the word “vanity.”

This perception has changed along with the publishing industry. Diversity suffered when the little houses were gobbled up by the big ones. Today’s conglomerates are unwilling to buy a book unless they feel it will generate a huge readership. As a result, many books that would appeal to a significant number of readers are rejected because the house doesn’t think they’ll appeal to a large enough audience.

William P. Young’s book is a case in point.

Young’s novel The Shack has been on the NY Times best seller list since June. He wrote the book as a Christmas gift for his family. They passed it around and friends urged him to publish it. One of the friends, Brad Cummings, says that Christian publishers turned it down because it was “too edgy,” and secular publishers turned it down because it was “too Jesus-y.” The book didn’t fit publishers’ guidelines, but it has certainly hit the spot with readers. Sales of The Shack have passed the million mark and show no sign of abating.

Books that sell a million copies, no matter who publishes them, are rare. According to one estimate, a major publisher considers a book a success if it sells 20,000 copies, whereas a smaller publisher might be happy with sales of 7,500 copies.

Writers who make the decision to self-publish need to know what they’re getting into. They’ll have to be managers and marketers as well as writers. They’ll have to watch out for publishing scams that prey on the inexperienced.

Self-publishing isn’t for everyone, but it is valid way to get your book into circulation. At the least, an energetic marketer can expect to cover expenses and earn a modest profit. And there’s always the possibility that the book may grab the attention of a larger public.

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10 Responses to ““Self-Published” is not a Dirty Word”

  • Chris

    We self-published our first book. I’m glad we did. I learned so much. I have such respect for publishers. Look for our next book,”How ToInvest Thousands Publishing Your Own Book And Make Hundreds In Return”.

  • PreciseEdit

    Fortunately, many self-publishing company do offer a menu of services, from assistance with marketing materials to getting books listed on major book buyer databases. However, the author should expect to pay for these services.

    Some self-publishing companies have fairly stringent requirements for the material they will publish, but if a manuscript meets those criteria, they will publish the book. For example, one publisher with whom we have worked requires, at a minimum, that books are professionally edited and proofread. They realize that the quality of the books they publish affects their reputation, and their reputation, especially with book buyers, affects sales.

    Of course, some self-publishing companies are just printers. They will print anything–for a fee.

    Those going the self-publishing route can expect to take on more responsibilities regarding sales, but if the option is no sales at all, the extra effort may be worthwhile.

    Some in-depth research will reveal those self-publishers that help authors publish quality books.

    BTW: Wasn’t War and Peace originally self-published?

  • Lindsay Price

    Self publishing does take more work and more personal responsibility but it can be done and it is valid. Particularly in this age where social media is becoming a viable marketing avenue.

    Our company started out as a self publishing venture and now we’re slowly, slowly growing our outside writers. It’s been exciting, tiring, but thoroughly worthwhile.

  • Bamboo Forest – PunIntended

    Interesting. If one was to self-publish one’s own book, I think a prerequisite would be that they truly believe in the content.

  • Vic

    I published at least five books myself. It was a learning experience. Of course, when you self publish you are thrown into the mix with a lot of unqualified writers as well as others who just don’t want to go through the stress and strain of finding a “real” publisher. The reason self-publishing got a bad name is because bad writers can produce a volume of pure crap that no intelligent reader could wade through if he wanted to. Regular publishers filter out this kind of dribble.

    My latest book, Remember Us: from my shtetl through the Holocaust, a memoir that reads like a novel, was at first self-published and then just picked up by a major publisher, to be re-published this summer.

    In any case, though, you have to be prepared to self-promote and treat the whole thing like your business. Public speaking, press releases, setting up talks, booking yourself on TV and radio and finding speaking venues are all part of the marketing process for a self publisher.

    Self publishing is also a wonderful idea if you have a small business or industry market and you know how to reach them. In this case, perhaps, a publisher may not understand the value in your market, but because you do, you’ve got an automatic readership.

    More than 30 years ago I was graduated with a degree in Journalism, so I know how to write. Then I went into business for myself and learned marketing the hard way. But if you have a grasp of both writing and marketing, you can make a success out of your self-published book.

    Ultimately, though, a writer writes. If you love to write, or even if you struggle with it but it MUST come out, then publication is secondary to the expression.

  • Susan Wenger

    Vic is right: self-publishing can lead to good things, but you really do have to be prepared to work. Make sure your book is ready for prime time (there are editing services that can help you with that), and market the heck out of your book when it’s in print.

    Some tips for marketing your book in a fun way: http://www.wheatmark.com/blog/2008/12/marketing-for-fun-11.cfm

  • Mel Menzies

    You are right to point out that: “Diversity suffered when the little houses were gobbled up by the big ones. Today‚Äôs conglomerates are unwilling to buy a book unless they feel it will generate a huge readership.” My first book was published in 1982 and was quickly followed by others – all with mainstream publishers – plus numerous magazine articles. Eventually, I came to the notice of one of the major publishers and began to be commissioned to write biographies. One of them went on to become a No.4 Bestseller in The Sunday Times.
    Then, for personal reasons, authorship had to take a back seat for some years. When I returned to writing, naturally, I sent my work out to the publishers with whom I had a track record. But, because they wanted me to write the story I had to tell in an autobiographical way, and I wanted to produce it as a novel, they were unwilling to publish.
    So I self-published with a POD company which had been recommended to me. I haven’t regretted one moment. Yes, marketing has been hard work – but when wasvmainstream publishing ever any different? I had to do the rounds of talks and broadcasts then, just as I do now. And all the profits I make go straight to charity.
    Would I do it again? Sure! Would I recommend it? Yes. But only if you’re prepared to have your work scrutinised and polished. And only if you’re prepared to work hard at your craft. Mel Menzies: Author of A Painful Post Mortem, a novel.

  • Maeve

    Mel,
    Thanks for your insights. I’m suffering right now from an unwise publishing decision of my own. I went with what I thought was a “real” publisher who would do most of the work. Instead I’ve had to do as much as if I were self-publishing — without the control and with few of the rewards.

    It’s my own fault for not researching the press more carefully. Caveat Emptor!

  • Susan Wenger

    Maeve,

    I have heard that traditional publishers have been putting more demands on authors these days. Could you go into more detail about your experiences? I’m curious.

  • Laura Lyseight

    I am an author who writes for teens and I recently self-published some of my work. It has been good so far, only I ned to make more sales. I need to find more ways of promoting my books, especially to schools.

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