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.