What is stopping you from publishing your book? You are.
I have self-published two books so far, and I am thrilled about it. With the introduction of eReaders, writers have complete freedom in their craft. You have the ability to post anything online through a blog and various social media, and now you have the socially-accepted ability to publish a book. But that was not always the case.
As recent as 10 years ago, the only way to buy a book was as a printed copy in a brick-and-mortar bookstore. The only way to get your book into those stores was to sign a contract with one of the traditional publishing houses headquartered in New York. These companies controlled physical book distribution, and they didn’t make the process of acceptance easy. Even with well-crafted query letters and strong sample chapters, you still needed a smidgeon of luck that your manuscript found its way to the right editor or agent to believe in you. If you made it through that professional vetting process, then you had the validation of being a “real” writer.
If your work wasn’t good enough to be accepted by the industry, then the only way to get your story to readers was to fake professionalism. You had to print it on your own, with the stigma of “vanity press” trailing your byline. I believe that was a phrase created by publishing houses. If you had to print and peddle your wares yourself, then you weren’t a professional writer. This legitimized publishing houses and enhanced their aura of attraction. Without any sense of quality control or standards, what was there to keep the sludge out? Such a book was an ego trip, and the only sales would come from family and friends.
On a base level, I understand that perception, especially after my experience at a 1998 independent publishing convention in New York City. Unknown authors sat at tables just as if they were at a real book signing, so I figured there must have been some judging or invitation to be there. I came across a hardback book with a colorful cover protected by a clear plastic slipcover. It was a subject I was interested in writing, so I bought it. Anyone who looked good must be good. However, after reading the book, I learned that if you flip to a random page, any page, you will come across a grammatical error, a spelling mistake or a bombing of the F-word. I’m serious.
No wonder people didn’t trust vanity press authors. How could you tell a skilled writer from a sloppy ego trip? Anyone can slap pieces of paper between a sturdy cover; professional-looking photography on the outside doesn’t guarantee that editing and grammatical care was taken on the inside. I fell for that with the college book. For all I know, those writers paid to rent table space, so anyone with money could have been there. Reputable publishers guaranteed those services and more, so you took your chances with independents.
I didn’t have extra cash to toss around just to be labeled a phony. If I wanted legitimacy as a writer, I would have to play the publishing lottery.
Now welcome to the brave new world of indie publishing.
“Vanity press” fades into obscurity as “self-publishing” gains legitimacy through e-pioneers like vampire series author Amanda Hocking , fantasy writer H.P. Mallory and mystery-thriller author J.A. Konrath . Self-publishing is now a viable, accepted method of getting books to readers, especially with the popularity of eReaders.
Self-publishing gives anyone the opportunity to be a Published Author. Young or old, newbie or established, there are no arbitrary opinions guidelines to keep otherwise-successful writers out of the market. There are no external factors in this enterprise. No one is sandwiched into a particular subject matter because new genres are created all the time. Established genres are combined. There is an outlet for niche topics directed at specialized audiences. Story length is not limited to traditional page counts. These fringe elements, un-tested and un-proven as even mildly popular, are things traditional publishers would never touch. But you can.
Anyone can be a fantastic storyteller.
Now we can legitimize ourselves. All writers have egos.
With such ease, there is still that initial concern: how to navigate through the slush to ferret out the gems. Well, how do you do it now? When you walk into a bookstore, what do you gravitate towards? Is it a particular genre, the bestsellers, the sale items or the staff picks? What makes you pick up a book: cover art, the subject material, the title or reviews and recommendations? Online browsing is no different. The book’s “back cover” summary is listed above the reviews. Just like flipping through pages in a store, many writers offer the reader a sample to download and preview. Ultimately, you don’t know how good a book is until you read it, just like any traditionally published book. What is “good” and “bad” is subjective, but now you have more options, authors and books to discover. It is more likely you’ll find a story worth reading, one you’re interested in. This is a good thing. It’s a great thing!
Given that, does a publishing house matter? Nope. Readers do not need publishers for distribution because eBooks are available electronically. I’ve always bought books based on my interest, not the publisher. Quick, without looking it up online, who publishes Stephen King? Dean Koontz? Danielle Steel? Nora Roberts? I find that people are brand-loyal with dishwashers, coffee, laundry detergent, cereal and soda pop, but not books. Think about movies. Have you ever heard anyone say, “Oh, I won’t see that movie because it’s not produced by 20th Century Fox.” ? In fact, it’s an honor to have your film selected for the Cannes International Film Festival. Is that called “vanity filmmaking”? Many unknown filmmakers are introduced there because artistic quality (good storytelling) is the key there, not the big-name directors (best-selling authors) financed by big-name production studios (publishing houses).
Some writers need that perceived validation. Some may not want to be involved in the details of work outside of the actual writing. That’s personal preference. I’m not one of those people. I prefer the creative freedom.
Think about it. You create the cover art you want. You choose your editor, or make the decision not to use one. There are no printing costs outside of any print on demand (POD) because publishing is electronic. You set the price, and you can change that any time and as often as you wish. At this time, royalties are higher than with a traditional publisher so you earn more money. You can upload a story of any genre or any length because today’s readers accept both. You publish on your schedule. You can upload new versions at any time, thus customizing or updating content. All it costs you is your time.
Note the theme above? It’s control.
For all those reasons, I chose to self-publish. Why not? As of this post, I have two books available on Amazon. At short stories that are 21 pages each, no publishing house would waste the ink and dead trees. I don’t blame them, and I don’t fault them, so I took the power and launched them myself.
Remember that ego thing I mentioned earlier?
Does self-publishing my work–the lack of a traditional publisher– make me less of a writer? Does having a book in print make me more of one? I don’t think so, but it’s a fun thing to do.
So far, my self-publishing journey has been a positive one. I hope you’ll follow me along this adventure because this is not the end. I’ll continue to share my experiences. Feel free to share yours in the comments below.
Will I be successful, whatever the definition of “success” is? Would you be? How will you ever know if you don’t try?
Nothing is stopping you but you.