Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Self Publishing - A Step Towards Success or a Cry of Desperation?

As I said in my last post, the book industry is in transition.  The hard part about things that are in transition is in figuring out which direction they'll choose when all is said and done.  Unfortunately, my crystal ball is in the shop, and I've proven remarkably bad in the past at making predictions without it.

The latest trend has been towards self publishing - you know, forgoing all that nasty agent and publishing house stuff and putting your stuff out on the market yourself.  I must admit that when you've stared down the barrel of two dozen rejections, taking such a path is tempting.  However, it's also very risky.

There are about 250,000 titles published in the US each year through traditional publishers.  However, there are nearly 750,000 self published titles available.  In the past, these were little vanity adventures where the author would be lucky to sell a 50 copies, usually to close friends and family.  Anyone who self published that wanted to one day get famous as a writer, rarely, if ever, brought up their attempts at self publishing because it was assumed that you only went that route if you sucked.  Reputations have been destroyed this way, so most who self published did so in the knowledge they would never go anywhere.

In the past five years or so, however, that line of thinking has changed.  With the Internet and the advent of e-books, self publishing and then reaching an audience has become even easier.  I can think of two books off the top of my head that were self published and have done great:  The Shack and Mentally Incontinent.

The Shack by William Paul Young is about a guy who loses his daughter to a psychotic child killer and finds God in the grieving process.  Young wrote the story with no intention of publishing it, but interest from his family led him to try.  However, no one would give him a hearing, so he maxed out several credit cards and eventually made the New York Times Best Seller List.  There are over 7 million copies in print now, and there's even talk about a movie.

Joe Peacock wrote a bunch of humorous stories about his extraordinary life on the Internet and decided to publish Mentally Incontinent as a result.  It was extremely successful, and even led to a second book with a traditional publisher, Penguin.  However, Peacock decided that the level of control he relinquished in the process made the juice not worth the squeeze, so his new book, which should be published by the end of March, is self published(and I wait with baited breath for my autographed copy).

These guys are the exception to the rule, but then isn't any successful author an exception?  With self publishing, you have to take full control of marketing, signings, distribution, etc, but unless your last name is King or Turtledove, don't most writers have to take on the bulk of the burden for marketing their work?

I have looked into the self publishing route, but I'm not there yet.  I might be in a few years, because my stuff will be in print, but I want to see if I can get traditionally published first.  However, as more and more folks turn down my work based on a query letter rather than the actual novel, the self publishing option becomes more attractive.  And with the major publishing houses losing control of authors and their work, it could be the way things are going to be done.

If the train is pulling out of the station, maybe I should climb aboard.  I haven't jumped on yet, but I'm staring hungrily at the tracks...


  1. Hey Russ. I think those that self publish are courageous rather than desperate. Getting main streamed published is a tough and uncertain road. I think it also had a lot to do with luck & timing. There is a huge network of awesome Indie writers and readers out there.

    I'm also striving for mainstream publishing with my novel but will most certainly go to Indie if that doesn't happen. One thing I won't do though is give up!

    Either way I'm now published becasue I'm writing posts for my blog.... so we are both self publishing for now!

  2. Kevin - you're absolutely right that luck and timing are key. Self publishing is now more available and part of what is squeezing the traditional industry. I won't do it while in my current position, but it might be an option in a couple of years, if for no other reason than to get the thrill of holding a copy of my own book.

    My next post will be about blogging itself, so keep an eye out. ;-)