By Joe Moore
My Kill Zone blogmates and I are all professionally published mystery and thriller authors. You can visit your favorite bookstore to find and purchase our novels. We have agents that represent us on a commission basis and publishers that pay us advances and royalties based on our sales. We all have multiple books published. There are literary award winners in this group. Many of us have been on bestseller lists. If anyone asks us what we do for a living, without hesitation, we declare that we are writers. If you’re a writer and you want to get published, in general you have to follow the same accepted publishing business model that we did.
But it’s not the only way to wind up holding your published book in your hands. There’s always the method called self publishing or subsidy press. And getting published in this manner is a subject that comes up often in writing forums, especially with new writers. So I thought I’d use up a few inches of blog space today to comment on the virtues and evils of self publishing.
First the evils.
In general, the world of self publishing is fed by desperation. Someone writes a book, sends out dozens if not hundreds of query letters to agents and editors with no takers. At some point, out of desperation, the writer decides to give up on the normal channels and turn to self publishing his book. He finds that there are many self publishing companies out there with beautiful websites, exquisitely designed brochures, hard-to-turn-down promises, amazing testimonials, somewhat reasonably priced publishing “packages”, and a way to put him on a fast track to finally holding that precious book in his hands. When asked why he is going the self publishing route, he brings up examples of books that were originally self published but went on to become huge international bestsellers such as THE SHACK and THE CELESTINE PROPHECY. If it could happen to those authors, it could happen to him.
But the bottom line is that when a writer turns to self publishing, it’s usually out of desperation. He’s impatient and misguided, but mostly desperate. These are not the qualities of a successful author. And in most cases, the result will be a disappointed writer with a garage full of boxes of books no one wants. Here are some reasons why.
- Self publishing comes with a stigma, deserved or not, that the author could not get published in the traditional manner and therefore the book probably sucks. Self publishing usually means weak, unsalable writing. Some people call these type of publishers vanity press because they prey on the vanity of the writer.
- One of the mainstays of promoting sales is to get your book reviewed by publications such as newspapers and magazines. A self-published book has virtually no chance of being reviewed by Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Kirkus, the New York Times book review, USA Today, and similar publications.
- You will not get your self-published book into national distribution channels, and therefore booksellers will not be able to order it.
- Booksellers must have the option of returning unsold copies of a book for credit. That is normally not an option with subsidy publishing.
- Pricing is almost always higher with self-published books and cuts into the discount expected by the bookseller. This discourages them from stocking your book even on a local level.
- The quality of production, editing, printing, and artwork is usually sub-standard. Most self-published book covers are laughable and amateurish.
- Self publishing companies can and usually charge for just about all phases of the process including cover art, copyright registration, purchase of ISBN number, etc. Writers never pay for these or any charges with normal publishing channels.
- Despite those rare self-publishing rags-to-riches stories, you aren’t going to sell many books. Once you get past your immediate family and circle of friends, you can expect the numbers to be in the tens, not tens of thousands. Most self-published authors sell 40-100 copies. The rest of the books will wind up in a self storage rental unit to collect dust and grow mildew.
So what are the virtues of self publishing?
The best candidate for self publishing is an author who writes a non-fiction work with limited market interest or appeal. These can include cook books created for church or school fund raising, a family history to be distributed exclusively to a particular family, local or regional historical guides, and supplemental books that accompany a live presentation or motivational program. These are usually sold on the spot at a particular event.
These type of books and others like them may very well be worth publishing, but the number of potential sales are so small and the marketing potential is so limited, that they would not be attractive to a traditional publisher.
There are other reasons to self publish, but they are almost always restricted to a small group or area of interest, and are usually works of non-fiction. Self-published novels rarely earn back the writers investment.
If you’ve written a novel and so far haven’t had any luck getting it published, don’t give up. Persistence is the key, not desperation. If it’s on the page and between the lines, it’ll rise to the top and find a real home at a real publisher. And look at how much you’ll save on self storage costs.
Any experiences out there with self publishing? Can you think of more evils or virtues?
Coming up on our Kill Zone Guest Sundays, watch for blogs from Philippa Martin, Eric Stone, Tim Maleeny, Oline Cogdill, Alexandra Sokoloff, James Scott Bell, and more.