I know someone who has self-published a book, which was kind of a pet project of the author’s. It’s not a bad book, but it’s rather odd in some ways, and it’s easy for me to see why the author couldn’t find a publisher. And lots of people in the book business don’t think much of self-publishing. Robert Sawyer(unfortunately, I can’t seem to find the link in my blog) thinks it’s a terrible idea, and told one aspiring writer that in so many words. My recollection is, that he essentially told the would- be author to “trash” that book and write a lot of short stories. Personally, I thought this was a bit harsh, but there is still an attitude in the book business, that self-published books are badly written “vanity” pieces
On the other hand, I was at a wedding a couple of years ago, and one of the relatives – the groom’s family – I don’t know how this guy was related – got me in a conversation about my writing. He kept trying to “sell” me on self-publishing. I was leery at the time, and still am, somewhat, but at that stage, I was not about to try to peddle a “half-baked” Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece With Neandertals, in any form! Besides which, if you self-publish, everything falls on you! This includes marketing and distributing the thing, which many writers simply do not have a talent for. So I held firm and essentially, after I got back from the wedding, which was out of town, I went back to writing.
On the other hand, there is an interesting article about self-publishing in the current Time Magazine, which told several stories about authors who “did everything right”: they wrote the proper queries, carefully submitted their works to as many agents as they could, in the genres they were writing, and still remained unpublished. One of them simply got frustrated, plunked down $450 or some similar amount, and got her book published. She then peddled it around herself, and a few people, including some agent, picked it up. The end result was, the agent liked what he or she saw, picked it up, and it was published by a respectable publishing house.
I don’t know exactly what to make of this, since most authors don’t sell that many books anyway, published or not. Some get their start, for instance, by writing books that sell only to libraries. I’ve read some of these, and the writing is decent, but they are awfully short and sweet. But on the other hand, perhaps that’s all a lot of library patrons want. And the author can then say, somewhere down the line, “Yes, I’ve published (insert title) and so-and-so liked it”. Which can add to the person’s writing credibility. Unfortunately, unless the agent is fairly open, if it’s self-published, the old attitudes may persist.
I think the Time Magazine article is right about one thing, though. And that is, that the nature of reading, and publishing, is changing considerably. The reason for this is partly economic – though not the reasons the author of the article has listed, I think. The author of the article accuses publishing houses of being kind of uneconomical and old-fashioned about the way they do business with writers, but in fact, one problem writers have, is that book publishing, while always interested in making money by selling books, used to be fairly “writer-friendly”. If you had any degree of writing talent at all, they would nurture you, and you would stay “midlist” for a while, but if you were lucky, gain a following through word of mouth and the like. But in the last twenty years or so(if not longer), publishing houses have become increasingly “bottom line” oriented; they are looking for the next blockbuster of a book – a Da Vinci Code or Harry Potter to carry them to the next profit margin. But in these tight economic times, people may be less likely to actually buy a book that costs nearly $30.00, especially when they may be able to get it out of the local library system(which I actually encourage, for many books, because I’m a huge supporter of libraries), or trade it with some friend, or get it second-hand. And that’s hard on authors, too. This is something the author actually pointed out, in the article. Furthermore, once you pay the fee for Kindle, which is becoming increasingly popular, and again, I can see why, because I’m acquainted with a lady who actually owns one, it is far cheaper to download some book onto a Kindle and read it that way. So people may actually end up being less reliant on bookstore chains like Barnes & Noble or Borders(which is rumored to be in considerable financial trouble anyway), and more so on Kindle-like devices. And, in turn, this may allow a lot of authors to simply put a book on file and have it carried by Amazon.com and sold to anyone who is interested, without intermediaries. There would probably be some fee or percentage of sales going to whoever carries these electronic books, but it is likely that an author would get a larger share of any profits. Which, of course is nice for writers, sine few of them make a whole lot of money.
In the end, I think the article may well be right, that this is the future of book publishing. But at the present, it seems to me that everything is still in a state of flux, and it will take some time before things in the book publishing business to settle into any new pattern. So should an author self publish? I have mixed feelings. I would say, “It depends”. . . .