Sunday, May 02, 2010

The Good News About Self-Publishing

Book publishing is simply becoming self-publishing
says Virginia Heffernan in The New York Times, making the point that the stigma once attached to this method of getting your work out into the world has largely dissipated.  Not only are numbers of self-published books up (2009 was 181% over 2008), but self-published books are acquiring a certain cachet.  Heffernan quotes IndieReader, an online source for self-published books as saying :
Think of these books like handmade goods, produced in small numbers, instead of the mass-marketed stuff you’d find at a superstore.
She also points out that self-publishing is :   
...a quiet godsend to literary history. ... Books that defy traditional classification now appear in print, and reprints of public-domain titles account for the biggest category of self-published books.

Postscript :

There's a very good response to this article by Joel Friedlander at The Book Designer. He finds holes in some of Heffernan's findings but says that :
Self-publishing is incredibly healthy and growing at a pretty amazing rate. ... And as far as quality, why is it that no one ever looks through the huge piles of schlock that are included in the 288,355 books from traditional publishers? ...  The self-publishers I’ve been dealing with since the 1990s routinely turn out books that are every bit as good as those coming from traditional publishers. And we’ve been doing it the same way for the twenty-odd years I’ve been involved in independent publishing: by paying attention to detail, hiring in professionals where needed, and knowing the market because we are the market.

Here are the readers' comments on the original article.


glenda larke said...

Aargh. That is a dreadful article. Yes, there are some delightful self-published books. There always have been. I remember an elderly relative who wrote her "memoirs" 50 years ago and had it printed and distributed for her family and the local library. It is treasured, long after her death, a lovely look at pre World War 2 rural Australia. Not well written but interesting history nonetheless.

There are a few self-published fiction books which are well edited - a very, very few - and some of those tell wonderful stories too. Some even end up mainstream.

Mostly though, what you have is absolute rubbish, badly written tales that are full of beginner errors. They are awful.
Pretty covers don't make a good book.

Self-publishing has its place, and long may it last for that reason, but the vast majority are just vanity published.

They are printed, unedited, unmarketed books, not published ones. Unhappily, among them are books that might have made it if their authors had not been impatient - and readers of articles like that one you quote.

bibliobibuli said...

Posting this from my Facebook page for Hong Kong publisher (Blacksmith Books) Pete Spurrier :

The author of that article is seriously ill-informed. "Self-published books are not just winning in terms of numbers but also making up ground in cachet." Who is she kidding? There is still a stigma and bookshops are very reluctant to stock these titles.

"Think of these books like handmade goods, produced in small numbers, instead of the mass-... See moremarketed stuff you’d find at a superstore." Hardly, since most self-publishers use print-on-demand, which offers mass-market quality at niche market prices.

The comments section is more on target: "I predict within a few years the encouragers of self-publishing like Lulu and Author Solutions will be recognized as the profiteering toxic polluters they are. They not only encourage the unprepared to swim without a lifeguard and bike without a helmet, they charge a pretty penny to do so. Imagine a restaurant whose policy was: we recognize no health codes, and will serve anything brought to our kitchen." Spot on!

bibliobibuli said...

agree with both of you especially re the need for good editing and gatekeeping BUT think about this. in the malaysian context some very important work has been self-published.

we probably wouldn't have Chuah Guat Eng's short stories if she hadn't decided to publish herself, or Alina Rastam's beautiful poetry or Brian Gomez's novel Devil's Place. Kathleen Choo self-published a collection of poetry for Poetry Underground which was an excellent showcase of local poetic talent. Shirley Zecha self-published her family cookbook which is also a unique family story.

O Thiam Chin got his start in literary life as a self-publsihed writer even though now he is with MPH. Laureate A Samad Said has been republishing his work himself. Usman Awang's daughter Haslina is republishing her father's work least it be forgotten. Rehman Rashid's A Malaysian Journey - one of Malaysia's most important books, was self-publsihed.

without these books our own literary scene would be much poorer.

sure there will be a lot of not very good books appearing as publishing gets easier, but the best of it i hope will rise to the surface.

glenda larke said...

True, Sharon, but the successful ones don't do it alone and they know exactly what they are doing.

The irony is that these success stories are the ones that lure in the others, those who don't understand things like what an editor does, what a copy editor does, what a proof reader does; who don't understand what marketing is, let alone distribution.

These folk are sucked in by the hundreds of thousands, and end up poorer and disappointed.

The writer of the article is obviously thinking of the kind of books you mention, but I doubt that they make up even 1% of self-published books. Unhappily many of the other 99% will read her article and, quite frankly, get conned. Because the article is so unbalanced, I think it irresponsible.

That said, I must admit that my agent and I are actually looking at self-publishing, or perhaps print-on-demand, to get my only out-of-print book back into circulation. But I have a readership, and the book was very popular - so there are loads of people still looking for it - and of course it is edited.

Martin Bradley said...

The Man-Booker Prize stipulates.....

Any full-length novel, written by a citizen of the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland and published in the United Kingdom for the first time in the year of the prize. The novel must be an original work in English (not a translation) and must not be self-published.

Amir Muhammad said...

How's your novel coming along, Yusuf?

John Ling said...

As someone who has experienced things on both side of the fence, I will be the first to admit that self-publishing does have its merits. However, those merits are very limited. Writers have to keep in mind that any perceived advantage gained from self-publishing is often overshadowed by the stigma.

Paying yourself to play tennis is not nearly as desirable as being paid to play tennis. With that in mind, self-publishing should only be attempted when all other avenues have failed.

There are, of course, success stories in self-publishing. We recently had a self-published Kiwi author who has sold over 400,000 copies of her books and is going global. She had one heck of a ride, though.

Martin Bradley said...

greetings Amir

My novel(s) plural, slowly, painfully slowly. Have taken some time off from other things to work on the British one and am concentrating on that one for the moment, thanks for asking.

Fadzlishah Johanabas said...

The advent of ebooks has opened wider doors for self-publishing. It's relatively inexpensive, and with ebooks gaining popularity at an exponential rate, print publication houses may one day become obsolete (please, don't let it come to pass -- nothing beats the scent and weight of a paperback).

Yes, a lot of self-published books are poorly edited, some of them outright atrocious even, but at a few megabytes at most a novel (compared to the high cost of printing 1000 copies), the writer has nothing much to lose.

Readers who buy ebooks can easily rate and/or review on the website they bought the books from, and if I'm not mistaken, we can even preview some sample pages. There's your filtering system, right there.