This is Part 1 of a two-part series on self-published books and their authors. Part 2 is here.
So many books, so little time. With more books being published now than ever before, readers have the luxury of being choosy. But readers may be missing out on books they might love because of a few misconceptions.
While it’s seen as cool to listen to indie music and go to film festivals to watch indie films, the same level of enthusiasm doesn’t seem to have caught on for self-published books. I find this odd since most readers don’t care which publisher releases a book---they just want to read a story they love.
There’s a lot to love about self-pub, so here’s the scoop so you don’t have to miss out on these gems.
Not All Self-Pub Is Created Equal
It’s a common misconception that self-pub is self-pub is self-pub is self-pub, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Self-pub ranges from vanity press to professional self-publishing and everything in between.
If you think 99.9% of self-pub is low quality detritus that should never cross the same editor’s desk that might also hold Marilynne Robinson’s latest manuscript, you’ve likely come across some vanity press books. The vanity press model is simple---a writer wants to make their work available to the public, so they pay to have it printed or placed on an ebook-selling platform "as is." While there are some exceptions, many vanity press authors don’t hire professional editors or graphic designers to fashion a stunning cover. Once the author is finished writing his or her work, it goes to press with little to no refining.
On the other hand, there are professional self-pub authors who put their books through all the rigor that a traditional publishing house might ask of them, but they take a more active role in the process. Where authors in a traditional publishing house might not be able to choose their editor or have a final say on the book’s cover, self-pub authors do. They pay others to help them, but they ultimately spearhead the creative decisions about their work. And rather than selling books out of the trunk of their car, they might work with a distributor so their books appear in chain bookstores, as well as local independents.
Self-pub authors might also work with marketing agencies or indie presses to help their work reach a wider audience. Some presses help with the book’s production, including manufacturing and distributing, but leave the marketing to the author. Another agency might help with production as well as assign the author a publicist who helps them book interviews and book signings. Sometimes the only differences in the services offered to self-pub authors and the support authors at traditional presses receive is that it's a little smaller scale and self-pub authors don’t receive advances (money given to the author up front in anticipating of book sales).
So not all self-pub is created equal, and that’s okay. It’s like the difference between inviting a few friends over to watch a home movie in the basement versus showing at Sundance. Both films are independently made and there’s nothing wrong with either---different strokes for different folks, or rather, different stages of the same process.
However, knowing the different strokes will help you pick self-published books that fit your reading tastes. (I personally believe every writer needs an editor and I tend to think that self-pub authors who hire an editor care more about their work and the people reading it.)
It’s Not Easy Being an Indie Author---No Matter How Good You Are
There’s a misconception that the best work will naturally rise to the top and get the recognition it deserves, but that’s not always true. Indie authors have a particularly tough time getting their work seen, not to mention reviewed. Despite the fact that indie authors often create works that command respect, many don’t get the respect they so rightfully deserve.
“This is something indie authors lament all the time,” said author Stephanie Naman, who writes her Chloe Carstairs mystery series under the pseudonym Billie Thomas. “I think part of the reason indie authors have a hard time finding champions for their work is that we have to win over fans one at a time. When you can show your film or play your music in front of an audience or load it on to YouTube, it's a lot easier to get a groundswell of support than it is to convince one reader at a time to read your 300 page novel.”
Prior to e-publishing, one of the biggest challenges indie authors faced was getting past the gatekeeper into traditional publishing. Although e-publishing has crippled (though not completely dismantled) many of these barriers and more indie authors have been able to share their work with the world, changes in the ever-evolving publishing industry still affect them.
“The publishing industry is changing so much, you can feel agents and publishers desperately protecting their roles as gatekeepers---and publishing what they absolutely know will sell. It can be stifling to new voices, which leads many of us to self-publish,” Naman said.
“But indie authors can be part of the problem too. Not everyone can play an instrument, sing or make a film. But almost everyone can write. A lot of self-published works make it to the market before they're ready---whether they haven't been proofed or edited or even re-written four or five times. It really makes it hard for indie authors to garner credibility when there's such a huge range in quality out there."
Although I’ve had the fortune of reading some self-published books that were phenomenal, all it takes is one poorly written self-published book to make a reader dismiss self-pub entirely. So the talented indie authors like Naman not only have to grapple with the publishing industry at large, they have to do battle with their fellow indie authors who may not share the same standards of what a quality book should be.