This is Part 2 of a two-part series on top notch authors and self-publishing. Read Part 1 for the full story.
Your next favorite book could be self-published. Could, if we have the courage to think for ourselves and take chances.
Some of The Best Books Out There Aren’t “Marketable”
If a book is rejected by one of the Big 5 publishers---as Penguin Random House, Macmillan, HarperCollins, Hachette, and Simon & Schuster are so called---it might not be because the book is poorly written. It’s likely the book stretches the boundaries of genre a little too far to fit into neatly packaged genre boxes.
“People associate publishing with the myth that all a writer needs to do is to be good and get their work in front of an editor whose first love is the written word and will move heaven and earth to get a good writer in print,” says T.K. Thorne, a self-published author of fiction and nonfiction. “The assumption, therefore, is that if you can’t get published, you must not be a good writer.”
There have been popular, award-winning self-pub authors whose work was rejected by traditional publishing houses, which T.K. Thorne knows firsthand. She’s written two novels that are “marketing misfits,” as she affectionately calls them. Her books Noah’s Wife and Angels at the Gate are feminist retellings of biblical tales that are not in any way religious, so they were disregarded by the Big 5 for not fitting neatly into Christian fiction or historical fiction.
But that hasn’t stopped readers from loving her work. Noah’s Wife won the Foreword Reviews Book of the Year for Historical Fiction in 2009 and Angels at the Gate won the gold medal in the Independent Book Publishers Association Benjamin Franklin Awards for historical fiction this year, as well as the silver medal at Independent Publisher’s IPPY Awards.
As T.K. explains, “I ended up self-publishing Noah’s Wife after a run with a very small indie house because it sold respectably well, about 3,000 copies—but not well enough (10,000) to be picked up by a traditional publisher. And for Angels at the Gate, I was fortunate to find an New York agent with a particular love of the Middle East, but every publisher she approached turned the book down because they ‘didn’t know how to sell it.’”
Not being picked up by a traditional press has nothing to do with the quality of writing, but rather how creative the publishing houses’ are willing to be to give a book the support it needs to sell. More traditional or formulaic books are easier to sell, therefore more likely to be picked up by a large press. Publishers' lack of creativity forces readers to work harder to find off the beaten path books they might truly love.
What Can We Do About It?
Throw out any notions that self-publishing is synonymous with crap. Be willing to read authors whose names you’ve never heard. Trust that free Kindle books deserve your attention just as much as the books on the Barnes & Noble staff picks table. Don’t depend on traditional publishers and professional marketers to do your book decision-making for you. Keep an open mind.
The easiest way I’ve found self-published writers is through Twitter. If you follow a handful of hashtags like #amwriting, #writerslife, and #writers, it won’t take you long to find some passionate up-and-coming authors. You can also attend local author expos at your public library and regional book festivals to find authors in your area, some of whom are likely to be self-published.
You can also get involved in the local book scene in your area. Attend signings, go to workshops and panels led by local authors, and go to events at your local library. That's how I got to know Stephanie Naman/Billie Thomas (mentioned in Part 1) and T.K. both.
In the same way we combat publishing’s diversity problem by championing writers whose voices we want to hear, we can support authors who bend genre and tell tales that aren’t typically told. If traditional publishers don’t trust readers to think outside the genre box, put your money where your mouth is. Speak with your book-buying dollars.