Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Self-Publishing, e-books and traditional publishers - oh my!

Some recent events have rocked the publishing world, specifically the efforts of a major traditional publisher - Harlequin - to go deeper into the world of e-books and all things digital, as well as the world of self-publishing.

Flash back to ten or fifteen years ago and e-books and especially self-publishing were like four-letter words to most traditional publishing houses. It wasn’t unusual to go to a conference or otherwise mingle with writers (published or not) who considered authors of e-books and self-publishing as not "real" writers.

Now flash back a hundred years or more to writers like Mark Twain, George Eliot and my great-great grandfather Wallace Bruce and these writers would take their written works to a printer and have their books published that way and then they would be acquired through a variety of venues to include small shops or even via hand-selling. Wallace Bruce would tour the US and Europe along the lines of Mark Twain and give a serious of orations related to his books, mostly of poetry. The Honorable Wallace Bruce (the titled earned for many reasons to include his tenure as Poet Laureate of Scotland while also serving as the US Consul General) provided an evening out for the generation at the time that provided both entertainment and enlightenment.

So why such strong feelings today about self-publishing in particular? Well, back in Wallace Bruce’s day he had access to other writers and they would mentor and nurture each other providing the one thing that most self-published works lack - a level of editing that provides product improvement and therefore commercial appeal. That doesn’t mean that all self-published books fall into this category. In fact, there have been many, many successful self-published books, especially in non-fiction. It’s the works of fiction that have everyone rattled with Harlequin’s effort to delve into the world of self-publishing. The concerns are laid out in this article from publisher’s weekly:


So, when is self-publishing a truly viable option for an author? Well, non-fiction works are more often published this way, especially in niche markets. I met an author who became an expert on a disease that affects a small population because it has affected her. Others with her disease were so hungry for information that she would give talks to groups about how she coped with the disease and from that she developed an audience that wanted her books. She couldn’t find a traditional publisher to take her on because the subject matter would not sell the minimum quantity that suited their business model, so she self-published. The old saying that there’s a time and place for most things is true when it comes to publishing whether through traditional channels are unconventional ones.

The bottom line for all writers is that what we do first and foremost is write. We can’t sell or even self-publish something that isn’t actually written. For new writers in particular, write the best darn book you can. Network with other writers, attend conferences that attract agents, editors and publishers and then prepare yourself for rejection because that is part of the gig. Even if you self-publish, when you try to sell your book you will face those who will reject your attempts to get them to buy your precious work. I for one want to keep all my options open because after all is said and done, the most important part of this journey, at least for me, is the writing.

Stay tuned and keep writing.


L. Diane Wolfe said...

Yes, the publishing world is changing, although the big boys still fight it, as smaller publishers are snubbed as well.

Morgan Mandel said...

In a world of immediate gratification, there are those who go to vanity presses and get books published without taking particular care of what they've written and without hiring an editor. It's a thrill for them to see their words in print, and who can say they're wrong in doing so?

I prefer to do a quality book and hire a good editor, but I wouldn't think of denying other people the right to express themselves and get joy from what they do.

Morgan Mandel

Romance Readers Digest said...

Well said - the smaller presses often don't receive the respect and praise I think they earn each and every day.

Michael N. Marcus said...

Harlequin is NOT establishing a "self-publishing" operation. It's vanity publishing and the customers/authors/victims are NOT self-pubishers.

Just as no one can eat lunch for you, no other person or company can self-publish for you. The words just don't make sense.

A "real" self-publisher establishes a business, hires editors and designers, purchases photography, owns ISBNS, obtains LCCNs and copyrights, chooses a printer, and promotes the books.

That's very different from paying for the services of a vanity press.

Michael N. Marcus
author of Become a Real Self-Publisher, http://www.amazon.com/dp/0981661742


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