The famous Library at Alexandria, at its largest, housed perhaps as many as 500,000 scrolls, or the equivalent of some 25,000 books. A quaint number: ten years ago, we were publishing, in the U.S., around ten times that a year. Now, we publish that many every two and a half days.
Anyone with access to a networked computer can publish a book, or ten, or a hundred. Anyone with 500 bucks can see their book into print, and the novel that once would have lived its entire life in a drawer is now more likely to be downloadable. A manuscript that might never have found a home in the twentieth century, certainly not at a “legitimate” publisher as they were called, can now, with very little effort, be ordered online, printed in a run of one, and mailed to a buyer in a matter of hours. We used to call them vanity presses, the companies that helped people publish books not wanted by the traditional, commercial publishing world; now such companies are more often touted as the new business model.
We plan to run a series of pieces on the evolving book world, from independent solo ventures to micro publishers to small presses and the new mini-majors to the Big Six and the 600-pound gorilla. Getting us started is Joseph Peschel, a freelance journalist from South Dakota. He interviews a wide variety of people who have self-published, some happily, some less so, some unworried by the stigma, some with their hands bloody, some embarrassed, some victorious.
— Tom Lutz
Editors, reviewers, and even many authors believe that if you self-publish, you’re branded a sinner of sorts. You wear a scarlet S-P, signifying that you can’t get published because your work is inferior. If you promote your own work on the Internet, you must sheepishly precede the phrase “self-promotion” with “shameless.” It’s difficult to quantify the extent of the stigma, but we all know that publishing your own work has been frowned upon by writers for decades. Recently, genre authors Amanda Hocking (who writes young adult vampire novels) and John Locke (pulp thrillers) have had so much success independently publishing and selling hundreds of thousands of their own books that you’d think the self-publishing wall would’ve been kicked down and lying in a crumbled mess by now. But the stigma attached to publishing, promoting, and selling your own written word persists. Most writers, like Susan Shapiro, who’s written for the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, and has conventionally published eight books, including comic novels and nonfiction through St. Martin’s Press and Delacorte, remain convinced that it’s better to get a mainstream publisher. Shapiro, who’s helped hundreds of her students get published, recently told me she would consider self-publishing, but only “if everybody else turned me down.”
No one ever faulted Woody Allen, Orson Welles, Quentin Tarantino, or Charlie Chaplin for writing, directing, and producing their own movies. No one disrespects musicians for distributing their music without a major label behind them. And poets — think of Walt Whitman, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and the authors of contemporary poetry chapbooks — have long been used to publishing their own work. Why then should independent publishing be regarded any differently? Especially when even established writers, in today’s traditional publication market, can have difficulty getting their publishers and agents behind a book? A slumping economy has pushed already-teetering bookstores into bankruptcy, further squeezed publishers’ profits, and reduced and in some cases eliminated book review space.