So why do people self-publish, given the stigma associated with it and the difficulties it creates in marketing books? In my own case, I got into self-publishing in 1984, with the demise of a small publishing company that had published a stress-management book, Stress? Find Your Balance, that my husband and I co-authored. The original publisher had printed an initial run of 10,000 books, but was doing no marketing and selling no books. Meanwhile we had developed a computerized stress assessment that we were selling to medical centers, hospitals, and businesses, and that referenced the book. We had the opportunity to sell books in bulk to the purchasers of the stress assessment, but the publisher refused to discount the book price sufficiently for bulk sales.
When we had the opportunity we bought the 10,000 books and the publication rights back, sold those 10,000 copies and then revised the book in 1988 and printed another 10,000 copies through our own business, Preventive Measures, Inc. To date, we have sold 50,000+ copies of Stress? Find Your Balance in this country, and we sold the rights to an Australian edition to Queensland Teacher’s Health Society in 1994. (Interesting side note: That Australian insurance company selected our book and stress assessment for their members because we owned the rights to our book and could negotiate more favorable terms than a traditional publisher would. This was a lucrative contract for us that we would not have gotten had our book been traditionally published.)
Through the mid-1980s and 1990s we were happily selling our self-published book through bulk sales and taking the profits to the bank, without ever thinking about the stigma of self-publishing. We got lots of good comments on the book from health, mental health, and wellness professionals who gave it to their clients and from readers themselves who said it had changed their lives. They didn't care who published the book, only that it got results.
Eventually we got to the point where we no longer wanted to have 10,000 books printed and delivered to our doorstep, although we wanted to keep the book in print. In April 2005, I read with much interest an article in the NYT Book Review entitled, "How to Be Your Own Publisher," which described the new print-on-demand (POD) technology. The article inaccurately equated POD with subsidy publishing, but oddly-enough gave a mostly favorable review of what they called "self-publishing."
This was the first I'd heard of POD technology. I began to investigate and soon found that the companies described in the NYT article had control of both ISBN numbers and cover price for the books they "published," and that their prices for the books were so high that selling many copies would be difficult. I kept looking and eventually found Lulu and then Lightning Source, which we eventually used to print out revised (4th) edition.
Even though the printing costs are higher with POD, we are delighted to have found a way to keep the book available without having to print and store another 10,000 copies. And being able to have boxes of books shipped directly to our customers though a simple online order is a luxury we definitely appreciate.
I was still naïve about the stigma of self-publishing, probably because it wasn't relevant to the sales of that book. It was only when I created an imprint—PMI Books—and published my novel Too Near the Edge and my daughter's novel Following My Toes that I discovered the bias and the problems self-publishing creates for fiction, which is dependent on reviews, awards, signings and other author appearances for its sales.
Even so, I would have made the same choice for my novel, based on my experience with my other nonfiction book, which was published by a big New York publisher, had limited sales and is now out of print. I like having control over the book's title, price, look, when it comes out, and most of all how long it will be available. But I don't like the stigma, which is why I started this blog.