Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Fear Restricts Self-Publishing

When I look at the book publishing industry today, I see fear and an inability to adapt to new technology. I see walls that have been put up by authors’ organizations, book reviewers, award panels, and bookstores to keep out the flood of self-published books print-on-demand printing technology has generated. I see attacks on online book review sites and book awards that are open to independently-published books.

This unfortunate reaction to change was described in depth nearly 40 years ago by futurist Alvin Toffler, who put forth the idea that people find the accelerating pace of change overwhelming. His book, Future Shock, published in 1970 described a feeling of dread connected to rapid technological change, and a difficulty in adapting to it.

Today, even though self-published books, books published by family-owned publishers, and books printed using print-on-demand (POD) technology make up a large share of the new books published each year, this change is not welcomed in much of the publishing industry. We are the wave of the future, and we are making inroads. But attitudes don’t change as quickly as technology.

For example, a respected nonprofit website named Preditors and Editors, which bills itself as “a guide to publishers and publishing services for serious writers,” offers some general rules for spotting a scam publisher. They have a long list, which includes the following:

  • The publisher gives no or very low advances.

  • The publisher's books are rarely in any bookstores, particularly the large chain stores that carry books from just about all reputable commercial publishers.

  • The publisher's books have never been seen on a bestseller list published by a reputable source such as the New York Times.

  • The publisher's books rarely sell more than 5,000 books to readers in individual purchases.

Unfortunately, such outdated criteria put most self-publishers and many indie publishers in the scam category. The criteria show an inability to adapt to the new publishing world. They are based in fear and they scare authors away from today’s new publishing opportunities.

I'd like to be able to shake writers loose from the belief that if they can't get their book published by a major publisher, they might as well keep it in a drawer. I’ve seen some very good manuscripts that have been sent out to agents and publishers for years but never picked up. I think that's too bad. I encourage these writers to self-publish, but they fear they wouldn't be seen as "real" authors if they did.

I know how scary it can be to step out onto the cutting edge. Self-published authors are disparaged, stigmatized, and ridiculed by the old guard. My hope and mission here is to change this marginalizing of authors who don’t follow the traditional path to publishing.

A good book is a good book regardless of how it’s published. Authors who rise above their fears can get the books out there to readers. Isn’t that why we write books?


  1. Lynn,What an excellent article! I've read so many opinions and viewpoints on this subject over the past year, but none have ever come so close to saying it as it is.It just seems traditional publishers behave in a very closed an elitist way. I respect that many of them are at base running a business and they need to survive and prosper in both good and bad economic times, faced with multiple challenges on all new technology fronts, but they really do behave like the guard at the gates of heaven.You could not have said a truer thing, "A good book is a good book regardless of how it’s published."Mick Rooney

  2. Once I sat down and analyzed "getting published" by a traditional publisher, what it entails in terms of investment of time and money, on a very real business basis, there was no question that continuing to attempt to "get published" or "become a REAL author" is simply a bad business decision.The only advantage is the prestige of "getting published." I finally decided I don't have enough time or money to spend on 90 days' worth of prestige. I want more ROI for my work, even if that means I take a loss, which I do not expect to do.

  3. Great post once again.One of my goals with my site and forthcoming book is also to help writers understand that there are options in publishing, this is a good thing, and it's okay to be proud independents just like artists, fashion designers etc.Hopefully, if more and more of us support the idea of using whichever option fits your book/project best, the old influencers will soon fade away and take the fear with them.Glad to hear you're busy, hope it's in a good way. Look forward to hearing from you when the time is right.Cheryl

  4. Everything is changing. Even getting published by a traditional publisher. There are too many books so they don't get the attention they once might. More and more is being asked of the author so that they need to ask the question: What am I actually gaining getting a book deal? I read someone on-line suggest that it was really an act of vanity to seek out a traditional publisher these days, that they somehow provide validation, something you can say to your friends: "Oh, I'm being published by (so and so) – what does that say about me?"The other thing that I suspect has done a lot of damage is the policy of some companies (the Xlibris, Lulu and iUniverses) to print anything that lands in their inbox. So we have had an influx of badly written, poorly edited books with amateurish covers and suddenly there is a new whipping boy: POD = crap. It will take a while for that damage to be undone which is why a lot of people are marketing their books as 'self-published' emphasising that they are only utilising print on demand technology. Still they get tarred with the same brush despite the fact that many now famous authors have, for one reason or another, opted to self-publish.

  5. Hear, hear! I've been doing everything I can to encourage writers to go indie, and in fact recently posted an entry to my blog entitled, "The Publisher Has No Clothes," in which I posit that there are now far more reasons for most authors *not* to sign with a mainstream publisher than there are *to* sign with one. I've also authored a series of free IndieAuthor how-to Guides, available at my website (click on my name above this post), covering topics like editing, promotion, and publishing for the Kindle.Most aspiring authors seem to be unaware that getting published by a major house no longer means any of the things it once did. For all but bestselling and prestige clients, advances are paltry, promo budgets are nonexistent, there's no guarantee the book will be shelved at brick-and-mortar stores, and on top of everything, if your book doesn't sell well enough to 'break through', you'll be dropped by your publisher and viewed as damaged goods by all the other majors---in terms of getting another book sold, you'll be worse off than if you'd never published at all! Having learned all this, for me the decision to go indie was a no-brainer.

  6. I think those P&E criteria are only outdated for authors who don't want to sell over 5000 copies for some reason. Because most alternative model third party publishers who POD would be lying to suggest, or allow an author to assume, those sorts of sales within a couple of years. The are effectively scams if they are tryong to pass as equivalent to Dorchester or Kensington.Now if you have a niche product, fine, that's another story.

  7. A "real author" is any author who has "real readers." When the only thing a traditional publisher offers you is the vanity of being able to say that name publisher is putting out your book, with they offer you literally nothing else (crap money, low level marketing) then it's questionable who the real "vanity" chasers are. It's certainly not "prestigious" to go the self-publishing route.But at some point in life, people have to grow up and live their own damn lives, instead of insisting on sucking on the mainstream acceptability teet.