Friday, November 20, 2009

The rise of self-publishing

From Crains: "E-book giant flies in a dozen top NYC book agents to Seattle to play down its Darth Vader image. Talks described as “freewheeling, frank and contentious.”

Another brick in the wall between authors and their publication is knocked loose.

When I was a child-author, I had 2 frequent daydreams.  One was my appearance on Oprah, long before she was in the bookclub business.  The other was opening a box filled with the hardbound copies of my book.  It seemed the culmination of the painfully long and humiliating process of getting noticed, read, and printed.  I pictured publishing houses as giant printing press mills, the size of Russian blast furnaces, where guys chewed unlit cigars and studied folio pages with a raised eyebrow "not bad" look of approval.

Please remember when I tell you these stories that I am well under 18 when they take place.

My freshman advisor says I was the only student she ever worked with who arrived with a novel in a box.  I find this hard to believe at the finest writing program in The South, but maybe it had just never happened to her before.

Vanity Publishing was possible in those days, but of course it was called vanity publishing, meaning no one in the business liked it enough to publish it, and "certain" people could always get their work published.  In today's market, self-publishing will still cost you, but players like Amazon are happy to produce "on demand" as sales are made, rather than a 1000 print run that was required in the old days to justify the effort of machinery.  They will also happily make you available by Kindle, because more is more for the Kindle library, and Kindling costs even less.

They look good, these self-published books. The covers are clearly not Wendell Minor, but they are colorful and sturdy, trade paperback size with good typeface.

One of my blog acquaintances punched out a novel in a few months, made the necessary rounds of agents, and learned that without vampires, an unknown writer was too high a risk to take.  So he published it on his own, and launched an aggressive viral campaign to get noticed. 

Another blog acquaintance has an idea for a coffee table book featuring photographs of roadkill.  There did not appear to be another hook, such as vampire roadkill, Tuesdays with Roadkill, or Oprah-approved roadkill.  I can not imagine who the audience is for this book, but if she finds one, she does not need to convince Random House that revenue will exceed costs.  I said, "I did not learn much in publishing school, but I did learn that your book needs to be cheap to produce but look expensive, arrive right-on-fad and not overrun."  (I got a little excited that I was able to quote all that, to tell you the truth.)  " can publish it yourself."

Makes the perfect Christmas gift.


  1. I published a book with the Print on Demand technology back in 2000. iUniverse... it was something that Barnes and Noble fronted... and one year later they SLAMMED the door on selling those books in stores because they lost MILLIONS.

    Yeah, fun times...

  2. I think America under Bush was ripe for a coffee table book of roadkill of photos. Under Obama, we may be much too hopeful. Vampire Roadkill? I think YOU have an idea for a book.

  3. I had the same two childhood dreams actually (oprah and box). And now am seriously thinking about going the self-publishing route.

    No roadkill fantasy though...


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