I’ve long defended the traditional route of publishing (as opposed to self-publishing) as a flawed but extremely useful vetting process. I feel that way as both a book reviewer and a reader–there are just so many books out there that the often-ruthless decisions made by publishing houses improve the odds that the book you pluck off the shelf will be of good quality. They want to sell books, after all, and, they bring a wide variety of resources to bear in making the book as good as they can make it.
There are exceptions to any rule, of course, and there are wonderful self-published books, just as there are books piled on tables at Barnes & Noble that aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. Sometimes groupthink fails where a solitary author’s vision succeeds. But there are too many damn books to begin with, so anything that makes it harder for people to get published is probably a good thing.
As an author, I’ve felt the same way. Even though it took me many years to get my first book published, and even though I’ve received very modest deals for all three of my books, I never considered self-publishing. Perhaps there was an element of pride in my thinking (“surely someone will recognize my genius without my having to proclaim it”), but I think mostly it was the fact that to me, the writing itself was more than enough work. I had no desire to turn myself into a copyeditor, proofreader, book designer, PR person, and salesman.
Interestingly, as the big publishers commit more and more resources to their bestselling authors, midlist and lower-midlist authors end up doing a lot of those jobs anyway, so maybe the distinctions between publishing and self-publishing are already blurrier than previously thought. And, given that the big publishing houses are cutting back staff and acquiring fewer books–and given that self-publishing houses are getting slicker–self-publishing is likely to seem like a better option to many writers.
No, this isn’t the prologue to an announcement that my next book will be self-published. But on CNET, gadget columnist David Carnoy writes about his decision to self-publish his novel, Knife Music, after a lot of time courting big publishers with a high-powered agent (“Self-publishing a book: 25 things you need to know“). His column is more about the nuts-and-bolts of self-publishing than the big picture, but it’s an extremely useful look at both what self-publishing requires from you and the options for doing it yourself.
I predict that self-publishing will have a terrific year in 2009. Most self-published books will continue to sell 100 copies to friends and family, and that’s a profitable model for the self-publishing houses. But more and more savvy, entrepreneurial authors will give it a try, possibly earning a greater profit than if they started with or stayed at traditional publishing houses. Meanwhile, the traditional publishers are experimenting with print-on-demand, with getting rid of author advances (in favor of profit-sharing), and abandoning cost-free returns to bookstores.
Converging paths? We’ll see. I look forward to updates from Carnoy.
Actually, here’s one update already: the forward-thinking Carnoy’s book was rejected by Apple’s App Store (“Banned in Cupertino,” by Tom Krazit, CNET):
In its rejection letter, Apple singled out the passage in question, which we actually can’t print either. Let’s just say it involves a teenage girl telling a detective that she overheard her friend asking a gentleman caller to “love me like you mean it,” just with a slightly more emphatic verb.
This says more about Apple than self-publishing, although it does serve as a reminder that Carnoy must deal with the logistics of each new platform himself–and that he’ll have to fight these battles himself, too.