Andrew brought this article on CNN.com to my attention the other day. It discusses the trend more and more authors are taking part in: the self publishing or print-on-demand trend.
The article speaks highly of print-on-demand publishing, forgoing the traditional, trade publishing route (think Harper Collins…eh-hem…Harper…Penguin, Houghton Mifflin…). It features a writer, Lisa Genova, who found herself on the New York times Best Sellers list after years of trying to find an agent who would represent her manuscript, Still Alice, and get it sold to a trade publisher. After no success, and being told things like her book was one no one would want to read, Genova turned to print-on-demand publishing, got a great review in the Boston Globe, and her book was picked up by Simon Schuster promptly thereafter.
I’m so excited to hear of Genova’s success, as a fellow writer who also gave the self-publishing/print-on-demand gig a try. But here are a couple things the article doesn’t expound upon:
Getting a newspaper review is tough stuff when you don’t have a trade publisher’s name behind your own. When my book, A Dozen Invisible Pieces and Other Confessions of Motherhood hit the market last year, Andrew and I did a huge marketing and PR push. I made media packs, complete with book, synopsis, summary, author bio, etc. to at least 30 different newspapers and magazines. I didn’t hear back from a single one.
Much like Melinda Roberts, another author cited in the above-mentioned article, whose book is also apparently about the crazy experiences of motherhood, my book has gained its little bit of success mostly through word-of-mouth marketing. Of the 230, or so, books I have sold, most of them have been through my own guttural efforts, and through the word-of-mouth efforts of the women who have read my book. And, because women are chatty by nature, a word-of-mouth marketing campaign on a book about motherhood is only appropriate.
Here’s the rub: as much as self publishers, print-on-demand publishers and vanity publishers want us writers to believe that theirs is an equally reputable option in the book publishing industry, there are still too many dinosaurs out there who hold tightly to the belief that a self-published book is probably crap, and not worth the time of looking over it.
When I was preparing my media kits, I found a HUGE number of newspapers and magazines that outright claimed they didn’t accept self published works for reviewing. Period. The message was loud and clear: if you’re self published, that means you weren’t good enough to get trade published and therefore, your work isn’t worth our time and attention.
What these attitudes are missing is that for some of us, self publishing is a conscious choice, not a resignation. And self and POD publishers are banking on this. For $200 or $500 or $2,000, you too can be published and forgo the hoops that the traditional publishing world still wants us writers to jump through.
Based on the fact that I am attempting the trade route this time around (see previous post) I am obviously still on the fence about the whole thing…still willing to try the hoop-jumping approach. The biggest decision-making factor for me? I am still a stay-at-home mom to three kids.
While the PR and marketing work Andrew and I put into my last book was incredibly fun, a lot of hard work and a tremendous learning experience, it took a hell of a lot of time. We created YouTube videos. We did book events here and in San Diego. We created and sent three different email campaigns. I spent hours and hours on-line, late at night, interacting with the mommy social media networks.
But because I still have carpool duties, classroom volunteer commitments and a range of other extra curricular activities that I shepherd our kids to and from, I’m hoping that this time around I’ll get at least a little help with the marketing stuff if I am so lucky as to entice an agent and publisher to find my work worthy of their attention. And, from everything I’ve read, that’s really what it’s about: luck. You have to be lucky enough to get your query letter in front of an agent on just the right day, finding him or her in just the right mood, to give your piece of artwork a second glance.
I’ve heard and read it again and again: when it comes to the trade publishing industry, there’s no guarantee. There are plenty of amazing pieces of work that never get picked up, and there’s no good reason why. At the same time, there are tons of crappy books out there that did get published by a large publishing house and, likewise, there’s not good reason why. Meanwhile there are a whole host of other books out there–the self published books that may or may not be fantastic that still operate under the relatively same reputation they did ten years ago. Yes, there are stories out there about books like the Celestine Prophecy, The Shack and Genova’s Still Alice that give us self published authors a little hope. There’s the reality of the unsettling of the trade publishing industry right now that might, eventually work in the favor of writers every where. But at the end of the day, it’s still a tough business to be in, no matter what end of the business you’re on.