We all know how it used to be. Self-publishing was vanity publishing. The only operations out there that would do it for you would charge so much that your book would be so expensive only friends and family would buy it. I’ve mentioned someone coming to my high school and lecturing about what a con job it all was, and Donald Westlake hilariously skewered it in his novel God Save the Mark.
But all that started to change in the early 2000s when Internet companies began to make it more economical to publish for yourself, and when Amazon brought out the Kindle and opened up a whole new audience to self-publishers, a new way of marketing books was born—mostly. Unfortunately, self-publishing still has some stigma attached to it, as self-publishing writer Liz Long has found.
My local media (newspaper, TV, radio) won’t review my books because they don’t have a Big 5 publisher name attached. My own alma mater, Longwood University, told me they won’t feature my successes in their alumni magazine because I don’t have a traditional publisher. (I found this out AFTER they agreed to feature me, then retracted the offer once they realized I was self-published). Never mind that I’ve put out 5 books since graduation, touting my Longwood pride and knowledge that their English department put me on my current course. A REAPER MADE takes place on Longwood’s campus, for heaven’s sake! But they won’t even think about hosting me in their bookstore or inviting me up to speak to their students – because while they won’t say it, I’m not a “real author” as I don’t have some fancy publisher to back me.
I’m not looking for your sympathy, but that freakin’ hurts. It’s hard enough getting strangers to take a chance on us, but for the college I put my heart and soul into for four years, I thought surely they’d want to spotlight the students who work to better themselves (no matter what it is). But they’re not the first to behave that way, nor will they be the last.
Cedar Sanderson writes at the Mad Genius Club that this stigma is slowly fading, but it will take time and effort and enough self-published authors able to show that they can consistently produce work of quality without needing the backing of a major publisher. She warns that self-publishing writers are getting a boost now, thanks to publishers’ short-sighted agency pricing, but that won’t necessarily last.
Right now, we’re getting our toes in the door by being able to deliver those products for less than the Big Five do. That won’t last forever – someone over there is going to get a clue and realize they have to choose between obscene profits on ebooks and keeping any bit of market share. Readers choosing between the $9.99 ebook and the $3.99 ebook will buy two or three of the latter before the former. If they really really want the expensive one, they will wait for a sale, or go to their library.
She notes that The Martian, which has been adapted into a movie by Ridley Scott, was originally self-published (we’ve talked about that, too), and this and other works provide hope that the stigma will further fade. Sanderson doesn’t bring it up in her article, but I expect the fact that SFWA has begun accepting succsssful self-published writers can only help, too—especially if they can get SFWA to lobby for more recognition on their behalf. (Stranger things have happened.)
In the meanwhile, self-publishing writers just have to keep plugging away and doing their best work, and sooner or later these stigma will subside. Until then, they’ll just have to be content with making a good living.