What the Self-Publishing World Needs
Written by
Sheryl Sorrentino
October 2012
Written by
Sheryl Sorrentino
October 2012

I came across this article in HuffPost Books yesterday while perusing Facebook (thank you, Glenda Bixler, for posting!): "Are Self-Publishing Authors Killing the Publishing Industry?" http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10.... Its author, Melissa Foster, argues that we self-published types are “devaluing the written word” by selling our books so cheaply ($.99 to free as e-books), relying on “gimmicks” to gain sales, and having “mismanaged expectations.”

Allow me to offer the self-published author’s perspective:

1. Price: As anyone who has self-published through Amazon’s subsidiary, CreateSpace, knows, the price point for a typical, 300-some-odd-page paperback is between $12 and $15, if you want to earn a royalty north of pennies. Amazon takes a good chunk of change from each sale, as do the sellers in their “extended distribution” network (many of whom, it would seem, do not even report their sales back to Amazon). As unknown, untested authors, we are competing with mainstream best-sellers going for $8.99. So forgive us for trying to get a leg-up the only way possible, i.e., by competing in the e-book marketplace. (I've priced my Kindle downloads at just $1.49 for this very reason, and predictably, most of my own sales have been e-books, not paperbacks.)

2. "Gimmicks": Most people don't realize that self-published writers have no bricks-and-mortar distribution (unless we’re prepared to go door-to-door to Indie booksellers and twist their arms to stock a copy or three of our books on consignment), and we’re given no publicity (other than that which we can generate ourselves with our own time, effort, and money). So, yes, we need to get creative in order to get the word out. My good friend and fellow writer, Alretha Thomas, recently staged a “Wedding March” in which fifty-some-odd women of all shapes, sizes and colors dressed up in wedding gowns and paraded down the Santa Monica promenade to promote her novel, Married in the Nick of Nine. You cannot imagine the dedication, effort, and money that went into planning this event in order to attract a crumb of media coverage (she did get noticed by director Ron Howard, as well as local radio station KFWB!). So, if someone came up with the bright idea of giving away a Kindle to sell a few more books, I certainly cannot fault them. (I’m only mad I didn’t think of it myself.)

3. "Mismanaged Expectations": I agree that most—if not all—self-published authors go into this business pie-eyed and totally unrealistic. I foolishly thought my first book, Later With Myself: The Misadventures of Millie Moskowitz, would “go viral” and rescue me from the stress and soullessness of the legal profession. Boy, was I wrong! What it has done is give me an outlet to showcase a different set of more personally rewarding talents. Now, I am simply content to have my work read and recognized, and thankful that I (usually) earn enough money as a lawyer to support my (flimsy) literary marketing efforts. But far be it for me to judge anyone whose goals or dreams are more lofty than mine.

Where I wholeheartedly agree with Ms. Foster is in her assertion that self-published authors need to put out reputable, well-edited work. This has been a pet-peeve of mine from the beginning. The crap that floods the self-published marketplace gives all of us a bad rap and turns off many readers (rightfully so) to self-published books across the board. The frequent lack of editing or any other form of quality control muddies the waters to such a degree that those of us who might otherwise rise to the top find ourselves swimming uphill in an ocean sullied with sludge. But this is not surprising, given the limited resources and lack of professional contacts we self-published writers possess. What the self-publishing world really needs is an affordable screening process that could legitimize the work of those who actually have what it takes—something like a “Good Housekeeping Seal” for the self-published. (Hey, maybe I’ve just found my new calling!)

As for the “poor publishing industry,” perhaps when agents and traditional publishers are once again willing to take a chance on competent, talented new writers who have something different to say (and offer fair compensation to the more established ones who’ve developed a following but fall short of “superstar” status), the self-publishing world will become a last resort for those who probably shouldn’t be in this game in the first place. But that’s not going to happen any time soon. Unless you’re a celebrity or a politician, a genre writer (with vampire connections), or someone with an already-established following (reaped through self-publishing!), you will not be given the time of day from an agent. They might at least have the decency to tell us when we suck. As it is, they simply ignore us.


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