Publishing your own book is not for everyone. In fact, most writers cower at the thought of paying to have their own work published, based on past public opinion that most self-published books are terrible; if they were any good, wouldn't someone have snapped up the stories, and sent the author on his or her way to fame and fortune?
And what about ego? Having that "New York Stamp of Approval" on one's work is the ultimate trip, but there is a common perception that "getting your work out there" is only legitimate if someone else pays for it. Yet, hundreds of determined authors have taken the book by the horns, and successfully launched careers. Don't believe me? See some examples at the end of this post. And don't forget about e-books!
Why is publishing your own book different from an artist who opens her own gallery to sell her work? Or a musician who sets up a sound studio, then performs and promotes his music on the road? In 2004, Mel Gibson paid to produce and distribute The Passion because no studio would touch it. Richard Paul Evans paid to print 8,000 copies of The Christmas Box; the following year, Simon & Schuster paid Evans $4.2 million dollars for rights to the book that has sold more than 7 million copies in 17 languages.
True, many self-published books are poorly written, unedited, and poorly designed and printed–many of them the products of internet publishers or subsidy houses. However, this problem lies directly in the lap of the author. There is a huge difference between self-publishing and simply getting a manuscript printed, and that difference is editing. This is where self-publishing gets its black eye; it is the author's responsibility to see that the manuscript is really ready for publication.
Traditional editors and literary agents are looking for material that sings, not only the story, but the craft and care with which the tale is spun. Most positive decisions are based on whether or not the publisher believes a story is salable. Publishing is a business, and a business's first concern is making money. Even the small presses have financial constraints; it costs money to produce books, and there must be some prospect of a reasonable return. For this reason, e-books with their low cost and easy production and distribution have grown tremendously in the past few years.
In the "New York scenario," if your manuscript makes it, what do you think is the next step? Assignment to an editor who will go over the work, line by line, then return it to you to make changes. It's not impossible that this process could happen two or three times in the life of the book before it goes to print, but the norm is just one chance to get it right. Skipping this all-important step is asking for trouble. Agent Laurie Fox states, "Established authors routinely work with experienced freelance editors before delivering a final manuscript to the publisher." ("Double Identity," Writer's Digest, February 2005, pp. 38-40.)
Not everyone can be on the "A" list of publishing, but rejection by a traditional house does NOT mean your work doesn't have merit. It only means that the work had to compete against a tremendous number of manuscripts, many by recognized or "sure-thing" authors. Granted, most of us will never open our own publishing company, but the fact remains that, given enough determination, anyone can produce a quality book of which they can be proud and make available through major retail markets. Self-publishing is a viable alternative for the writer whose work may not fit into the bottom-line-driven mold of traditional publishers, but who doesn't care to opt for an electronic version of the title. There can be value and worth in endeavors that don't come from the pinnacles, but rather from hard work and dedication. Times have changed, and your dreams shouldn't die simply because they don't match someone else's idea of what is interesting or entertaining to the reading public.
Successful Self-published Authors You've Heard About
Julie Aigner-Clark founded Baby Einstein company to produce her early-learning videos for babies and toddlers, and sold over 8 million copies of her products before selling the company to Disney for $25 million.
Margaret Atwood published her first volume of poetry, then went on to become a bestselling novelist and short story writer.
On the steamy side of writing, Zane published and sold 60,000 copies of Addicted, 20,000 copies of Sex Chronicles, and 38,000 copies of Shame on It All, before selling her rights to Pocket Books.
Amanda Brown published Legally Blonde with 1stBooks; Reese Witherspoon starred in the movie.
Teri Wood sold 70,000 copies of True to the Game from the trunk of her car.
Other success stories include:
Zane Gray, Heritage of the Desert
John Grisham, A Time To Kill
Herman Melville, Moby Dick
Beatrix Potter, Tale of Peter Rabbit
Robert J. Ringer, Winning Through Intimidation
These are by no means the only successful authors who've taken control of their writing careers. But each one of them believed in their book and knew they could make it happen if they really wanted it.