It was gratifying to see the support for and interest in self-publishing at various literary events this year. Robert Bausch, reading from his latest novel The Legend of Jesse Smoke at Fall for the Book festival in Fairfax, VA, called it the joy of writing in its purest form, free from the tyranny of literary agents, editors and sales. The Third Literary Festival organized by the Indo-American Arts Council had a whole session devoted to self-publishing. It is a question I am asked repeatedly at every reading and event I do, including my recent one at the Morristown Library.
The biggest advantage of self-publishing is control, control, control. First, there is creative control–no need to incorporate mermaids into your story to make it more saleable, no need to change the ending or plot to accommodate editorial or publisher sentiments, and no compulsion to balance dialog and descriptions. As for quality control, there is no reason for sacrifice since there are many highly experienced free lance editors and book designers around to help one create a high quality publication that is comparable if not superior to those published by main stream and small independent presses. Finally, one has total control of the most important resource, namely, TIME. Publishing platforms like CreateSpace have highly efficient processes where they can guarantee not only quality but also turnaround times, obviating the need for waiting around for weeks, months and years for agents, editors and publishers to respond.
The main concern with self-publishing is marketing and publicity. However, big publishing houses seldom invest in publicizing new authors or unorthodox writing styles. Their limited advertising and publicity dollars are spent on perceived sure things, like well known authors with an established track record of sales (J. K. Rowling) or high-brow authors who will burnish the publisher’s literary credentials. Smaller presses seldom have the resources to publicize their authors and there are instances where authors have had to fund their own publicity and advertising campaigns, and on occasion even help the press stay afloat by partly funding them. Many authors have piles of books sitting around their homes since the publisher won’t take back unsold copies. So, the onus of marketing and publicity often falls on the author anyway. For those willing to invest some money, there are many venues on social media and for many more dollars, advertising opportunities in popular newspapers and magazines. Email blasts are a waste.
Self-publishing works well for those who are motivated, technology-friendly and know what they want in terms of formatting and design. It works particularly well for those who are in tune with what the public wants, are willing to write it and promote it relentlessly.
Writers are taking control of their fate just like musicians did in the past decade, but the publishing industry and allied professions are fighting hard to hold on to the old order while surreptitiously offering their free lance services through self-publishing platforms. So, fellow writers, take control, there is nothing to fear!
A last word of wisdom: the best way to sell books is to keep writing them.
Good luck and happy writing!