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Monday, February 01, 2010

The Rise of Self-Publishing

I recently wrote an article for The Mark News about the rise and ease of self-publishing, particularly with respect to a bookstore owning an Espresso Book machine.

I was leery about publishing this article, because self-publishing is a taboo topic among many serious writers.

Most serious and professional writers advise AGAINST a fiction writer self-publishing, particularly if they are doing it in the hopes of using it as a stepping stone to become a full-time professional writer.

The motivation that many professional writers have for advising beginners against self-publishing is that they truly and honestly want to help beginning writers avoid so many nasty pitfalls that self-publishing offer.

And yes, on the flip-side, there are examples of those who have gone the self-publishing route and turned it into a bold and wonderful career move. I've actually seen more than a fair share of success stories from this.

However, these individuals who have succeeded in terms of taking this route had a few things going for them -- first, they were incredibly talented, second, they worked their butts off and third, they had a larger plan. (IE, self-publishing wasn't their end goal, it was merely a single scene in a multi-act play for them) These individuals broke through against incredible odds and succeeded. Similar, in many ways, to the way that a writer might finally break through the slush-pile hell of the traditional publishing route, and had their manuscript accepted by having those same 3 things going for them

That all being said, it is still, ultimately, a personal decision that each writer must make. While I've offered my advice to the many dozens of people over the years who have asked me the question of whether or not they should self-publish, my default position is to suggest against it, or ask the writer to at least spend some time to evaluate the reasons behind why they want to self-publish.

However, I do believe that there are times when it's probably the right thing for that person to do.

Some examples might be authors who already have a track history of publishing through traditional channels who are either experimenting or already have a "following" of readers. Or a writer who wants to make one of their older works that is currently out of print available for those interested in reading it. Others might be motivational speakers or lecturers who can easily sell hundreds of copies of their book containing vital information or skills that they are experts in. Some authors are also perfectly content knowing that only a handful of people will ever read their book. (Grandpa Joe wants to tell his life-story and knows that it's likely only going to be his children and grandchildren who will ever read the book. Or Great Aunt Beatrice has been working on her novel for 3 decades and just wants to see it in print before she passes away -- she doesn't care that it's not published by one of the 6 major trade book publishers -- she's happy to see her words printed in a perfect bound format and share that delight and accomplishment with her family and closest friends) -- Those are just some of the reasons why, for a particular person, choosing self-publishing might be right for them.

Interestingly enough, as counter-intuitive as it might seem, I have even spent some time trying to convince clients who bring their self-published work to my store that they should take their time and ensure they explore other options like submitting their work to a traditional publisher. In all honesty, I don't want to see someone do something that they'll regret in the future. But, ultimately, it's their choice. And in most cases, my clients have already explored other options before bringing their self-publishing project to my Espresso Book Machine, or, are comfortable with the decision they have made.

And if it is the right thing for that person to do, then I always do my very best to ensure that they are satisfied. After all, ultimately, who am I to judge their personal reasons for self-publishing?

As a bookseller, I don't judge people who come into my bookstore based on what books they decide they want to read and enjoy. Of course, if they attempt to purchase a book that I truly believe they won't enjoy based on what they told me they like to read, I'll advise against it, or suggest an alternative. So, similarly, if a person decides to self-publish and they want to use my Espresso Book Machine to do so, my job is to provide them information to make an informed decision and ultimately, if they choose self-publishing, make their experience as satisfying as possible.

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