Years ago, self-published books looked self-published. Content was questionable, paper stock was this thick white stuff, and the finished product looked like it had been slapped together with a glue-gun in somebody’s garage.
Technology has advanced now so that you can release a book that’s indistinguishable from books commercial publishers are releasing. You have access to the same printers they use, as well as the same distributors. There’s PR, but a publisher – even a big publisher – will (and can) only do so much, so ultimately this is your responsibility. That just leaves you the duty of finding a good editor to help you develop your manuscript, a designer to lay it out and design the cover, and somebody to proofread it.
Some will frown. If you’re self-publishing, then it’s only because you aren’t good enough to land a publishing deal. In some cases, that might be right. But there’s plenty of examples where publishers have invested big in an author only to see their books flop, and rejected authors who’ve been picked up elsewhere and gone onto great success. Publishers aren’t infallible, so if they’ve passed over a book, it’s not always necessarily because the book’s not good enough. The prize example is Harry Potter, which was rejected umpteen times. Look at the phenomenon that’s become.
Arguably, self-publishing still generates stigma due to partnership publishers. Partnership publishers flatter authors regardless of the quality of their work, encourage them to publish (replete with exorbitant print runs), and charge extravagantly through the process. The ‘partnership’ suggests that the publisher and the author share the costs (and thus the risks), but it’s doubtful the publisher invests a cent of their own money. Worst of all, some partnership publishers masquerade that their model is the traditional route. Inexperienced authors don’t know any better, and their judgement is compromised by the excitement that their work has been ‘accepted’ for publication. Thus they happily fork out their money.
We all want the validation of being accepted and published by a commercial publisher. In a way, it becomes about branding, about being told by an industry staple that your work is good enough to be out there. But if you have a little faith in your manuscript, and the willingness to invest in the right people to make it the best it can be, self-publishing is becoming a practical alternative – and one that will grow as Print on Demand becomes more and more accessible.
Andy Weir’s The Martian and Lisa Genova’s Still Alice are two examples of books that were self-published, and which have experienced huge success – Still Alice was adapted to the stage, and then became a mainstream Hollywood movie starring Julianne Moore and Alec Baldwin. The Martian was adapted for the screen by none other than Hollywood legend Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Bladerunner, Alien, just to name a few of his credits), and starred Matt Damon and Jessica Chastain.
So who’s to query the quality behind a book that’s been self-published?
Or its commercial viability?
Or, simply, it’s worth to the publishing industry?