Many writers know the story of “The Christmas Box” – and I’m not talking about its inspiring message of love, although that’s nice, too. I’m referring to its provenance.
Richard Paul Evans wrote the novella for his daughters in 1992 and made 20 copies, which he gave as Christmas gifts to friends and family. The story was so enthusiastically passed along, he offered it up to six publishers. They passed. So in May 1993, Evans self-published and distributed the book locally, in Utah, himself.
Two years later, Simon & Schuster paid Evans the largest advance ever by a traditional publisher for a self-published book – $4.2 million. And the rest is history.
I share this 20-year-old tale to address a concern sometimes raised by new authors when they call us here at EMSI. After we promise to get them exposure in newspapers and magazines, and interviews on radio and TV shows, I’ll often detect a pause on the other end of the line. And then, “But I’m self-published. The media may not be interested in me.”
Oh, baby, the media doesn’t care!
The stigma of being self-published disappeared long ago. Heck, J.K. Rowling – the big kahuna of authors – is self-publishing her new e-book version of the Harry Potter series. The son of famed romance novelist Barbara Cartland is self-publishing the manuscripts that remained after her death. I could go on and on with the names of celebrity authors who are self-publishing, and new authors who’ve become multi-media darlings and popular sellers.
Now, it’s important to note: None of these people published books that look like they rolled off a conveyer belt in the garage. They have beautiful, eye-catching covers and they’re well-edited and free of errors. Most important, all of these authors spent a lot of time and/or money promoting themselves.
There’s no stigma when it comes to self-publishing, whether you go with print, print on demand, or e-book. But you won’t be well-received by the media – or book stores – if your quality is less than professional.
With 22 years in this business, I’ve lived the publishing world changes. To me, the tide turned when Amazon.com set up shop in 1995. The online bookstore turned the industry on its ear by removing the greatest barrier between millions of would-be authors and their dreams of selling books: distribution. Simply put, before Amazon, people bought books in stores. And the only way for authors to get into the major chain stores was through traditional publishing houses.
Those publishing houses were very selective because it was their money being invested in publication.
Amazon gave self-published authors and the small presses their first mass marketplace, and a whole new industry of publication options soon followed. Traditional publishing houses responded to the increased competition by cutting back the numbers of titles they produced, further limiting new authors’ access to that avenue. Today, more than 75 percent of new titles are either self-published or from non-traditional publishers, and more than half of buyers order their books online or through something other than a bookstore.
One thing that hasn’t changed, whether a book’s published traditionally or not, is the author’s responsibility to market him- or herself. At the big publishing houses, it’s mostly the best-known celebrities who get help in that department. Everyone else is on his or her own. Of course, that goes for authors who’ve taken the non-traditional route, too.
Amanda Hocking, self-publishing’s newest wunderkind at age 27, has racked up more than $2.5 million in sales since she started selling her paranormal romances as e-books in April 2010. She did it, she told USA Today, through aggressive self-promotion on her blog and through Facebook and Twitter. Writing in a genre that’s extremely popular with young adults hasn’t hurt, she added, and she worked her tail off – she had 17 novels written when she started publishing.
So, will the media or consumers hold it against you if your book is self-published or not with a major publisher? Absolutely not. That’s the way of the publishing world today, and everybody with a hand in it knows that.
Will they turn up their noses if your book looks like it was written, edited and designed by amateurs? Yes, frankly, they will.
If you do everything the way you should – write a fabulous book and hire a great publishing team to professionally edit and design it – can you become the next Richard Evans or Amanda Hocking?
Yes you can – but only if people know about it.