You’re at a backyard barbecue. Uncle Harry steps up beside you in the
hot dog line and whispers, “So, how many books do you have in print
You grind your toe into the
lawn. Shrug. Try to pretend he hadn’t put
onions—lots of onions—on his last hot dog, and fire
off the latest number.
“No kidding? Wow.” He glances
at your spouse, winks, and adds “And he [or she] is okay, spending all
You’re confused. And your
furrowed brow seems to confuse him. So Harry says, “Had to cost a small
fortune, paying to have all those books printed, shipped to bookstores
. . .”
You don’t hear the rest of his
list, because you’re too busy trying to figure out where he got the
crazy idea that your books were self-published.
You remember others who’ve asked
similar questions: “So are you sending the book to Hollywood directors
and producers, too?” and “I read that article the local paper did on
you; did you shoot for The New York Times, too?”
Until this moment, the too never hit you as
noteworthy; now you realize it’s significant. Big-time. Because how
many others “not in the business” think that you shelled out
hard-earned money to be your own publisher?
To paraphrase Jerry Seinfeld:
Not that there’s anything wrong with self-publishing, but holy moly and
pass the catsup, you don’t want ’em thinking you
paid to get your book(s) out there!
don’t you want them thinking it? Self-publishing is a perfectly
acceptable way to get into print. For some authors it was the fork in
road that led them to the big New York houses (which led to movie
deals, which led to fame and fortune and additional contracts). For
others, it scratched that “Gotta Get This Story Told” itch, and for
them, it was enough. It was good enough for notables like Twain and
Dickens (to name just two).
You chose the other fork in
the road, and submitted dozens of proposals to editors and agents
before That Phone Call changed the course of your career. You went that
route because you liked the idea that in addition to a cash advance
you’d have access to a whole team of industry pros with a vested
interest in the success of your book, from the initial edits to
designing an eye-catching cover, from helping you market to linking it
to your next book.
They’re savvy businesspeople and
wouldn’t invest in a product (i.e. you and your
book) unless they thought they’d see a return on their investment.
heard the heartbreaking
stories about distributors and bookstores that refused to handle
self-published books, about
major writers’ organizations and contest
rules that flatly stated that self-published works do not qualify one
for membership or entry. Because self-published books look amateurish?
Because so many of them contain factual, grammatical, and spelling
We can hypothesize until we’re
hoarse, but no one really knows the answers to
those questions. To quote my Shawnee ancestors, “Unless we walk a mile
in self-published authors’ shoes, we’ll never fully understand all the
reasons they didn’t take the ‘traditional’ path, either.”
I can share my
At the start of my career, I
didn’t have the money to self-publish. And because I was working full
time at “a real job” back then, I didn’t have the patience or the time
to study the intricacies of self-publishing, like how to get an ISBN,
how to file for a copyright, where to find a reputable printer, cover
designer, PR/marketing company.
So back to Uncle Harry—and
anyone else who wonders about the published authors in their midst—I
say this: “I didn’t pay to have the books published, but I paid in a
lot of other ways.”
Harry and his ilk will scratch
their heads over that one, but those of us who trod that other
hard-scrabble path to publishing know that it means scrimping and
saving to pay for print ads and Book Trailers, PR and marketing experts
who sometimes earn their advances, goodies for
book-signing tables, travel to and from conferences, handouts for
workshops we lead and classes we teach, and the time and energy
required every step of the way.