Monday, April 25, 2011

PPW Conference Countdown: Column: Is Self-Publishing Losing Its Stigma? by Linda Rohrbough

Self-publishing is increasingly popular, but is it losing its stigma? These days it’s an uphill climb to make it into print, but that’s always been true. I see more and more people who write a book and just don’t want to put in the time romancing New York publishers. Hence the drive to self-publishing (or vanity publishing), which for some appears to be the only option. But there’s a reason for the stigma.
A Labor of Love
Labor of love is a polite way to say there’s no cheese down that tube. Publishers have said to me over and over they feel the majority of the self-publishing outfits just outright cheat authors, raising their hopes and then taking their money. My publisher, Lou Turner, of High Hill Press, cited a self-published author she knows who will make about $30 altogether on a poorly written book he’s self-published with’s CreateSpace. And there are millions of authors like that out there, which is what vanity press publishers count on.
But it’s more than bad writing. There’s a two-fold problem. It’s very difficult for self-published authors to let people know about their books. And it’s tough to get vanity press books into retail channels.
E-books Help Remove the Distribution Problem
Since traditional publishing is still a consignment business, bookstores will not accept titles they cannot return if the books don’t sell. Plus bookstores and on-line retailers expect deep discounts as high as fifty-five percent. Vanity press authors soon discover getting books into traditional retail channels is very difficult, because vanity presses tend to price books high, they don’t discount (except on large quantities), and they don’t accept returns.
Nancy Berland, who is a publicist to big names like Debbie Macomber, said e-books solve the self-published author’s distribution problem. With e-books readers get to sample a book before they buy, and there’s no such thing as returns.
Big Bucks May Remove the Stigma
In a chat session between Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath published on Konrath’s website, Eisler, a former FBI agent whose novels feature a fictional Japanese assassin, said he recently turned down a half-million dollar advance on a two book deal. Since he’s built a following, Eisler believes he can make more money faster self-publishing.
Joe Konrath said while his other titles sold, he couldn’t get anyone in New York interested in The List when he wrote it twelve years ago. So he took the title to CreateSpace and in two years it’s made number fifteen on Amazon’s best-seller list with 35,000 copies sold.
Best-selling novelist Jim Frey got attention when he announced on his website plans to self-publish his next novel about a gritty, modern-day alcoholic Messiah just before Easter on April 22. No stranger to controversy, Frey authored A Million Little Pieces, a novel he sold as autobiographical, but later confessed that was untrue.
What’s got the publishing industry buzzing is Amanda Hocking, a twenty-six-year-old self-published Kindle book author, who writes young adult vampire paranormal romance. Sales of her thirteen titles, priced just under three dollars, made her a millionaire. She just signed a two-million dollar, four-book deal with St. Martin’s Press. Why? She cited editing problems (she’s paid editors, but still had complaints from readers). And better distribution in paper formats, which she feels will net her more income.
So Will the Stigma Go?
Lou Turner thinks the fact that better authors are moving to self-publishing could help remove the vanity press stigma. “But there aren’t enough of them,” she said.
Nancy Berland said there’s likely to be more poor quality e-books. “If the truth be known, writing for a New York publishing house, you better have a thick skin. Unless you've studied writing and have been in a brutal critique group, you don't have any business publishing. The quality of the work, that's what is going to distinguish people.”
I self-published my first book in 1989 and all four divisions of Baker & Taylor picked it up unsolicited for distribution. But I didn’t make more money self-publishing. Most of the authors I know of who started vanity-publishing and are any good, aren’t self-publishing now. So even if the self-publishing stigma goes away, it is still a lot of work to put a book in the hands of a reader. It requires a team, e-book or not, and that’s why publishers aren’t going away any time soon.

Linda Rohrbough has been writing since 1989, and has more than 5,000 articles and seven books to her credit along with awards for fiction and non-fiction. Her latest book, co-authored with her surgeon, is Weight Loss Surgery with the Adjustable Gastric Band from Da Capo Press. She has an iPhone App of her workshop “Pitch Your Book” and her first novel The Prophetess One: At Risk, both coming out in Spring of 2011. Visit her website:

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