Comedian Rodney Dangerfield (1921 – 2004) built his comic persona on the phrase “I don’t get no respect!” Many self-published authors have the same problem but don’t make nearly as much money as Rodney.
The requirements for acceptance by a self-publishing company are not writing talent and an interesting subject. Usually, all you’ll need are blood pressure and a credit card. Except for books that appear to be obscene or libelous, a self-publishing company will probably publish anything.
Some publishers will automatically send an author a letter of praise for a submitted manuscript even without reading the submission. There have been experiments where intentionally horrible manuscripts were said to have high sales potential, and a book allegedly written by a dog was accepted.
Literary agents—who often function as gatekeepers on the road to traditional publishers—typically reject 99% of the book proposals and manuscripts they receive. Self-publishing companies, since they make most of their money by selling services to writers rather than by selling books to readers, probably accept 99% (or even 100%) of their submitted manuscripts.
The lack of selectivity is a major cause of self-publishing’s bad reputation. Even though traditional publishers make many bad guesses (they frequently reject books that become successful with other publishers and accept books that quickly become failures), their selectivity and financial commitment do provide a powerful endorsement for the writers and books they choose to accept.
Some publishers will produce books with little or no literary merit to cash in on a celebrity author or subject. A starlet’s name can sell tons of diet books. I Was Lindsay Lohan’s Proctologist would likely be a bestseller.
Some books will never be acceptable to mainstream publishers merely because of limited appeal, regardless of their literary merit. A company that wants to sell tens of thousands of copies of each title will not be interested in a family history, unless it’s a very famous family like Obama or Kennedy.
While the book publishing business is going through some radical changes, there is still some prejudice against self-published books. To rise above the prejudice, it is vital that your book be as good as it possibly can be. If you care about the reaction of the public and book reviewers, you must have a professional editor and cover designer. If you are writing just for fun—or just for family—you can skip the experts.
Read the next paragraph at least twice:
If you are not knowledgeable and attentive to details, you may end up with an ugly, error-ridden book which will embarrass you and that few people will review or buy. If you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t do it. Get qualified help. Beware of bargains and “free” services. In publishing—as with most things—you get what you pay for.
Zoe Winters is an author and blogger. She says, “The average reader doesn’t care how a book gets to market. If the book is good, it doesn't matter if your Chihuahua published it.” Author/blogger S.G. Royle wrote, “People don't buy books from publishers. They buy them from authors.” Edward Uhlan founded Exposition Press—an early and important pay-to-publish company—in 1936. He said, “Most people can’t tell the difference between a vanity book and a trade book anyway. A book is a book.”
On the other hand, many booksellers and book reviewers can tell the difference and do care—and may reject a book solely because of its publishing company.