Despite some prejudice and erroneous assumptions, self-publishing is not an indication of failure or desperation.
Back in the “gilded age” of the late 19th century, self-publishing was a leisure activity for rich businessmen and politicians. They produced expensive leather-bound, gilt-edged books for their own homes, for family and friends, and to donate to libraries.
Edith Wharton and other female writers self-published because most publishers were men who favored male writers. In 1921, Wharton became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for literature.
Mark Twain is said to have become his own publisher because he thought another publisher had cheated him.
Because of sexual content and “dirty words,” publishing houses in Britain refused to print D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Lawrence arranged to have it printed in Italy in 1928 (allegedly, the print shop employees couldn’t read English).
“Chatterley” was judged to be obscene in Japan in 1957 and in India in 1964. Copies were confiscated by the U.S. Post Office until the publisher won an obscenity trial in 1959. The book wasn’t openly published in Britain until 1960.
You can get a copy of an ordinary paperback “Chatterley” for less than a buck, but copies of the original self-published book were offered for sale at over $30,000.
Walt Whitman’s self-published Leaves of Grass is one of the most important collections of early American poetry. In 1855, it was printed in a Brooklyn print shop where Whitman did some typesetting himself—perhaps because he wanted more control than other publishers would permit. A copy of this edition was on the market for $175,000—not bad for a do-it-yourself book.
In the early 21st century, as it becomes harder to make a deal with a traditional publisher, thousands of writers take advantage of economical printing processes and publicity opportunities to publish their own work.
I’ve had deals with three traditional book publishers.
· One cheated me.
· One tried to cheat me.
· One didn’t cheat me, but the book that finally came out was so unlike what I had expected it to be, I was sorry I got involved. I also didn’t make much money and had to wait a long time for the little money that I did get.
· The publisher that did cheat me did such a bad job on the book, and it was so unlike the vision I had for it, that I refused to let my name be printed on it.
There are lots of reasons why writers want to self-publish. Here are some:
More control: The author determines the title, the cover design, the page size, the number of pages, the price, the marketing plan, the publication date—everything. You even get to write the “about the author” section and choose the promotional blurbs (endorsements) that go on the cover. You are the boss and can’t be fired. There is a downside to all of this control, however. If your book is ugly or filled with mistakes, you have no one to blame but yourself! Even if you hire people to help, you are the ultimate designer, editor, fact-checker and proofreader.
Personal attention: At a big publishing house, a new book from an unknown author may get little or no attention from a sales force which is responsible for dozens or hundreds of books. A self-publishing author can concentrate on one book. She can work as hard as she wants to in promoting the book to the public, booksellers, the media and book reviewers.