Self-Publishing: Is it for You?
For perhaps as long as publishing has existed self-publishing has been stigmatized. The terms “self-publishing” and “vanity publishing” often are used interchangeably. They are not interchangeable. We’ll get to that shortly. For now, here are a few writers, established writers, who have self-published some of their own work:
- Willa Cather, author of such novels as My Antonia and the Pulitzer Prize-winning One of Ours, paid to publish her first book.
- Early in his career, L. Frank Baum – author of the Wizard of Oz books – self-published pamphlets on chicken farming.
- Stephen King published the first installment of his novel The Plant on his Website (http://www.stephenking.com) on July 24, 2000 and the second installment a few weeks later.
- Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs formed a publishing company which published a variety of books, some of which were his own.
- Bestselling author Pat Conroy spent thousands of dollars to print and promote his first book, The Boo.
- Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables, paid to publish his first book.
- Mark Twain grew tired of the “foolishness” of his publishers, so he self-published The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
- Edgar Allen Poe – often called the father of the modern short story and the author of “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Raven,” and many others – self-published some of his works.
- Richard Paul Evans self-published 8,000 copies of The Christmas Box, which he later sold to Simon & Schuster for a $4.2 million advance (including the rights to a prequel). Evans even wrote a book about his incredible journey, The Christmas Box Miracle.
- In 1901, Beatrix Potter self-published 250 copies of The Tale of Peter Rabbit. The following year, publisher Frederick Warne, who had initially rejected the book, published a commercial edition with color illustrations. Since then, the book has sold more than 40 million copies.
- Henry David Thoreau self-published Walden in 1854.
- William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White self-published the writer’s Bible, The Elements of Style.
- Other famous poets, authors, and playwrights who published some of their own works include: T.S. Eliot, Lord Byron, Thomas Hardy, Louis L’Amour, Walt Whitman, Robert James Waller (The Bridges of Madison County), Amanda Brown (Legally Blonde), Stephen Crane, Zane Grey, Ernest Hemingway, Rudyard Kipling, and George Bernard Shaw.
This list just scratches the surface.
I have, technically, published some of my own work. In 1988 I established Kubicek & Associates to publish an anthology of farm stories I had collected. The book contained one story I had written, about 3,50o words, and 13 stories by other writers. I thought publishing was cool, so I went on to publish three books by other writers and, in 1989, an anthology of horror stories which also contained one of my own stories (again, about 3,500 words) as well as 19 stories by other writers (including a classic story by Henry Kuttner, originally published in 1939).
Self-published books differ from vanity published books by being of a higher quality. They achieve that higher quality by going through a similar process as a traditionally published book. A vanity book, on the other hand, is a book that the author considers to be good enough to publish and pays to have it published – there are no checks and balances, no feedback from other reliable sources, and minimal – if any – revision or copy-editing.
- Make sure your work is well written and that others besides yourself like it. Give the manuscript to a few people you trust to give you honest feedback (don’t give it to friends or family members who will choke back their revulsion and tell you what you want to hear). Soon I will be self-publishing a collection of my short stories – some of them have been published previously, but others haven’t. My wife, Cheryl, is reading the manuscript. So far, she’s found two stories that “don’t do anything” for her. Those stories were immediately deleted, deep-sixed, sent to Mr. Recycle Bin.
- The book must look and feel professional. It must have an attractive cover, well-written and provocative cover copy, and a bar code (if it is a physical book rather than an ebook), etc. You get the picture.
- A blurb from a reviewer, author, or expert in your field – while not be essential – may lend credibility to your book and help it sell.