Why does self-publishing carry such a stigma?
Because the writer feels that it proves that his work is not worthy of being picked up by a publisher and he is forced into publishing himself. He feels he is accused of vanity publishing, but just submitting your book to a mainstream publisher shows some signs of an ego which is actually necessary for a writer.
This scenario is flawed and is about to be blown out of the water.
Let's accept that publishers are commercial businesses run to make the owners money. They are not in the business of promoting good writing. You, as the writer, are asking them to invest a significant amount of money in paying you an advance, editing and printing your book and ultimately marketing, advertising and distributing it. They have no guarantees of any return on their investment and are therefore loathe to take many chances. The fact that any book at all is published is a miracle.
But look at the other side of the coin. Publishers only came into existence because the costs of printing and distribution were beyond the means of the average writer. If those costs were affordable the need for publishers would disappear and everyone would self publish. That day, if not quite here, is fast approaching.
Let's look at this for a possible method.
- A writer could create his book on a PC.
- He converts it into a pdf file.
- He creates a website to sell the book as a download.
- He promotes the website through Adwords or article sites.
Total cost, less than £100 and not one publisher in sight, and the writer gets every penny that his sales generate, even though he must charge significantly less than a print book. The arithmetic is simple, if your total costs were £100, you'd need to sell only 40 books at £2.50 to break even. Can you sell 40 books?
The flaws in this system are that the reading public is not quite ready for reading from a screen (though this will come) and always have the choice to print the book; that the writer might not have the knowledge to convert to pdf or build a website, but these skills can be learned or bought in; and may not have the skills to promote themselves, their work or their website.
These flaws are minor. If a reader chose to print out a 200 page pdf file it would cost approximately £2 including black ink and paper. Conversion to pdf is easily done with free software available on the net. Building a simple website is not nearly as difficult as some people may believe and free software is available which means you don't need to code html. Harder is promoting your work. My advice would be to start local - issue a press release to your local paper, give a reading at your local library or to a writer's group, stuff like that. Give away a free sample chapter from your website. You have to be creative, but that's your ballgame, isn't it?
On another tack, this issue of vanity publishing is a western concept and this is something I only realised relatively recently. My father came from rural farming stock in the Punjab region of India. He came to the UK and made a living driving buses before graduating to the retail and catering markets. But, throughout his life he retained a love of writing and especially poetry in his native Punjabi or Urdu. When he retired he bought a PC and got appropriate fonts so that he could fulfil his passion. When he had written enough he told me he was going to get a book published. 'Oh yeah,' said I, the seasoned writer (who he never encouraged, by the way, because writing was a hobby not a way of life) 'It's not that easy to get published, Dad."
It didn't faze him one little bit. He printed off his stuff and posted it away to a relative in India with orders to get him a 1,000 copies printed and bound, these services being so much cheaper over there. And they duly arrived, crates of them, my father's published book.
My father didn't get it, my disquiet at his self publishing, this display of vanity. He had written his book, he had paid for it to be printed and bound, it belonged to him. Like any craftsman, ecercising his craft, he had created. He had no need of a third party, no publisher, to bring his work to market. He would give copies to family and friends, donate copies to libraries, if somebody wanted to buy a copy, fine. His name would live.
And isn't that, really, the reason that we write?