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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

Self-Publishing

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, February 15, 2015

Jeff Herman is a literary agent based in Massachusetts and is the author of the “Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents” which is in its 25th edition.  Recently, he wrote an article in “Publisher’s Weekly” journal examining the biggest change in the publishing world in a century.

 

Like any business, the publishing industry has undergone changes with time, but 2008 brought the single largest change in their world.  That year marked the first time that more books in America were “self-published” than published traditionally with publishing houses.

 

Publishing houses review potential books submitted by an author, and decide which ones they will produce, advertise, promote, and take the financial risk of failure, or the success of a bestseller.

 

Self-publishing involves the author being fully responsible for and in control of the full process, including design, format, price, distribution, marketing and public relations.  There have been some successful ventures in self-publishing, but the fact remains that according to Herman, only a fraction of self-published books sell more than 10 copies.

 

Self-publishing includes E-Book publishing, Print-on-Demand, and Vanity Publishing.  If a book does become successful self-published, the traditional publishing houses may them “pick it up” and reproduce it in-house which has occurred with titles such as “The Shack” by William P. Young, and “Eragon” by Christopher Paolini.

 

The title that shook the publishing houses was “Fifty Shades of Gray” by E.L. James.  The day after its release and wild success caused the traditional publishers to ask why such a “poorly-written” book would be successful.  (Granted the author then sold it to the establishment)

 

With all the new technology and self-publishing companies such as CreateSpace, iUniverse, and Lulu, it is easy for an author to move into the publishing world without the traditional stories of rejection notices from the mainline companies numbering 20 or 30 before someone agrees to publish the book.

 

From the standpoint of a librarian, the real problem with self-publishing lies in two areas.  First, everyone thinks their book is great, and everyone will want to read it.  A traditional publishing house provides a strict editor to protect the publisher’s investment from failure.

 

Secondly, a traditional publishing house has expertise in advertising and marketing a book for sales which self-publishing does not.

 

Every day, I open my librarian e-mail account to find several self-published authors promoting their wares of new books.  Some are interesting and might be candidates for the library shelves, but most are poorly written with topics and story lines that are of interest to only the author.

 

Some appear to be text messages expanded to a whole book, and are enough to cause an 8th grade English teacher to faint, or grab a red pen in an attempt to bring the text into the English Language.

 

On occasion, I receive a phone call from the author of a self-published book urging the library’s purchase of their particular book.  In conversation, I usually find that the author is upset that their book is not selling and they are interested in how libraries find their titles in the first place.

 

And therein lies the problem.  Traditional sources are only now reviewing and displaying self-published books and the ability to purchase such titles are difficult to say the least.

 

Libraries use book jobbers for purchasing, and often those titles aren’t provided to those firms.  Libraries aren’t going to go to individual web sites for purchasing books, and we always negotiate discounts for the purchase of new books.

 

I have worked with an Editor on several occasions and am shocked to receive the first round of corrections and edits on what I thought was “perfectly fine writing.”  I would say that most people take that same view of their authorship.

 

The topic of self-publishing reminds me of a kind gentleman who I met in my early days of librarianship almost 40 years ago.  He used the library frequently, and often commented that he loved to write short stories.

 

One day he brought in several of his short stories and asked if I would read them and tell him what I thought.  I tried to slug through typewritten pages of dreary text with no story line and terrible character development.

 

When I returned the short stories to him, complete with written suggestions for improvement, he thanked me and smiled; but later told the library staff that I “had no idea what I was talking about.”