I was reading a post on a forum this morning by a girl who was super excited, because she had had her book self-published and the box of books had arrived. I was about to move on when I read the last line of her post and it made me groan aloud. It said, and I quote, "...and the best thing of all is now I can add 'published author' to my query letter!" And what's worse, is that TONS of people commented in agreement with that statement!
Now, if you are reading this and saying, "What's wrong with that? She has a book published, so she's a published author," then I say to you, "No, not really." It's a sad fact that, with self-publishing companies taking advantage of soul-weary battle-worn queriers, that more and more authors are falling into this trap. They self-publish their novels because they think that it will help them to get picked up by an agent or publishing house later on. This is simply not true. Log on to any literary agent's blog anywhere, and you will be quick to find out that 'self-published' authors listing themselves as 'published' authors in their query letters, is one of the biggest agent pet-peeves. That fact of the matter is that to an agent/editor, self-publishing just doesn't count. ANYONE can have ANYTHING self-published. I could sneeze on a piece of paper and have it self-published in a leather bound 'special edition' volume if I wanted, all I have to do is pay. Hence, the industry has no merit. Self-publishing your book, doesn't make it good or marketable, nor does it magically make you a writer who can be counted on for quality work. Maybe you are such a person, maybe not, but self-publication in and of itself does not make it so.
Look at it like this: Did you know that you can purchase royal titles? Really. You can fill out a form, pay a fee and be Duke So-and-so, or Prince Such-and-such. So lets say I filed all the paperwork, wrote the check and became Princess Marian; am I really a Princess? On paper - yes. In reality - no. It's the same for self-publishing; does it make you a published author? On paper - yes. In reality - no.(Though the 'Princess Marian' thing would be super cool!)
Now, I know that there are some of you out there who are protesting, and I can even hear what you are saying. Allow me to address some of your protests...
But Marian, there are authors who have self published and then hit it big, look at Regina Jeffers...
Yes, that is true. For those of you who don't know Ms. Jeffers, she self-published several books, and has since been picked by Ulysses Press who, not only publishes all of her new stuff, but has republished most of her self-published books under new names. So, yes, Regina Jeffers has made it big via self-publishing. She is one person, and yes I will allow that there are probably a few others - lets say ten, just last year. That is ten out of... ready... wait for it... 857,000 people who self-published just last year! Will you be one of the ones to bust out of the self-publishing industry into the ranks of the best? Possibly... but the numbers would suggest otherwise.
But Marian, the profit margin is so much higher with self-publishing...
That may be true, but that only works on paper. If you factor in the money you have to pay, not only to get the book published but to then market and sell it, you are no better off. This is the same argument that many people make about literary agents, 'Why pay an agent when you can go right to the publishing house and get all the money?' and the answer is the same - you get what you pay for. Yes, an agent may take 15% of my money, and the publishing houses may take a larger cut than self-publishers, but I would rather have 85% of a large sum, than 100% of nothing.
But Marian, if self-publishing is all bad, why are there so many self-publishers out there?
I'll answer that one in two parts:
One, there are so many out there because, like I said, they market to the vulnerable aspiring writers and more and more writers are falling into the trap. A company that makes money will stay around no matter what it does.
Two: Self-publishing is by no means all bad. There are several very good uses for it, and most of them revolve around education. For instance, often times University Professors have trouble finding textbooks for the upper level classes they teach. These classes are often very specific and specialized, and that professor may choose to write his own textbook focusing on exactly what he or she will cove in that class. He or she would then have it self-published and sold in the university bookstore for their course. Anther example would be publishing student work. One of my teachers in college taught creative writing classes. Every year he took the final projects of the literature majors and self-published all of them into a book that the student could them buy. The University library and bookstores also held and sold copies. At my little sister's school (she is eight) one of the fifth grade teachers does a project with her kids every year where the kids write poetry and words of wisdom and she has all the work published for the kids and their parents and families. THIS, my friends, is what self-publishing is truly for.
But Marian, I just want to see my book in print, and self-publishing is the only way...
Then by all means, do it. Really. If you have worked forever on you book, and know that - for whatever reason - it will never make it to the mainstream bookshelves, and you just have to see you baby between the covers of a real book, then go for it! As long as you appreciate self-publishing for what it is, and are not looking to use it as a pedestal or spring-board into the mainstream publishing industry, go to town!