The Changing Face of Self-Publishing

Sorry for the radio silence here; I’ve been helping out with Publishers Marketplace’s Book Expo America coverage over the last few days and now that the show is over, deadlines await.

But on Sunday, Rege Behe at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review penned a long and thoughtful feature about the pros and cons of self-publishing, and why, at least for a handful, it can be a way to go to find a market for books that would not otherwise get picked up. Having said that, do not by any means rush to send self-pubbed books my way, not for the forseeable future, as I told Behe:  “For now, I tend not to look at self-published books mostly because

it’s like finding a needle in a haystack — the chance of finding

quality is slim. And since bookstores don’t generally

stock them because of various difficulties, not to mention there are so

many books published anyway, there has to be a demarcation line. That said, I think there are instances where I would read a

self-published book, say if it’s a figure of authority, large Web

presence, someone I know or trust who has practical reasons for getting

the book out to readers in a nontraditional manner.”

One of those who made it work was Lisa Genova, whose road to NYT bestsellerdom with STILL ALICE was paved with doing it herself:

Agent after agent turned her down, one telling Genova that
self-publishing the book would kill her career. Reluctantly, the
Belmont, Mass., resident paid $450 to iUniverse in 2007 and started to
hawk her book, speaking at bookstores and before seniors groups. She
submitted excerpts and information to Internet message boards and
forums devoted to Alzheimers.

"Ten years ago, it would have been a different story," Genova says.
"How do you reach beyond your neighborhood? But with the Internet, you
can purchase a self-published book at It makes you bigger
than one person."

Then came Genova's eureka moment: a glowing review in the Boston
Globe. She and her husband watched in amazement as her book's rank rose
from in the 500,000s to No. 300 in a single day.

"We knew that people were reading this column and were out buying
the book and now reading that," she says. "We knew that this was a
moment where people beyond my family and friends were reading the book."

But again, a word of caution: Genova, Daniel Suarez, William P. Young may be success stories, but they are the exceptions that prove the rule. And unless traditional publishing changes radically soon, which it won’t because there’s not enough economic incentive yet to do so, they will remain exceptions proving the rule for some time to come.