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Self-published books take over the publishing world (much to my dismay)

In its ongoing efforts to give me a heart attack, Publisher's Weekly reports that a whopping 764,448 books were self-published in 2009. PW goes on to say: "The number of "nontraditional" titles dwarfed that of traditional books whose output slipped to 288,355 last year from 289,729 in 2008."

I know there are writerly friends and acquaintances of mine who will say: But Connie! This is the future of publishing! It's too hard to get a publishing deal in this day and age, when money is tight and everybody's looking for the next Stephenie Meyer. And now legitimate authors are turning to self-publishing because that's the only method they have.

I say: Show me a self-published (ie unedited) book that's any good, and maybe you will change my mind.

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SilviaC

Sad but true. One of the comments to the article says there are more writers than readers. A lot of the time I bet that is true.

Another quote, "Many writers who lack writing skills do not lack promotional skills..." also rings true. I am sure there are self-published gems out there, but who can find them?

Connie

I don't know if there are self published gems or not. I've never seen one. Now on occasion something fictional will get picked up by a major publisher (The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry is one example, though I haven't read it) but that's truly the exception rather than the rule, at least in my experience.

My question is: who wants to write a book when they don't READ? It doesn't even make sense to me!

Nan

We have a couple racks in the library where we put the mass market paperbacks people donate to us; you can take them for free. I was stocking those racks the other day and this guy comes up and says, "I don't see my book there." I nodded, thinking he sounded like a self-pub and wishing to avoid engagement. "I can't get anyone to publish my book," he said. I nodded again. "All junk, huh?" he then said. "Not really," I replied. "Look, here's a Roth and a Fitzgerald and an Irving." "I never heard of any of those authors," he said. Finally he went away.

Connie

Nan, this is the single most depressing thing I have ever heard in my LIFE.

Am I a snob if I say you should have to have at least HEARD of all those people to be allowed to try and write a book?

nan

Oh there are way more depressing things that happen in the library every day. The waiting list that is STILL going for The Lost Symbol, for instance. On the other hand, there are life and book-affirming things that happen every day, too, with readers of all ages, classes and other categories lining up to check out books of all kinds. Only about 25 percent of them want to be writers ...

Red&Black

Careful what you ask for ... You will now be inundated with stacks of self-published books wanting to change your mind. My sister and I self-published a book, hired a traditional publisher as a consultant and so it has been professionally edited and designed. We even made the expensive decision to print in the USA. It was launched in August by Neiman Marcus although the subject matter was personal finance and prioritizing your life, not their typical book topic, as we thought our target market was baby boomer women. Turned out our demographics are men and women, from high school seniors to seniors. Our three month memoir, with a confusing title, is now the basis for a financial literacy program being taught at a leading charter High School. Connie, we would be more than happy to send you a copy and see if we pass your "test." Or if you prefer to "screen" us first, check us out at redandblackbooks.com

Connie

I'm already inundated with stacks of self-published books wanting to change my mind, but our policy is not to review them (we review only literary fiction and nonfiction, so your book wouldn't be eligible anyway).

Also, for future reference: This isn't the place to solicit me to review books; that would be my work email, cogle@miamiherald.com


Connie

And Nan: I'm happy people are reading, even if they're reading The Lost Symbol!

I just got a robocall from my library, telling me something I requested is in. Must be either the audiobook of The Lost City of Z or the audiobook of The Heart of the Sea (I'm driving across the state tomorrow and need something good to listen to!)

Red&Black

I am confused. Based on the phrase "three month memoir" combined with "basis for a financial literacy program" you have determined it is not literary fiction or nonfiction. How did you come to that determination?

You post a opinion challenging people to advise you of a good self-published book, and I could easily have many of our 1,000+ readers, including 90+ High School seniors contact you on our behalf, but you then state you are are not interested in reviewing self-published books.

If I had been soliciting you, I would have made a point of including the book title. That was not an oversight, it was so it would not be construed as a marketing ploy.

FYI, since you are a fan of Publishers Weekly, you might be interested to know Judith Rosen wrote about our book as soon as she found out about it.

Connie

The idea - of course - would be not for people to promote their OWN book, but reply: I read such-and-such a book (implied: TO WHICH I HAVE NO CONNECTION) and it was really good. Clearly people think their OWN work is good. I don't want self published authors to tell me their work is good; I want to know if anyone entirely unconnected with their work is good. I thought that was implied, but perhaps not.

A book on personal finance doesn't fall in the category of "literary nonfiction" - nor would a memoir about writing a book on personal finance. Finance books of any sort are generally handled by the business section.

Red&Black

Thank you for your quick response. Cheryl Hall, Finance Editor, Business News, Dallas Morning News has already written an article about our book. As did the Houston Business Journal.

However, the book is not a personal finance book, although it is the basis of a financial literacy class. It is about how a woman (my sister) learned important life lessons about values and priorities when her husband got fired. But how would you know that? You never read the book ... and are not interested in reading it (please note I never asked you to do a book review) ... because it is self-published.

Connie

You understand, of course, that a book editor - especially with several other jobs, like me - is unable to read every single one of the several hundred books that arrive at the paper every week, right? We cull out all sorts of books for all sorts of reasons. We don't review business books or how to books, for example. We don't have space. Self published books, as I mentioned before, aren't edited as rigorously (by professional editors) the way other books are. When you are narrowing several hundred down to the three we have room to write about each week, you use whatever parameters are necessary, and in my experience that's a pretty trustworthy one to go by.

Red&Black

I understand, and appreciate your position. I was merely responding to your initial "challenge" recognizing (and agreeing) most self-published books are exactly as you have described. No arguments there.

This verbal volleyball has been a fun escape, but I can now see how people spend countless hours blogging. I am certain we both have more pressing matters to handle, so I will sign off by saying ... have a great weekend.

Liz in Sarasota

Holy cow, Connie, you make it sound like publishing with a "legitimate" publisher will automatically produce a fine book and solve all your problems. I assure you this might be the case for many people, but it wasn't my experience. I received little/no editorial support, manuscripts being returned with more mistakes than they left with, illustrations being cropped incorrectly... Their marketing stunk and they required me to do my book tour in Maine, in March - what a debacle. Never again! My experience - with a company that had published over 600 titles in my particular series - was so lousy that I thought that I could do a better job, so I started my own publishing company. I was just going to send you a press release about my second book, self-published, of course, to see if you'd be interested in reviewing it. Now I see that you'll hate it! Unlike the diffident ladies above, who didn't want to share their book's title, mine is called The Complete Biography Workbook with two templates, and - guess what! - it tells everyone how to write an entertaining autobiography AND how to publish it themselves. Oh, boy!
It took me a year to write and it's sheer genius. Naturally.
Sorry, too many people have terrific stories to tell, stories about WWII, segregation, discrimination, success after struggles, etc., and no one should a) think having a publishing house behind them is the only way to go, and/or b) be shamed into thinking that they shouldn't self-publish.
If my experience is typical, it's the only way to go.

Red&Black

Hey Connie,

I think I met your challenge, several times over. Check out http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/print/20110328/46619-pw-select-booksellers-reveal-secrets-to-self-published-success.html as Publishers Weekly profiled our book as the self-published "success" story of The South.

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