Most people don’t know that James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Mark Twain, Bernard Shaw or Gertrude Stein self-published some or much of their own work, and that in the 18th and 19th century self-publishing was common.
So why over the last 50 years did self-publishing become so looked down on?
Books that were self-published were pretty much universally lower in writing quality and quality of production.
Lack of proofing, editing and interior layout design by both, some authors, but also by so-called vanity press gave self-publishing a bad reputation. Self-published books of the last fifty years just looked awful.
But surprisingly, quality of fiction out of traditional publishers can now vary just as much as it can with self-published work. Budget cuts and overworked editors and staff have made traditional publishers fairly sloppy these days, completely killing one major argument for only going with traditional publishers. Selling to New York does not guarantee your book will have a great cover or be well proofread.
Unprofessional companys advertised that writers get their books done cheaply and quickly. Sort of get-rich-quick schemes. Also called vanity publishing. Printing companies that wanted their presses running… or con-artists. Just go to “Writers Beware” and you can find them.
The Only Game in Town Problem
Traditional publishing in the last 50 years did a fine job of pushing the belief system that they were the only game in town. If a writer wanted to be respectable, to get into bookstores and distribution chains, they had to be published by one of the big companies.
Large traditional publishers made deals with distributors to only distribute the larger company books, basically freezing out any smaller publishers and all self-publishers. The traditional publishers controlled the distribution completely and that just got worse with the advent of the large chains and the reduction in numbers of independent bookstores. At least up to the last couple of years..
What Has Changed in Publishing?
It is no longer bad to self-publish or small-publish your own work now. Big traditional publishers have lost their grip on almost all areas. And that’s great for writers and for readers. Readers have always wanted variety and they can get that through Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Sony and many other online bookstores, both with paper books and electronic books. Anyone can get a book easily and cheaply into those online stores. Plus independent bookstores are more and more starting to vary their inventory, picking up the local books by local authors.
Bad writing and over-pushed books by over-hyped authors, will slowly dissapear in this new book world. Readers now have too many choices and too many ways to get their reading.
Readers love a good story told well. They will buy a book if they hear good things about it, know an author’s name, or run across the cover and think it looks good. Sampling in electronic and paper sales will help a great deal. Readers will not care if a big traditional publisher’s small imprint published the book or a small press imprint of an author published the book. No one buys books because of who published them!
Big publishers will not go away, but many will fail who do not adapt. Their control over what customers can read has ended. Smaller publishers just starting out now will become major publishers down the road and the cycle will continue as it always has in the past. But now, standing side-by-side with the traditional publishers in the distribution system are thesmall publishers and the self-published authors.
But still, you might want to worry about your book quality. The same goes for the interior and cover design of your book.