Friday, February 5, 2010

Self-publishing symposium: Shannon Yarbrough

How does self-publishing differ from traditional publishing?

This is a question that by now, I'm sure most already know the answer to. I could first post the obvious which pretty much defines what self-publishing is in general: The author is mostly responsible for the editing, formatting, and marketing of his own work. Self-published books usually cost more and are sold nonreturnable. Self-published books are not usually stocked by traditional bookstores unless specifically ordered for an event or special order. But, by these definitions alone, someone considering self-publishing would probably frown upon it. These days, thanks to e-publishing, the expense and retail cost is much more affordable, and often free. E-publishing bypasses the brick and mortar bookstores all together, and puts the self-published author in the electronic forefront where bookstores are losing their customers anyway. Authors also keep the rights to their work which means they don't have to pay a big publishing house, editors, and agents, so they can keep more of the profit to themselves. Those margins might still be small, but most self-published authors still find it to be just as rewarding. In the end, we have a slush pile just like traditional publishing does.

Do self-published book review blogs help to raise the reader awareness of self-published books?

Since I founded LLBR (, I would certainly say yes to this question. But generally I find more authors visit the site than readers who are non-writers. Now, we all know that when authors aren't writing, they should be reading. So, hopefully it's a win-win situation. Authors, new and old, learn more about the POD experience from these review blogs. And they also find books to read and can support other authors like themselves. Most non-writing readers don't care about the emphasis put on self-publishing; they just want a good book to read. I think sometimes we put too much emphasis on the self-publishing part because we think POD fans are the only ones reading us.

How do you respond to the following statement? –Self-publishing is not a serious way to get one’s work into print now and never will be.

I would probably respond by saying, "Did you ever hear of a book called The Joy of Cooking? It was first self-published. Or do you know who Upton Sinclair, James Redfield, Oscar Wilde, E.E. Cummings, Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain, Walt Witman, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, and Edgar Allan Poe are? Do you know what they all have in common? Yep, they self-published." Self-publishing is not taken seriously only because of the stigmas that surround it, most of which were created by the traditional publishing companies anyway. But that is changing.

Has the golden age of self-publishing already passed or is it yet to come?

I think it has yet to come, but we are getting there. As E-publishing becomes the norm, and more people buy into e-readers, it's only going to get better.

What about the challenges posed to the self-published writer by having to promote and edit his or her own book?

Well, anyone who is considering self-publishing seriously should know they can't do it alone. A lot of POD companies offer editing and formatting services. There are also a ton of reputable editors-for-hire out there. I'm guilty of trying to do it all by myself, and my biggest advice to anyone out there who wants to is don't take that "self" part literally. Get some type of professional assistance whether that be with formatting, your book cover, or editing. Hire someone. Take a writing class. Join a writing club. Or take advantage of your POD company's extra services if you can afford them.

Why is it that a self-published author has yet to emerge into national recognition as a self-published author? (As opposed to being given a mainstream publishing contract after a self-published book attracts attention.)

They have. You just don't hear about them. But it's because Americans are guilty of all reading the same thing. There are millions of books out there and millions more being published every year. Ask any non-reader to name a popular book though and they will probably say Harry Potter, or Twilight, or the latest by Stephen King, or whatever has been made into a movie this week. That's because as a society, we've always wanted what our neighbor has. We want to fit in. We want to do what everyone else is doing. So in the end, we are also all reading the same books. And so our society as a whole has an effect on what we see on the news or read in the papers. Because that's what is making money.

Take Christopher Paolini's book, Eragon, for example. He began writing it when he was fifteen. Few people probably know it was first self-published. But fewer probably even know it was a book at all because Hollywood made it into a movie. I'm sure Mr. Paolini still cashed some nice paychecks though; today he's only 27 and has published a whole series of books. Still Alice by Lisa Genova is another self-published book picked up by the mainstream that has done very well.

My point is that most self-published authors don't have the finances or collateral that's needed to get that national recognition. If you could afford a massive marketing campaign, then it might happen for your self-published book. Still, it might not. For now, the self-published author is lucky to get the local color page in the community paper or a signing at their B&N, and for some, that's recognition enough.

Has the experience of self-publishing changed the way you write? (If you have self-published.)

Absolutely. I tend to format a new Word document to a 6x9 page right from the start, leaving blank pages for the front matter. I also format the margins and page numbers. All this even for a first draft!

What are the dangers of self-publishing? Are self-published authors, in other words, more likely to be attacked for writing material that is challenging or outside of mainstream?

Well, self-publishing has always been the scarlet letter of the writing world. Self-published authors are attacked for more than their content. I think the freedom from traditional publishing restrictions is exactly why authors self-publish. I've seen and read a lot of non-traditional books as far as design, content, and even illustrations go. That's one of the beauties of self-publishing that I enjoy. It's artistic freedom in a way that has broken the mold on not just the way we publish, but also the way we write and read.


Shannon Yarbrough runs the LL Book Review.

No comments: