On Self Publishing – from a reader / writer’s perspective

It has become politically incorrect to use the term ‘Vanity Publishing’ anymore. Self publishing which until a few years ago was the last resort of poets, family memoirists and writers who had been rejected by every mainstream publisher has now come a long way. Several professional companies such as Amazon’s CreateSpace offer easy self publishing options. Even traditional publishers like Penguin and HarperCollins offer self publishing services like Partridge and Authonomy respectively. More and more writers including traditionally published authors with an established reader base are choosing to self publish.

The initial investment in self publishing is relatively low and the monetary returns to the author are several degrees greater than what can be expected from traditional publishing. A Google search will provide several articles by successful self published authors with details of the numbers involved in terms of ebook pricing and sales, royalties and other rights. For a professional writer who looks beyond literary awards and whose main objective is to sell as many books and reach as many readers as possible, self publishing might be the better option.

There have been more than a few success stories of self published authors who have sold millions of copies within a few months of the launch.

So will self publishing take over as the way books are created in the future? The industry pundits make a number of predictions even as the dynamics of the industry continue to change rapidly with interesting developments like literary agents aligning themselves with self publishing.

As a reader and as a writer who chose to take the traditional route for my debut novel, here are a few thoughts on self publishing.

I have read and enjoyed several self published books, both ebooks in their first editions as well as later versions of self published bestsellers that were acquired and reprinted by mainstream publishers. Most of the time, the revised reprints were of better quality when compared to the first edition ebooks. The professional editing that goes into a traditionally published book ensures the prose is uniformly smooth and consistent throughout the book. Not only the prose, the plot structure is clearer and tighter, the characters are more rounded and the conflict resolution is done in a more satisfactory manner in the books that have undergone the traditional editing process.
This difference was clearly visible in some of the self published novels which had fantastic premises, excellent writing and showed great promise in the first few chapters. I felt that they could have greatly benefited from traditional publishing.

As a reader, I find that traditionally published books are certainly more polished. But when it comes to sales, self published authors have a definite advantage.

I have on my bookshelves several wonderfully written and critically acclaimed novels, biographies and nonfiction from the top six (now five, after the Penguin-Random House merger) international publishing houses, which have been unable to make the bestseller lists – most of the time, the reason that the book fails to sell being marketing and promotion, or the lack of it as the big publishers choose to focus mainly on their celebrity authors.
Being responsible for the book’s promotion and marketing, self published authors invest a great deal of time and effort in taking their books to the readers (a discussion about this in a writer’s group on facebook showed that an author spent an average of 3 to 4 hours a day for book promotion through social media and the internet) and their efforts pay off in terms of better sales, and being able to reach out to many more readers.

Self publishing continues to evolve and become more professional in all aspects. And authors both traditional as well as self published are more aware than ever before of the need to promote and market their books by themselves. With time, it seems natural that both kinds of books will begin to have similar degrees of editing and polish over the prose, and equal chances of becoming bestsellers.

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