Combating the Stigma of Self-Publishing

I've been keeping quiet about the fact that I published my first novel without the aid of a publishing house. I've received a whole bunch of stellar reviews (including this one from a fellow Huffington Poster) and it really hasn't been an issue. There's a publishing company listed on the spine of the book and that seems to be good enough for most people. Partially, I blame that on the fact that I paid an incredibly talented artist and designer to put together the covers and they don't look like your average self-published fare.

Some people are pleasantly surprised by the fact that I took on the job of publisher as well as writer and don't seem to have any trouble accepting it. It doesn't take a genius to see that the traditional publishing model offers very few advantages to readers or writers in this day and age. Aside from shelf-space for a new release and reviews in slightly larger publications, I can do just about everything they can do and more.

I'm an entrepreneurial publisher. I invested in all of the things a publisher would have taken care of out of pocket. I paid an editor, I paid artists and designers, I took care of marketing. And since I took all the risk, I could offer the book to readers cheaper and still maintain a higher return per copy sold. I had to look at it this way: did I want to be an employee in a giant machine? Or the owner of a small business? I already own my own small business and it works beautifully, so the choice for me was natural. I had a few publishing outlets I could have talked to, but in the end, I thought I could do it just as well with an investment on my own.

I was right. I'm in the black on my investment and if sales remain consistent, I'm on the road to making a nice monthly income on the side of my day job. If I follow the same business model for my next book and the book after that and the book after that, in a year or two I'll be able to make a full time living as a writer without ever stepping foot into the traditional publishing establishment with my prose. And that's just with digital sales alone. I'm doing just as well selling signed copies off of my website and doing appearances and signings.

Some people don't get it though. I was dismissed by one gentleman as an "entrepreneurial amateur." Another told me flat out that he was planning on buying my book until he found out I published it myself, but that he NEVER reads anything by a self-published author. His faulty reasoning told him that the only sort of person who self-publishes is the the kind of person who has been rejected by every publisher in town and, as a vendetta against readers, publishers, and decency, puts the inferior material out themselves. They don't seem capable of comprehending the fact that there are thousands of reasons to self-publish and all of them are completely valid.

JK Rowling was rejected by 12 publishers before Bloomsbury Press picked her up. Would it have made the Harry Potter books somehow less good if she went to self-publish them instead of try another publisher? Maybe they wouldn't have had the runaway success they did, but she certainly wouldn't have produced a bad book.

On the other side of the coin, how many terrible books have you read coming from publishers? The answer is a lot. They get it wrong as often as anybody. They really aren't the tastemakers people seem to give them credit for.

And I'm sure some of you skeptics are saying, "I bet this guy would jump at the chance to be at a traditional publisher." And to some degree you might be right. But doing everything from scratch means I know what it takes to get a book together. I'd have to think very carefully about the kind of deal before I'd take it. In fact, I know of an author who put out her own YA Fantasy book, the first of a trilogy (It's called "War of the Seasons" and it's really good) who was approached for her second book by a small publishing press. They talked briefly, but there wasn't anything they could do for her that she couldn't do for herself, and since she likes the control of self-publishing, she is moving forward on her own. Would she rethink that if she was offered something more? Absolutely. So would I.

For all of you people struggling to make this decision, you really need to look at it like any other business decision you'd make in any other arena in your life. Do you have the capital needed to put your book together professionally? Is it a risk you're willing to take like any other small business venture? Are you willing to put the blood, sweat, and tears in? If the answer to these questions is yes, then becoming your own publisher is an option you should seriously consider.

For all of you skeptics out there, just try to bear in mind that there are more than one reason for approaching book publishing as an entrepreneur and very few of them have to do with revenge on the traditional publishing industry for their shortsightedness. And give some of them a read. You never know. You might like it.

Bryan Young is the editor in chief of the geek news and review site Big Shiny Robot! and is the author of Lost at the Con and Man Against the Future.