Feb 182011

Just to make myself ornery, I spent a little time this morning looking at this phenomenon. I found dozens of publishing houses and a whole support system of book pumping PR sites that sell you virtual “book tours.” And these books get on Amazon, often with, yes, dozens of puff customer reviews. Some people will be successful with this alternative to traditional publishing. Few, I suspect. Very few. But this is another sign of the (end) times and a spin-off of the digital publishing trend.



Vanity presses have existed for decades, but technology has made it much easier for aspiring authors to publish without hefty upfront costs. Gone are the days when self-publishing meant paying a printer to produce hundreds of copies that then languished in a garage.

Now, for as little as $3, an author can upload a manuscript or collection of photos to a Web site, and order a printed book within an hour. Many books will appear for sale on Amazon.com or the Web site of Barnes & Noble; others are sold through the self-publishing companies’ Web sites. Authors and readers order subsequent copies as needed.

via Self-Publishers Flourish as Writers Pay the Tab – NYTimes.com.

  41 Responses to “Self-Publishing, or a Journey to the Dark Side”

  1. For more on the subject, go here:


    “Bowker, a company that tracks industry statistics, calculated that, in 2009 alone, new titles published outside of “traditional publishing and classification definitions” numbered 764,448.”

    Explained further. But stop and contemplate that number. The other problem is that there are too damned many of us.

    Yes, I’m part of the problem.

    Someone once calculated years back that if a current trend of new Elvis impersonators continued, by a certain year, 50 or 100 years I think, we would all be Elvis impersonators. Maybe the writing trend will reverse. Or maybe we will all be book writers. But that means none of us will have the time to read each other’s books–we’ll be too busy writing.

    What a world, what a world!

  2. Think what a site like NC could do. Some of us might find a self-published book worth reading and could pass it on.

    Not likely, but a thought.

  3. A self-published book just won CBC’s Canada Reads competition–http://www.cbc.ca/books/canadareads/2011/02/terry-fallis-on-the-national.html
    I haven’t read it. All I know is that Fallis had enough success with the self-published book that a traditional publisher picked it up.

  4. Like it or not, we’ll be seeing more of this, I think. Recently I read about Vincent Panella, and Iowa Writers Workshop grad who, after being unable to find a publisher for his Italian-American short story collection, started his own imprint and published the book on his own. Is this the future for literary writers, especially scribblers of the short story?

    Here’s his site:

  5. The only thing that keeps more writers from self-publishing is ego.

  6. I ‘self published” (or privately printed) two novels; one so that Hollywood types who might want to buy the movie rights could have an easy way to read it.


    The other book was a 250,000 word Hollywood novel that was just too bulky as a manuscript for anyone (even my mother) to consider lifting, let alone reading. A 635 pp ‘trade paperback’ with an attractive cover made it possible for friends and family to give it a try.


    In neither case did I have any illusions about commercial success. But dozens of people have read “Just Like in the Movies” who would never have attempted it in ms form. And our local bookstore owner hand-sold about 600 copies of “Paranoid” the summer I printed it. That was fun. If your expectations are low, it’s not a bad idea.

    • Steve, Brad, et. al—

      Many famous books started out as self-published and several VC faculty have self-published as well. The latter can easily draw on the VC student population.

      The sticking point for on self-publishing for me is that it’s too damned hard to make your work known, much less sell it. I can’t try to work a deal with a local bookstore because there isn’t one. (There are two Borders each about 5-10 miles away. . . .)

      Does anyone have good advice on how to do this, or know sites that can help? If we can get enough info, maybe it’s worth a post?

      • If you consider e-book publishing only, then all the digital platforms are relatively level playing fields. At least so far. I suspect it won’t be long before larger publishing houses end up paying for search result positioning and web page appearances. It may already be happening. I don’t know.

        But right now, you can digitally publish your own book and have it appear next to anyone in the world on Amazon’s pages.

        Bookstores are going the way of the music store.

        Getting anyone to care about your book is always the most difficult part.

        • Yes, the old world of gatekeepers and authority is crumbling before our eyes. One of the surprising things I noticed looking through the internet was the support industry popping up to promote self-published books. I found strange new words like “pump up” your book and “plug” (which I guess is a mere mention of your name or book somewhere on the internet). There are many books self-published by sincere, well-meaning authors (some even make a success of it). But I also found rampant flagrant egomaniacal self-puffery, dishonesty, and zero-degree critical acumen—in an internet world where anyone can say anything, then words and opinions all collapse to the same level of worthlessness. So the old world is going and the new world is being born. Part of the reason for starting this online site was to explore this very moment, to drive a drill core through the culture as it changes.

        • The other problem is that it’s hard to promote and sell any book nowadays. I’ve heard a NY Times review doesn’t get that many sales.

          Advice to self-publishers:

          When you have for some time used yourself to push and parry at the Wall, you must, you must I say, push and parry a Thrust alternately, disengaging, and then do the same Feinting, and sometime after you shou’d make the other Thrusts, telling one another your design, which makes you execute and parry them by Rule, especially if you reflect on the Motions and Postures of the Lunges and Parades.

          When are we getting the official winner of that contest, anyway?

  7. VC graduate Patricia Lee Lewis self-published her poetry book “A Kind of Yellow.” This was a while back and is actually a very good book.


    • Look at that website name carefully. The first word is not WORLD, it’s W-O-R-I-D (an “I” for the 4th letter instead of an “L”.)

      This website will give you viruses and does not actually have the book! I know, because it happened to me. If you google the website, you’ll find out more.

      You must have gotten your copy somewhere else.

  8. Clearly, you haven’t enough to do. Would you like to read fiction mss. for upstreet? 🙂

  9. I think the huge black cloud that hangs over the world of self-publishing is due to the fact that most of us have come across, either through friends or writing groups or bad luck, some truly horrible books pumped out via a vanity press. Personally, I’ve had the (mis)fortune of flipping through some ugly, ugly, self-published books. It sort of comes down to the fact that it only takes a few bad apples to ruin a party: the poorly written, misspelled, grammar challenged books stay at the front of our collective memory. Meanwhile, there are some great works being published in this very same manner.

  10. Someone (one of you?) gave a lecture at VC several years ago on the topic of self-publishing. I can’t find my notes to give this firebrand due credit, but he said a couple of things I really liked. First, he acknowledged the current, abysmal quality of most self-published work and the unfortunately earned nick-name of vanity publishing. However, he compared this to music and film, where independent labels (i.e. self-publishing) are the hallmark of artistic integrity. These artists are respected for thumbing their noses at the major labels who want them to round off all the sharp edges of their work and package it for mass consumption. This guy’s suggestion? Change the reputation of self-publishing via an infusion of talented, out-spoken, non-conformist writers.

  11. That would have been a lecture by Chris Noel’ joined by Janaka Stuckey.

  12. Nothing proves the catastrophic aesthetic bankruptcy of mainstream publishing quite as neatly as the bizarre fact that Chris Noel has to self-publish. Well, at least he’s setting the proper example, sending one talented, out spoken non-conformist writer into the fray.

  13. How many ‘prize winning’ books of poetry / short stories have I read, that made me wonder, willikers, this is prize winning?

    Then I read a stunning (truly) self-published book like PLL’s “A Kind of Yellow” and I am totally at a loss as to why some little house would not have picked this book up.

    Being published by a small press seems to have everything to do with who you know.

    Being published by a well known publisher seems to have much to do with who knows you.

    Self publishing seems related to money and whether you are willing/able to bear/overcome the stigmata of using a vanity press.

    I’m confident that both Chris and Janaka (Black Ocean) would talk with you about these subjects.

  14. On a somewhat related matter, Mark Athitakis talks about the bullshit factor in book blurbs:

    “So, a proposal: If blurbs have a ‘bullshit factor’ problem but are necessary to keep the publishing industry functioning for lesser-known authors, perhaps authors should write fewer blurbs and more introductions for new books they truly admire.”


  15. J. A. Konrath writes crime and horror novels and has become something of the poster boy of self-publishing success in genre fiction. His ebooks, typo-ridden as they may be (according to the few negative Amazon consumer reports he has received), sell well. According to his own reports, he’s selling over 500 books daily and earning 30%-70% commission on books priced $1-$3. He generally receives good reviews from his readers — so many that I doubt he could convincingly fluff that volume of positivity.

    The bottom line is that the man has found a way to make a more-than-comfortable living off of writing full-time, has found a lifestyle and writing style that let him stay home and write rather than go out and promote, and he’s found an audience that legitimately enjoys and funds his writing, whatever we may judge the quality of that writing to be.

    His theory is that people will always buy what they think is worthwhile reading, and so the customer collective will always sort the good and bad apples. Not sure how I feel about that. Nice, in theory. But then are the fluff reviews, the plug and hype services…

    The contrast between indie music and self-publishing is very intriguing. They carry such different associations.

    Anyway, in case it interests people, here is J. A. Konrath’s blog about self-publishing: http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/

    • Thanks. Really helpful information. The $1-book reminds me of the way music has gone. You can produce your own song at home with current software and upload it to Itunes. Maybe this is what you meant by your remark about music and publishing.

  16. So coincidentally I just got an email ad from Lulu.com (a prominent self-publishing site) for Mad to Live, a book by Randall Brown. Some of you know him.

    • Randall’s book, Mad to Live, was not self-published. It won the 2007 Flume Press chapbook contest. (See the April 23, 2008 post in The upstreet Fan Club.) I think Lulu might more accurately be described as a self-marketing site.

      • I knew it had been published by Flume. The Lulu info says it has been reissued by PS Books. But Lulu does offer self-publishing services, doesn’t it? Here is the link. Or am I reading this wrong?

        • I was just struck by the coincidence. This post about self-publishing, the fact that Lulu.com had come up on lists of self-publishing sites, and the suddenly, out of nowhere, I get an email ad for Randall’s book.

    • In the process of Googling myself, something I almost never do, I discovered this post. MAD TO LIVE was originally published by Flume Press and it sold out. They don’t do reprints, so PS Books in Philadelphia (a very small press) asked if they could reprint it, with “bonus tracks.” I said, “Certainly.” PS BOOKS uses LULU as one avenue for distribution. So not self-published, but with these very small presses it can feel a lot like it being self-published.

      • Randall, Many thanks for checking in. What’s fascinating is the number of options and variations of options that seem available to authors.

        • These options and variations, I think, are especially important to writers working with forms (such as very compressed fiction) that mainstream publishers and/or agents aren’t very interested in. Part of the “fun” is finding the different ways to get work out there. I had a hotel chain pay me $500 for 5 fifty-word stories to match their promotion for their cafe coffee: each cup has 50 beans.

      • As I thought. Nice to see you here, Randall.

  17. This is from a FB page…Randall is re-releasing…

    Originally published in a limited edition by Flume Press in 2008, Randall Brown’s award-winning (very) short fiction collection, Mad To Live, sold out almost immediately. Fortunately for Brown’s fans (and soon-to-be fans), PS Books has published this deluxe edition of Mad To Live — complete with new cover art and four “bonus tracks” not included in the Flume edition!

  18. They seem to offer publishing, marketing, and distribution services, and combinations of those. I didn’t realize the Flume Press book was a limited edition. This new one definitely has a different cover, and it doesn’t appear to be self-published either.

    The problem with self-publishing is the marketing and distribution. That’s the hard part, unless you have a distributor (or distributors). Then, of course, they take all the profits.

  19. Any truth to the rumor NC is starting its own publishing house? What will it be called? Blue Dog Press? The Happy Eunuch?

  20. Ooo! Lets have a name the NC Publishing House Contest!

  21. ): Can we have the contest anyway?

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