Once, the reasoning went that if a book truly was good then it would interest the editor of a large publishing house. Pleasing the gatekeepers of the publishing industry, then, has long been the priority of most aspiring authors. We have studied the market, researched the preferences of various publishers, and honed our query letters and proposals according to the tried and true formulas. Then we’ve embarked on our rounds of submissions; and most of us, at this stage, have experienced little else besides rejection.
Vanity presses and other self-publishing avenues have long provided an alternative to this often discouraging route. In the past several years, the advent of Print on Demand (POD) technology has made it even easier for authors to take control of their own creative destinies – or at least to see their work in print. The problem hitherto has been that POD and other self-published books have not been given serious consideration by reviewers, mainstream publishers, and even readers. In the past, to self-publish essentially equated to admitting defeat. But things seem to be changing.
A decade ago – even five years ago – Publisher’s Weekly would never have considered looking at self-published books. Now they do. Their change of attitude is but a symptom of the larger movement that’s gaining momentum. Even larger book publishers have begun to search the Internet and the shelves of independent bookstores in search for works by self-published authors that might fit into their own programs. The reasoning is that if a book is popular with a local audience, why might it not be embraced by a much wider audience if given the exposure. Random House ask their representatives to keep their eyes open. A spokesman for Simon and Shuster has opined that every single publisher is on the lookout for self-publishers.
In other words, it’s possible these days to self-publish and still respect yourself for doing so.
It’s odd that this revolution didn’t begin occuring sooner, when you consider that many of the classics of literature had such humble beginnings. Henry David Thoreau’s Walden and James Joyce’s Ulysses were both self-published. So was Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. In fact, a list of all such works that are now well known but which, once upon a time, no mainstream publisher wanted to take a chance with would fill a novelette. Some of the authors who have been obliged to go this route include Deepak Chopra, William Blake, Benjamin Franklin, Edgar Rice Burroughs, e.e. cummings, T.S. Eliot, L. Frank Baum (Yes! Some of the immortal “Oz” books!) Beatrix Potter (Tales of Peter Rabbit), Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Lord Byron, and Percy Bysshe Shelly. This is but a sample.
Some modern success stories include The Celestine Prophecy, which James Redfield once sold out of his car, The One-Minute Manager, What Color is YourParachute, and Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. The film Legally Blonde, starring Reese Witherspoon, was based on the POD-published novel of the same name by Amanda Brown. Arthur Herzogi, who has published numerous books through iUniverse, has seen two of them optioned for film: Orca (about a killer whale), and The Swarm (which concerns an attack of savage bees). Indeed, there have been many instances when self-published books have gotten acquired by movie companies before the big publishing houses can even get their hands on them.