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Self-Publishing "Success" Stories

Rejected
I'm about to get myself into trouble. No matter how carefully I write about the myths of self-publishing, I still expect to receive angry e-mails from authors accusing me of elitism, of demeaning self-published authors, of being a tool for the publishing conglomerate in New York, and any number of other crimes. I've watched it happen again and again on various mailing groups and discussion forums. Reasoned discussion on self-publishing often devolves into a virtual slap-fest from authors on both sides

Comments are open (though nastiness will get you screened). And my contact info is at www.jimchines.com. Slap away.

I have absolutely nothing against self-publishing. I do have serious problems with scammers trying to talk would-be writers into shelling over hundreds or thousands of dollars, while completely deluding them as to what they're getting into.

The sad thing is that most of these scammers recycle the same old lines about how "traditional" publishers refuse to accept new writers*, and then they start listing famous and bestselling authors like Grisham and Paolini who chose to self-publish instead of going with one of those New York monstrosities . . . the implication being that you too can be a NYT bestseller if you self-publish your novel!

I finally got annoyed enough to gather some of these claims together, starting with good old Grisham.

1. John Grisham self-published A TIME TO KILL. Actually, Grisham sold A TIME TO KILL to a small publisher, Wynwood Press, who did a 5000-copy print run. Grisham bought the remaindered copies, which he sold himself. While this is the sort of hard work self-publishing often involves, A TIME TO KILL was certainly not a self-published book.

2. Christopher Paolini self-published ERAGON. Paolini's family ran a small commercial press. ERAGON was not the first book published by Paolini International. Paolini International was founded in 1997, and you could make a strong argument that they are a commercial publisher, albeit a small one. On the other hand, since they were publishing the work of their son, you could also call this self-publishing. In either case, Paolini's success** relied heavily on the fact that his family had five years of experience running a publisher, and were willing to devote themselves full-time to promoting his book. Unless your family has the same experience and devotion to your book, I wouldn't count on achieving this level of success.

3. Mark Twain self-published HUCKLEBERRY FINN. I love this one. Companies will loudly proclaim that publishing is changing, that "traditional publishers" are the dinosaurs of the book world, and that self-publishing and print-on-demand are the wave of the future. These same companies then cite examples well over a century old. HUCKLEBERRY FINN was published in the late 1800s. Given how much the publishing industry has changed, how about we confine our arguments to examples less than a hundred years old. M'kay?

4. James Redfield self-published THE CELESTINE PROPHECY. Actually, this one appears to be true. From everything I've researched, Redfield did indeed self-publish. He gave away about 1500 copies, and word-of-mouth helped from there. What, you thought I was only going to post the false myths? Self-publishing can lead to success. Not as often as scammers would have you believe, but anything's possible.

5. William Strunk, Jr. self-published THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE for his classes at Cornell University. Also true. However, it's misleading. First of all, this book had a captive audience from day one. Unless you can force several hundred students to buy your book every semester, don't count on seeing the same success. Also, there's a huge difference between self-publishing non-fiction and fiction. With non-fiction, if you have a niche audience and you're an expert on your topic, then you have a built-in platform through which to market your work. The success of Strunk and other non-fiction works is pretty much irrelevant to those of us who write fiction.

6. Even famous authors like Louis L'Amour self-published their work! L'Amour's collection SMOKE FROM THIS ALTAR was published in 1939 by Lusk Publishing Company, which was owned by Enoch Lusk. I've been unable to find any other books from this publisher, so it may be self-publishing and not a small press publication. Regardless, what this claim usually omits is what L'Amour self-published. The implication is that he's another success story who went from humble self-publishing to bestselling author. In fact, SMOKE FROM THIS ALTAR is a collection of L'Amour's poetry. Poetry, like non-fiction, is a very different beast than fiction. L'Amour's first novel appeared in 1950, and he never self-published his fiction.

7. What about L. Frank Baum? He self-published, right? L. Frank Baum wrote 14 Oz books, which were published between 1900 and 1920. (So technically, I suppose you could say this example is less than 100 years old. But you're cutting it close!) THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ was the first book, which was published by the George M. Hill Company in 1900. Hill also published at least one of Baum's earlier books. George M. Hill went out of business in 1902, after which Reilly & Britton published Baum's Oz books. The final two Oz books (by Baum) were published by Reilly & Lee. But this myth isn't completely false. My research suggests that Baum did indeed self-publish one work . . . a manual on chicken farming.

I could go on at length, but this could easily become a novel-length work if I had the time and energy. I have books of my own to write. And my goal isn't to analyze every last myth, but rather to take a critical look at some of the most popular claims, in the hope of helping others do the same.

Publishing is hard work. It doesn't matter which route you choose. Commercial publishers can be slow. Most authors who go this route face years of rejection and struggle. Self-publishing gives you a lot more control. You can publish the very first book you ever write, if you're so inclined. (I would advise against it, but that's just me.) On the other hand, the average self-published book sells very few copies, and requires much more marketing and self-promotion by the author. A commercially published book doesn't make you an instant celebrity either, of course. Believe me, I wish it did. But the average book from Baen, DAW, or Tor will sell more copies in its first week than most self-published books sell in their lifetime.

There are no easy paths to success. Whatever you might think of THE CELESTINE PROPHECY, Redfield did an awful lot of work to sell his book and build word-of-mouth. Paolini went to hundreds of schools, in costume, promoting ERAGON. My goblin books are published by DAW, but I still I spend way too much time designing and distributing promotional materials, not to mention traveling to conventions and libraries and anywhere else I can go. Being a writer is hard! (Anyone who says differently is selling something.)

Bottom line: know what your goals are. Do the research. There are plenty of scammers and snake oil salesmen*** in this field. Don't fall for the sales pitch, and make an educated choice.

Good luck!

---

*Off the top of my head, here are a few new authors who sold books to major publishers in the past few years: Sarah Prineas, Tobias Buckell, Joshua Palmatier, Marie Brennan, Jay Lake, Matthew Cook, Anton Strout, and myself. Many more examples are given in the comments thread.

**Don't get me wrong. I would love it if GOBLIN QUEST did half as well as ERAGON!

***The snake oil salesman analogy is borrowed from John Savage, who writes an excellent entry on self-publishing myths at http://scrivenerserror.blogspot.com:80/2004/08/autobibliophilia.html.

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arielstarshadow
Oct. 4th, 2007 12:58 pm (UTC)
New authors are indeed still being published by major publishing houses. One of my co-workers told me about the daughter of one of her good friends (sorry, I don't have the name). She got a $300,000 advance for her first book (yes, you read that right. $300K for a first book). It's fiction but also semi-autobiographical.

Apparently, when she was in France, she spent some time at a monastery where she met a young Syrian (who had been Muslim) who was there to become a monk. They fell in love, but nothing happened until they met again - can't remember where - and ended up married.
jimhines
Oct. 4th, 2007 01:03 pm (UTC)
$300K? Holy crap! Do you happen to have directions to that monastery?

Average first novel advance is closer to $5000 or $6000, but the huge deals are out there too.
(no subject) - antonstrout - Oct. 4th, 2007 01:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - arielstarshadow - Oct. 4th, 2007 01:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - barbarienne - Oct. 4th, 2007 04:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - rachel_swirsky - Oct. 4th, 2007 06:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
antonstrout
Oct. 4th, 2007 12:59 pm (UTC)
My corporate overlords will be pleased...

MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
*COUGH*
MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
jimhines
Oct. 4th, 2007 01:04 pm (UTC)
Of course, one downside to going with a major publisher is you can end up working with some very odd people...
sartorias
Oct. 4th, 2007 01:24 pm (UTC)
I think you've put your finger on the problem, and some self-publishers don't see it as a problem: you have to put in the hard work of hand-selling your book because it won't get distribution. The truth is, vanity press books do NOT get distributed to brick and board stores. The sleazy ones word their come-ons to make you think you will, and they say you will be "featured" on their website, without saying that no one EVER goes to those websites looking for a book to buy, much less editors and agents to scout. The only people on those websites are looking for an easy way to get published themselves.

Some people like the challenge of hand selling their book, so self-pub is the way to go. But I recommend a place like Lulu.com, which is honest--what you see if what you get--and none of the scammers who charge hundreds of dollars for what you can do yourself at Kinko's.
mmerriam
Oct. 4th, 2007 04:20 pm (UTC)
I had to explain to my friends the difference between what I'm planning to do with self-publishing a collection of short stories that I've all ready sold elsewhere as opposed to self-publishing, say, one of my unsold novels, which I wouldn't do in a million years.

I do think self-publishing has a place in specialized non-fiction, but fiction is a different beast entirely.
(no subject) - sartorias - Oct. 4th, 2007 04:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
jonathanmoeller
Oct. 4th, 2007 01:30 pm (UTC)
Actually, you overlooked one very relevant example that weakens your argument: Abdul Alhazred self-published the "Necronomicon" in 730, and that's been one of the single most successful non-fiction books of all time. It's still in print in some form over another after almost 1300 years, and how many books can claim THAT kind of shelf life?

Though now that I think about it, Alhazred was eaten alive by invisible demons in broad daylight. (Maybe they were reviewers.) So I suppose getting devoured by invisible otherworldly entities before a crowd of horrified onlookers is one of the risks of self-publishing.

-JM
livia_llewellyn
Oct. 4th, 2007 01:40 pm (UTC)
I don't think those invisible demons were reviewers. Usually when reviewers eat authors alive, they like very much to be seen doing it. :)
(no subject) - dedbutdrmng - Oct. 4th, 2007 04:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Oct. 4th, 2007 08:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jonathanmoeller - Oct. 4th, 2007 09:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
beth_bernobich
Oct. 4th, 2007 01:56 pm (UTC)
Well said.

And is there something in the air about this topic? Because I've seen several conversations here and there about how self-publishing is the wave of the future, and how we can all do just as much for ourselves as any commercial publisher can. I should point them to your post, if I may?
jimhines
Oct. 4th, 2007 01:59 pm (UTC)
By all means, point away!

I went ahead and posted this in part for my own reference, since I've had similar discussions several times in the past month alone.

Ironically, by posting it on LiveJournal, I've self-published the article. This amuses me.
(no subject) - beth_bernobich - Oct. 4th, 2007 02:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - barbarienne - Oct. 4th, 2007 04:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Oct. 4th, 2007 04:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - beth_bernobich - Oct. 5th, 2007 11:30 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Oct. 5th, 2007 11:44 am (UTC) - Expand
kporterbooks
Oct. 4th, 2007 03:03 pm (UTC)
Excellent work, Jim. Right...rrr...Write on!
(Anonymous)
Oct. 4th, 2007 03:26 pm (UTC)
I have a weblog called Fantasy Debut, which tracks debuts of most speculative fiction, despite its name. During the 3 1/2 months during which I've been running this blog, I've announced dozens of debuts. There are typically 2-3 debuts each week from major publishers and even more from small press. Since I run this blog in my spare time, and since I review books in addition to announcing debuts, I'm actually having a hard time keeping up.

I've done lots of interviewers and I always make a point to ask how many novels the author wrote before getting published. The answer has not yet been "1". What's more, new up-and-coming presses such as Night Shade Books and Juno Books are bringing even more debut authors to actual bookshelves throughout the country.

Tia Nevitt
http://fantasydebut.blogspot.com/
chris_gerrib
Oct. 4th, 2007 03:34 pm (UTC)
First, I am self-published, and trust me, Jim sells more books on a slow Tuesday then I have in total.

Second, Huckleberry Finn was not self-published. Mark Twain, who was already famous, started a publishing company after the Civil War. It's first book is a little thing few have heard of - Grant's Memoirs. (Twain and Grant were personal friends.)

Huckleberry Finn, which is actually the 5th book in the Tom Sawyer series, was published by Twain's company, but that ain't self publishing.

BTW, Twain's company went bankrupt, and Twain nearly lost his house over the deal.
jimhines
Oct. 4th, 2007 03:38 pm (UTC)
Really? I didn't look into this one too deeply, aside from using it as an example of historical irrelevancy (in terms of publishing today). Thanks for the info!
(no subject) - chris_gerrib - Oct. 4th, 2007 05:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - melissajm - Oct. 4th, 2007 09:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - http://claimid.com/amanda_brooks - Nov. 16th, 2007 09:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
It's not? - (Anonymous) - Nov. 21st, 2009 03:48 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: It's not? - wordweaverlynn - Dec. 23rd, 2009 03:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
barbarienne
Oct. 4th, 2007 04:22 pm (UTC)
Other new authors in the past few years with sales to major publishers:

Elizabeth Bear
Charles Coleman Finlay
Naomi Novik
Scott Lynch
Susanna Clarke

If we're willing to go back a whole decade, that list gets looooong. Just start with the finalists for the John Campbell award, or the Locus award for Best First Novel. Expand into other genres: both the Edgars and the RITAs have "best first novel" awards.

But it's easier to believe in some consipiracy against newbies than to think that maybe one isn't quite the genius one believes.

I think I should also point out that The Celestine Prophecy was originally sold as nonfiction, or at least ambiguously coy, to a specific audience (New Agers).
stillnotbored
Oct. 4th, 2007 09:42 pm (UTC)
Don't forget

Sarah Monette
Christopher Barzak
Paul Melko
Hal Duncan

Those are just off the top of my head and the top layer of my bookshelf.
cat_mcdougall
Oct. 4th, 2007 04:29 pm (UTC)
Mrr. If I'm remembering correctly Matthew Reilly also originally self-published his book Contest and was Extremely lucky with it. Now, he's Australian, and not that big here in America (However, this book geek will tell you that Reilly writes at 3000 miles an hour and drags you by the belly button through the entire book, and you should read him, absolutely.) but he did self-publish. And he's made a semi-decent name for himself. (Start with Ice Station and fall in love with all the weird/quirky/wonderful characters and let them drag you along at 3000mph!)
kellymccullough
Oct. 4th, 2007 04:39 pm (UTC)
Nice post, Jim
This can't be said enough.
anghara
Oct. 4th, 2007 05:09 pm (UTC)
Nice one, Jim.
ashenseraph
Oct. 4th, 2007 06:51 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I'm not a big fan of self-publishing, either; I encourage authors to try small-press publishing as a better way to break into the field. But self-publishing has become such a touchy subject that I wince every time somebody asks my opinion about it ... congrats for daring to tackle it!

-- Dru Pagliassotti
Editor, The Harrow
jimhines
Oct. 4th, 2007 07:45 pm (UTC)
Hi Dru! I hadn't realized you were on LJ.

So far, response has been much tamer than I expected ... of course, folks reading this are mostly people I know. As others find the article, I expect comments to get a bit more exciting.
(no subject) - sistercoyote - Oct. 4th, 2007 09:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Anonymous)
Oct. 4th, 2007 08:44 pm (UTC)
intelligent...
..well though out, well researched and..sane!

very refreshing!
*grin*

thanks!
Tom Brown
(Copper Age)
andyleggett
Oct. 4th, 2007 09:24 pm (UTC)
My friend Eve has expressed interest in self-publishing, or at least a small press, due to the difficulty she is having in selling her first collection of short stories. One of the problems is that her book doesn't fit categorically into one genre or even a strict medium, and she would like to generate some word-of-mouth for it first before taking it to a publisher.

Also, she and husband (the punk-Adonis rock-poser artist) are very do-it-yourself sort of punks, so I could see them really getting into the hardcore SELF part of the publishing. Mmm, typesetting...*salivates*
jimhines
Oct. 4th, 2007 11:32 pm (UTC)
I'm not an expert, but every publishing pro I've spoken to has said fiction is one of the hardest things to self-publish successfully (where success is defined in terms of significant sales). And a collection is generally harder to sell and market than a novel. For word-of-mouth and self-publishing to attract the interest of a publisher, I'm told you'll have to sell probably four to five thousand books. (Average self-published book sells closer to 75 or 100.)

These figures are from memory, so may not be 100% accurate.

And the dynamics of self-publishing are pretty different from small press. There are a lot of small publishers doing great work, and publishing some impressive stuff.

That said, if they've done the research and they're willing to do the hardcore work like you describe....
(no subject) - andyleggett - Oct. 5th, 2007 12:20 am (UTC) - Expand
stillnotbored
Oct. 4th, 2007 09:55 pm (UTC)
Good stuff, Jim.

I can see the lure of self-publishing for people desperate to get their work in print. The professional road to publishing is long and hard and a hell of a lot of work. Short-cuts and magic buttons are so much more attractive and inviting if you don't have the staying power for the long haul.

The scam artists make self-publishing sound so easy and on an equal footing with the big houses. And it's not, no matter what a rosy picture they paint.

jimhines
Oct. 4th, 2007 11:34 pm (UTC)
I can definitely see the allure. I was very tempted to self-publish myself at one point. I was looking at iUniverse at the time.

Thankfully, a friend who worked at iUniverse advised against it.
(no subject) - jmmcdermott - Oct. 5th, 2007 02:23 am (UTC) - Expand
mroctober
Oct. 5th, 2007 02:06 pm (UTC)
I self-published my first book. In all likelihood, I'll have to do so again in the future.
jimhines
Oct. 5th, 2007 02:50 pm (UTC)
Which book was that, Steve?
(no subject) - mroctober - Oct. 5th, 2007 02:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
halspacejock
Oct. 5th, 2007 02:38 pm (UTC)
Another data point
I self-published early versions of all three Spacejock books, but I had my reasons. (I'll keep this brief because I've mentioned it all before. Basically, I'd already sold short fiction to paying print markets, and also scored a major aussie spec fic award. That gave me the confidence to self publish.)

Anyway, the self-pubbed books were spotted in a local bookstore by a publisher's sales rep, about 3 years after I published the first and barely 3 weeks after the third came out.

The publisher phoned me up, and I was offered a three book contract. All three books were then substantially rewritten, edited, polished and finally, published.

Books one and two changed a fair bit in the rewrite. Book three is almost completely new, with little of the original left.

As you know, I'm about to hand in book four, and the publisher will likely ask for more after that.

So, self pub was worth it for me, but I still don't recommend it unless your stars line up in a similar fashion AND you're due a huge amount of luck. It does encourage you to move on from one novel and start work on the next, though.
jimhines
Oct. 5th, 2007 02:46 pm (UTC)
Re: Another data point
If I do an expansion or follow-up to this, I'll probably talk to you more about your success and use you as an example. Though I don't know when or if I'll come back to this...

Honestly, I'd have a lot more respect for someone making the argument if they pointed to Simon Haynes as a success story as opposed to Mark Twain.
Re: Another data point - halspacejock - Oct. 5th, 2007 02:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Anonymous)
Oct. 8th, 2007 06:47 am (UTC)
Self publishing
Your cautions are just. I am in the throes of self publishing my third novel. My first two were published by Spinifex Press which is no longer publishing new books. But I am taking a 'do it myself' approach, not going through a vanity publisher. I have had my book edited. I have a friend who is a professional book layout designer and compositor (or whatever the name is for people who do it on computer. She can do clever things with kerning and line spacing that give a professional look and knows about what fonts work for what material and so on.)

I have found a webiste-based outfit near where I live in New Zealand that will publish short runs and deal with internet sales. This place has been doing educational publishing for 15 years and has a good reputation in that field. You pay for only the services of theirs that you use. I have access to plenty of information about marketing a promotion plans. I have no illusions about making money or becoming famous (I didn't with my earlier books which were publisher published) but I expect to cover my costs. Some of my best information comes from the New Zealand SOciety of AUthors, a member-based organisation that provides an excellent service to members.

So I don't think it's all doom and gloom as long as you are realistic and seek out plenty of fact-based information rather than glowing promises. I have a blog where I am recording what I am doing. I don't enter on it often, it's about due an update. It's www.peajayar.blogspot.com if anyone is interested.
(Anonymous)
Oct. 10th, 2007 01:49 am (UTC)
Was catching up on your world. The moment I read "M'kay?" on the Mark Twain response, I busted out laughing. Tears.

Thanks. ~GoGo
(Anonymous)
Oct. 19th, 2007 09:29 pm (UTC)
Success defined as...
Something that I think often gets ignored (either willingly or no) is that the definition of success in these lists of "self-published" authors is that their books are picked up by a commercial press. The Celestine Prophecy sold many more copies after commercial publication than when self-published, the same goes for Eragon.

If the ultimate goal of these lists is to point out that the author eventually gained publication through a commercial publisher shouldn't the logical conclusion be, "Well why spend so much more of my time and money on self-publishing when I could just go through the usual route of submission until publication?"

I also dislike how these lists lump non-fiction and fiction together. If these lists actually looked at honest-to-goodness self-publication success stories they'd be limited to non-fiction books, written and published by authors with specialized knowledge, a niche market and often a built in audience/following.

roach
Raechel Henderson Moon
jimhines
Oct. 23rd, 2007 12:34 pm (UTC)
Re: Success defined as...
Hi Roach!

I do think you could find the occasional fiction self-publishing success story if you looked hard enough. Simon Haynes is the one I think of off the top of my head.

Not all self-published authors see it as a means to a commercial contract -- I've talked to some who simply prefer the control and the speed, as well as being able to avoid some of the messier aspects of commercial publishing. But a lot do expect self-publishing to lead to a major contract, and if that's the goal...

Thanks for the good thoughts!
Re: Success defined as... - sandratayler - Dec. 9th, 2007 04:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Success defined as... - jimhines - Dec. 9th, 2007 04:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Success defined as... - sandratayler - Dec. 10th, 2007 02:13 am (UTC) - Expand
elizabeth_welsh
Dec. 4th, 2007 10:15 pm (UTC)
You make some very good points. With your permission, I'd like to share a link to this with my writing groups. Yes, I'm a frustrated wanna-be with four completed manuscripts and none with pretty bindings. I swear if I ever get to see my work in bindings I may spend half the day with my nose stuck under the cover getting completely high off the professional glue. Okay, not really. The point is I love books and would love to see mine be available on a store shelf.

In the meantime, I managed to build a following without self-publishing. I did it through *gasp* fanfiction and fiction press, where I have 160 permanent fans who all swear they'll buy anything I write if I ever get published. If only that counted with publishers.... I guess the point is that people could find other avenues for building a fanbase while they wait. I'm going to also do some more short stories for magazines. I won a small award that way, and I figure it can't hurt, right?

Edited at 2007-12-04 10:18 pm (UTC)
jimhines
Dec. 5th, 2007 12:53 am (UTC)
You are more than welcome to link to this or anything else I've posted.

I've got a good friend who writes fanfiction, and for a very long time, she had a much bigger readership than I did. I think I may have passed her, but it took a while. If memory serves, there's also Cassandra Clare who went from fanfic to the NYT bestseller list, partly by drawing on the audience she had already built.

There's definitely a high to seeing the books in print. The depressing part is that, like every high, it then leaves you wanting more...
(Anonymous)
Jan. 29th, 2008 07:34 pm (UTC)
Very Interesting!
I picked up a book just the other day and then realized it had also been self published. This book, Princess Bubble, is all over the web and it seems the authors did it all themselves.

The internet changes all the old rules.
icecreamempress
Feb. 16th, 2008 01:40 am (UTC)
Re: Very Interesting!
The authors did it all themselves, including spamming people's LiveJournals! Go on, pull the other one.
(Anonymous)
Mar. 4th, 2008 11:48 pm (UTC)
John Grisham correction
According to the Mercury News, John Grisham DID self-publish A Time to Kill.

http://origin.mercurynews.com/losgatos/ci_8105627

I have read this in various news sources as well. If he paid the company to publish his books, set up the company himself or used them as a print shop, that is "self-published". Possibly this is what happened.

Cheryl Kaye Tardif,
bestselling author (traditionally and self-published)
http://www.cherylktardif.com
jimhines
Mar. 5th, 2008 12:18 am (UTC)
Re: John Grisham correction
If he paid the company to publish his books, set up the company himself or used them as a print shop, that is 'self-published'."

Well, yes. And if you can show me evidence that Grisham did any of these things, I'll gladly make a correction to my own essay. In the meantime, you might want to write a note to the Mercury News, telling them to do their research.

Every reliable source I've found indicates that Grisham published "A Time to Kill" through Wynwood Press. Wynwood is consistently described as a smaller publisher, one which eventually went out of business, but I've yet to find a shred of evidence to suggest that they were a vanity or self-publisher.

The article you reference says Grisham self-published, but gives absolutely no detail or information to support that claim, which leaves me to conclude that they don't know what they're talking about.

It's not surprising, really. I wouldn't have myths to debunk here if people weren't spreading them without verifying the facts.

You might be interested in reading Grisham's own words on the book.
barbhendee
Oct. 16th, 2008 04:45 pm (UTC)
Hi Jim,

My literary agent has recently gone to a new policy of not accepting submissions unless the writer has already published at least one novel, and he points out in his guidelines that a smaller press is fine (in order to meet this qualification) but self-published books do not count.

Do you think that many people working in the professional publishing industry will discount self-published books as almost a well . . . non-publication?
jimhines
Oct. 17th, 2008 12:23 am (UTC)
Hi Barb,

So your agent only accepts queries from authors who have already sold a book? That's one I haven't encountered before.

I'm neither an expert nor a mind-reader, but with that disclaimer out of the way, I'd tend to say yes. Self-published work can be brilliant or it can be crap, with a wide range in between. But the only thing a self-published credit proves is that the author was able to follow the instructions on Lulu, Booksurge, or whatever else. That credit isn't evidence of writing ability, whereas a credit with a small or large press proves that the author was able to write well enough to convince some editor to spend money on his/her work.

My understanding is that until you've sold at least 5000 or more of that self-published books, most agents and editors aren't going to pay it much attention. (And that number may be off ... I'm pulling it from memory, and my brain's a bit fried this week.)
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