Thursday, January 29, 2009

Sure, I can write a book!! ...but who would read it?

An interesting bit of news from Shelf Awareness the other day, that also quotes a very intersting piece in the NY Times by Motoko Rich. Well, not news so much as a timely topic perhaps...
"As other sectors of the book industry fight for survival, 'there is one segment of the industry that is actually flourishing: capitalizing on the dream of would-be authors to see their work between covers, companies that charge writers and photographers to publish are growing rapidly at a time when many mainstream publishers are losing ground.'

But where are the readers? 'For every thousand titles that get self-published, maybe there's two that should have been published,' said Cathy Langer, lead buyer at Tattered Cover bookstore, Denver, Colo. 'People think that just because they've written something, there's a market for it. It's not true.'"
But not everyone, including those that run the self-publishing companies, see it that way according to Rich.
"During an economic downturn, books tailored to such narrow audiences may fare better than titles from traditional publishers that depend on a more general appeal.

'A lot of this niche content is doing fairly well relative to the rest of the economy because it’s very useful to people who have a very specific need,' said Aaron Martin, director of self-publishing and manufacturing on demand at Amazon."
But in reality, for most, that is a very cozy little niche, since one estimate is that the average number of copies sold of most self published books is 150. Yes, you who dream of being the next John Grisham...150.

But do not lose all hope! There is always the exception to the rule. Rich cites the example of Lisa Genova, who wrote and self published the book "Still Alice". Yes, the same 'Still Alice' you may have seen written about all over the Internet recently and advertised right there on Shelf Awareness by her publisher Pocket Books, who ultimately bought the book for a six figure advance. BTW, it debuted at #5 on the NY Times trade paperback list this week.

So what is your opinion on self published books? Do you read any, do you review them? Three examples that I have read recently come to mind. One is a self published book by a woman that I know. I read it. Not very good. Another is a self published book that I read, and reviewed here on my blog, that I thought was quite good. That deserved the benefits of being picked up by a publisher and getting the added publicity and distribution that would mean. Why has no one picked it up? I don't know. Is it just a matter of luck, of endurance? Because, without doubt, I have read many published books that were much worse.
And the third is a book that was first self published and was then sold to a publisher and re-released. Well, to each their own, but I did not think it was very good. What did the publisher see? Again, I am not sure but congrads to the writer. And good for you for hanging in there! But the fact that it was published does not necessarily mean it was a great quality.

So what is the bottom line, in my humble opinion?
What books a publisher might buy is very subjective. Many bad books are published ( you and I have read some, I am sure) and a few good ones are not published. The reality is as self publishing gets easier and cheaper, it may well become a bigger business. I have seen some bloggers that say they will NEVER read or blog about a self-published book. I hesitate to draw such a firm line. I will admit that are several that I have read and did not have the heart to blog least yet...because they were just so bad. But then, as I know, there is always that gem in the junk pile waiting to be found. Maybe I am hoping for that gem and maybe I hope that if we bloggers find one and talk about it and a bit of a buzz gets going, someone might hear it and give the book the chance it deserves.
I think there are a few good books out there that should see the light of day.


  1. I wouldn't say I would never read a self-published book. I have one in my pile now. I just don't want to make a commitment to reading one of dubious quality right now when I have stacks and stacks of published books that I am really excited about which have had the benefit of a professional editor.

  2. I've read a lot of self-published books since starting this blog. Before that, I read two self-published authors who had been recommended to me and both were very good (one author has since been picked up by Sourcebooks and I'm now reviewing her for them!). Of the ones that have been sent to me, I really only enjoyed two. I agree that many bad books are published, but you're far more likely to get a good book out of a proper publishing company than from an author who paid to publish their own book.

  3. I certainly agree that the odds of getting a well written and, perhaps even more importantly, a well edited book, are a lot higher with a mainstream published book.

    But like it or not, an increasing number of self published books are going to be out there and I think it is interesting how reviewers, from humble blogs such as your's truly to the mighty outlets decide to handle them.
    For example, it came to my attention that many libraries will not consider acquiring a self-published book.

  4. I think the key here is the idea of the "gem in the junk pile." Yes, some self-published books are worthy of mainstream publication, but they are few and far between. An increase in self-published books means an increased availability of books, but not necessarily good books.

  5. I'm wary of reading self-published books for the reasons mentioned, although I did request one recently that had been reviewed by Kirkus Reviews (if I'm not mistaken). I do think that in some cases it can make more sense to go the self-publishing route, if your book has only a very small market. For example, family historians may want to publish a book about their family, but so few people are going to be interested in it that it will obviously not be picked up by a publisher. Just because a book is only read by a few people doesn't mean it's not worth publishing, IMO.

  6. Oh and I haven't gotten the self-published book I requested yet (I requested it via Bostick), so we'll see...

  7. Maybe I am just an optimist. No, that certainly can't be it...

  8. When I first started reviewing, I had dreams of discovering the next Great American Author via self-published books. Arghhh. My problem was that the vast majority of them are not that great and I hate having to write a poor review. I'll do it, but I really hate it. And I review everything I read...that's my only hard and fast rule.

    So I started avoiding the self-published ones. But I keep thinking about books like The Book of Unholy Mischief, a self published gem that was picked up for big bucks.

  9. See! there is the rub....there ARE those exceptions! granted rare perhaps, but still...

  10. You know, I've read plenty of published books that I thought were utter dreck - why wouldn't I give a self-published book a chance? I have a friend who's working on an eBook that I hope will do very well and I would love to see it get picked up by a big publisher. If self-publishing gets new and interesting books into the hands of people who'll love them, why not?


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