Vern's Verbal Vibe

Singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist and purveyor of folk 'n' roll: spirit-filled sad songs made better.

June 05, 2010

Self-Publishing: The Subway Test

Well-meaning friend: "Any progress on Leilani's Gift? I'm dying to read it."

Me: "I'm still trying to get it published."

Well-meaning friend: "Have you thought of self-publishing?"

Me: "No."

Whereupon my friend—and it's not just one; I've heard many variations on the theme—will try to sell me on the virtues of self-publishing. For the right author and right book, I suppose, they are several: artistic freedom, independence, complete control and timeliness of publication, to name but a few.

The fact is, I'm a poor candidate for self-publishing, and so is my book. Unless you're a marketing genius, selling huge quantities and self-publishing are mutually exclusive, and self-published memoirs die especially quick deaths. Ideal genres for going it alone are business, motivational, health, how-to, cookbooks, and those aimed at specialty (read: tiny, i.e., niche or regional) markets.

If you don't believe me, try this: next time you're on the subway, take a look at what people are reading. I've been conducting informal research for a few weeks and I've yet to see a self-published book. Of all the material that commuters read—including e-books, audio books, whatever—I'd be shocked if self-published titles exceeded 2%.

If you're content to have your work read by your grandmother and 53 of your friends and can't wait to get it out, by all means, self-publish. You'll have complete control and shoulder complete responsibility for editing, proofreading, bookbinding, layout and design, typesetting, marketing, distribution, accounting ... you name it. But if your goal is seeing a riveted Jack or Jill Lunchbucket turning your pages—on the subway, at the cottage, in the bathroom, in Toronto, Tucson, Turin or Tokyo—traditional publishing is the way to go.

And yes, it's a long road. I wish my book was out too. With a little patience, diligence and persistence, it will be ... when it's ready. In the meantime, I've hired an editor to work with me on a structural (big-picture) edit.

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