Self-publishing has the stigma of being the last hope for the impossibly unpublishable. It’s a stigma that’s fading fast as books like “The Shack” and “Still Alice” dominate best-seller lists despite either being self-published or starting as self-published.
Just over a year ago, I self-published my first novel, partially because I could and should, but also to learn. A year later, I find myself working on my third novel, and working hard to juggle writing with book blogging, a book signing, interviews about the books, and discussions with a movie producer.
Yeah, self-publishing’s for losers.
Well, now this revolution in publishing has a new recruit — John Edgar Wideman, a National Book Award finalist, a winner of two Faulkner awards, and a recipient of a MacArthur Genius Grant. He’s the author of the award-winning Brothers and Keepers, Philadelphia Fire, and Fanon.
. . . against a traditional publishing contract — and royalty advance — for Briefs because he wanted more control over the publishing process and to develop a more direct connection with his readers. He also wanted to experiment at a time when the publishing industry is undergoing more revolution than evolution.
Wideman goes on to make comments I took as distinguishing quality from quantity, an interesting rebuke to the attitude among defenders of traditional publishers, which has often confused quantity (sold) with quality:
I have a very personal distaste for the blockbuster syndrome. The blockbuster syndrome is a feature of our social landscape that has gotten out of hand. Unless you become a blockbuster, your book disappears quickly. It becomes not only publish or perish, but sell or perish.
Wideman is the first client using Lulu’s VIP service, which ties promotion to publication, helping to create awareness beyond family and friends. But perhaps the most potent part of the PR event here is Wideman’s choice itself, which may generate more attention for this work than traditional publishing would have.
Of course, the novelty of this will wear off, but as many have argued in the past, the financial benefits of self-publishing may be enough to bring even more prominent authors into the practice. Stephen King and J.K. Rowling really should do the math.
Sure, you can still make the argument that it’s hard to sell a self-published book, but you cannot make the argument that it’s only for second-rate writers.
Who knows what’s next? For book publishers, this source of competition — the power of independence — is sure to change negotiations, and not in their favor.