Our society reveres The Book. It is a symbol of achievement, an intellectual victory over things in our head. We read about authors “working on The Book” for years, hoping to finish and publish The Book.
To “get published” we knock on the doors of gatekeepers—agents and publishers, and beg to be deemed worthy. “Is it any good?” people will ask when they share their draft with you.
There are websites that report how many rejections famous authors got for a Book That Made It Big. Here are some: https://www.onlinecollege.org/2010/05/17/50-iconic-writers-who-were-repeatedly-rejected/ or http://www.litrejections.com/best-sellers-initially-rejected/ or https://www.writerswrite.co.za/50-iconic-writers-who-were-repeatedly-rejected/ (These are a fun distraction from writing Your Book.)
In fact, there is a myth that if you drop everything and write A Book, you can hit pay dirt. The long, lonely years at a pathetic desk somewhere (because you are not rich and it isn’t nice) will pay off. “My book bought the house,” you’ll hear. You’ll go on Book Tours all over the country. Readers will adore you. The spouse or parent who supported you for years will exhale.
Meanwhile, agents and publishers are/were having fancy lunches in New York, hustling each other, to discover The Big Book or The Big Author. You feel your face pressed against the window of the restaurant.
The thing is, agents and publishers need to make money. So yes, they are looking for a “Good Book” but they are also looking for book SALES. I think that means thousands of copies. They will invest in editing, formatting, cover design, and marketing. They need a return on investment.
Meanwhile, the internet came along, and print-on-demand technology came along. Nobody has to print 5,000 copies and then store them, ship them, take back returns, remainder them. Now, a reader buys a book, and it is printed and shipped. Even better, the print-on-demand services became something AUTHORS can do, or delegate to a technical helper. Making a book became Cheap and Easy. Thus, You and I can put a book “out there.”
We can bypass the agents, the publishers, even the bookstores. We have to handle our own publicity and marketing. People in the industry will tell you Those Are Professional Skills. As are the skills of editing, layout design, cover design, and marketing strategy.
What if your book is really Precious and Magical to only about 50 people? What if it’s pretty good, but you can’t get a “yes” from 30-50 agents? Beatrix Potter (The Tale of Peter Rabbit) and Zane Grey resorted to “self-publishing” their first books. Many, many writers, philosophers, teachers—throughout history—have “made a book” and put it “out there.”
(Look up Samuel Pepys Diary, written for a decade from 1660, when he was a 26-year-old civil servant in London.)
Until recently, there was a stigma against self-publishing. It is labelled “vanity publishing.” You are deemed a loser who cannot succeed with publishing people who have “standards.” (As you can tell from the lists of notable “losers,” it’s not a bad group.) And remember, “standards” are warped with “sales.”
Part of my motivation to self-publish is rebellion. Rebellion against an establishment and an industry that locked out and even trashed new writers. Just say “no” to arbitrary, fickle, derisive, biased gatekeepers! Also, practically, I don’t want to spend years piling up rejections. Some of my friends are not up to the technical task of finding agents, pitching to agents, submitting to agents. These are barriers that come after what feels like the major task, which was writing The Book.
So, do you want a few people to know “your stuff?” Is it lying in a pile of loose papers? We Can Have Our Book. And share it. Reveal your deepest thoughts, imaginings, stories, secrets, observations in a Book. Maybe get a “wow” from “out there.”