Who of us, as non-published writers, has not dreamed about a novel or book of our very own creation, our name and title splashed across the cover, just waiting to be discovered by eager readers. Even if we haven't completed the first chapter of our novel, we still dream about being "in print."
In the recent past, paying to have your own work printed, hopefully distributing a few copies to family members, a few friends and maybe some limited sales, was often given the derogatory term, "vanity press." Three or four years ago at my first writers conference, I caught the not so subtle hint that self-publishing or financing your own book printing was frowned on, especially by those who were published or at least well-educated in literature and writing.
The veiled reference was that self-publishing was not a dignified undertaking for the hopeful writer. A writer, it was assumed, had to go through the grueling task of submitting one's work through a query letter to literary agents, typically buried by thousands of letters. After many rejections, an agent may want to see your work, or you may be lucky enough to know someone, who knows someone. Then the literary agent may or may not offer to represent your work. If the agent offers to represent you, they in turn spend possibly years pitching your work to publishers. If you don't progress or succeed in this process and you choose to do your own publishing and printing, well, that was given the stigma of vanity publishing and was considered not really being published.
Amazingly, this year, only three years after I was informed about the need for real writers to endure a tedious process of approval, nearly half of the workshops and presentations at the writers conference I attended were about how to self-publish through e-book formats. The encouragement and information shared was about how to get your own work out in whatever method you can.
During his presentation at the conference, Mark Coker, CEO and founder of Smashwords.com, an e-format, self-publishing and distributing company, stated that this is a uniquely creative and powerful time for authors. At this time in history authors have the ability to get their ideas, information and creative writing out to readers through relatively easy and inexpensive methods. Authors are not dependant on the approval process of the mainstream publishers to determine what is published and available to read.
Coker provides several free downloadable book articles to assist with the self-publishing process. They include; Smashwords Style Guide, Smashwords Book Marketing Guide and Secrets to E-Book Publishing Success. Once an article or book is formatted according to the needs as listed in the Style Guide, it can be uploaded to Smashwords.com, which then processes it through the "Meatgrinder" to make sure the text is flowable in different e-formats. If it passes this process and has a "cover" it may be accepted for the Premium Catalog and then provided to other e-book distributors.
Coker acknowledged that the great majority of self-published authors sell very few books and that the self-publishing world does allow for a lot of substandard work. A quality control loop is missed without the literary agents, editors and publishers. To counter this short-coming, he encouraged authors to do exceptional work with their writing, editing and proofing.
After all this is said and done, the question an author is left with, as always is, "How can I get people to read what I wrote?" or in commercial terms, "How to do I market my book?"
This is where the shoe meets the road, the pedal to the metal, the finger hits the power button. How does one get their work out where others may find it, know about it and read it? Marketing one's work can be a difficult and time consuming project. Authors accepted by publishers through the traditional route may possibly have the leg up in gaining assistance with marketing. However, even here there seems to be frequent complaints from published authors that publishing houses are not stepping up to the plate to assist with marketing. The success or failure of the book and its sales is often left to the responsibility of the author.
Marketing or getting one's materials read remains the most challenging, intimidating and frustrating part of the writing process. The deeper "dream" to be read, to be listened to or to entertain is still difficult even with the removal of the cost or stigma of "vanity press" and the relative ease of e-publishing. With or without vanity press or self-publishing, being heard is an accomplishment that remains yet and still a difficult task.