Thursday, April 01, 2010

Should You Self-Publish? Redux

In August of 2008 here, in a post called "Should You Self-Publish?" I created a sort of decision tree to help writers decide whether they should consider self-publishing or not. I asked five questions as follows:

1. Are you a newbie author or an established name with an audience?

2. If you are a newbie, are you writing fiction or non-fiction?

3. If you are writing fiction, do you have a niche market ready and willing to buy the book?

4. If you do not have a niche audience ready for your fiction, do you have specialized marketing or publishing industry skills (and the money to invest heavily in your book)?

5. If you don’t have a niche audience, don’t have specialized marketing skills and don’t have publishing skill, what are your personal expectations? Do you want to just hold a book of yours in your hands, or do you want to see it on the shelves of libraries and bookstores?

Now, almost 20 months later, let's ask the question again: Should you self-publish?

Monday's Los Angeles Times had a story about John Edgar Wideman. The article described the author this way:
Best known for his 1984 memoir "Brothers and Keepers" and his fiction cycle "The Homewood Trilogy," he's won two PEN/Faulkner awards, been a National Book Award finalist and received a MacArthur "genius" grant. He has a tenured appointment at an Ivy League university. His agent, Andrew Wylie, is one of the most powerful in the business.
Wideman has also decided to self-publish his latest book--Briefs: Stories for the Palm of the Mind?--through Lulu's new VIP Author Program. Briefs includes 100 "micro-stories" intended for people without a lot of time to read.

The article addresses Wideman's reasons for self-publishing:
"... his main concern ultimately is that of a writer trying to take control of his own work ... For Wideman, innovative writing has been squeezed out by the blockbuster trend in publishing."
The article also points out the big risk of self-publishing with Lulu: "... going independent means giving up the infrastructure that a traditional publisher provides ... That's the trade-off between a traditional publisher and self-publishing with a company like Lulu: independence for service."

If we go back to my list above:

1. Wideman is certainly not a newbie.

2. Wideman writes both fiction and non-fiction but Briefs is fiction.

3. Wideman certainly has an audience. The question is: How will he reach them?

4. He has experience in publishing and he has a good agent. Will that be enough?

5. Only Wideman can answer the question of what he hopes to achieve with Briefs. The article seems to indicate he understands the steep slope he is facing:
"The idea of talking individually to readers is quite appealing," he says. "But I'm not going to become a huckster, either."
Of course, it may help that Oprah likes him. In March, 2007 her O magazine had an article titled "Books That Made a Difference to John Edgar Wideman." In the October, 2009 issue he offered advice for aspiring writers. And the Los Angeles Times says O magazine is carrying the micro-story "Witness" from Briefs.

It will be interesting to see the sales numbers for Wideman's self-published book.

Read the Los Angeles Times article here.


Colleen said...

Interesting list. There are folks in my writing group who have self-published to few sales, although one has a niche, local market and an option has been taken a local theatre company may turn one of his novels into a play. Since he is giving that to them freely, I don't believe he has aspirations for mega sales so self-publishing is good for him. Me, I still hold onto dreams of traditional publishing and hope my PR chops will help me generate sales.

Maya Reynolds said...

Colleen: Having a plan puts you way ahead of the line.

Newbies always make the mistake of thinking a bound book is the end of the road. And, of course, the self-publishing operations never explain to them how tough it is going to be without a distribution network in place.

As e-books gain in popularity, self-publishing becomes easier. Then the challenge will be for the reader to discriminate between a traditionally published book via a publisher and a self-published book by a newbie.