Elitist Attitudes Against Self-Publishers

Recently, I came across a post from a blog simply called Penn Group that, as an independent publisher, really got my blood boiling. (For another take on this same post, check this post on the Populist Publisher.)

The April 2 post, entitled “Self-Publishing Disasters, Part 2” begins with this statement: “Self-publishing companies are the dumpster-divers of the book world.” From there, it asks why authors feel the need to publish their work if no traditional publisher would have anything to do with it. The author of this post “investigated” her curiosity and found three noteworthy cases: books with bad titles, bad cover art, and bad subject matter that justified her position. It’s obvious she doesn’t care for such works, and based on the examples she presents, I would agree with her.

There are a lot of terrible books thrown together using print on demand (POD) technology and subsidy publishing companies that accept anything someone wants to pay them to print. These “works” give self-publishing a bad name and lend credence to views like those expressed in the Penn Group blog. As a result, self-published authors who care about their craft and the books they produce have begun calling themselves “independent publishers” rather than “self-publishers.”

But there are bad books produced by traditional, big-name publishers as well. In recent years, I’ve purchased books from reputable publishers that contain lots of misspelled words and poor grammar. Should they be considered worthy of the dumpster (or at least the bargain bin)?

There are elitist attitudes against self-publishers that permeate the writing world. The Penn Group blog seems to be another proponent of it. If a writer’s work doesn’t pass the scrutiny of the big publishers–regardless of the reasons–it’s not worth being publishing at all. That’s the mindset of many aspiring and traditionally published authors as well.

Fortunately, there have been many others who broke the traditional mold, produced their own books, and profited from them. They learned the craft of book production to create books that match or come close to the quality of those by the big-name companies. Self-publishers fill niches the traditional publishers won’t touch because of their limited appeal. Local, regional, and family histories immediately come to mind. Without them, a lot of history would be lost and not shared.

Just because a book happens to be self-published doesn’t mean it’s “dumpster-diver” quality. Each should be judged on its own merits and not by an elitist attitude.

UPDATE: The Penn Group blog will now have a “Self-Published Book of the Week” feature every Tuesday “by popular request.” But don’t think it will be positive. Here’s their first selection.


My Experience with Self-Publishing

When I first published Hurst’s Wurst back in 1995, I knew it wasn’t a subject that would likely be accepted by a major publishing company. I just wanted to share the fruits of my research labors with others. Profit really wasn’t a motivating factor for me.

So I typed up a final manuscript on whatever typewriter I owned at the time, literally cut and pasted Xerox copies of a few pictures onto it, and ran off copies and had them bound at the local Kinko’s Copies. I had worked there while in college, so I knew a few tricks to make the finished product look presentable. I donated a copy to the Tennessee Room at the Jackson-Madison County Library and to the Tennessee State Library and Archives. I sold the others over the years, but I was never satisfied with the way they turned out. What I really wanted was to see it published just like those in the bookstores.

A few years later, I wrote a book about the history of minor league baseball in Jackson, TN. Like Hurst’s Wurst, I knew it had limited appeal but still I felt there was still an audience for it. In 1999, my wife and I spent about $3,000 and I had it printed as a perfect bound paperback book. I did find readers who were interested enough to buy a copy and I broke even on the investment.

I wanted to produce the same quality work for my other books as well. But I didn’t have the extra money to do it for all of them. Earlier this year, I learned about Print On Demand publishing (or POD) and I came across a website called Lulu. With Lulu, there are no upfront costs involved and one could produce as few as one copy of their work at a time. The minimum number of books is typically 500 through a book printer, so this was ideal for a poor writer like me!

It does take a working knowledge of Microsoft Word (or other word processing software) to get started and a lot of patience. But if you’re like me and enjoy being part of the whole publishing process–writing, layout, and design–POD companies such as Lulu are wonderful. I won’t pretend that I know everything about it (I’m battling a troublesome cover for Hurst’s Wurst as we speak), but it’s nice to see your finished work the way you want it to be seen.