Since September, the Leicester Review of Books has been conducting an ongoing survey to find out what readers and writers think of self-publishing and self-published books. Among other things, we are asking writers to tell us their experiences of self-publishing. What benefits have they received? What are some of the disadvantages or challenges that they have experienced?
We are also asking writers to talk about the reasons that motivated them to by-pass the literary agent and the mainstream publisher and publish their books themselves. And, which is equally important, we are asking for readers’ experiences of reading self-published books.
How do the books compare with those that have been published by mainstream publishers? Are they just as good or are they inferior? If they are inferior, why is this?
Wikipedia defines self-publishing as “the publishing of books and other media by the authors of those works, rather than by established, third-party publishers.” The encyclopedia goes on to explain that although self-publishing represents a small percentage of the publishing industry in terms of sales, it has been present in one form or another since the beginning of publishing. "Many works now considered classic," it notes, "were originally self-published, including the original writings of William Blake, Virginia Woolf, Walt Whitman, William Morris, and James Joyce.”
Hugh Griffin, who works for the Los Angeles engraving and printing company Stuart F. Cooper, adds that in the United States “self-publishing” refers to the practice of buying one’s own International Standard Book Number (ISBN) to protect publishing rights and having the printing done by one‘s self. “Many authors produce books for low prices and sell them successfully… but almost without exception, they use genuine ‘self-publishing,’” Griffin says.
The question of self-publishing is even more important today because advances in technology have made it easier than ever before for writers to publish their own books and make what they are writing available to a wider audience. As Wikipedia contributors point out, the tools which facilitate self-publishing and which are at writers’ disposal have been made possible by advances in technology associated with xerography, desktop publishing, print on demand technology, the internet and blogging.
From the discussion that is emerging, there are strong concerns that a lot of what is being self-published is of a poor quality. Anna Creech, a librarian and blogger, is strongly opposed to self-published books. “I’ve read only a handful of self-published books, so admittedly my experience with them is limited,” she says. “However, all of those books needed the heavy hand and red pen of an editor before they could be palatable. As a result, I refuse to read any more self-published books.” She advises writers to get an editor who is not related to them before they decide to publish anything.