"But what better time to be an author?! All any writer wants is the chance to reach an audience and see what happens from there. Just a chance. And it's looking like everyone's going to get that chance." — Nathan Bransford
Receiving rejection from a publisher no longer spells doom to a writing career. Today, writers who are rejected trying to get into the front door of the publishing industry can find a way in through the back door of self-publishing. The process is not without its pitfalls, however.
N. Frank Daniels’s Futureproof was published this year by Harper after years of struggle and wandering through the murky wastelands of the slush pile, the place where unsolicited manuscripts linger. When you read Futureproof, you realize why — Daniels is writing in an experimental way in an attempt to give voice to a culture and a segment of a generation.
To criticism of his writing style, Daniels responds in an interview at The New Podler Review of Books, “The two biggest requests I’ve had from agents and publishers since Futureproof started getting noticed is to add more ‘plot,’ followed by asking if I could possibly call it a memoir (codespeak for ‘did all of this really happen?’). In the end I decided against doing either of those things because I felt it would be compromising myself too much artistically. Life isn’t about ‘plot,’ nothing is ever really tied up neatly, and that’s what I wanted to do with this story: give an accurate representation of how life is really lived in this segment of the population.”
Undeterred, Daniels published his Generation X manifesto through self-publishing outfit Lulu.com. His book found an audience via social-networking sites like Facebook and MySpace. Eventually, Futureproof found a home at Harper, and Daniels received a mainstream publishing deal.
Writer Jeremy Robinson has traveled a similar road. With his thriller Antarktos Rising — a gripping tale of a sudden and dramatic global climate change, the inexplicable greening of Antarctica, and Biblical monsters — Robinson had trouble overcoming mainstream publishers’ reluctance, possibly because of the book’s Christian slant. Like Daniels, Robinson decided to take his case to the people, and he won: His book sold well on Amazon.com, thanks to viral YouTube videos and word of mouth, well enough that he was able to get a mainstream contract for his next thriller, Kronos.
There are a number of others: the phenomenal bestseller Eragon started out as a self-published book. More recently, Still Alice by Lisa Genova has broken into the mainstream.
HOW DOES SELF-PUBLISHING WORK?
Companies like Lulu.com, iUniverse.com, Author Solutions or Amazon's Create Space operate via web sites. Creating an account enables you to upload your digital file. There is a certain kind of creative freedom involved: The book can be about nearly anything and doesn’t necessarily have to be a door stopper — you can publish something much shorter than what would traditionally be required by a publisher.
Once your file is uploaded, the company prints the book, one copy at a time, as orders come in. Copies can be ordered through the company web site or through other distribution channels, such as Amazon.com, depending on the distribution options that you select. In most cases, however, such books will not be ordered by brick-and-mortar bookstores, primarily because bookstores cannot return the unsold books to the publisher.
The cost to the writer varies from nothing at Lulu.com and Create Space for a bare-bones, do-it-yourself option, to many thousands of dollars for premium options at Author Solutions.
For the struggling mainstream publishing industry, self-publishing could be a good solution: If the writer does all the hard work of writing a great book, then also editing and promoting it, and if that effort translates into sales, all that mainstream publishers have to do is to swoop in and pluck the winner. For others, like Amazon, self-publishing could be a potential goldmine of bestsellers free of strings to old-line publishers, if its new program, AmazonEncore, manages to find the next James Patterson or John Grisham.