This is a question I was asking myself a few months ago, after finishing my first novel, Dyke Duffy and the Dog Days of Killarmon, and the answer seemed to be- I don’t. All the avenues that the books and magazine articles suggested as a route to publication- getting an agent, getting published in literary journals, winning contests- none of those were happening. I faced a depressing future of submissions that would be returned unread and years of wasted time and money.
Out of many thousands of submissions sent to publishers this year, only a lucky handful will make it into print. Almost all of those will fall into strict “genre” guidelines, will be a clone of a story that’s already been on the best seller lists, or will be written by a celebrity who has a name, even if that name was made in a field far removed from writing. With so many small publishing houses being eaten by the big ones like fish in the literary food chain, the problem is only getting worse, and soon a very few people will be deciding what’s available for the public to read. Or- that would be true, were it not for the internet.
Somewhere in the mire of advice that’s out there for new writers, I found the answer to my question, and that answer was- publish myself. Traditional self publishing was not an option for me, since I didn’t have a few thousand dollars to invest, and yet I found a way. Internet based POD (print on demand) publishers such as Xlibris, iUniverse, and Buy Books on the Web can help new authors without the “proper” CV or an inside contact in the publishing industry still tell their stories and reach an audience. Many people think this way of publishing might eventually become the norm, and even authors who have had books published by large houses (Stephen King, sci-fi writer Mike Munroe and best selling romance author Lori Foster among them) are turning to the net, for various reasons. Because books are printed to order, there are no returns or remainders, and there is no output of thousands of dollars required to fill print runs. The only initial investment is in the design and set up of the book’s cover and interior, which with a publisher like Xlibris can range from very basic (which costs the author nothing to set up) to almost as complex as you desire, if you have the funds. The quality of books varies with each POD publisher, but the majority are of a quality comparable to any trade paperback on the shelves. In addition to regular paper-and-glue there is also the option of an electronic version, which with the streamlining of e-book readers such as the Rocket e-book and the new Microsoft Reader can only become a more popular option. And the big houses are even getting in on the act- Random House, who already owns a share of Xlibris, has just announced that they will be creating a full-blown e-books imprint, AtRandom. As well as supplying electronic versions of the titles they will also be using POD technology in the new venture.
Of course, those of us who are still unknowns and choose to join in this publishing experiment (and that’s really what it is at this stage) will have to face the stigma of so-called “vanity publishing” and in a system where almost anything gets published regardless of content there will be quite a few turkeys among the swans. But I would hope that people will judge e-published books on their own merits and not be influenced by the absence of a big publishing name on the copyright page. As with anything new or outside the norm, the first ones to brave the uncharted territories will be the ones to make or break the business, and I suppose that all we’re asking for is a fair chance. If you go to one of the e-publisher’s web sites you will be able to peruse the titles on offer, and in almost all cases also be able to read an excerpt from the book, something not available at some other online bookstores such as Amazon. Most POD titles are also available from the big three of online booksellers- amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and borders.com. The major drawback for the customer at this point is delivery time- this can range from a week to several weeks and in this instant gratification world we live in this can be a problem to some. Hopefully the virtual bugs can be worked out if this as well, and in theory a book can be ordered, printed and delivered in a matter of days.
The internet has changed the way we do a lot of things- the way we get our news, the way we write letters, the way we listen to music and the way we study. A few years ago any of this would have seemed ridiculously far-fetched and yet now anyone who is computer savvy would take it all for granted. Someday soon we may all publish and buy books in a different way too. I am wholeheartedly throwing myself into this experiment, although it has been and I know will continue to be a lot of work, I hope that it will be worth it, not just for myself, but for the generations of new writers out there with a lot to say, and many new ways of saying it.
You can help with the experiment- buy a book from an e-publisher. And if you do order one- please be patient. It might take a while to get to you.The sites mentioned here are-