After Shadow on the Hill: The True Story of a 1925 Murder was unleashed upon the world, several writers asked me about the self-publishing process. As a result, I’m working on a series of posts detailing my project and the choices I made. Before you read further, I offer you two important warnings:
Warning 1: The self-publishing industry is evolving very fast, which means that my posts on the subject will probably be outdated by the time you’re reading them.
Warning 2: The choices I made for my book may not be the right choices for you.
The Old School Librarian’s Bias
I spent eleven years working in public libraries: five years as a library page at a large metropolitan library during my high school years and six years on the reference desk of a mid-sized city library during my adult years. As recently as 2009, us librarian-types were still pretty skeptical of self-published books. It isn’t that we were opposed to an author self-publishing, it was that we didn’t want to accidentally waste taxpayer dollars on a poorly written, poorly edited book, or in the case of nonfiction, a book that could potentially give bad or even dangerous guidance. For us, the issue was that the books weren’t vetted by anyone.
Librarians WANT to support local authors. Librarians WANT to offer their patrons new and thought-provoking books. Librarians DON’T WANT to waste money on books that won’t circulate or could cause harm to readers. Sadly, this meant that librarians often dismissed self-published books without a backward glance.
Then a series of important events happened that changed the way readers and librarians looked at self-published books:
- The publishing industry threw itself over a cliff. They dumped quality mid-list authors and focused on megablockbuster authors and celebrities; they were slow to join the eBook revolution; and they laid off their editors and copyeditors, resulting in poorly edited books.
- Publishers Weekly began to publish PW Select, a quarterly guide that reviews and recommends self-published works, thereby creating a vetting process.
- Online booksellers, reader-oriented sites, and book bloggers took the lead on reviewing and vetting books.
- Digital POD presses began to create quality books that can withstand library use.
- Pretty much everyone has access to an eReader, tablet, Android phone or iPhone, broadening the audience for eBooks.
- An entire industry of editors, cover designers, and production people has developed to ensure that a self-publishing writer can create a quality product.
Librarians are still committed to not wasting money, but they now have the tools that make it possible to confidently choose self-published books that are a good fit for their patrons.
Why I Self-Published
In 2012, I took the plunge and decided to self-publish Shadow on the Hill: The True Story of a 1925 Kansas Murder. For two years, I accumulated dozens of rejection letters from mainstream publishers and agents, many of whom were actually very complimentary of the manuscript. I might have walked away from it if it had been a novel, but it was nonfiction, and I hated the idea of a piece of Kansas history being unavailable because a handful of mainstream publishers didn’t want the project.
Even though I had been following the publishing industry closely for half a decade and could see how the industry was changing, that niggling Old School librarian’s bias was still creeping around in my brain. I discovered, though, that the tools are out there to create the kind of book that readers will read and librarians will buy. So I self-published. The process takes a lot of work, but I’ve created a book that has been well-received. For me, it was worth it.
About This Series of Posts
Through this series of posts, I will talk about making choices about formats and costs, crowdraising, marketing, understanding and communicating with your audience, and resources I found helpful. I will be opinionated, but I will not tell you what to do, because my choices might not be the right choices for you!
Please feel free to make comments and ask questions.