Friday, February 8, 2013

The Harsh Truth About Self-Publishing

I'm starting a writers' group in my area. It's super exciting! I miss my excellent group where I used to live, and since I can't play roller derby until the baby is born, I need more social interaction.

It'll be held at a local bookstore in the area. The owner and I met for about an hour, just to work out logistics and get to know each other. Surprisingly, there was one topic the owner wanted to talk about extensively:


It took me a long time to figure out why she even brought it up. The owner talked about how often self-published authors come in trying to sell their books to her and how she had accumulated shelves full of them.

"And I'll probably be stuck with them for the rest of my life," she complained. "No one's buying them. I can't sell them at a discount. I can't sell them at cost. I'm just wasting money because I can't get rid of them."

I asked her if she couldn't just sell them back to the authors. "Sure," she said, "If I wanted to contact every single one of them."

Later on in the conversation, we talked about hosting events at her store. Self-publishing came up again.

"I used to host a lot of book signings for self-published authors. I can't do it anymore. From now on, I'm going to start charging $300 to do a signing if the author is self-published. Otherwise after the marketing and setting up treats and buying the books, I lose lots of money." She rubbed her forehead, as if reliving the disappointment.

She's had the bookstore for decades, and never once has she made a profit on a self-published book.

"I just can't do it anymore," she said.

I was about to leave when she brought me over to the self-published section to show me just how many books she's stuck with. Finally, I had a guess as to why she kept mentioning self-published books.

I told her, "If any of the writers in my group are self-published, I'll be sure to tell them you won't sell their books or host any signings."

You know what she said? "Thank you, I appreciate it."

Self-publishing is often our go-to fantasy when things aren't going well with agents. We imagine ourselves being our own person, having complete control over our books' contents and covers, sitting proudly at book signings we set up ourselves, and basking in the glow of being a real writer.

Let's not forget the cold, harsh truth: self-published books are the red-headed step-children of the publishing industry. Most bookstores won't even accept them, and when they do, the books gather dust.


  1. Good post. My girlfriend and I talked about this a couple nights ago when she asked why I didn't just self-publish through Amazon.

  2. That's so interesting. It never even occurred to me because I assume that most self-publishing now a days is e-publishing. But it's an interesting take from the bookstore owners side of things. And you're right, though self-publishing is gaining respect, it's still the red headed child of publishing (which just makes me think of the Weasley's, so I'm not averse to the gingers ;) Great post!

  3. I think some of the problem is the expectation of the authors. Just having a book and being in a book shop isn't enough. If I was having a self-published signing in a bookshop, I wouldn't expect the shop to do the publicity (apart from a chalk board outside - my local indie bookshop has a chalkboard, that's why I mentioned it). Where is the marketing from those authors to get people into the shop in the first place?

  4. The digital revolution has definitely changed the way authors, and even agents and major publishers, see self-publishing. Thanks for a different, and sobering, perspective. I wonder how much this bookstore owner's experience matches the real truth of self-publishing int he e-world as well.

  5. Hello Teralyn! I'm so glad I had the chance to read this blog post. I must hurt my heart tremendously! As I began to read your post, I found myself filling with respect and appreciation to the Book Store Owner who took a chance on those self-published books. What a gift that was to those authors! The Owner graciously allowed "readings/signings" How wonderful! the end of the blog my heart hurt. It hurt for the Book Store Owner, it hurt for those Authors and it hurt for future Authors who choose the self-publishing route and will not be blessed by someone like her. She was a generous person.
    I hate the headed step child. Such a bad comparison, not only for Self published authors but for red heads and step children!
    I self-published a book in 2006. That was when self publishing REALLY got a bad rap! Everyone accused self-published authors of being vain, of being lazy, untalented and not willing to pay our dues in the writing industry. For the record..a good product is a good product! Self-published books have to be judged on a book by book basis. I sold my book quite successfully out of my store. I worked hard going to schools, fund raising events, libraries etc. marketing myself and my book. I believe that may be where the problem comes in. Authors, whether self-published or Traditionally published, need to do the work required to sell their books. You need to get out there and sell yourself and your product. Even new authors that have been published by a Traditional Publishing House MUST have a good Marketing plan. There is NOT a huge budget if any kind of budget at all from a traditional publisher when a brand new author is discovered.
    I feel sad for the Book Store Owner since she now has a terrible taste in her mouth. It sounds like her kindness did back fire on her. I'm sure at least a few of those authors really appreciated seeing their books on her shelves. Unfortunately, she feels bruised and defeated by it. My suggestion is she donate the oldest ones to charity and take the tax write off. The newer ones, well, maybe the authors will self promote and maybe they will sell.
    There are those blessed few Authors whose decision to self publish worked out very well for them. I have a feeling that those authors worked hard to "make it happen!"
    *****A word to the wise though.....DO YOUR RESEARCH when deciding to self-publish. There are many many many self-publishing companies that are not doing right by newbies and the authors are being hurt financially by some really bad business practices. So Be Careful!

    1. Thank you for your insight! You're right, self publishing takes a lot of hard work.


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