On the Futility of Self-Publishing

Dear Blog Bros—

I wasn’t planning to post a blog today, but we (finally, finally!) got snow last night.  So, in honor of that, I thought I’d write a little essay about my continuing ‘Adventures in Publishing.’

Firstly, I just watched BJ Novak’s book trailer for ONE MORE THING, and guess what?  It’s great.  And so, according to my local bookstore, is his collection of short stories.  Well, I can’t complain about BJ’s talent or success.  I’ve been a fan of his for years.  But what I can complain about is the amount of loud, laudatory, instant, fantastic visibility his book is getting!  Granted, his book is published by Knopf (oh, yeah, Knopf, big name), but that’s not what interests me.  What I wonder is what it takes for a poor self-published slob—the one without name recognition, fame, Hollywood ties, Harvard degrees, etc., etc.—to score in this literary landscape.

Ok.  So I signed up for a free webinar about boosting your book’s visibility on Amazon.  I was not happy about sacrificing family time to do this, but I did.  And what did I learn?  Horror-of-horrors—the host’s main thrust was to encourage us to write 2 books per month, outsourcing the writing if desired, on any subject* we have a minimal amount of interest in (no expertise required; Wikipedia furnishes that) as long as we find the right ‘niche.’

And how do you find a niche?  Study Amazon’s top 100 lists—any of them, all of them.  Choose your subject.  Then look for the last book on the first page of this particular Top 100 List.  Make sure the book isn’t TOO popular (I can’t remember the metric here—something like ranking higher than 50,0000 in the Kindle bookstore) or too unpopular (below a ranking of 30,000, I think).  Then, if the book you’ve found fits these parameters, BINGO!  Write one of your own on the same subject.

I probably don’t have all the details of this webinar correct, but I did get the gist of it.  And while I’m all for self-published books to see the light of day, I’m appalled at the prospect of people finding out what’s popular and writing sham books targeted for a proven (and profitable) audience.  So sad.  Now, not only are aspiring authors (ones who really want to write a book and have studied/practiced their craft for years) up against the BJ Novaks (god bless him) of the world, they’re battling tens (of hundreds?  Of thousands?) of non-writers who just see the internet (and internet book sellers like Amazon) as a place to cast their nets using whatever bogus means possible to make a profit.

Sorry for griping.  I’m just so sad about this.  I really don’t know what’s in store for folks trying to write/publish/sell really good books without a name, an advocate (eg, traditional publisher) or a glamorous scam-plan.

*Special bonus for children’s writers–the webinar host chose children’s books for his first few forays into publishing–because they’re short, don’t require much expertise, and are ‘easy to write.’

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2 thoughts on “On the Futility of Self-Publishing

  1. Uphill battle all around. I remember one statistic that sticks in my mind, the majority of books on Amazon will sell less than 100 copies over the LIFE of the book. Happens in the big leagues too where blockbusters basically subsidize all the rest of a publisher’s list. Although I didn’t attend the free webinar, I have seen that kind of advise before about doing that non-fiction thing. Pretty shallow.

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