What do you get when you … self-publish?


Do you remember the song that starts with “What do you get when you fall in love?” According to Dionne Warwick “…you only get a life of pain and sorrow.” I’m betting if you changed her words to WHAT DO YOU GET WHEN YOU SELF PUBLISH?, you’d get the same answer.

Is it just me, or do you, too, find there is a humongous stigma attached to being “self” published? I have one book published, and one about to be published, so I admit my sample size is pretty small. But I vividly remember marketing that book to various and sundry groups and watching the spark of interest in their eyes dim when I told them my novel was “self” published.

I’ve taken pre-emptive action to see that it doesn’t happen to me again. By starting my own publishing company, I think I found a way to help all of us get around the “self” published stigma. I’d like to hear your thoughts. The following was my thought process leading up to the decision:

I’ve shared this anecdote before, but it’s a cute story and bears retelling. My dad showed me a cartoon that appeared many years ago in The New Yorker magazine. Two women are pictured at a party in a swank upper East-Side penthouse. One woman says to the other, “It used to be when you came to a party like this the most interesting people you met were those writing a book. Now the most interesting people you meet are those NOT writing a book.

The words have even more relevance today than when that cartoon originally appeared some forty years ago. As evidence, I point to the fact that in the year two thousand and one, there were approximately two hundred and fifty thousand books published. In the year two thousand and thirteen, it has been estimated there were fifteen million books published. The women in that forty-year old cartoon were prescient. Almost everyone you meet these days is writing a book.

Let’s imagine you were at that party and were approached by those two ladies. While sipping your wine and nibbling your canapé, you proudly tell them you are an author. Their body language tells you they are impressed. They ask what the book is about, how long it took you to write, and how good the book (and by extension … you, the author) must be because you got it published. They then ask who the publisher is. Gulp. The rubber is about to meet the road. You tell them you are an “indie author.”

So you are self-published,” they say, already looking around the room for someone “more interesting” to talk to.

Let’s face it: for most people, “self-published” means you aren’t “good enough” to attract a real publisher. No matter how erudite you sound, no matter how earnestly you say, “I’m an indie author,” you aren’t fooling anyone. Those women at the party think (as does almost everyone else, in my experience) that “indie” and “self-publishing” and “vanity press” are three facets of the same reality; i.e., the reason the mainstream publishing machine did not pick you up is because they view you as a third-rate writer. While we know that’s not true, we also know that trying to explain why it’s so difficult to get an agent and/or a publisher is a sure way of putting everyone to sleep.

As I said above, I’m new to the writing business, but I’ll tell you what … I certainly don’t consider myself a third-rate writer. In fact, if it weren’t for those dreaded two words “self published”, I’m convinced those women at the party would have found me fascinating and stayed around all night chatting me up. (Just wanted to show you that I have a good imagination for writing fiction).

Anyway, the whole experience started me thinking. If I asked the question What Do You Get When You Self Publish? and the answer was … you only get a life of pain and sorrow, well, I’m sorry, I was going to go in a different direction.

It came to me late one night while I was nursing a Sapphire tonic. I asked myself, why not just open my own “publishing” company and be done with it? And hence Pen Books was born. Now if people ask who my publisher is, I say, “I’m published by a small Northern California publishing house called Pen Books.” (Their logo, by the way, now graces the cover of my new book [see below for back cover of Kissed By The Snow] ). Pen Books is an imprint of my company – Pen Communication.

Kissed By The Snow paperbackIf you have experienced the prejudice towards “self-published” authors as I have, I’d be willing to work out a way with you where Pen Books could be your “publisher”. Personally, I think listing Pen Books as your publisher beats the hell out of CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. But as I said, I’m a newbie to all of this. Maybe I’m missing something. Let me know your thoughts.

By the way, for another really insightful blog on publishing, go to Kristen Lamb’s blog.

Click here to read the first chapter of my new novel Kissed By The Snow. I expect a publishing date around October 1, 2014, in print and eBook formats. As soon as it’s out, you’ll be the first to know if you click “Follow” in the sidebar menu of this page. Not only will I be grateful, I’ll even send you the second chapter of my novel free.

One thought on “What do you get when you … self-publish?

  1. karen sloma

    OMG…. just read your blog…. I love the idea of Pen Books… that is so cool!!Congratulations!!And I love the cover of Kissed… fantastic graphic!You keep writin’ Butch…   🙂 Take care ~ K

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