I am self-publishing my first book this fall:
Book of Snark, Wit & Wisdom for the Angry Professional Woman on the Bus.
(see photo above)
It is not my first self-publishing project. In 2017, I edited the post-humous memoir Popcorn from the Void by my friend Todd Park about leukemia and what it’s like to undergo a bone marrow transplant. I knew no publishing house would touch it because it was based on his blog. The book received a lot of praise, both for content and construction. I submitted it to the Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards and though it got 30/30 points from its judge, it didn’t win or even get an honorable mention. Todd was a great man and it is a wonderful book with a lot of good stuff in it but the topic turns people off.
There is a lot of myth and romance around the dream of being a published author. The common belief among those who don’t know is that if you write a great book, success will follow. The truth is, if you write a great book, you are issued a lottery ticket and then you wait with thousands of other great books to see who gets picked.
Publishing houses are in the business of making money and only exist if people buy their books. And so, they are beholden to the tastes of their readers, their target demographic. Whether or not they offer you a contract does not necessarily depend on the quality of your work. And as fewer people read books, the market gets more competitive. This is why it’s important for aspiring authors to not give up if they know in their gut, their book is good.
But from my experience, publishing houses fall into a few broad categories:
- Publishers that serve the literary community that springs out of academia. It is important to have an MFA from a reputable program because this guarantees rigor of training and networking opportunities. Professors are expected to publish and they groom their graduate students so that they may have a successful literary career. Most writers will never be part of this community.
- Publishers that produce books similar to yours but still reject it. They can love your book but feel that the market for it is too small, a niche’ market that will not buy enough copies to make it worth their investment. Or they can love your book but it doesn’t fit among all the other books they’ve signed on to publish for the next two years. Their publishing imprint represents a whole catalog, not an individual author. Don’t believe me? Two words: Harlequin Romance.
- Publishers that might produce your book if you agree to make major changes to it, like rewrite the ending, which feels an awful lot like signing your soul over to the devil. Some writers make this choice in order to get the work and who can blame them? A person has got to eat.
- Publishers that headhunt self-publishers. The newest question writers get asked is, “How big is your platform?”. In other words, publishers want you to come with a guaranteed audience that you have built on your own. If your self-published book actually sells, they will offer you a contract, clean it up, slap a new cover on it, and give it the same treatment they give their other books.
Self-publishing the Book of Snark feels like the only choice I have. I do not have an MFA. I do not have a large home-grown following on social media. It is a book of satire with a niche’ market. And they would expect me to rein it in. ‘Fuck’ just appears too often in the text. No publisher will touch it.
Unfortunately, self-published books have a bad reputation that they have brought on themselves. Some writers simply do not have the skills to produce a book of high enough quality. Others are impatient to see their name in print, so they publish too early a draft. Still others are self-publishing with the intention of only selling to a small market- family histories and memoirs specifically produced for relatives and friends. The self-publishing market is flooded with all of these.
The dream of most traditional publishing houses is to have 100 authors that sell 100,000 copies each. The model for self-publishing services is 100,000 authors that sell 100 copies each. Both models make the same amount of money for the publisher. So, you can see how the market got flooded in the first place.
But take heart. Authors such as Virginia Woolf, Mark Twain, and James Joyce all self-published. William Blake did nothing else.
Now I am not of their ilk, but quality books can find their audience through self-publishing. The Book of Snark has been compared to an M-80 on a fireworks scale of firecracker to aerial display. So, it’s illegal but only just. It’s funny but it won’t garner me an HBO special. Not yet anyway.
My wish for the Book of Snark is that people will buy it because they actually want to read it, not out of pity or obligation because they are my friend. And that my audience tells others they enjoy it because they actually do enjoy it, not because they know me. So here it is, my no pressure sell…
Coming Fall 2020…
Book of Snark
Wit & Wisdom for the Angry Professional Woman on the Bus
-Copyright C.M.Mounts, August 2020