Should You Self-Publish?

On May 12, 1937, King George VI and his wife, Queen Elizabeth, were crowned in Westminster Abbey. Their eleven-year-old daughter, Princess Elizabeth, attended the ceremony and later wrote about the experience in a small notebook.

Her account begins when she awoke on “a cold, misty morning” and went down the passage in Buckingham Palace to the bathroom – and ran into her swimming instructor, Miss Dailey, who was one of the guests at the ceremony. After the ceremony, the Princess tied a blue ribbon around the notebook and presented it to her parents as a gift. It went on display years later when the United Kingdom celebrated the anniversary of the coronation.

And that is why you should self-publish. You’re never going to be as famous as the British royal family (and I doubt that you’d want to be). But your life has momentous events as well, and a written account – even an imperfect one – will very likely be treasured by friends and family members in years to come.

What wouldn’t I give for an account of my grandmother’s trip from Finland to Ellis Island? To read about how she fell in love with my grandfather? And what it was like to rear children on limited money in a country that was new to her?

I remember, in my teens, prowling in our attic and finding a notebook that recorded the minutes of a club my mother and her friends had started as children. I was fascinated. That woman I knew so well downstairs washing the dishes – she was once a child. She had friends. They had fun – and it was all so vivid and alive. (Sadly, that notebook has vanished.)

I wish I still had the stories I wrote when I was in sixth grade. They were based on Christmas celebrations around the world, and I’d love to know what kind of writer I was back then.

If you have some basic word-processing skills (or can lean on a friend who does), you can publish an impressive paperback, complete with pictures, for less than five dollars, including postage. (That’s not a typo.) Imagine writing a story for – or about – a family member and presenting it as a birthday or Christmas gift. Imagine…you can probably think of countless possibilities that wouldn’t occur to me.

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But what if you’re not writing a personal book for family and friends? Is anyone going to pay money for a book you self-published?

The answer is a cautious yes.

In 2011 I self-published Criminal Justice Report Writing. After a slow start, I began seeing reviews on Amazon.com. Gradually the book began to sell. Academies adopted it for their students. (One huge advantage is that my book is much cheaper than the competing books from big publishers. I don’t have the enormous overhead that corporate publishers have to deal with.) There are now 46 reviews on Amazon, and sales are steady and growing all over the world.

Even better, that book has led to a number of well-paying consultant jobs.

A year ago I self-published another book called What Your English Teacher Didn’t Tell You. It too is attracting a following. This time I’m more knowledgeable about how the process works, and I’m thrilled with what I’ve accomplished.

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I’m telling you all of this because I just read a @#$%! article that derides self-published books. The author, Laurie Gough, has a limited understanding of how commercial publishers operate nowadays, and her ideas about writing are just as limited. I’ll have more to say in my next post.

For the record, I’ve published six books with commercial publishers. I evaluate book submissions for a university press, and I’m a member of the editorial board for a scholarly journal. I know what I’m talking about.

(If you’re thinking about self-publishing, I have some free advice for you! Click here.)

               King George VI and Queen Elizabeth

 

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