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The Stigma of Self-published Novelist Brings Many Challenges

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    (September 10,2012 )By now, even people outside of the publishing world have heard of the wildly successful “50 Shades of Grey,” a self-published novel that led to a series that has reportedly sold over 40 million copies. That success, however, is such an outlier that it would be delusional for any self-published novelist to view it as an example of anything but lottery-style luck. Perhaps that is why the best-selling series has done nothing to eliminate the disqualifying stigma that still stubbornly attaches to most self-published novels.

    Book editors at almost every major newspaper that I approached about covering my e-book simply refused to review a self-published novel. The literary gatekeepers in charge of the other major marketing vehicles for works of fiction – book tours, book fairs, and book prizes – often suffer from a similar prejudice against self-published novelists. Presumably, if Tom Clancy had approached these same book editors, critics, and judges with a self-published submarine thriller about the nuclear war between Israel and Iran, they would have leapt at the chance to read his Armageddon story. But an unknown author is presumed to be unworthy of their attention without the imprimatur of a major publisher.

    While I now recognize the many advantages (and disadvantages) of self-publishing, I originally chose to self-publish for only one very practical reason: the need for speed on a time-critical issue. There was no telling just how much time was left to stop Iran’s nuclear program so I wanted to disseminate my message ASAP, rather than risk losing up to a year or more by going the traditional publishing route. Agents and publishers can easily take six months just to review a manuscript and, even when a publisher finally decides to publish a novel, the release date will depend entirely on the publisher’s commercial considerations (rather than, for example, an author’s issue-driven motivation to get the novel out immediately).

    Of course, the reason that compelled the self-publishing route for me was of no interest to the vast majority of influential book editors, reviewers and others who summarily dismiss self-published authors. The fact that my novel concerns a topic that is constantly in the headlines (the Iranian nuclear threat) and is therefore more likely to engage readers and/or tie in to current events made no difference. Nor did the dozens of five star reviews – including many from top-ranked Vine Voice reviewers on Amazon – impress them. None of that mattered because I was a self-published novelist.

    Why the closed-minded approach? Because these people are so inundated with book-related requests that they need a handy heuristic (and facile rejection excuse) to pare their massive reading pile down to something manageable. Thus, self-published novelists need to develop a tough skin and realize that these realities (and the automatic rejections that they inevitably produce) have nothing to do with the merits of the novel being ignored or declined. Rarely can a self-published novelist get a fair hearing (or reading) in the hallowed halls of established literary circles. Perhaps with enough breakout successes by self-published novelists, the prejudice will soften with time. For now, however, the self-published stigma and the concomitant roadblocks are significant reasons to consider working with a major publisher, if a novelist is fortunate enough to have the option.

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