Self publishing is nothing new, but it is something that is becoming more popular and more accessible. Since the Internet became a commonplace tool, self publishing has been an option for poets, fiction writers, those seeking to write their own autobiographies, and those who have highly niche ideas for non-fiction titles too. There has always been a stigma against self-publishing, and there are some, especially those in the independent publishing world, who decry the idea of self-publishing and call the vanity publishers predatory for the work that they do.
There are some vanity presses out there that clearly are predatory. Those publishers charge hefty up-front fees for ambiguous “services” but do very little for the authors that they work with. They take work of any quality, and publish it with minimal (or no) editing, and offer no support to the author to help them sell their titles online or in stores. They charge for “marketing” but do little other than put the books on their own websites, and they charge for layout work, but do not provide the kind of extensive editing or proofing that a traditional publisher would.
For every predatory self publisher, however, there are plenty of other online publishers that offer tiered print on demand packages ranging from light-touch printing to the more extensive full-service editing and marketing that you would expect from a more traditional publisher, which means that an author can get the level of service that they need for the type of product that they are looking to get out there.
Is self publishing the solution to modern content creation, though? The companies that allow people to publish their own creations, for a fee, claim that they are empowering content creators, and that the commercial publishers are dinosaurs – unfair gatekeepers that are keeping great ideas and insightful creations off the shelves. Is that true, or are the traditional publishers providing an invaluable service with marketing, fact checking, proofreading, and simply acting as a critic to decide what people want to read, and filtering out the noise and fluff that would otherwise flood the market?
The truth is likely somewhere in between. The traditional publishers know their markets well and they know what makes for good writing. They understand seasonal demand, and they have an idea of what sells. If you can get a traditional publisher to give you honest feedback about your book then you will be in a good position to improve it. As a reader, think about the amount of books you have read that were produced by a small press or self-published, compared to those from the handful of big names that dominate your local Borders or Waterstones. There’s a good chance that unless you have a niche hobby, you’ve not once picked up something that was printed online via a POD press.
As an author, if you want your work to get the biggest audience possible, you need listed on Amazon, and you need a good marketing team. The traditional publishers offer this, and some self publishers do too. Be sure to do your research before you give your book to the wrong press.