I work as an event coordinator/marketer for an independent bookstore that has been inundated in recent years with self-published authors looking for shelf space and store events for their books. We get – and I am not exaggerating – between 400 and 500 requests a year from self-published authors asking us to stock and promote their book. On a slow week, we get 5-10 requests; on a busy week we’ll get 20.
If you ask most indie bookstore event coordinators about self-published authors, you will probably see some combination of eye-rolling, teeth grinding, or derisive laughter. Self-published authors are the bane of our existence. There are so, SO many would-be self-published authors that would do well to read this piece, and read it thoroughly. And then second-guess their decision to self-publish. But I know they won’t.
Why do I loathe (most) self-published authors? Here’s why. And I’m saying all this so maybe – MAYBE – there’s a self-published author out there who will read this and then understand what they are up against when it comes to marketing their self-published book through their friendly neighborhood indie bookstore.
1. Their books suck. There is no other way to say this. Bad writing, bad grammar, bad spelling, bad plot/character development, bad subject matter, etc. Don’t even get me started on do-it-yourself cover art. The book is bad. It’s bad. That’s why it couldn’t get published by a traditional publisher. But you can’t tell the self-published author of this monstrosity that their book is substandard and unsellable. Because they would act like you’ve just told them their brand-new firstborn child is ugly. Hey, I get it. You put a lot of work into this thing, and you ended up with an ugly baby. But that doesn’t change the baby’s looks, or the book’s ability to sell.
2. 90% of self-published authors are rude, pushy, completely self-absorbed, and relentless. This is my BOOK! It’s my MASTERPIECE. How dare you say it is not worthy of being stocked in your store, unless I pay for consignment?? How dare you, to not jump up and down and beg me to do an event for this book – even though I am not really from around here, I have no friends, and the book has only a very narrow niche appeal since it’s about my past life experience as a 16th century vampire with a skin condition?? Some of them don’t even bother to pitch the book themselves, but hire some poor hapless “freelance literary agent” to do it for them. Then relentlessly prod the “agent” to get them an event. THE BOOK SUCKS. IT’S NOT HAPPENING.
3. Self-published authors show a really appalling level of self-non-awareness. EVERY self-published author thinks they are the next Stephenie Meyer/James Patterson/That Guy on Amazon Who Sold a Million E-Books. EVERY self-published author thinks their memoir about going on a hiking trip to Alaska where nothing particularly dramatic happened is “special” and that “people will love it!” EVERY self-published author thinks they have written the new breakout bestseller, YA sensation, Great American Novel. I hear the same words from the same types of people over and over and over, about how their books are “different.” The books are never different. 50% of them have badly Photoshopped covers and are printed in Comic Sans.
You wrote a book. Congratulations. Let me make this clear. WRITING THE BOOK AND PAYING SOMEONE TO PRINT IT FOR YOU DOES NOT MAKE YOU SPECIAL. If the book is actually good – and in the several thousand requests I’ve processed, I’ve seen three or four that actually were – THAT makes you special. But please, PLEASE stop acting like paying AuthorHouse or Smashwords or any other vanity publisher a few thousand dollars entitles you to anything. It doesn’t. Not the adoration of untold legions of fans. Not the respect and admiration of your local indie bookseller. Not sales from your friends (who 80% of the time, from what I can see, end up with free copies rather than purchased ones). Not attention from local or national media. Self-publishing means that instead of the book manuscript being stuck in a drawer, there’s a 99% chance you’ll end up with boxes of unsold books in your garage. Fewer than 1% of self-published authors sell more than 150 copies of their book.
Please think about all this, self-publishing authors, before you give your credit card number to Smashwords.
Whew! Edan Lepucki at The Millions adds her two cents about why not to self-publish.