My sister sent me a link to an NPR news story about Brunonia Barry, a self-published author who managed to land a two million dollar book deal for her first novel The Lace Reader, with talk of a major motion picture. And yes, I am insanely jealous.
How did she do it? Her husband is quoted as saying they were "emboldened by their ignorance." They knew enough to get started but not enough to stop them from doing it. Ms. Barry worked with book clubs and independent book stores. She went so far as to share her early drafts with readers and developed a devoted following along with a lot of that wondrous thing called Word of Mouth. And she was successful beyond her wildest dreams.
Ms. Barry had a lot going for her–a good story, a supportive husband, access to an avid fan base, and a generous amount of plain dumb luck. Of course, none of it would have happened if she'd started out with just a mediocre story.
I’ve long believed that self-publishing or small press publishing via Print On Demand (POD) technology is not indicative of a bad book. Many talented authors choose to self-publish because they want to put their work out on their own terms, rather than bow to the "This is what’s selling so could you put in some more sex and gore?" mentality of the big publishing houses. Unfortunately, since the process is open to anyone who has written a book, a lot of really, really bad books get into print. Every bookseller has a story about the loud-mouthed, self-absorbed jerk who really believes his book about his life selling used cars or working at the phone company is going to fly off the shelves.
Readers are not concerned whether the books they’re reading were published by a well-known New York publisher or an independent POD publisher operating on a shoe string out of her home office. As long as the book is well written and looks presentable (no misspellings or inconsistencies), they don’t care what publisher’s name is on the flyleaf.
Ms. Barry’s story is a rare occurrence. The fact that she was featured on a national radio program is proof enough that her experience is atypical and therefore newsworthy. But it does provide a ray of hope for authors who aren’t published by any company you’ve heard of. As long as we’ve got a good story to tell, we’ve got a chance of hitting the big time.