Fifty Shades of Grey is a runaway hit book by E.L. James in the familiar genre of romance, with the edginess of dominance and submission as a major theme. It has outsold Harry Potter books with a record 40 million copies purchased in its first year. Moreover, it was originally self-published, though print publishers have now snapped it up. Its viral success has been the talk of the publishing world. How could a self-published book with very little marketing and promotion beyond book blogs run away with the biggest new seller title? And can a self-published novel be good, maybe even great?
If you saw a customized car that you just loved, would you ask the owner/customizer if he did the work himself or hired all of the painting, upholstery and design work done by professional car people? If you saw a painting that you loved immediately, would you ask the artist if a REAL artist helped her or him plan and execute the work? If you looked at a home to buy and you loved the craftsmanship of it, would it worry you to know it was designed and built by the owner/architect and not a big firm that churns out homes by the thousands?
We value originality in most forms of artistry. We know that big companies produce consistent but somewhat bland products through mass production of many items and services. How do we feel about self-published and self-produced books and music? Vanity presses and music studios have existed for decades. Their published works have often been considered inferior for being self-published, self-produced. The personal creator producing his or her own book or record was looked down on as someone who was unable to attract the attention of one of the larger publishing houses or recording studios.
All that is changing for the better. There are some very well known stories about authors of great books being rejected a hundred or more times before landing with someone who helped them publish a book – Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Chicken Soup for the Soul are notable examples. We don’t know how many great writers and musicians have simply given up for lack of self-promotion skills, despite their other talents.
When you see a traditionally published book selling for $20, the author gets only a small fraction of that – 7 to 15% in most cases. The publisher and agent get their shares also with the largest share landing in the publisher’s or distributor’s accounts. Writing is not all that different from farming. The farmer who produces the crop, the author who writes the great book and the musician with incredible skills receive only a small fraction of the total sales amount. Usually, the middle-men make more than the creative artist who writes, sings or plays music.
Self-publishing through Amazon, Apple, Smashwords and other companies is fairly easy for digital books. Amazon is the easiest of the group and most sales return 70% to the author in most price ranges. Artistry is definitely evident in many books and missing in others. Vanity is always there. We write because we feel we have something to say, to share. But any artist, composer, car customizer, custom homebuilder or creative craftsman shares both vanity and art.
An author can now publish his or her own book and promote it to success simply because others choose to read it. Readers now control the marketplace, not publishers looking only at their bottom line. I read Fifty Shades of Grey and found the story compelling and very readable. I did not care for either character, a self-absorbed wealthy entrepreneur exploiting a naïve young woman or the young woman lacking the self-respect to say no to gifts and exploitive advances. Whether the book is great literature or not misses the point. It has a vast market and has proven to be enjoyed by most readers. I read the book knowing it was not my preferred genre, so I will not review it formally.
If you’re a reader, keep sharing your thoughts through reviews on Amazon and goodreads.com. If you write, you have wonderful places to publish at little expense. See if there’s a market for your creative work. It’s a new day in publishing and exciting to get involved in as a reader or writer. Vanity alone will not sell your book but great writing and careful promotion will. There are lots of people in this new world of publishing willing to help and great new writers to be discovered.
– Tim Merriman