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| Article first appeared on litFactor, 22 November 2013
Leigh K. Cunningham, author and executive director of the Association of Independent Authors, explains how self-publishing has become a legitimate option for authors who decide to forego the traditional publishing deal.
When the publishing landscape started to shift a decade ago with the growing presence of online book retailer, Amazon.com, few believed it would be turned on its head as it is today. Just five years ago, the vast majority of authors were still pursuing traditional publishing while accepting self-publication only out of frustration or defeat. Now, a majority of authors choose self-publishing as their first option with no desire to enter into the traditional query process which still takes upwards of two years (sometimes longer) for a successful pitch to result in a book on a bookstore shelf. In contrast, the instantaneous world of the self-published author means they can write, edit, review, and publish in a timely manner responding effectively to changing reader interests.
This has turned publishing 180 degrees and created a new order. Previously, the path to publication required an author to query an agent first, as there was no direct path to a publisher. This process was laborious, time-consuming, and costly—not so long ago, queries had to be sent by snail mail. For the most part, all of this effort went unrewarded. Naturally, authors took it personally, but the rejection was not necessarily evidence of the quality of the author’s work or their likely appeal with readers, as exemplified by Amanda Hocking and EL James’ experiences, and numerous others since. Instead, what has become clear is that publishers and agents do not know the market better than anyone else—their guess as to what will be a commercial success, and what will not, is as good as anyone else’s. This is not to suggest incompetence, but merely to confirm that reader interests will shift into realms even experts cannot predict.
And this is what is wonderful about today’s publishing landscape where authors take control of their work, its publication, and the construction of their platform. For some authors, this is daunting, so we do still need intermediaries like agents and self-publishing service entities to which authors can outsource aspects of the process they don’t wish to deal with directly (for a fee). For many others, however, the publishing process is an extension of the creativity that went into the substantive work. Designing covers and interiors and making marketing plans and strategies offer as much excitement as creating a character or scene in a novel.
The real winners are readers. They are a diverse, individualistic group who will love books that others don’t like, and dislike books that others love—just as our DNA is unique to each of us, so are our reading predilections. Fortunately, today, there is an endless stream of new, exciting work from independent authors on offer at acceptable prices to keep readers reading and discovering without interruption.
Authors are also the big winners on this new stage. We’re blessed to be able to read the work of so many talented authors whose work—because it was deemed unsellable to a mass audience—would not otherwise have been presented to us for our enjoyment. Each and every creator of a story has an opportunity to find and meet their audience. Their work will be judged, sometimes harshly and sometimes unfairly, but that has been the playing field for authors, artists, and actors for centuries.
Today, self-publishing is not the last resort for authors with no talent for storytelling. It is the world stage, and everyone has a right to enter. Others, like agents and publishers, now look on with great interest.
About the Author
She is the founder and executive director for the Association of Independent Authors, a global membership organization representing independent authors. She currently lives in Singapore, and is a grants assessor for the National Arts Council.
One of the roles of the AiA is to establish and develop the Body of Knowledge (BoK) for self-publishing, which is accessible to members online in the community website.
Gold medalist, 2013 Reader Views Literary Awards (Humor)
Gold medalist, 2012 Readers' Favorite Book Awards (Chick Lit)
#1 best-seller, Being Anti-Social (Comic Fiction), Rain (Family Saga)
Indie Reader 'Top Pick'