Sunday, September 16, 2007

Join The Fight To Give Self-publishers An Even Playing Field

by Lynn Osterkamp, Ph.D.

Are you a self-published author who is tired of getting the door slammed in your face by reviewers, contests, conferences and more just because your books aren't published by a traditional publisher? Join the club! And I do mean join. If we as self-publishers don't begin to work together to combat the bias against our work, we are going to continue to be treated as and feel like second-class citizens of the writing community.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that poorly written, unedited, crummy-looking books should be given the same treatment as high-quality books. But I am saying that books should be judged on their own merits, not on whether they are published by the author or by someone related to the author, and not by the number of copies that are printed at a time. How can someone judge a book when they haven't even seen it?

People say authors only self-publish because they can't get a traditional publisher. That's not my story. I chose to publish my mystery novel, TOO NEAR THE EDGE, through my family publishing company, PMI Books. I didn't send the novel to any agents or publishers first. I made the self-publishing decision based on my experience with my two published nonfiction books--one, self-published has sold over 50,000 copies and is now in its 4th edition; the other was published by a major traditional publisher sold about 5,000 copies and is now out of print.

My self-published novel, TOO NEAR THE EDGE has gotten good reviews from online reviewers and won a silver medal for best regional fiction in the 2007 Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPY) contest. It's available on Amazon and other online sites, and I can keep it in print as long as I want. But if I want it to sell, I have to promote it, which is harder than it should be due to the bias against self-publishers.

I understand that approximately 800 books are published every day and reviewers are deluged with books to review. But I hate that like a trendy new NYC bar, they man the door so that only the well-connected get in. Reviewers should be in the business of judging books not judging publishers. Just give our books a chance.

And why should self-published authors be given second class status at conferences? Here's what happened to me after I found out that the annual "Left Coast Crime Convention," (LLC) meeting--a mystery convention sponsored by mystery fans, for mystery fans--will be in my area in 2008. I figured this would be a chance to go to a regional conference as an author, meet fans, and maybe even get my book in the "book room" to sell. But, no. It turns out that to be considered an author at the LLC I have to either meet the requirements for active membership in the Mystery Writers of America or be shortlisted for a major mystery award like the Edgar or the Anthony. That means I have to have been paid at least $1,000 in advances and/or royalties for my book, which had an initial print run of at least 500 copies. But even then, I can't be considered an author at their conference if my book is self-published or cooperatively published. My publisher must have been in business for at least two years and publish at least five other authors per year, none of whom may be an employee, business partner, or a relative of the publisher. And my publisher must be on the MWA list of approved publishers.

Well my publishing company, PMI Books, belongs to PMA, and we are reputable--but clearly, given all their criteria, they aren't going to put us on their approved list.

So I tried to get in under award thing. My book isn't shortlisted for the mystery awards they list, but I wrote them a very polite email asking if the IPPY would qualify me to be an author at their conference. They replied that I don't meet the eligibility requirements and that awards like the IPPY are not on the list, "since they are primarily awarded to authors from non-traditional publishing houses."

Enough!! These criteria are outdated, unfair and shortsighted. They arbitrarily exclude books and authors based not on the quality of the books but on the publisher and method of printing. There must be a better way. Self-publishers need to work together to end this bias against us.

I've started a new blog--The Populist Publisher--where I hope self-published authors can come together to change our image. I invite you to join us.

About the Author
Lynn Osterkamp, Ph.D., MSW, is a writer, publisher and social worker. Visit her blog, The Populist Publisher, at and leave some comments, express your opinions, and tell your stories about writing and publishing. See Lynn's books at

1 comment:

Jim Murdoch said...

I just thought I'd mention that I enjoyed your blog. I'm in the process of preparing to self-publish (likely in about six month's time) and I'm busy setting up various sites (Blogger, MySpace etc) which will - hopefully - filter readers to my website. In addition to this I'm reading everything I can about anything that might help me now or in the future. Just thought I'd let you know that I've added your webiste to my list.