Before Amazon and the others, “self publishing” was called vanity publishing. When somebody excitedly told you their book was getting published, that was cause for celebration. It meant they had enough talent to land a real publisher willing to invest time and money -- not to mention maybe a dash of blind courage -- in bringing their book to market. It was like getting cast in a Broadway show. A publisher has accepted my book!
That world is gone.
From Don’s letter to me, dated November 6, 1983:
“She says she is having very difficult luck in trying to get someone to publish her book “One Night Only” And that they don’t have the $5,000 it takes to have a book published on your own. This is, of course, a novel about show people, based on the John Strong Circus.”.
Ah yes, five thousand dollars and more. A vanity press took your money after telling you how wonderful your book was, and not long after, sent you a few hundred or thousand copies in boxes, and good luck trying to sell them.
Luckily for the millions who want to write, now there are respectable options, and some cost not a penny.
Two years ago, I tested self publishing, on Amazon’s Create Space, and did not spend a single penny. I was determined to see if I really could bring out a book without spending a cent on it. Used a different name, subject was not what you’d expect. Surprisingly, the book has done decently well, nothing like what it would likely do with a well established royalty publisher, but not in any sense a flop, as sales were slow in starting, but book continues to sell. So, in July, I put it in the Kindle Store as an e-reader, charging less. I’m in control of the whole thing. That’s fun.
But in cases like this, of course, I can't call up friends to say "I FOUND A PUBLISHER!"
It’s a godsend for my being able to put out books I can’t find publishers for. One, so far. And maybe another. Still, with each, I will first submit to the very very few publishers out there of reasonable size, still willing, as most are not, to accept a manuscript directly from the author. Now, virtually all will only consider you through an agent, and so I feel little sympathy for them in the Amazon versus publisher wars.
“One thing she did ask is if I knew what your Russian circus book was doing. Said she sure would like to know.”
Circus Rings Around Russia sold only between 450 and 750 copies; contradictory royalty statements from the publisher point to both realities. I have not a clue. Three of my other books did much better.
“She also says that she has five novels written, but none published, and I gather she doesn't like agents and such, so I would guess it will be all the harder to get something published.”..
I had an agent once, a real New York agent named Bertha Klausner, wonderful lady who lived on Park Avenue and represented, among others, Eleanor Roosevelt, Upton Sinclair, Fidel Castro, Basil Rathbone and a lovely dinner guest whom I would meet when she had me up to her suite for an evening meal: The guest at our small table was Clare Booth Luce. Lovely lady. I was young, and the young have an edge, right? And nothing of mine (musicals and plays) that Bertha sent out got even optioned.
And now, in default, I have a very respectable agent, far from a vanity press, called Amazon. One thing of which I feel fairly certain. The royalty statements they keep are accurate, above board.