Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Self-publishing success story?

I saw an article in Publisher's Weekly about Christopher Herz, a self-published author who is literally handselling his books on the streets. He quit his job to do so, and now works the neighborhood daily, his goal being to sell ten books per day. Since the publication date, June 15, the book has sold about 300 copies, which is good for something that's self-published.

However, one thing about the article bothered me.

But Herz did not start Canal Publishing because he wants to be a self-publisher. He hopes to publish other authors as well...

I have no doubts that if he said he was open to submissions, at least a few other aspiring writers will sign up, perhaps drawn by the grass-roots nature of the story. Writer makes good even without The Man (aka the publishing industry). Pursuing the dream. From such small acorns do mighty oaks grow.

But there are a few other factors which have contributed to Mr Herz selling more than the average self- or vanity-published book (and even the total number of sales so far isn't in the four-digit range which agents or editors would consider significant).

Firstly, Mr Herz's background is in advertising. He probably had an idea of how to package the book attractively and present it to strangers on the streets. He brings his customer-scoping skills to the daily search.

Secondly, the book is titled The Last Block in Harlem, and he's in New York. In other words, there's a familiar appeal for prospective readers; he's already got that selling point to begin with.

Finally, at $10, the book seems reasonably priced. This isn't the case for some books put out by vanity presses.

Still, the fact remains that he has had to quit his job to be his own distributor (and as for walking through the streets of a major city until all your books are sold... your mileage may vary). Plus, the article closes by saying,

Several bookstores have taken Harlem on consignment, but Herz says he has had no sales through this traditional channel yet.

I can't help wondering why.

If this method of selling books works for Mr Herz, more power to him. But I really hope he doesn't offer his services to other writers, especially if they're too inexperienced to realize what they're getting into. Personally, I'd be looking for a publisher with experience in, well, publishing, and with more effective ways to sell books.


Mary Witzl said...

Years ago, some well-intentioned soul gave me a self-published book of someone's, called 'The Christmas Box', I think. It was just appalling, and yet this friend eagerly told me it had sold thousands of copies, and shouldn't I do the same with my own book if I was having trouble finding a publisher?

My hat is off to all good writers who manage to self publish successfully. My greatest fear would be that if I tried this, I'd end up publishing something I could have made a lot better by going through the traditional method.

Marian Perera said...

Hi Mary,

Self-publishing has its place, but it's not for everyone. It works well for non-fiction that fits a niche, especially when the writer has some way to promote it and when the writer maintains control over the production.

It would be difficult for even a skilled promoter to make a profit from, say, printing books through a POD outfit which overpriced them.

Self-publishing doesn't work well for fiction, so the few cases where people have succeeded in this stand out all the more. I write fiction, so this is definitely not an option for me. And like you, I think I could achieve more with commercial publishing.