Self-Publishing Is Growing Up

In a new attempt to keep up with the rising self-publishing industrial complex, Publishers Weekly is significantly beefing up its coverage of authors who go it alone.

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In a new attempt to keep up with the rising self-publishing industry, which increasingly demands to be taken seriously, Publishers Weekly is significantly beefing up its coverage of authors who go it alone.

The literary trade magazine has announced that PW Select, its quarterly-turned-bimonthly guide to self-publishing, will go monthly in October—thus essentially doubling its critical coverage of self-publishing authors by the most influential journal in the industry.

This, by most accounts, is a fitting response to the not-entirely-shocking proliferation of self-publishing in the e-book era.

"It's really become part of publishing—that's probably the bottom line. It's certainly not stigmatized in any way," Jim Milliot, co-editorial director of Publishers Weekly, told The Atlantic Wire in a phone conversation this afternoon. "Most of the major house are looking at self-published authors now."

Indeed they are. When 50 Shades of Grey scribe E.L. James went from dropping her literotica opus on a small Australian e-publishing community to fielding adaptation requests from the likes of Universal Pictures, self-publishing became the Next Big Thing in literary spheres. Fifty Shades "may not revolutionize porn, romance, chick-lit, or literature," but it is, make no mistake, "the future of publishing," gushed The Daily Beast's Lizzie Skurnick in a piece that is clear about not mistaking form for substance.

Self-publishing, then, is the wave of the future, evidenced by moves like that of Penguin, earlier this summer, to market books by self-published authors on its online Book Country store.

"All sorts of authors are self-publishing for all sorts of different reasons," Milliot said. Some bypass the traditional channels after they've already had books rejected. Others, Milliot acknowledged, are hoping to mimic James' or Amanda Hocking's unlikely trajectory: put a book online and rack up sales until a traditional publisher takes notice. "There are a growing number of instances where this has happened. Sylvia Day, of course, was a big self-publisher, and Penguin made a bestseller of her." Had e-publishing been around in 1996, perhaps J.K. Rowling would have gone the route after fielding 12 rejection letters.

Whether self-publishing thrives will be based on sales, of which 50 Shades, for one, has plenty: if you count e-book sales, it has already topped Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in Britain. But critical acceptance of the self-publishing boom has been slower, more measured. PW is now doing its part.

"The expansion of PW Select mirrors the growth and popularity of self-publishing," said Adam Boretz, reviews editor for Publishers Weekly and editor of PW Select, in an email. "And as more and more authors go the indie route—some of them making both money and appearances on major bestseller lists—the stigma long associated with self-publishing seems to be less and less of an issue."

Boretz pointed to indie titles landing atop The New York Times' e-book bestsellers list. And he noted a wave of celebrity authors joining the so-termed "gold rush" of publishing sans (traditional) publisher. The Doors' John Densmore recently chose to self-publish his memoir to keep editors from nosing into his manuscript ("They started telling me to write more about Jim. I said, ‘I already did that—it was a bestseller, pick it up'"). And Jim Carrey recently spoke to PW about his decision to go the same route with a children's book:

 “Movies are a communal experience, with lots of people involved at every stage of the production,” he said. “Things that seem to be in place get changed a lot. With the idea of Roland, I wanted the book to be exactly from its original source. I didn’t want other people to influence it, which is just the way of the world.

Self-publishing, then, seems the mystical key for frustrated writers of all stripes. For the unknowns, it offers the chance of exposure without tallying up the rejection letters. Eventually—if you're lucky, or a particularly juicy literotica scribbler—a publishing house could take notice. For the already famous, it's just the opposite path: it promises newfound autonomy, the chance to keep the traditional publishers from butting into your craft.

And for Publishers Weekly, it's probably about time.

"We want to be as expansive and inclusive as possible for everyone who's publishing a book," said Milliot, "and we think this is the way to do it."

All images courtesy AP.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.