Zetta Elliott on the Joys and Pains of Self-Publishing

Changing the Game December 20, 2010 by elliottzetta

What I love most about self-publishing is the way it empowers creators everywhere—no more waiting for the “official” stamp of approval, and self-publishing no longer equals “substandard.” John Edgar Wideman has self-published, and earlier this month LA Banks announced that she is self-publishing her new series of YA books. Emerging and established authors are realizing that they don’t have to stand in line to be rejected and/or treated shabbily by big publishing houses. Small presses are looking better and better, and digital publishing offers even more options for authors.

This morning I found an article on Publishers Weekly that announced the triumphant emergence of Citizen Authors: “determined, motivated, fed up.” The article is written by Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, authors of the recently released Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published; I was interviewed for that book and I’m included in the PW article:

What’s perhaps most exciting about Citizen Authors is that some of them have been able to say a big “I told you so!” to Manhattan publishing after having been rejected, mocked, and/or dismissed by that clique’s elitism, solipsism, and/or lack of creative vision. These include people like Zetta Elliott, J.A. Konrath, and Lisa Genova. Zetta wrote about race in a way that didn’t fit into the credo of the mostly white world of publishing, but fit perfectly into libraries all over the country that catered to children of every color…

The irony is, when Citizen Authors prove how valuable they are, all the big guns in the book business come running, throwing money. Even more ironic is that these Citizen Authors saw the marketplace in a clear-eyed, smart way that “big publishing” wouldn’t or couldn’t.

To my knowledge, only the Brooklyn Public Library and the NYPL acquired Wish when it was first self-published in 2008/2009, and we’re still working on getting libraries across the country to add Wish to their collections. One of the biggest challenges faced by self-published authors is marketing—not just getting the word out, but getting book buyers to look in nontraditional places for book reviews and recommendations. If you’re not reviewed in School Library Journal, Booklist, Kirkus, or PW, many important institutional book buyers won’t even know you exist. The blogosphere was my best friend as a self-published author, but I meet educators all the time who still express amazement when they learn I have a YA novel in addition to my traditionally published picture book, Bird.

But I have no regrets about self-publishing and plan to do it again; it’s reassuring to know that you don’t have to take whatever the big houses are offering (when they offer anything at all), and I’ve had a great experience working with AmazonEncore. I’d work with them again in a heartbeat, but I haven’t given up on traditional publishers and small presses, and encourage other aspiring authors to keep their options OPEN. Take risks and be willing to work for what you believe in…which brings me to Neesha Meminger, the latest YA author to start her own imprint and take charge of her publishing career. Have you seen the great new trailer for Neesha’s new novel? You can view it here, and the book is now available online—just in time for the holidays!! Get your copy of Jazz in Love at Amazon.com, (Amazon.ca if you’re in Canada), Barnes & Noble, and indie bookseller Boone Bridge Books. Neesha has agreed to do an interview for my blog, so stay tuned for details about her exciting adventure…

The self-publishing experiment only works if people take a chance and support books that are coming out of nontraditional sources. So please do support these authors and remember: if things were equal, they wouldn’t need to be separate.