My previous post has elicited some incisive comments, to which I feel I should add some further observations. As David Montgomery points out, the principal reason self-published books are unlikely to get noticed is the sheer number of books being produced -- some 200,000 from commercial publishing houses alone. And, as David also points out, a good many of them aren't worth reading either.
Self-publishing triumphs invariably result from a combination of heroic self-promotion and plain, old-fashioned luck. Not long after I became The Inquirer's book editor, Anne Gordon, who was then features editor, brought to my attention a self-published children's book that had been sent to her accompanied by a letter from the author begging for a review. Anne had taken the book home and tossed on the dining room table. Her son, who was then 12, picked it up, read it, and told her it was great. I figured that if a kid reads a book aimed at kids and likes it there must be something worthwhile about it. So I asked Ann Waldron, who then reviewed children's books for the paper, to review it. She described the author as "inventive and an excellent writer" and said he had created "an unlikely, but truly captivating hero."
The Inquirer reviewed his next book, too, which reviewer Hillary Homzie called "a gripping story full of emotion and original humor."
Not long after, the author landed a lucrative deal with Putnam. He was Michael Hoeye. That first, unpublished book was Time Stops for No Mouse.
I suppose the all-time winner in the self-published category is Leaves of Grass, and God knows, Walt Whitman was no slacker when it came to self-promotion. Still, the fact remains that most self-published work is destined for oblivion. Then again, most commercially published work is as well.
So where does that leaves us? Well, what I find interesting today -- and that explosion of verbiage known as the blogosphere demonstrates this -- is that a lot of people these days feel the need to write. And technology has given them a cost-effective way of producing books. The blogosphere has demonstrated something else: A lot of these non-professional writers have much that is worthwhile to say and are very good at saying it. Mike Shatzkin, a publishing industry consultant I met at BookExpo America this past June, thinks that the new self-publishing outlets may become the publishing equivalent of baseball's farm teams. The question is to come up with an effective process of winnowing. Mike and I seem to have arrived independently at much the same answer to this question. I hope to follow up on the idea in the not so distant future. So there's another reason to stay tuned.