Library Moments: Self-publishing success stories

Publishing isn't as hard as it used to be...

Publishing isn’t as hard as it used to be…

Bessie Sullivan: Hello, I’m Bessie Sullivan from the Haliburton County Public Library and this is Library Moments. Once a week some of us from the library will come and talk about books, upcoming events, or the services we offer at the library.

Self-publishing is the publication of a book by the author of the work, without the involvement of an established publisher.

Most of the time when people self-publish it’s because they have been unsuccessful at being accepted by a publisher and their book is likely to have limited popularity.

However, there are rare exceptions where self-published books become blockbusters.  Even though technology makes it easier than ever to self-publish it isn’t a recent phenomenon.  In 1931 the author of The Joy of Cooking paid a local printing company to print 3000 copies of her cooking book. Later the Bobbs-Merill Company acquired the rights, and since then the book has sold over 18 million copies.

Today on Library Moments, Sherrill Sherwood, Erin Kernohan-Berning and I will each tell you about a self-published book that made it big.

still-aliceSherrill Sherwood, Collections Development: Before there was Still Alice the movie, there was Still Alice the book. American neuroscientist Lisa Genova had spent two years researching and writing a first-person fictional account of a highly educated woman’s experience with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. After being rejected by several publishers, Lisa decided to publish it herself. Her literary agent advised against it, telling her it would kill her writing career. She self-published anyway and received wonderful reviews. Simon & Schuster acquired the novel for a reported half-million dollars. In January 2009, it debuted on the New York Times bestseller list at number five. The story is about Alice Howland, so proud of the life she has worked hard to build. At fifty years old, she is a cognitive psychology professor at Harvard and an expert in linguistics with a successful husband and three grown children. When Alice grows forgetful, at first she just dismisses it. But when she gets lost in her own neighborhood she realizes that something is terribly wrong. Alice finds herself in the rapid downward spiral of Alzheimer’s disease. Losing her yesterdays, her short-term memory hanging on by a couple of frayed threads, she is living in the moment, living for each day. But she is still Alice. Julianne Moore has won multiple awards for her role as Alice in the movie adaptation, including the Oscar for best actress in a leading role. The library has purchased three copies of the dvd.

Erin Kernohan-Berning, Branch Services Librarian: Whatever you may think about the literary merits of E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey and the accompanying books in her notoriously racy trilogy, there is no denying that they have been wildly popular. Fifty Shades of Grey has sold 10 million copies worldwide, has been translated into 52 languages, and spawned a film adaptation that made $94 million on its opening weekend. And it turns out that the Fifty Shades trilogy also has humble roots as a self published work.

In 2009 as the popularity of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series was in full bloom, Erika Mitchell, began to write a fanfiction story loosely based on the character of Edward Cullen and Bella Swan called Master of the Universe. The story was initially posted in installments on the website Fanfiction.net, where die hard fans of various tv shows and books go to take characters out for a spin in their own creative fantasies, under the nom-de-net Snowqueen’s Icedragon. Considered too racy by some for the site, Mitchell moved her popular story and subsequent installments over to her own website, 50shades.com.

By 2011 she had rewritten the first “book” of Master of the Universe as Fifty Shades of Grey, changing the main characters to Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele, and self-published it under the pen-name E.L. James through The Writer’s Coffee House, a small Australian publisher that has its own roots in fanfiction. Within a year she had sold 250,000 copies in trade paperbacks and ebooks attracting the attention of Hollywood and major publishers, with Random House’s Vintage Books ultimately buying the rights to the Fifty Shades trilogy for millions of dollars.

There has been much ado made since about the copyright implications of the Twilight connection with Fifty Shades, with James simultaneously acknowledging but attempting to distance herself from her fanfiction roots. When asked what she thought about Fifty Shades possibly not existing without the inspiration of Twilight author Stephenie Meyer has said: “Obviously, she had a story in her, and so it would’ve come out in some other way.” Adding: “Good on her — she’s doing well. That’s great!”

out of the blueBessie: For twenty years, Jan Wong had been one of the Globe and Mail’s best-known reporters. Then one day in 2006 she turned in a story that set off a firestorm of controversy, including death threats, a unanimous denunciation by Parliament and a rebuke by her own newspaper. For the first time in her professional life, Wong fell into a severe clinical depression. Yet she resisted the diagnosis, refusing to believe she had a mental illness. As it turned out, so did her company and insurer. With wit, grace and insight, Wong tells the harrowing tale of her struggle with workplace-caused depression, and of her eventual recovery. Out of the Blue: a memoir of workplace depression, recovery, redemption and, yes, happiness by Jan Wong was self-published in 2012.  Wong had previously published four books with Doubleday but for reasons not stated but probably political they dropped this title a week before it was to be published.  Although the book sold well and became very popular there were some negative results as well.  Wong referred to a large settlement from the Globe and Mail in her book which they successfully argued was in violation of the confidentiality agreement that she had signed even if she had not disclosed the exact amount.  She was ordered in 2014 to return $209,000.00 in settlement money plus all court costs to both her union and the Globe and Mail.  Today Jan Wong is a Journalism Professor at St. Thomas University in Fredericton and writes a regular column for the Halifax Chronicle Herald, now almost ten years later, she seems to have finally landed on her feet.

The vast majority of self-published works don’t enjoy the popularity of the books discussed today, but hey, if you are inclined to self-publish, you just never know what will happen.  Thank you for listening to Library Moments here on 100.9 CanoeFM.

*Originally aired on 100.9 CANOE FM, May 17th – 23rd, 2015.

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