There is an interesting front-page story in the New York Times today, Wednesday, January 28, 2009, about the growth of self-published books. The growth in self-published (or POD books, i.e., print-on-demand books) comes at a time, the article says, when “traditional publishers look to prune their booklists and rely increasingly on blockbuster best sellers.” A new study by the National Endowment for the Arts reports that while more people are reading literary fiction, fewer of them are reading books. According to Cathy Langer, lead buyer for the Tattered Cover bookstores in Denver, “People think that just because they’ve written something, there’s a market for it. It’s not true.”
The article has a few great success stories. Lisa Genova wrote a novel about a woman with Alzheimer’s disease. It was turned down by 100 literary agents. She paid $450 to iUniverse to publish the book and sold copies to independent bookstores. A fellow author showed it to her agent and she eventually sold Still Alice for a mid-six-figure advance to Pocket Books and the book has now made the New York Times best seller list. I see a lot of POD books. My guess that of the 1000 plus authors who are listed on our site: www.peacecorpswriters.org, some 800 of them have written ‘self-published book” about their Peace Corps tours. I’m all for these books. They capture a time and place and an experience and someday these books will be used by scholars who want to write about this experiment, the Peace Corps. I regret that most of the authors don’t spend time (or hire someone) to edit their books. When a book is published by a commercial, academic or small press a lot of time, attention and skills are involved to make the book readable. Many of the Peace Corps novels and memoirs I see have the look of first drafts. All of them would be better books if more time was spent working on the text. The next major problem of all authors (commercial and otherwise) is getting people to know you have written a book and that it is available to buy. With the closing of more and more bookstores, soon there won’t be anyplace to sell a copy but the Internet, at conferences or meetings.
To help the Peace Corps authors find an audience, we will have a feature on our new website: www.peacecorpsworldwide.org where writers will be able to display their books. The “Peace Corps Booklocker” is just one of the many new features coming with our expanded Peace Corps Writers site. The site will be fully operational on March 1, 2009. Peace Corps Day! If you’d like your book(s) listed in this special section of the site, let me know.