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As More Writers Self-Publish, Does The Stigma Fade?

A woman reads an e-book on a smartphone. [OmbraEstudi / Shutterstock]
A woman reads an e-book on a smartphone.

Self-publishing is on the rise. Digital technology cuts down on cost and it can be done from the comfort of a home.  

The stigma long associated with self-publishing may be lessening, too, but writers like Shondra Longino of South Euclid still feel it.

“I think more and more people are finding that self-published authors, you know, are good writers and their books are good. But I think there's still a bias, and they hold us on a higher standard,” she said.

Better known by her pen name, Abby L. Vandiver, she has self-published more than 20 mystery novels through Amazon since 2013.

“I write cozy mysteries. So I kill people, but in a nice way, usually off stage,” she said.

Shondra Longino writes as Abby L. Vandiver and Abby Collette. 

Two years ago, Vandiver was contacted by a small press interested in publishing her books. Then an agent called, too.

“I really didn’t believe the email when I saw it, because agents don't contact you,” Vandiver said.

The agent landed her a traditional publishing deal with Penguin Random House. In May, her first book for Penguin, “ A Deadly Inside Scoop,” will be released under a new pen name, Abby Collette.

While that transition to traditional publishing doesn’t happen for everybody, it is one example of how the writing business is changing.

Self-publishing has been growing for the past several years. The number of self-published titles increased 40 percent in 2018, according to data from Bowker, which issues book number identifiers or ISBNs. That doesn’t include e-books published on Amazon’s popular self-publishing platform.

“It’s never been easier in the history of humanity to publish than now,” said Matt Weinkam, associate director of Literary Cleveland, a nonprofit offering support for writers in the community.

Literary Cleveland hosts a variety of writing classes, including this one on narrtive arc. [Literary Cleveland]

Weinkam and Christine Howey, Literary Cleveland’s executive director, have seen a rise of interest in self-publishing and writing in general.

“I think the stigma of the ‘vanity press’ kind of thing that was talked about many years ago is sort of gone away,” Howey said. “People realize that people have stories to tell. They're valuable. They're important. And even if they only share them with family and friends, that’s still something.”

But you might not get rich doing it.

“Monetary success is pretty tricky,” Howey said. “I think people who are interested in self-publishing really define success differently. They don't define it in terms of how much money they're making, but in terms of how many people they're reaching, how many networks they're creating or becoming a part of.”

It’s one thing to publish a book. The next challenge is getting it in front of readers.

Cleveland independent bookstore Loganberry Books carries self-published authors primarily on consignment, according to book buyer Elisabeth Plumlee-Watson.

The stigma around self-publishing "is certainly much less than it was 10 years ago,” she said.

Area libraries are also carrying more self-published books. Akron-Summit County Public Library makes a point to feature local authors. Cuyahoga County Public Library takes the lead on self-published books from the media, picking up ones reviewed locally or nationally. Cuyahoga County also has a writers’ center at the South Euclid-Lyndhurst branch.

The William N. Skirball Writers' Center opened in 2015 in the South Euclid-Lyndhurst branch. [Cuyahoga County Public Library]

Zach Fenell, author of two self-published books, often spends time there. He was attracted to the freedom of self-publishing for his memoir about growing up with cerebral palsy and a book on rock music.

“There was no, like, waiting around for somebody else,” Fenell said.

Fenell is not deterred by any stigma around self-publishing, real or perceived.

“Do not let... somebody else’s opinion of be the reason you don't self-publish,” he said.  

Carrie Wise is the deputy editor of arts and culture at Ideastream Public Media.