Several of Connie Kirchberg’s books can be found in the libraries of most major universities. She also serves as a judge for an annual writing contest sponsored by one of the most popular (and educational) writers’ magazines in the country, so I know she does not advocate self-publication lightly. More than half of the many books she receives and reads through with a conscientiousness humbling to behold should never have been printed, from a marketing point of view. While my friend does not mince words or lie, she finds positive aspects of each book to focus upon in the letters she writes to the authors, even as she lets them down as gently as possible.
There is a reason for this gentleness. While, admittedly, some struggling writers need grammar, creative writing and several other college classes (plus the ability to listen), some aspirants do make tremendous leaps after lukewarm beginnings. One of my students comes to mind: she wrote a book about her brother, full of love and spiritual faith. It was a hodgepodge of emotion, jumping from the loved one’s death told twenty times over to the same spiritual epiphany preached at the reader. Her class essays demonstrated a struggle towards control, and slowly, she won. In the next semester, she continued the ascent: her play was chosen as one of the few in a play-writing class to be staged for the public.
If Connie and I have come to believe that self publication is a viable alternative (indeed, the strategic choice) for determined writers of proven talent and carefully honed skills, it is because we have stacked the time/effort against the rewards on our scales and seen the results with our own eyes. We are perfectly aware of the Vanity Publishing stigma. As a former newspaper book reviewer, I avoided Vanity published books like the plague (However, I always looked at them first if they were sent to me. And I was right; they were awful.)
Let it be understood that every book must be appraised separately to determine whether an agent should be sought, if the book should be sold to a small publisher or self published. The decision must have to do with the overall impact on career and finances. Let it also be understood that neither Connie nor I advocate self publishing unless a writer goes through all the traditional steps, as a writer, to achieve excellence. These steps have rightly been called a baptism by fire. We do not see that changing.