Birds and bees may not know how to “do” it ( “it” not being cough-cough, but the fine act of self publishing) yet esteemed writers who once might have breezily dismissed the mere notion with the wave of a hand are now on board with much smaller names, all of us gratified and leaning back with a satisfied smile on our pillows; woops, I mean laurels.
Laurels would probably be about the only real thing that distinguishes self publication from vanity publishing. (Vanity publishers were those companies that ran magazine advertisements like “Want to be a children’s writer?” If you did and no one else was encouraging, you paid the vanity publisher to print your book.) Laurels can be awards, earlier publication, or simply enough well-read friends heartily clapping and encouraging to give a writer courage.
That bring up foolhardiness, commonly confused for courage. Foolhardiness is definitely going to be a toxic drug in this mix and I am still waiting to see how sullied the waters of internet publication become by the lure of throwing one’s work up (yuck) for sale on ereader sites.
When I was a book reviewer for the English language newspapers in Saudi Arabia, I sometimes received self published books, and if there was no indication of credibility (laurels), I did not read more than a paragraph. A paragraph is enough to demonstrate the skill and ability of any writer. I was amazed at the horrible content that people thought worthy of printing, paid out of their own pockets. Until now, that has been the main reason the reading world counts on big publishers: to separate the wheat from the chaff. Most readers rightly presume that agents and editors will comb through the offerings and only what is best will rise to the top. In theory, that is true.
The trick for any writer is to establish credibility. You are a writer so long as you write; you need, however, some way to prove you are a good writer. Signing with a publisher is one way of doing that although I imagine those contracts are going to change (in duration if not in percentages) to tempt writers on board. Winning contests is another, although contests are, again, extremely subjective and it does not mean you are lousy if you lose one.
I cannot help but think of Stephen King’s basic message in his book On Writing: if you are good, you will be published. We could revise that to say, today, if you are good, you will be read.