One of the touchiest subjects in the writers’ world today is publishing. Once you write a story—a book-length piece, either fiction or non-fiction—do you self-publish it or send it out to a regular publisher? And, a sub-set question to that is: do you send it to one of the “Big Five” publishers or to one of the smaller presses?

There are those who subscribe to the persuasion that if you’re not published by one of the Big Five, you’re not really published. Some of those believers are more pompous/elitist than others.

But, back in the 1980s, something changed. Digital happened! Many people jumped on that wagon, but many of the writers who had been published by the Big Five continued to submit their work to those publishers and many to this day struggle to continue submitting to them, even as their rejection file grows thicker and thicker. As the digital process became easier and more popular, the Big Five began to falter and some have actually failed. (Those who used to work at Kodak may see a familiar pattern here.)

In the mid-1980s, I belonged to a good-sized on-line writing and critiquing group. As is usual, some were excellent writers and some were just good. A couple of the better writers decided to partner a new business (Writers Club Press), a print-on-demand (POD) publishing company, and asked the rest of us to join many others by submitting our work to them. I honestly don’t know how selective they were—whether they rejected some or not. But my children’s book, Luvella’s Promise, was accepted and they even let me design my own cover. (I wanted my mother’s picture on it.) Each of us being published by Writers Club paid some money to cover the set-up expense (they were starting from scratch), but they formatted the books, published each copy as it was ordered (the absolute beauty of POD technology), handled all orders, distributed the books, and paid us, the authors, our royalties—the whole, same process that every publisher follows.

Fast forward to the 21st century. Digital publishing has survived and flourished. Think Kindle, Smartphone, I-phone, tablets, notebooks… We’re surrounded and loving it. And to satisfy the demands of all that technology, the number of smaller, independent presses have multiplied, actually grown exponentially. Also, the availability of the POD process to everyone has opened the doors wide for self-publishing.

Self-publishing has become so popular that writing groups, made up of people who always liked to write so decided to do it, are springing up all over. Many of these don’t even try to submit their stories to publishers of any kind; they just follow the steps in whatever program they choose and self-publish. Memoirs are a popular self-publishing venture, which retired people write and then give the books to their families. The problem with self-publishing is that some of the “authors” are not writers. They have poor grammar, incorrect punctuation, no organization… no evidence of writing skills. And that spoils the business for those who study the language, edit the work, understand the process; in other words, write!

Recently, the author of the Rochester Reads book, Enchanted, spoke at one of my writing groups. (If you haven’t read the book yet, I encourage you to do so.) She said she understood that many writers today struggle with the publishing decision when they’ve completed their manuscript. Her advice was that self-publishing was very expensive and writers rarely earned enough money on the sales of their book to pay those expenses. But, she said, although her book was published by Harper Collins, she encouraged everyone to submit to a small press.

She said that they frequently market your books more than the traditional publishers do. In fact, she said, Hawthorn Press produced a best seller. The other independent publisher she mentioned is the Forest Avenue Press. Both of these publishers are in the Northwest, but of course, in our digital world, that is not a problem for us in the East.

Bottom line, if you want to have your work published, learn the writing trade. Know your language. Do your research. Keep your dictionary and thesaurus at your elbow and get to work… the long, arduous journey of creating a world that will pull the reader away from the everyday and into your reality.