2012: the year of self-publishing

The most recent sign that self-publishing is on the rise? New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani chose a self-released book as one of her favorite titles of the year.

'The Revolution Was Televised,' a self-published title, was chosen by notoriously demanding New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani as one of her preferred reads of 2012.

In the publishing industry, 2012, we think, will be remembered as the year of self-publishing.

That’s because at a time when bookstores – mainstream and indie – are struggling to stay open and when top publishing houses are scrambling to keep footing in a rapidly changing industry, there is one bright spot in the publishing industry: self-publishing.

The latest evidence of self-publishing’s ascendency? New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani, one of the country’s most influential, and often scathing, critics, chose a self-published title as one of her favorite books of the year, a landmark moment for self-publishing.

Sharing shelf space with Michael Chabon, Dave Eggers, and Oliver Sacks on Kakatuni’s most prized picks of the year is Alan Sepinwall’s “The Revolution Was Televised: The Cops, Crooks, Slingers and Slayers Who Changed TV Drama Forever.” Sepinwall, a TV blogger, self-published the book in November after failing to catch the interest of a traditional publisher. It’s a critical analysis of hit TV dramas like “The Sopranos,” “Mad Men,” and “24,” which, Sepinwall argues, have transformed the TV landscape and allowed TV to “step out from the shadow of the cinema.” 

In her review of the book, Kakatuni, known as one of the country’s toughest critics, called the “The Revolution” “engaging ... smart [and] observant.”

Since being picked up by the New York Times, adds the UK’s Guardian, "The Revolution Was Televised" “is currently number one on Amazon.com’s ‘television’ chart, and has picked up adulatory write-ups in the New Yorker...."

Of course, this is simply the latest example of self-publishing’s ascendancy, but it’s certainly not the first, nor, we think, the last. In fact, points out NPR, self-publishing has enjoyed a remarkably rapid rise from last-rate reputation to best-seller status.

“They used to call it the ‘vanity press,’ and the phrase itself spoke volumes,” said NPR’s Lynn Neary in a recent broadcast. “Self-published authors were considered not good enough to get a real publishing contract. They had to pay to see their book in print. But with the advent of e-books, self-publishing has exploded, and a handful of writers have had huge best-sellers.”

Writers like Amanda Hocking, the 20-something writer who was rejected by so many publishing houses that she sailed right past them – and straight up the record books when her self-published supernatural romances hit 1 million-plus in sales.

And John Locke, the 60-something businessman-turned-thriller writer who has sold more than 1 million Kindle e-books. And Hugh Howey, whose self-published tales of life after the apocalypse have garnered him hundreds of thousands of fans.

It’s no wonder self-published books have almost tripled in production since 2008, making up 43 percent of print titles released in 2011, as the Monitor’s Molly Driscoll wrote in a blog post this fall.

In fact, so promising does self-publishing now appear, one of the country’s publishing giants, Simon & Schuster, recently teamed up with a self-publishing company to create a self-publishing imprint. That’s like the Boston Red Sox joining forces with Smalltown Little League.

NYT critic Kakatuni’s decision to include a self-published book in her list of the year’s best reads? As the the Guardian put it, it’s just “the cherry on the cake for a stellar year for self-publishing."

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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