Why Her Book Beats Yours

For years, no doubt, self-publishing book companies will hold up Salem resident Brunonia Barry as proof that their services work. Her self-published novel, The Lace Reader, just netted her a $2 million deal with William Morrow—pretty damn amazing for an unknown fiction author. That’s a publishing coup, and Barry should be exceptionally proud of herself. It also makes for a great story.

But the self-publishing world shouldn’t exactly be patting itself on the back.

Barry had a few advantages that other independent authors don’t. She worked for a time in Hollywood, doing script-doctoring and other behind-the-scenes work. (A script she penned was optioned many years ago, but never produced.) That provided her with some valuable contacts, including someone at Endeavor Talent Agency, the firm that ultimately sealed her deal.

She and her husband also run a software company and put their business acumen to good use: They knew how to package a product (create a compelling book cover, which she tested with retailers), and get it into people’s hands (they hired a distributor). Also, they had the foresight to create Flap Jacket Press, a vanity press that might have sounded obscure to book-lovers, but at least made her work appear as if it were published by a real company.

Some of this stuff might seem cosmetic, but it’s also vitally important, because people (and reviewers) really do judge a book by its cover. Many, many companies now allow writers to print their own books, but the products invariably look cheap and unprofessional.

I know that might not be true in all cases; there are surely more great writers than there are major book contracts. Barry is (or at least, was) surely proof of that. But the lesson to take from Barry isn’t that self-publishing will get you noticed. It’s this: Self-publishing may be a good way to print a book, but if you want your work to be taken seriously, you need to treat it like a serious business. “You know what the odds are,” Barry said when we spoke to her yesterday. “This was really kind of a test, and it’s worked pretty well so far.”

That’s an understatement. Congrats to her; she earned it. Everyone else: You’ve got your work cut out for you.