I'm writing this in response to a comment on my last post that sounded the familiar lament about prejudice against self published books. It struck me as particularly ironic that the comment came on my post about estate planning in which I was pointing out that my self publishing business would likely generate a couple hundred thousand dollars in net profit over the next five or so years if I drop dead tomorrow. That contrasts with the many trade authors I've known who crank out multiple books a year for advances that rarely earn out; writing books for a modest hourly wage with no significant royalties expected. Self publishing is the business you make of it. Working as a trade author is often a frustrating work-from-home job with low pay, bad hours and no benefits.
I haven't encountered any unfair practices aimed at keeping down self publishers. The most common complaints I hear from authors who went into self publishing with their eyes shut relates to reviews and bookstore stocking. Reviewers who write for newspapers and magazines are a vanishing breed, but those who remain often state in their submission guidelines that they don't review self published books. I don't blame them, because I'm guessing that whatever explanation they offer, the real reason is that they already get too many books from established trades and are desperate for ways to reduce the crush. If I worked as a book reviewer, I'd be inclined to only review books by people whose names began with "X" or "Z", but that's just a question of taste. Nobody seems bothered by the numerous blogs that exclusively review books by self publishers, and in some cases, only books published through particular companies that provide author services. "Oh," you say, "But nobody buys books that get reviewed on those blogs." Maybe not, but hardly anybody buys books based on newspaper or magazine reviews either, especially if they can't find those books on bookstore shelves.
So why won't bookstores stock your self published book? It's not your book, it's you. If they won't stock your book, it means you've failed to convince them that they'll make money by stocking the book, and perhaps you've adopted a business model (such as not accepting returns) that prevents them from doing business with you. Bookstores are in much the same position as book reviewers. Every year, more new titles are published than would fit into several Barnes&Noble superstores stacked on top of each other. An independent bookstore owner would have to own a chain of twenty or thirty stores to stock every book published each year. The reason they don't try to stock over a half million new titles every year has nothing to do with bias against self publishers. It's sound business practice to focus on stocking the books they believe they can sell. Bookstores count on a number of signals to tell them what books will sell, such as whether previous books by the publisher or author sold, how the subject fits with the local demand, how much ongoing effort they expect the publisher to make marketing the book, and of course, personal taste. If you want them to take a chance on an unknown, you better have a better reason for them than being unknown.
Self publishing does not mean independence from all outside parties unless you are printing and binding your own books and hand selling them to each customer. Three years ago for July 4th I wrote about the dependencies of an independent self publisher, and for most self publishers today, the main dependence is Amazon. That's more of a blessing than a curse, I've steered many authors into signing up with CreateSpace and publishing direct through Amazon. For authors who have no web platform or marketing plans for their books, it's hands-down the best way to self publish. But it means putting all of your eggs in Amazon's basket, something I would never advise as a plan for a business when other options are available.
You may be a great author, but if you can't sell your books, you're a failed publisher. Four years ago I wrote a short story about publishing choices, and at the risk of spoiling the ending, you don't want to end up like the author who signed the trade contract. For most authors, the main take-away from being published by an established trade publisher is the credential of being published by an name publisher. That's why some trade authors and fellow travelers trash-talk self publishing. Many trade authors have gone through extensive rejection before getting published, only to find they can't even earn a living at it, so they are jealous of the jewel they derived from the journey, the credential of "author." In some cases, the strongest critics of self publishing are writers who have yet to "break through" but have been trying for many years. They are seriously invested in the trade model, so don't blame them, they aren't hurting you any.
I came at publishing from a different direction. After an early drawer full of rejection notices and returned manuscripts of my novel (no, I didn't follow instructions and query before sending a bound copy:-), I took to Internet publishing. After I wrote a how-to book supported by my website, I received four contract offers from trades, and to my everlasting regret, took one. I wrote my next four books as a trade author, the junior partner in an uneven relationship with a multi-billion dollar company. As time went on, we argued about everything, or at least, I argued and they pointed at the contract. Eventually I decided that I wouldn't sign another contract unless I got to write it. The waves of offers (steady trickle anyway) from various publishers since then have always broken on the rocks in my head.
And that's why I self publish - because I have rocks in my head.