Let us look at two pieces of information.
One is the widely accepted list of ‘good reasons for self-publishing’. My source here is ‘The Street-Smart Writer’ by Glatzer and Steven—an all round good book for the newbie writer. These widely accepted reasons would be: re-releasing an out of print books, niche non-fiction, poetry or short story anthology, a timely subject, a built in audience, as part of a business or just to hold a book in your hands.
Secondly we have what seems to be the single most common reason for self-publishing—confirmed by our very own handy-dandy POD poll. “Because I was unable to secure a traditional publisher”: (running at 48% of respondents).
So, if this is not a good reason to self-publish, what is a person meant to do when they have made a reasonable effort to secure a publisher and failed. The options seem to be:
1) Try harder. Approach smaller publishers. Yes, well, point taken. Maybe many people give up too soon. How many well prepared queries is enough before you realize it just ain’t gonna happen? And as you move to smaller presses there are diminishing returns for your ever increasing effort.
2) Put it in the drawer or burn it, and write another, better book. Yes, well, perhaps there are some self-denying paragons destined for NY Times bester seller list greatness who are doing just this. More power to them, they wouldn’t want their earlier, flawed efforts to be out there in a world as an embarrassment to them in their later years. But I bet there are also a lot of people throwing out the only book they will ever write, or going on to write more and more books—none of which will ever find an audience.
As a reasonably impartial observer I would have to say that if you have made a fair effort and not secured a traditional publisher, why not self-publish the damn thing. Even if it ends up making only average sales for a self-published book (figures vary but 20-75 copies seem to be the range) then it has, in its own humble way, done what a book is meant to do. It has communicated with a reader, or two, or fifty. There are worse things.
Now, thinking that self-publishing is likely to lead to being picked up by a major publisher, or become a grass roots underground best seller that propels you to stardom—well, maybe it does happen but so does winning the lottery. So sue me I am not a lottery ticket buyer, and even people who are generally keep paying into their pension funds rather than fastening their undying hopes on buying that Caribbean island they always wanted with an over-sized check.
But if you looked at the book manuscript in your hands and consigned it to Lulu or Cafepress rather than the pyre, what is wrong with that? So long as you’re your motivations are honest and your expectations are reasonable you can say, like any self-publisher author: I y’am what I y’am.