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April 24, 2008 | 3 Comments

Dear Mr. Keillor,
I was just wondering what your thoughts were about self publishing books. Do you think it's a good idea for someone that wants to really become a writer, or should they stay the course and continue to query agents in hopes of one day being picked up by an agent?

Tony G.
Harker Heights TX

Self-deception is the occupational hazard among writers. It's awfully hard to look at our own work objectively and so we might be filled with loathing for something that's actually worthwhile. Or we might be in love with something that is practically unreadable. We look at it and see what we intended it to be and not what's there. And so we send the work to a disinterested party, somebody unrelated to us, somebody who can easily say no, and we hope for their good opinion. We're asking them to invest money in us, and money serves to focus their attention. They're on the line. When you publish yourself, you're skipping some of these steps and taking a big risk with your own money. I've seen so few self-published books that were worth anyone's time. "Vanity publishing" is a pretty accurate term for them. The authors believed in their own genius to the point that they dispensed with the services of an editor, and it shows. Having said that, though, I must confess that I am planning to publish myself this summer: a collection of sonnets and also a collection of newspaper columns. Good luck to you, whatever you do.


I run a local writers group, and some of our members have self-published. I agree that the loss of an editor can sometimes cause the book to suffer. There are some cases though, where the rewards of finally seeing your work in print outweigh the issues caused by not having an editor. I recommend finding a local writers group and getting some editing help through them. Or, maybe there is a community college or university in your area that may be able to help.

Some kinds of things lend themselves very well to self-publishing. Like when you know the audience will be small ahead of time - a team yearbook or a textbook that your students will read. allows you to self publish for free, and you and your audience can pay for printed copies on demand, very reasonably priced.

Art and word are subjective...As the prolific songwriter (tongue planted firmly in cheek) Alan Thicke once wrote:

Now the world don't move to the beat of just one drum
What might be right for you, may not be right for some ...

...It takes Diff'rent Strokes to move the world


Remembrance of things Past, by Marcel Proust

Ulysses, by James Joyce

The Adventures of Peter Rabbit, by Beatrix Potter

A Time to Kill, by John Grisham

The Wealthy Barber, by David Chilton

The Bridges of Madison County

What Color is Your Parachute

In Search of Excellence by Tom Peters

The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield

The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. (and his student E. B. White)

The Joy of Cooking

When I Am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple

Lifeís Little Instruction Book

Robertís Rules of Order


Deepak Chopra

Gertrude Stein

Zane Grey

Upton Sinclair

Carl Sandburg

Ezra Pound

Mark Twain

Edgar Rice Burroughs

Stephen Crane

Bernard Shaw

Anais Nin

Thomas Paine

Virginia Wolff

e.e. Cummings

Edgar Allen Poe

Rudyard Kipling

Henry David Thoreau

Benjamin Franklin

Walt Whitman

Alexandre Dumas

William E.B. DuBois

(Thanks to Dan Poynter's website for this info; see


Pearl S. Buck - The Good Earth - 14 times

Norman Mailer - The Naked and the Dead - 12 times

Patrick Dennis- Auntie Mame - 15 times

George Orwell - Animal Farm

Richard Bach - Jonathan Livingston Seagull - 20 times

Joseph Heller - Catch-22 - 22 times (!)

Mary Higgins Clark - first short story - 40 times

Alex Haley - before Roots - 200 rejections

Robert Persig - Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - 121 times

John Grisham - A Time to Kill - 15 publishers and 30 agents (he ended up publishing it himself)

Chicken Soup for the Soul - 33 times

Dr. Seuss - 24 times

Louis L'Amour - 200 rejections

Jack London - 600 before his first story

John Creasy - 774 rejections before selling his first story. He went on to write 564 books, using fourteen names.

Jerzy Kosinski - 13 agents and 14 publishers rejected his best-selling novel when he submitted it under a different name, including Random House, which had originally published it.

Diary of Anne Frank

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