Anyone reading my last post must be asking that question. Had I chosen to self-publish, my book might already be on Amazon, CreateSpace, XLibris, etc. You could be reading it on your Kindle or iPad right now. Print-on-demand companies could be taking my book to press, and shipping them later this week to eager readers. I could be marketing it online, setting up book tours, and answering questions from readers.
Self-publishing is an increasingly viable route to a successful writing career. There are a handful of authors who became millionaires by self-publishing, and the author currently dominating best-seller lists was discovered by way of her self-published work. I have several friends who have self-published their novels, and one of them has been fairly successful in his sales.
So why don’t I go that route?
Well, first of all, I don’t regard the immediacy as a good thing. As you may have noticed, I’m planning several months of editing before I even go to agents – and that’s after almost a year of rewrites and editing. At any point in that time, I could have called the book finished and made it available for sale and download. No one would have stopped me. I might have even made some money. But it wouldn’t have been the best work I could do. I wouldn’t be proud of it. The majority of my readers would have been baffled and angry, and I wouldn’t be building a base of fans and customers. The availability of self-publishing is, in my view, more of a danger than a benefit.
Ultimately, for me it comes down to business and quality.
Even a very successful self-published book typically only sells a few thousand copies. Those authors who have made millions on self-publishing have mostly done it by churning out dozens of books at a breakneck pace, and moving a relatively small volume of each book. The problem with that (aside from the fact that I’m not naturally prolific) is that the quality of the books suffers.
As much as the traditional publishing timeline is arduous, it is also something of a quality filter. If I have heard and responded to criticism from test readers, if I’ve been accepted by an agent, if I’ve sold my book to a publisher, I can trust that my book is the best it can be. I have to believe in my book if I am going to advocate for it to agents, publishers, and readers – and if I’m doing that for the course of a year or two, through multiple stages of editing, I will believe.
Aside from all that, of course, is the question of sales. Traditional publishing remains the only path to a presence in physical stores, which are still the way the vast majority of books are sold. It’s the only path to any significant marketing push, and the only path that has anyone except me working to advance my writing career. Mind you, I’m willing to do whatever I can, but there is a limit to my capabilities – particularly when I’m also working a day job.
Self publishing is looking more attractive every year, and I understand why may authors choose that route. My view is that traditional publishing remains the best approach for someone like me, who hopes to make writing a career.
I’ve been beating around the bush for a while, but it’s official. I don’t like self-publishing. I think it’s bad for writers, and it’s bad for readers. I am opposed.
Not in every circumstance. There are cases when self-publishing is a good thing, and the right choice: When an author just wants to get his or her book out there, dammit, and has no aspiration to build writing into a career. When a book is suited only to a niche market, and the author already has a platform from which to promote it. When an author is an early adopter and excited by the new opportunity and wants to play in the sandbox. Otherwise, I am decidedly anti.
And why? There are a lot of small reasons, but there’s one big reason: because I’ve met and talked to WAY to many authors who have virtually abandoned the study of their craft. Instead of writers, they have all become marketers. They don’t want to talk about technique. They’d rather talk about blogging and Amazon ratings and Kindle shorts and Twitter.
Self-publishing means self-marketing, and the “democratization of publishing” has turned writers into carnival barkers. Instead of putting in the time and effort and thought and revision to turn a mediocre book into a great book that will win an agent and a publisher, they self-publish the mediocre book. Then they pour time and effort and thought into a blog and a Twitter feed and a Tumblr and a YouTube channel and a cross-promotional campaign with fellow self-published authors. Some of them join writers groups, where they never talk about the craft of writing but steer every conversation into marketing. Maybe they’re there to recruit the members into their cross-promotional campaign. The bottom line is they aren’t thinking about writing. Continue Reading
I haven’t been blogging much lately. I haven’t been Tweeting, and my Facebook activity has been diminished. I’m pleased to say this is partly because I’ve been writing. The rest is because of life – things are busy at work right now (which is good), I’m running my first full marathon in (checking calendar, feeling pit open in my stomach) nine days, and there have been various other life-related things happening, most of which I’m happy about. But I am going to try to get back in the habit of posting here a couple of times a week, at least, because I do care about this blog and I do care about my readers (reader?).
This week, the online literary community was all atwitter (see what I did there?) about Amanda Hocking, self-published millionaire. The discussion was interesting, especially because I’d never before heard of Ms. Hocking. In a nutshell, she’s earned millions by self-publishing her work on the Kindle, and as Nathan Bransford explained quite nicely, she keeps a much larger share of the sale of each eBook than a conventionally published author would.
The conversation around Ms. Hocking’s success, and the success of other successful self-published authors, took predictable turns. Agents and publishers wondered whether her success is one of the early indications that the electronic publishing revolution has arrived, or if she is an anomaly. Self-publishing saw her rise as a trumpet breaking the sixth seal on the death of conventional publishing. My favorite analysis of Amanda Hocking’s success, surprisingly, came from Amanda Hocking herself, who is quite pleasantly (and unexpectedly, at least to my thinking) not a conventional-publishing hater.
I just don’t understand writers animosity against publishers. So much of what I’ve been reading lately has made me out to be Dorothy taking down the Wicked Witch.
Publishers have done really great things for a really long time. They aren’t some big bad evil entity trying to kill literature or writers. They are companies, trying to make money in a bad economy with a lot of top-heavy business practices. Continue Reading
Literary agent Colleen Lindsay this morning tweeted Laura Miller’s recent Salon article about how the future of literature will be shaped by e-book and on-demand print self-publishing services. Miller observes that these services promote themselves as a means to circumvent the “elite literary gatekeepers,” and that their customers are really authors, not readers. She points out, rightly, that the so-called gatekeepers provide a service to consumers, that removing them will drop the slush pile directly atop readers, and that this may have dramatic and unintended consequences.
For my part, I wonder whether these services won’t cost humanity more than one potentially-great book, when the author gives up on finding representation and self-publishes instead of going back for another polish. See, personally I don’t view editors and literary agents as gatekeepers. I see them as the laws of physics.
That may require further explanation. Continue Reading