May 4, 2011

the publishing battle ends...

I know several writers are sick of the traditional vs. self-published debate, and I have avoided coming to this subject for some time. I don’t have experience in either, and I don’t personally know anyone that knows both sides of the fence. Traditional publishing isn’t dead. It’s changing. Self-publishing isn’t the only way to publish a book. It’s a different way.

Most writers that get on the debate bandwagon sit at one extreme or the other: “The Big Six are dead!” or “Self-publishing is taboo!” Writers have their reasons for choosing a side, and I respect their choices, but how many writers sit in the middle ground?

I’m the one sitting on the fence.

For my entire college career, I was taught that the only way to be a real writer was to publish a book through a publishing company. From the moment I entered the blogosphere, I was told that the only way to become published was to go through an agent and then, if I made it that far, get signed on with a publishing house. Writers, agents, publishers, college professors… everyone, said that self-publishing was taboo. There was no validation in self-publishing.

So I disregarded self-publishing as an option.

As the rise of e-readers enabled authors to get their work to readers easier than ever, the idea of self-publishing niggled at me in the back of my mind. I brushed it aside. When my friends or family asked why I didn’t just self-publish, I explained how there was no validation in self-publishing. No one would take me seriously as a writer… etc. I reiterated everything that had been drilled into my brain for my entire writing career thus far. But as much as I tried explaining why self-publishing wasn’t the way to go, no one understood why. I chalked it up to ignorance of the professional writing world.

When I started writing my current novel, I still had it in my mind that I would seek traditional publication. I would go the route of querying agents and cross my fingers. All the while, the battle between traditional and self-publication raged on.

And somewhere in the past few months, self-publishing won.

I never thought I would come to this point, when I would consider self-publishing before seeking out professional representation. Many things contributed to my decision.

Writing is a business. Publishing houses, editors, agents, writers… we’re all in it for the money. Yes, we love books. We love to read. We love to write. We love to share our stories. But if we didn’t do it for the money, we wouldn’t seek publication. Now, there’s generally not a lot of money to be made in the writing business. Midlist authors are lucky to earn out their advances, or procure a half decent salary from royalties. Some writers go to be bestsellers and earn their weight in gold, but they are a tiny percentage. And, you know, that’s the dream we all have. If we weren’t in it for the money, we would post our books and stories on our websites for free, and just let it be. Not many writers do that. You can’t become a NYT bestseller by giving all your books away.

Suppose that writers aren’t in it for the money. They write to share their stories. Why not self-publish? Oh, that’s right. Validation. There’s no validation in self-publishing. Professionally published writers, agents, and editors all express the opinion that self-publishing is taboo. Of course they would. It’s their job to rope authors into traditional publishing so that they can make more money. I’m not bashing agents. Agents are wonderful people that do an excellent job ushering new stories into the publishing world. They love books and want to see their favorites gracing bookshelves across the world. My dream desk job would be literary agent, and that’s a fact. There is the common opinion in the writing blogosphere that traditional publishing is the only way to go. Most writers snub their noses at self-published books. Writers are the ones reviewing books and expressing their opinions for the world to see. They’re often the most critical readers… But what about everyday readers, the common reader that is completely oblivious to this war waging in the blogosphere?

With the rise of the e-reader, the everyday reader can browse the Nook or Kindle shopping page, find a book that piques his interest, and buy it on the spot. They aren’t going to stop and see if the writer published with Penguin, Simon & Schuster, or HarperCollins. They’re going to see the cover, the title, and the blurb, just as they would with any other book. Most readers don’t care whether a book is self-published or traditionally published. They’re only interested in a good book. And when I realized this, I finally realized why no one outside of the publishing industry seemed to understand why I didn’t self-publish. In their eyes, it was just as legitimate as traditional publication.

Self-publishing won the debate in my mind, because in the eye of the reader, it doesn’t matter.

I still have the utmost respect for traditional publishing, for its industry professionals, and for its writers. But, for me personally, I think my destiny is with self-publishing.

The thought scares me to death.

But so did steampunk. And guess what… I’m writing an effing steampunk novel and loving every word of it.

What are your thoughts? Does my argument make sense, or am I completely insane?


  1. You just summed up my entire internal debate over the last 6 months with this issue. I've finally come to the same place. Particularly with the advance of E-readers, there's just no good reason not to self-publish.

    This doesn't mean, of course, that we can't all quietly keep dreaming of getting signed to a publishing house :)

  2. Good post. My hubby thinks I should self publish. I think I will but not because I have anything against traditional. It's the path I want to take and I know it won't be easy, in fact, I expect it to be hard as hell but that's not stopping me. I think every writer needs to do what you did and figure out the best route to take. Traditional isn't for everyone but neither is self-publishing. At least we have the option to choose.

  3. I really like the way you've summed up the two sides. I've gone back and forth a lot, especially in the last few months. The deciding factor was one piece of information that I've heard from several self-published authors: if you self-publish, you have to self-promote. You have to spend time promoting your work or no one will buy it. And from what I've heard, it tends to take over all your time (time that you could otherwise spend writing).

    Personally, I don't want to deal with that (call me lazy, but I'd still rather be writing), so I'm sticking with traditional publishing (for the time being: things may well change in the future).

  4. Oh, I imagine there will be much blood, sweat, and tears along the way. I don't expect it to be easy for a second, but at least this way, nearly everything is under my control. I can publish how I want to, and I find that is extremely important to me.

  5. Brava! A lot of times I think it is really important to me to see my name on my book in print on a bookstore shelf. Then I walk by the "bargain" section and see ten thousand books like mine priced at $3.99 and realize that readers are the ones choosing which books are valid in both the print and e-pubbing world.

    But, yeah. the conversation I had with myself was pretty much the same as yours. :)

  6. Congrats on your decision, Brooke - a logical argument, to be sure, and a process many of us went through before coming to the same conclusion. I'll look forward to reading more about your journey as you jump into the publishing part. :-)

    Reece, you need to be aware that you'll have to do just as much work to promote your traditionally published books. Actually, many trad published authors do *more* promotion than I do for my self-pubbed stuff (and my books do sell pretty steadily these days). So no matter how you publish, self-promotion is going to be a big part of it. There's no getting around that, sadly - even with a traditional publisher.

    I love being a writer at this point in time. Options are good. :-)

  7. I agree - readers don't give a fig about who published the book. They just want a good story. Content is everything.

    And yes, you are writing a bloody great steampunk novel. Basil thinks so, too.

  8. I think Jamie D. makes a good point. The two primary advantages to going the traditional route are the advance money and being on (brick & mortar) bookstore shelves. Either route, you have to line up your own beta readers and do most or all of your own self-promotion. The traditional publishers have in-house editors, but I see typos and glaring misprints in trad-pub books all the time so maybe that's one more corner they're cutting these days.

    Those who are going the indie route are mapping the potholes along the way for the rest of us. It won't be an easy go, but neither is finding an agent and running the publisher gauntlet. I think it's about the same amount of work either way, but one leads to a more certain result.

  9. Thanks for the comments everyone! It's amazing how opinions vary on the subject, and the reasons behind those opinions are equally interesting.

    Personally, I have other reasons for choosing self-publishing: my husband is willing to fund it (yay!) and I feel like the market will soon be swamped with steampunk, and I want to get ahead of that.

    As I said before, I still have all the respect for traditional publishers and the authors that choose that route. Both options require a lot of hard work and determination and whether you "make it" in traditional publishing or in indie publishing, the effort is commendable.

    It's good to know that I'm not the only writer who has gone through this dilemma. Thanks for commenting everyone. As I continue forth on this unknown adventure, I hope you'll all stick with me. :)