Can’t we all just get along?
The whole “self-publishing vs. traditional publishing” brouhaha got a shot of (unneeded) adrenaline over the past few weeks when Hugh Howey — a stand-up guy and my agency-mate — published his latest round of reports over on Author Earnings. Hugh’s obviously a huge proponent of self-publishing, and rightly so. He’s done quite all right by it, and that’s an epic understatement.
The gist of his report was that independent self-published authors, on average, can take home more money than traditionally published authors. I’m sure I’m oversimplifying matters, so you can see some of his work here and here.
This led to a lot of…stuff. Commentary and ideas that transmuted into sharpened words and the occasional bit of uninformed blathering levied by genuine insights.
You know, as the Internet does.
I’m not going to get into the whole who’s right and who’s wrong of it, nor do I plan on linking to every bit of commentary on the matter. I thought the best bit came from beer-kin Chuck Wendig, and it’s telling that even Chuck’s offering of wisdom and reason prompted some spirited back and forth.
In my eyes, Chuck’s right. I don’t think there’s a black-and-white better or worse to this. The decision on how you get your work out the door depends on you, the individual. It depends on whether you want to put in the work — the very real, very time-consuming, very hard work — to be as good a publisher as you are a writer.
So instead of entering that particular fray of which is better, I’ll just share my own experience and why I walked the path(s) I’m on now.
I very much wanted to be published traditionally, for a variety of reasons. I have a full-time job, for one, aside from my fiction writing. I’m able to carve out enough time to write said fiction, and do some of the social media and marketing stuff expected of writers these days. I didn’t want to spend even more time doing all the other stuff too.
And whether or not it’s justified, there’s a certain imprimatur that comes with having your work accepted by traditional publishers. We can argue quality of self-published vs. traditionally published works until we’re blue in the face, and there’s both good and bad books published either way. Whether or not you feel the industry “gatekeepers” are adept at their jobs, or make cogent choices as to what to publish, this is what they do for a living. Their livelihoods are dependent on making more good choices than bad. I rather like being considered a good choice in that regard.
Then there’s exposure. Let’s say I went ahead and self-published The Daedalus Incident, and even managed to hire as good an editor as Ross Lockhart (the very notion of which strains credulity). Even if the quality of the final work was just as high, would Daedalus have received a starred review from Library Journal if I had gone my own way? (And make no mistake, that review prompted some serious library sales. There are library systems that won’t touch a debut novel unless it gets a solid review from LJ.) The same goes for pretty much every other review or notice I received — I simply can’t say with any certainty that I would’ve landed them without having been traditionally published.
Note: I’m not claiming that the quality of my work is somehow better than self-published works. There are self-published books that are better than mine. There are worse, too. Being accepted by a traditional publisher was my personal quality-bar. Yours may be different. It’s all good.
Finally, there’s the money. I’ve been paid for my writing since before I was old enough to drink. The thought of me paying up front, and then hoping to recoup that investment, stresses me out. I write, I get paid. That’s my personal equation. Yours may be different. Again, it’s all good.
Now, I’ve actually done the self-publishing route with my novella The Gravity of the Affair. Well…kind of. My agency, the Nelson Literary Agency, has a great platform for self-publishing. They have networks of editors, designers and copyeditors, along with all the contacts needed to get the ebooks out there on Amazon, B&N, Kobo, etc. So maybe this isn’t, in fact, self-publishing in the strictest sense.
Nonetheless, I was involved in hiring an editor (the excellent Jeff Seymour) and cover artist (the excellent Arvin Concepcion), and I worked closely with the agency to get it out there just the way I wanted it. I’m pleased with the sales thus far, though they haven’t approached those of Daedalus. Audible picked up the audio rights to Gravity, which helped the financial equation immensely, though I’ll add that the success of Daedalus and my agent’s relationship with Audible helped secure that.
OK…maybe Gravity isn’t that great an example.
Going the traditional route for my novels was my personal choice, for my own reasons, and I’m very much pleased with the outcome. “But the money you’re leaving on the table!” you may say. Well, I’m not in this for the money, because I never wanted to quit my job and become a full-time novelist. Shocking, I know, but that’s the truth of it. That isn’t to say that I don’t treat my fiction with the same level of care and professionalism that I do with my day job, nor does that imply that I don’t care about the financial aspects. I just simply like my day job, and frankly, I’m 41 and don’t want to go back to eating ramen noodle bricks for the next decade while I write frantically and build my career.
Plus, I don’t see it as losing money to a publisher. I see it as entering into a business arrangement with a company which will take on the expense of editing, designing, printing, distributing and marketing my book so I don’t have to. I entered into that partnership willingly because I didn’t want to do those things.
I wanted to publish traditionally because I wanted to see if I was good enough to be accepted by folks whose livelihoods depend on choosing successful books. I wanted to see my work on bookstore shelves and libraries, archaic as that may be. And I wanted to spend my precious free time on my wife and kid, and on my writing, rather than trying to run my own mini-publishing house.
That’s me. Your situation, your ambitions, your goals and your skills…they could be completely and utterly different. And I respect the hell out of that. Go forth and publish, however you see fit, and respect the choices your fellow writers make with regard to their careers.