Self Publishing Versus Traditional – The Debate Rages On…

It seems every discussion forum I go into that has anything to do with writing has this debate somewhere within its threads. Most times the debates become quite heated as both sides express their points and take personally the arguments their ‘opponents’ give for their camp. I try to stay as neutral as possible, as I have friends who have self published (those friends have often said how much work goes into it and how unbelievably hard it is to make money self publishing) and I don’t enjoy having enemies, although it seems inevitable we’ll collect a few in our lives. I respect the reasons each person chooses, although I strongly feel those decisions shouldn’t be made impulsively.

So what is my opinion? To tell you the truth, I don’t care if you self publish. What I care about is me. Selfish aren’t I? Of course I am, it’s my work not yours.

You might wonder why I’m touching such a hot button issue if I try to stay neutral. This could open a can of worms, turn people from my blog, or get me some nasty haters. One thing you’ll see if you keep reading my blog is that while I try not to purposely offend people, I also don’t shy away from ‘controversy’ or healthy debate. I like my opinion and I’ll state it. I also enjoy other opinions, and respect them, even if I don’t agree. I don’t care if it makes me unpopular. I’ve never really understood popularity anyway.

I do care that there are a lot of misconceptions and outright lies floating around these message boards. I do care that there are talented new writers reading these misconceptions and thinking that they have a brilliant future with self publishing and that it’s easier than the traditional route. I care that everyone thinks they can be a writer. After all, how hard can it be to publish? Anyone can write a book. Oh really?

Well, just for you, I’ve listed some arguments for self publishing along with some points to ponder.

1. Self-publishing offers the author a larger royalty. That’s good because you’ll pay to purchase copies to sell and to give away for marketing purposes. You’ll pay to advertise signings, for bookmarks, and a decent website. You’ll pay for reviews. If you want a certain picture to go on your book, you’ll pay the artist for the copyright. You’ll pay an editor, if you’re smart. Oh and then there’s the ISBN number, and all that wonderful legal stuff you’ll have to pay for because it’s necessary when selling a book. Don’t forget your other regular bills like food, shelter and handy things to a writer like hydro.

2. Self-publishing costs are relatively inexpensive, sometimes even free! That’s great, because you also get what you pay for. Traditional publishing is relatively inexpensive too…oh yeah, it’s always free. They pay you which makes it doubly important for them to first make sure that they have a good product out there and also to make sure it sells. They want to see you succeed, because if you do well, they do well. See how that works?

3. Self-publishing allows you to print on demand (as each one is ordered, a book is printed and mailed to the customer). Phew! What a relief, you won’t have to store a ton of books in your garage or bedroom, or wherever it is that you store things. Unless you’re hoping to do a signing, which is crucial to marketing your book, then you must order enough copies for said signing, pay for them out of your pocket, and hope enough people show up so that you don’t end up with fifty copies of your book, sitting in said storage space, mocking you each time you trip over them. But still, it’s not as though fifty books take up a ton of space.

4. Self-publishing offers the ability to sell your book online just like the Traditional publishers do! But try to get it distributed to actual stores, as traditional publishers also do. Not that it needs to be in a real store on a physical shelf to sell. It’s just nice to know that people who don’t own a computer, don’t like to give out personal info online, or like to go outside to shop can also find your book.

5. Self-publishing offers fast, easy formatting, book design and other book services to the author for a relatively low price. That depends on what you feel is ‘low’. For me, I have no money, zero, so free is the only low price to me. I’ve read a few self published books that, although the writing is passable, the actual format of the book is a nightmare. Chapters starting on the left side, (as opposed to the right side where they normally start) weird fonts (too big, too small, too hard to read), wonky page numbers, blank pages in the middle of the book, shitty binding so after you’ve opened it a few times the damn pages fall out, and typos, typos, typos. I can accept a typo here and there; it happens, but every chapter, every page? Come on.

6. Self-publishing offers immediate satisfaction. The author can hold their book in their hands in a very short amount of time. Which is much better than waiting for the proper editing, formatting, etc. that a publisher would handle so that you’re putting the best product you can out there.

7. Self-publishers will never refuse your work! No, they won’t. Not even if it’s crap.

Wow, that’s a lot of benefits. I can see how someone eager to get published would see the advantages of this. Especially after 500 rejections. Wait…what? You didn’t get 500 rejections? Well how many did you get? Only ten. Wow. Impatient much?

This is why I have issues with self publishing. (Aside from niche markets like non-fiction and self help books.) A lot of authors going the self publishing route do so because they don’t want to wait to be accepted by a traditional publisher. They don’t want to go through the lengthy process of submitting, rejecting, submitting again, getting a contract, editing, rewriting, finalizing, finally getting a date for publication, etc. In fact, I hear many who believe that Traditional Publishers such as Random House, Penguin, Harper Collins and many other big houses don’t want unknown authors. They will refuse as soon as they see “I am a new author…” and the little guy doesn’t stand a chance.

Sorry folks but you’re wrong. Of course they want new authors. Shit, how do you think they keep the wheels in motion? How do they get new readers? They need fresh new talent. But, (and this is a big but) they want talent that has taken the time to learn their craft and are handing them a good product. Don’t have time to hone your craft? You think that there are people who want your book even if the POV shifts with every page, the dialogue is stilted or there is no setting whatsoever? Well, by all means, go ahead. Get online, put it on Lulu and have fun. You might do well for your first book, but let me know how the second one goes for you.

I’ve also heard the argument that agents and publishers warn against self publishing because it hurts their sales. They want to warn authors away from it for selfish reasons. The publishing industry is not in the situation it’s in because of POD houses and self publishing. It’s in the situation it’s in because no one seems to care about writing good fiction anymore. They’re getting more slush than gold and there isn’t much worth publishing making it to their inbox. Readers aren’t stupid, although there are some books out there that aren’t well written but have done really well, (no one has any real explanation for this phenomenon. If you do, please enlighten me) but those are exceptions. When you have authors out there like Thomas Harris, Stephen King, Mary Higgins Clark, J.K Rowling, TS Elliot, Kurt Vonnegut, Poe, Shakespeare, or Frost (opinions may vary on these authors, but they all know how to write. Whether they can write a story that holds appeal to you or I, that’s a matter of opinion.), a reader can spot the difference between good writing and bad because they’ve already read good. They might buy an author once, but rarely do we get a second chance to wow them.

If you know your stuff, have studied, perfected, and worked hard to know the ins and outs of writing fiction and marketing your product, then you’ll do well. Many have and I commend them for busting their ass to do so. Good stuff. But here’s the difference between the majority of self published authors and those people; they worked for it and made an educated decision. Educated. There’s the key word.

Does a lawyer read a book, watch a few trials and then go to a firm and expect to get hired? Even better, if he gets rejected once, does he make his own sign and declare himself a lawyer?

Does a doctor practice his ‘craft’ in the garage, cure a couple of field mice and the neighbor’s cat, go online and get some tips, and then go into surgery prepared to save a life?

I’m not saying you need a degree to write. If that were the case, I’m shit out of luck. I’m saying you need to study, practice, learn and listen. This takes more than a few months, I’m talking years. You need to edit, rewrite, critique, and yes, you must stumble a few times. You need to get rejected in order to know what you’re doing wrong so that you can do it right the next time. You need to have patience.

“Avoid the ticking clock mentality, my friends. Just because you don’t get instant gratification doesn’t mean that your time has been misspent. Take the time you need. Hone your craft, and come back to the table when you’ve got something awesome to share.” –-Wendy Swore, Contributing Author, Menage-a-20

8 thoughts on “Self Publishing Versus Traditional – The Debate Rages On…

  1. So am I, Joe. I think we're always in that curve. It never ends with writing, there's always something you can learn to improve. Boy, I'm a steaming bowl of optimism aren't I?

  2. Thank you Henry. Menage was a big eye opener for me about the publishing industry, particularly self publishing. It is not easier. In many ways it's a steeper climb.

  3. I'm here to comment, but I left my snark back at the other blogs. Very interesting and informative, though I'm just a dirty old blogger and not really a "writer". Also, I'm quite relieved that Stephanie Meyer was not in that list of writers containing Shakespeare, Kurt Vonnegut and J.K. Rowling. 🙂

  4. As long as I'm writing the list you won't see it. And your snark is one of my favorite things about you. So is your dog. I think we should introduce her to my dog and make puppies to sell to unsuspecting victims…er, I mean animal lovers. Yeah. that's what I mean.

  5. Hello, Renee I agree with what you said in regards to the pitfalls of self publishing versus traditional. However, I would definitely like to throw in my two cents. I published POD and if nothing else it helped prepare me for the publishing world, as far as promoting and learning about the business. It also helped with my story writing, seeing that so many more people have commented on not just my novel by my writing in general. For some reason my writing groups have never been quite so effective. I actually think it's because people take it more seriously. Also, I didn't start with the thought that I would become a successful author through my POD book. Sometimes you simply need to get the story off your back and move on. I had to throw myself into the process. I needed to learn badly. And I'm glad I did. I don't know what would have happened if this story had gone traditional and I'm not concerned. Appeasing those in charge and being accepted wasn't the point. Getting better at the entire process was. U.L. Harper

  6. Hey U.LYou've made some good points. And to me, you would fall into the category of writers who made an 'educated' choice to self publish. You didn't expect huge sales, you didn't expect to gain anything but knowledge and experience, and you've done that. I'm sorry your writing groups didn't offer you more. I've been lucky and I've met some amazing, very patient and generous authors, some published, some not who have taught me more than I could ever have learned on my own.Good luck on your next project. Will you be going SP or traditional with it?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s