Friday, March 5, 2010

"For" or "Against" Self-Publishing?

As I was searching for inspiration for this week's blog, I came across this blog by Mick Rooney over at Self-Publishing Review (not to be confused with The Self-Publishing Review, a wonderful site too). It's an excellent plea for common sense when it comes to publishing in any form, but especially self-publishing. I want to quote a few highlights from the post and add my thoughts.

Rooney: "There are those in the traditional world of publishing who believe self-publishing has the potential to tarnish an author’s book. Usually there are a myriad of under-the-surface reasons for this view, but, at least as far as tried and trusted publishing practice is concerned, their valid argument is that an author who chooses to first self-publish their book gives up their first publication rights."

That's really the only thing a self-published author gives up by self-publishing--that and the mystique of having already used up first serial rights--which is probably more important than the rights themselves. People in the publishing industry, like people in the rest of the world, want to be "first," and when you self-publish, you take the "first" charm away from your book. That charm never comes back, at least in the eyes of the industry.

More Rooney: "It is simply not true to say a book is done and dusted if it is self-published and that any wide recognition and commercial success is beyond its reach. Self-published books continue to be picked up by mainstream publishers."

I have a list published at my other blog--dated now, but all confirmed--of five self- or subsidy-published fiction writers who went on to publish their self-published works commercially. I'm sure there have been many more since then. I don't know if anyone out there has a more comprehensive list, but I wish one existed.

More Rooney: "As it stands, mainstream publishing is, and should be, the first port of call for any author."

Bravo! Things have changed in the publishing world over the last ten years or so, but they haven't changed that much. Every writer defines her own success, but I'll bet the success you envision for yourself is far more likely to happen if you publish commercially that if you self-publish. Your choice, of course, but there you go.

More Rooney: "There is nothing wrong with self-publishing provided you...understand why you are considering self-publishing and crucially you know what it entails and tailor your expectations to a reasonable and realistic level."

There are still plenty of people out there who just don't like self-publishing. Much of the sting of their criticisms has been taken away with the relatively new abilities to self-publish cheaply (POD/ebooks) and to distribute widely (Internet), but it's still there. Know that they just have different goals from you, and provided they're respectful to you, there's nothing wrong with your or their approach.

What struck me most about Rooney's post is his ability to illuminate something that should be obvious: Publishing is about writers getting their work to readers, and preferably getting paid for it. That's pretty much the beginning and the end of it. The rest--commercial publishing companies, self-publishing companies, subsidy POD companies, agents, editors, printers, print books, ebooks, audiobooks, reviewer, reviews, blogs, literary magazines, etc, infinity--are just ways to facilitate that end, and any attempt to glorify or demonize any aspect of that list is like choosing to love (or hate) a sports team because of the way it travels to games.

*How do I get my work to readers?* That's the only question a writer need concern himself with. We all should be glad that there is more than one possible answer.

Yours in laying down the law,


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Kristie Cook said...

"Publishing is about writers getting their work to readers, and preferably getting paid for it. That's pretty much the beginning and the end of it."

Amen!! Sure, many of us write for ourselves, but when we believe we have something others would enjoy reading, too, the decision is how to get it into readers' hands. In today's instantaneous world, the slow, clunky mainstream publishing route doesn't make sense for me, personally. There are definite benefits to it that I may never enjoy as a self-published author, but I'm willing to take the chance by getting my book into the hands of readers sooner and see what they do with it. After all, in the end, it's the readers' opinions that make or break a book.

Art Edwards said...

Hey, I can fetishize parts of the biz with the best of them, but I also know I'm being a little silly when I'm do it.

All that really matters in the end is, did I get my work to others, and did I not go hungry doing it?

John Yeoman said...

I think we must distinguish between writers who write for the love of it, and enjoy the self-esteem of gathering a small fan club, and those who frankly want their very hard sweat to be rewarded with more than the passing respect of strangers.

Mainstream publishing offers the first reward, if we can get published, but even then few authors will make much money. At least by self-publishing we have total control over our own marketing and income. In these days, the publisher wants us to do our own marketing anyway - for less income!

Marion Gropen said...

I moderate one of the largest self-publishers' on-line groups (nearly 3,000 active members) and have nearly 20 years' experience in publishing, most of it in one or another a moderate-sized NYC house, so I believe I can speak to both sides of this issue. More than that, I've been the executive in charge of finance for those houses, so I really know the dollars and cents arguments on both sides.

I hope you'll allow me to post a long comment, that may well cover ground with which you're thoroughly familiar. Perhaps some of the others in the audience aren't quite as much so.

In the vast majority of cases, if the same book is brought out by a large house, and the same level of effort is put in by the author, the author will reap far larger total profits from publishing in a larger publisher, and will need to invest far less of his or her own funds.

As for the slow, and clunky, process of publishing - each and every day of that process is there for a reason. Occasionally, they're no longer critical, but usually, the reason still applies for most books. Since the author usually makes more per copy sold than the publishing house does, that reason also usually helps the author.

If you try to follow a shortcut when you're self-publishing, you may well end up (short) cutting out some sales, and quite a bit of profit. I blog and post elsewhere regularly about just why this is so.

There are a LOT of very attractive paths that should be avoided if you want to maximize your end result. Unfortunately, it's hard to know what they are without a solid foundation in the industry. You need to know WHY large publishers make the choices they make before you can decide whether or not you should follow suit.

My best advice, even if you're already experienced in the publishing world, is that you read a number of solid texts on the basics. Many self-publishers must either spend a little bit of time finding out about the parts they don't know now, or learn things the expensive way later.

I have a few lists of good texts on publishing on the Reference Desk section of my site, but there are others elsewhere, too:

My site:
MidWest Book Review:
Wexford Press:

I hope some of this is actually useful to someone here.