Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Self-Publishing Debate

A lot of discussion about self-publishing has been going on lately and has caused a lot of strife and discord. In particular, I've noticed that many people who are already established in the traditional publishing industry tend to look down their noses at self-publishing and attempt to warn people of all its risks in a fatherly sort of way. "Oh, it's just a phase," their tone seems to suggest. "Once they sew a few wild oats they'll realize that self-publishing won't make all their dreams come true and they'll come running back." I suppose I appreciate the sentiment (except in as much as I don't), but I find that much of the "advice" being doled out by these people is illogical and misguided at best. They don't really seem to understand the pros of self publishing so how can they reliably talk about the cons?

Then there are some authors who, having worked so hard just to get traditionally published, aren't prepared to let go of that triumph and refuse to see the benefits of self publishing. They seem to fall into one of the fallacies of human experience: the idea that if I had to go through hell to accomplish something then anyone who seemingly accomplishes the same thing in an easier way has negated my accomplishment. Traditionally published authors had to spend years querying agents and years on submission. They had to suffer rejection and sacrifice their stories to chopping block type editors just to get their names in print. And now these upstart self publishing authors come along and just skip by all that stuff and some of them even have to gall to be successful! How dare they take the "easy way out"? At least they'll never have the respectability of a traditionally published author! 

Of course, there are people just as narrow on the other side. J. A. Konrath, despite his "conversion experience" from trad to self publishing guru, is often not willing to admit the validity of any way but his (new) way. The risk takers who have the temperament to jump full throttle into "the next big thing" also tend to look down on those who don't. Konrath has done much to spread a lot of valuable and encouraging information about the possibilities (though he treats them as certainties to an extent) of self publishing. But his attitude (which often comes across as bitter and resentful towards legacy publishers) and his "accept no excuses or substitutes" approach often has a negative impact on the image of self publishing authors.

The only thing that is certain right now is that nothing is certain. The entire publishing industry is going through so many changes right now that it's difficult to keep up and impossible to tell the future. One thing that cannot be denied is the possibilities inherent in self-publishing while the advantages to traditional publishing are quickly dwindling. I'm not an expert on the subject by any means. As an aspiring author I've read a lot about it over the past several months and tried to learn as much as I could. Honestly, I've been a bit shocked by some of the things I've learned about how traditional publishing works. In the end, I decided that without a doubt I want to go the self-publishing route when I finish my first novel.

I'd like to give some of my thoughts on the subject, amateur that I am, and my reasons for deciding that self-publishing is the future for me. That's going to take quite a few words since my head is practically brimming with thoughts and opinions. I'll probably take several posts to cover it all. In the meantime, here's my advice:

Keep an open mind.

Also, if you haven't yet, read this absolutely amazingly informative series of blog posts about the changes to the publishing industry by author Kristine Kathryn Rusch: The Business Rusch Publishing Series. You will learn so much you won't even be able to stand it.


  1. Awesome words, and I'm going to check out the link right now. I couldn't agree with you more.


  2. People get set in their ways and refuse to see the benefits of different experiences...I can defitely see both sides of the argument. I guess it just comes down to being informed enough to make your own decision. Great post!

  3. I view it from the perspective of what I think the book-buying public thinks. Most of them want, and will likely always want, to have a guarantee that a book has been properly edited to a high quality. That is why I think self-publishing will always have trouble. The average book buyer will be dismayed at the tsunami of bad books out there and will want a gatekeeper who can guarantee them quality control.

  4. having self-published, for purely selfish reasons, i'd have to say there are positives and negatives to both. just one example, i wish i didn't have to pay for my copies of my book when i want to promote. on the other hand, i have control over most of the process and no deadlines. i can live with the trade-off. best wishes as you pursue this option.

  5. and i have to laugh at the picture. i think, in the end, the debate is just about as important as how to hang the toilet paper. as long as books get out there, who cares how it happens.

  6. I think your assumptions are erroneous, Ted, and I'll go into why in depth in a future post. But for starters, the large and growing number of people who are already buying self published books shows that the stigma of "self published equals poor quality" is quickly disappearing. And good riddance.

    Michelle, I actually think it is an important subject because the livelihood of writers for the future depends on their ability to adapt to the changing publishing climate.

  7. Sarah, thanks for pointing that out. you're right.

  8. We'll just have to agree to disagree. There will always be numbers of people who will do the research to find the quality books themselves. I am speaking about the many more people who will not. I know a lot of people, none of whom have ever bought even one self-published book. You are selectively choosing the numbers you wish to look at while ignoring those you don't want to see IMO.

  9. It's all so up in the air. There's also the middle of the road with smaller publishers. So much to think about.

  10. Great post. It gives me a lot to think about as I've been debating the issue for quite sometime.

    I'm going the traditional route--I have an agent pushing my MS at publishers for me as we speak. The problem(s): 1) it took forever to find her. 2) I sent out numerous query letters, partials, and fulls that were quickly rejected and 3) (THIS IS THE BIGGIE) my agent can't get the book picked up by publishers. The rejections are piling up.

    So what do I do? I think when the book doesn't get picked up by an editor, my agent will cut me loose and I will have to start the whole horrible process all over again.

    I'm curious to see what else you have to say. I'm open-minded.


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