Changing Perspectives: From Traditional to Self-publishing

I know I’ve been over this before. The publishing world is going through a revolution and authors are the ones who stand to benefit most. If you’re a writer you have to think about why you are publishing your work. Perhaps you just want to write and practice your art, in which case you understand that your readership may be very small and you don’t mind. Or perhaps you are hoping to make a living or supplemental income from your works. Or maybe you’re writing for your posterity and don’t intend to sell many books. And maybe you are a super talented, hard-working writer with books screaming for an audience. Whatever the reason, self-publishing is probably the best route for you. Take a look at Hugh Howey’s post on Salon about self-publishing if you don’t believe it.

Breaking into the traditional publishing crowd takes talent, hard work, and a bucket of luck, unless you’re already a celebrity and then you don’t need any of those traits. Traditional publishing houses are businesses. They are going to publish what they think will get them the most sales. This means they want well-written material (for the most part), pre-established social platforms for new authors, agented writers, and proven subject matter. I’m sure you’ve noticed that as long as a book deals in the recent trends (i.e. vampires, zombies, post-apocalypse), the writing quality does not need to be perfect. You need most of these things to be a successful self-published author, too. Only, in traditional publishing, you sell all rights to your work. You give it up for an upfront fee. So I ask you, what is the advantage of traditional publishing?

Marketing? Not necessarily. In fact, most publishing houses require new authors to orchestrate their own marketing strategies. They don’t have the money to invest in marketing for a book that may not sell more than the advance given to the writer. Publishing houses do have the advantage of selling directly to book distributors and libraries. Self-published writers can do this as well, but they have to use their own time and effort. The leveling field for this advantage is Amazon, which does not discriminate against self-published authors. Traditional publishers have to price their products higher than self-published authors because they have to cover overhead. E-books don’t cost anything to produce, which means pure profit for the self-published author and they can set their price low and sell much more than the traditional publisher.

Advances? Yes, if that’s all you hope to make from your book. Most traditionally published authors do not make more than the advance. After a while, these books go out of print, which means no more money from them. With a well-implemented marketing plan, a self-published work can bring a steady income and never go out of print unless the author chooses.

Editors? Sometimes. The truth is your work has to be nearly perfect already to get accepted to a publishing house. Some agents act as editors and some ask the writers to hire a freelance editor. Either way, writers advantage from hiring their own freelance editors.

Validation? This is a matter of opinion and subject to change. This is the topic that fuels my inner publishing conflict. I still feel that breaking into traditional publishing will somehow validate me as a writer. This idea stems from the many impatient writers who fill the self-publishing sphere with first and second drafts. I am terrified to fall into their ranks. Yet I know that my idea of validation is flawed. Much of the recent traditionally published literature lacks imagination. I’d rather be guilty of sloppy writing than mundane storytelling. Fortunately, self-publishing does not equal immature technique. The trick is to master your craft as if you were trying to make it through an editor’s slush pile and then self-publish your work and retain all rights to it.

What do you think? Is traditional or self-publishing the way to go? Have I missed something? I want to hear all the angles.

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Writers Rise Up

When I started on this journey of reviewing quality self-published e-books, I had an idea of what I would find. I hadn’t read any self-published books that I liked at that point. I admit, for a long time I was prejudiced against them and hadn’t read many self-published books at all. Then I found there was a lot more junk than gold coming out of traditional publishing houses. It seemed to me that for every creative idea, there were 200 copy-cats published within the year. When I found out that the marketing department gets the final word on whether a book is published, all I could think about was the hodgepodge business of marketing:

Marketing is more concerned about whether they can sell a product than if it’s actually good. They would rather tag debut novels with labels such as “for fans of Harry Potter” or “Twilight readers will fall in love with this paranormal romance.” As far as I can tell, marketing books is about guessing what will be most popular next. Needless to say, my respect for traditional publishers dwindled when their quality decreased.

There were others things I learned about traditional publishers that put me off as well, and I became ever more convinced that writers need to take control. As writers, we may not know much about selling our products, but there are so many resources we can use that the inexperience is irrelevant. The important thing is concerning ourselves with the quality of our work. The only way writers can take control is if we are producing top-quality books.

Because of all the copy-cat books in the bookstores, I thought that I would have to wade through more in the self-publishing world. To my amazement, I haven’t sifted through any wannabes. What I’ve found are gifted story-tellers with creative ideas. I’m intrigued by many of the descriptions. Unfortunately, the amateur writer gets in the way of the story. I can tell that most of these writers have never been published before. They lack polish. What pains me the most is that they are settling for a third-draft finish when their books could be so much better. I am afraid that these self-published writers feel justified through customer ratings and reviews. Two hundred reviews are not enough to prove a book’s quality through customer feedback.

I want to plead with writers to take more pride in their work. Editing is difficult as a self-published writer because they usually do not have the advantage of an experienced editor or agent. To writers I say, Be a student of your craft. Read books that you like and identify why you like them. Read blogs about writing like Query Shark, or Brian W. Foster. Join a writing group. Critique other people’s work and accept criticism. Always practice and edit until every word is perfect.

I believe that together we can do it. Writers can take charge of the quality of published literature. We just have to hold ourselves to a higher standard.