I’m often asked by writers/authors whether one should seek to publish traditionally, or go the self-publishing route. Doe-eyed authors look up at me, all dewy and misty around the lashes, and look at me for a magic bullet I could offer to publishing success and fortune. I usually respond by taking a slurp of my Ramen noodles and sighing to the heavens. *Disclaimer: these are my own thoughts and observations as pertains to the publishing world around me. You don’t like it, you can please just sod off, respectfully*
As a writer, and a plebe who has worked for minimal funds at both traditional and self publishing companies, it’s interesting to witness first hand the unceasing verbal bitch slapping issuing forth from either side. Sometimes it’s akin to being caught in the middle of a school yard squabble, when the urge to pull hair and poke eyes is hard to resist.
Here is my answer to those dewy eyed wannabe wordsmiths: don’t ask me—do your homework and figure out for yourself which is best for your particular project.
A spot of reading to that end to aide you in your research: four things I’m most often asked to elaborate on when it comes to making this choice. Self-publishing is not a dire threat to the universe (ie: impending apocalypse of Biblical proportions), traditional publishing isn’t set for death, but you should probably know both before you make a decision. Writers listen up: there are no magic bullets, so roll up those sleeves and stop whining: write something. Correction: write something good.
1) The Slush Pile
In traditional publishing, we’ve all heard of the slush pile. We fear it, respect it, tremble at its glowering presence and the end result of it, which is more often than not a lovely form letter. Often the line that is sold to self-published authors is a notion that for them, the slush pile doesn’t exist. They’ve discovered a magical key past the gatekeepers of literature. Here’s a newsflash: self-publishing has a slush pile. They’re called “readers of the world,” and they are a whole lot scarier than a form letter. They might even kick you in the stones if something you publish doesn’t cut the mustard.
You still need professional editing. You still need a gorgeous cover design. And you still need to market the hell out of your book. You can pay to have your book published, but it doesn’t make you JK Rowling: I can pay to have an ass lift, but it doesn’t make me Tyra Banks.
2) The Marketing Myth
There is a notion circulating among many aspiring authors that as a traditionally published author, one would be the recipient of a marketing campaign that would put the American electoral season to shame. Signings! International tours! Hotel stays in foreign countries! Women throwing panties on stage at your lectures!
Implicit in this idea is the notion that the author is entitled to act as a diva, requesting only blue M&Ms or Comic Sans type *shudder*. Whether you are a traditionally published author or a self-published author, this idea is not going to fly. Unless you are JK Rowling, you probably can’t get away with insane theatrics and demands. Even Ms. Rowling would likely get a few nasty glares at such behavior. No one likes a lugey in their moccachino, so best to err on the side of caution.
Ask when you don’t know something. Take advice and guidance. For both the traditional publisher and the self-publisher, it is financially beneficial if your book proves successful. For both, you will have to do most of the work yourself if your book and your career is to have ANY steam.
3) Market Share
There is a strange notion going around that self-publishing poses a huge threat to traditional channels because it is encroaching on established norms and threatening profit margins. Um-pardon? For the vast majority of cases, the Targeted markets are a little different. One targets readers, one targets authors (guess which one’s which! I dare you).
Here’s where things get a little dicey: published authors reclaiming the digital rights to their back catalogue, which poses a real monetary threat to those who forfeit those rights. Traditional publishing houses establishing self-publishing imprints to help themselves to a piece of the wannabe-author-pie.
You, unpublished author, don’t need to worry about this yet. You need to worry about writing a book that is good. Don’t worry about choosing one type of publishing because the other is doomed to a quick and immediate death. I don’t see it happening.
4) For the love of all that is holy, NO ONE CARES ABOUT COPYRIGHT!
This is the question I am asked the most. Seriously. Even if we were trapped in a burning building and it was raining hellfire outside, said wannabe writer would probably brush the burning ash from their spindly shoulders, refrain from asking me for the extra extinguisher in lieu of asking me how they protect themselves from someone stealing their work.
Here’s a newsflash genius: if someone wants to steal your book, YOU’VE FREAKING MADE IT! For you, unpublished underling, copyright isn’t the concern, but obscurity. I don’t want to hear about the famous author whose name you can’t remember whose book was stolen word for word. I don’t wanna hear about your book which is so original and fantastic it makes the angels sing and is simply ripe for stealing. It’s not. If you’re worried about copyright, you’re not worried about the important stuff. Aka—writing a good book (duh).
Hint hint: Go and write something! And make it good. It’ll find a good home.