Even a few years ago, most professional writing advice doled out at conventions and forums said, “Never self-publish,” because it was seen as the mark of an amateur, a lunatic, or simply an impatient writer yet to put in the requisite years of craft.
Aside from that perception of “vanity publishing,” the commercial barriers were considerable. Even if you managed to print up hundreds of copies of your book, you had an uphill battle getting them into stores.
Technology has eliminated most of the barriers to entry. You can now upload a digital file and be “published” in minutes. There is no overhead and you actually have the chance to reach whatever audience you deserve, assuming you can find it.
For those who have used up the A-list of agents and the few publishers who will look at unagented manuscripts, it’s hard to argue against it. For those with out-of-print mass-market novels, it’s a no-brainer to seek a new audience and earn easy money for work already completed. Print-on-demand technology has even made paper books a reasonable option, with more small publishers and even a few of the bigger houses using it for limited runs.
So why should you even bother with a publisher anymore? After all, you can earn the bulk of the book’s revenue if you do it all yourself. But how much of “all” are you really qualified to do?
Can you find professional editing, a respectable graphic designer, and a publicist? Those are the primary advantages of New York, aside from the ability to give you a generous advance and put your books in stores. Of course, the level of attention your book gets will be directly proportional to both the publisher’s investment and the publisher’s sales outlook, which are almost always intimately connected.
Bookstores are always swapping out the inventory, so your book usually has between 30 days to a year to find a buyer, depending on format. After you’re removed, you’ve likely lost the rights to your own work and the project is dead for years, so you are losing both money and potential audience. That’s not an issue with self-publishing and digital publishing.
So if you accept that bookstores are vanishing, and the digital audience is growing, and most books end up with nothing but a single product page on Amazon anyway, then why should you give a publisher and the supporting cast 85 to 96 percent of your book’s income?
Simple. Your small cut of the publisher’s income may prove far more than you will ever make on your own. And if you are a bestseller, then you will still make far more money with a conventional deal.
If you know you will never be “good enough to be published,” and you have no patience to improve your craft, then you hardly have any reason not to be self-published. If you feel your work is so extreme or of such a niche market that no publisher will invest in it, then you, too, will probably want to self-publish. If you feel New York is a pretentious club where everything comes down to a secret handshake, then you’ll probably project that attitude in any submission and therefore New York is a waste of your time and theirs.
So, really, the only camp that even needs to struggle with the decision is the hard-working, aspiring midlist writer, one who dreams of a professional career. Going it alone is a hard road to wealth and success. But so is the other way.
These are philosophical debates that each writer must resolve to personal satisfaction, and which have no right or wrong answers. In the next installment, we’ll look at some of the publishing math—the kind with dollar signs in front of it.
Scott Nicholson is embarking on a Kindle Giveaway Blog Tour from September through November to promote his 12 novels. He’s also giving away a Kindle 3 through his newsletter and a Pandora’s Box of e-books through his “hauntedcomputer” Twitter account. Details at www.hauntedcomputer.com/