Self-publishing is great for those who are willing to pay out of their pockets to hire editors, cover artists, print-on-demand services for anyone who orders a hard copy of the book, etc. And that is no small task. There are a lot of balls to juggle when you self-publish that take time away from actual writing. All the marketing, formatting, financial records, and production falls into your lap. Even if you hire people to help, you’re still the boss. And some writers are great at handling challenges like that, ready and willing to do that extra work. To them I say bravo.
But that’s not for every writer. Writers are anything but uniform, and that goes for the challenges they’re willing to tackle. Self-publishing can be a tragedy for someone who might have done great with a traditional publisher, if they fall apart trying to hold up their own island by themselves. There is still a need for traditional publishers, because not all writers can carry that burden. The real tragedy is that self-publishing makes it very hard to be respected in that old-fashioned world. If you self-publish, then decide that traditional might be the next step…well, let’s just say there are few tales (in this industry) of prodigal sons who were lovingly accepted back “into the family.”
And as far as my own fiction writing goes, I know that the best chance to serve a reader lies with the experienced men and women of a traditional publishing house.
My other reasons for sticking with traditional publishing for as long as possible are legion. I’ll do my best to express them here, hopefully giving you food for thought. Again, I’m not knocking self-publishing, and I’m not saying my road is the best one for you. It’s up to you to decide whether to embark on the adventure of self-pubbing, or to say “there’s no school like the old school” and enter the imperiling realm of agents, editors, copyeditors, contracts, and royalty checks.
1. I have already been published traditionally. My work went public, even with critical and often painful editorial guidelines breathing down my neck (of course, my only credit so far has been a short story and a couple of articles, but it still counts). Having any street cred at all will go a long way to get a publishing house to pay attention to you. Some houses are more mindful of it than others, but the point is, it helps.
2. I am willing to hunt for a literary agent, and keep submitting queries and proposals until I snag one who will stand up for my novels.
3. I am willing to spend the time and effort to shape up a proper contract with a publisher, with hefty doses of advice from said agent.
4. If I get a contract I don’t like, I don’t need to sign it. Agents and publishers expect compromise and negotiation, so if I think I’m getting a raw deal, then I have every right to ask for something better.
5. Despite what a number of self-pubbing advocates say, traditional publishers are still doing marketing for their books. Granted, they expect you to get your name out there and sell the book through blogs, social media, and book signings. And they do rely more on that kind of marketing than they used to. But they don’t abandon you to the sharks; they still take care of putting ads in magazines, and send review copies to critics and review journals like Publishers Weekly and Library Journal. Those review copies are important, especially if your book gets a favorable review.
6. Legitimate publishing houses pay for the editing, formatting, cover art, printing of the first hard copies, and everything else a self-publisher needs to pay for out of their own pocket. I’d rather just write the book, and trust them to take care of those other things for me.
Of course, with editing and my pitch appointment still in the future, it’s easier for me to be optimistic about going with a traditional publisher. I haven’t yet had my heart ripped out and seen my novel disregarded. But when April comes…we shall see. We shall see indeed. And I’m willing to risk a year or two of hunting for agents or publishers. I’m willing to risk poor reviews before the book’s release. I’m willing to risk my career on the decisions of an editor-in-chief deciding whether to buy my books. I don’t trust myself to juggle all the things a self-publisher needs to juggle. And I’m still willing to trust people who, if they bought my novels, would have a vested interest in my success.
Whatever path you choose for your writing, may you be blessed and joyful on your journey.