Self-Publishing v. Traditional Publishing – Is This Even An Argument Anymore?

Apr 24, 2014

chicago north spring flingSo today I head off to Chicago for the Chicago North Romance Writer’s Spring Fling Conference! Not only am I attending two fabulous days of events, schmoozing, and goodies, I’m presenting a workshop. At last, another piece of the career I’ve always dreamed of is fitting into place! And what workshop am I presenting, you ask? It’s a little thing called Essentials of Self-Publishing, based off of a series of blog posts that you read right here.

(Points up to the top of the page and the link to the Essentials of Self-Publishing page)

In this workshop, I’ll be talking about all of the things I love to talk about most when people ask me what I do. I’ll be discussing why people make the decision to self-publish and what that means, I’ll be inviting workshop attendees to take a good long look at their reasons for self-publishing, I’ll definitely be dispelling those pie-in-the-sky myths of first time authors who self-publish their novel and sell 10,000 copies in the first month, and I’ll be talking about what to realistically expect and what you will actually need to be a successful self-published author. It’s going to be a juicy workshop!

But back to that first question I’ll be discussing: Why are you choosing this path? I’m really curious about what people’s motivations for wanting to self-publish are. Back when I started almost three years ago, anyone who self-published was seen as a (probably foolish) innovator who was either intent on bucking the system or who couldn’t hack it in the traditional process. The debate centered around whether self-publishing was even viable.

Remember when the debate looked like this? iStockphoto.com © 1001nights

Remember when the debate looked like this?
iStockphoto.com © 1001nights

Fast forward to a year or two ago. The trad versus indie argument became more about gatekeeping and quality. The market was flooded with half-baked, poorly edited books going for a penny a pop, or near to it. The debate was all about trashy, pulp fiction versus quality literature, which could only be found if one went through the traditional publishing process.

Today, I think a whole new landscape of publishing exists. Within the last year, I have seen numerous authors, my friends and RWA colleagues, either leave their traditional contracts to go indie or turn down offers from publishers to continue to publish themselves. Yes, I can name several self-published authors who have been offered that brass ring and who said no! Three years ago everyone was saying that self-publishing was the way to get noticed by a publisher and that anyone who took it seriously was really only looking for the traditional contract. Well, well, well! How things have changed!

So what’s the debate today? Is there even a debate anymore? Yes, traditional publishing contracts still hold a certain amount of prestige. Yes, the only way you’re going to get your novel in mass market paperback form in your local Barnes & Noble is to go with a Big Five publisher. But when it comes to making money? More and more statistics are showing that it’s actually the successful self-published authors who are raking it in.

I’ll never forget attending a workshop led by representatives from Amazon at the RWA Nationals in Atlanta this summer. There were easily 300 people crammed into the room. The presenter asked how many of us were self-publishing. Over half of the hands in the room went up. He then asked how many were making their living from their writing. A third of the hands in the room stayed up…and a resounding “Ooooo!” echoed through the room. It was significant because so many people were self-publishing. It was doubly significant because so many people didn’t realize that those of us who are self-publishing are doing well.

Now, there are the detractors who like to argue that with millions of books being (self-)published every year, it’s next to impossible to stand out from the crowd. I’ll admit, it’s very hard. That’s exactly what this workshop is about. It takes a monumental amount of effort to be discovered by the mass of readers. It takes time and it takes money. There’s no way around the fact that it takes money. Trad publishing likes to argue that it has money at its disposal, and it does. But as much investment as it takes on the part of the writer, it actually doesn’t take as much as NYC might want you to believe. But that’s a whole other story.

So which is better? Which is more viable? More respectable? Trad or Indie?

It's all delicious! iStockphoto.com © dszabi

It’s all delicious!
iStockphoto.com © dszabi

These days, I firmly believe that the answer is “Whichever you feel most drawn to”. The joy of Baskin-Robbins is not that they only serve chocolate or vanilla. The joy is that they serve both—a lot of both—and 37 other flavors besides. Some people like chocolate, some vanilla, but both sell. I believe that these days a lot of the dust of the fracas of the last few years has settled and people are ignoring the argument in favor of getting the job done. There will always be traditional publishing. There will always be self-publishing. But more importantly, there will always be readers.

I can’t wait to see where we go next!

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Comments (8)

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  1. David J Delaney

    I haven’t been published and am working on a novel. My decision to go either route hasn’t been made yet. Regardless what I decide I’m going to have my book professionally edited so my book will be as good as it can be. It costs money but I hope it’ll be worth it in the end.

    Reply
    1. merryfarmer

      Deciding to hire a professional editor was the best decision I made with my career, hands down! Not only has she edited my books, she’s taught me so much more about the craft of writing and helped me to improve as I write first drafts (and second and third and fourth). It means that she’s able to do more refined work once she gets the drafts now instead of pointing out major flaws. Priceless!

      Reply
  2. Matthew Wright

    I agree – the answer isn’t ‘indie’ vs ‘trad’ – it’s both. Each has their place. The marketing clout of a big publishing house, which includes the kudos of its name, can’t be beaten. On the other hand, they’re specific about their lists and some books just won’t fit the deal. One appealing option for trad-published authors such as myself is to sling the back list out on an ‘indie’ basis while pursuing new trad opportunities for the forward-list. Though, I suppose, there are 4,833,967 other trad published authors in exactly the same position who’ve already thought of it before me… 🙂

    Reply
    1. merryfarmer

      I know a lot of people doing that too, Matthew. It’s the new normal. And the publishing landscape is changing all the time, so who knows here we’ll be in another year? Thanks!

      Reply
  3. Jaye Garland

    “…getting the job done.” That’s what counts, no matter how an author decides to publish. Everyone’s mileage may vary, but for me, I didn’t have the time or inclination to learn everything I needed to know about putting a book out there–in any format–on my own. I opted to go with an epublisher for my debut novel and I’ve been quite happy with the result. The experience has been a mini-education with quality guidance, and I feel like I’ve graduated from the baby pool into the grown-up’s. The deep end no longer appears all that scary. I plan to stick with my epub, because they’re good, but I’ll be writing other things and going Indie. Great choices are finally available. Go AUTHORS!

    PS: Love your blog, and have a wonderful time at CN’s Spring Fling. That’s a great confernece!

    Reply
  4. Kristen Steele

    “There’s no way around the fact that it takes money.” This is an extremely important point. You need to invest in proofing, copyediting, a cover design, etc. in order to even have a chance at success.

    Reply
  5. Kevin Kutlesa

    Thanks so much for this article, it was very insightful.

    I’m currently finishing up my first novel. Been polishing it for a while now, trying to look for an agent. Even though I know, and I really do, that self-publishing could be awesome, that perhaps archaic view that trad publishing is the only one worth it is still in my mind and I can’t shake it. So I’m heading that way because no matter how much I read about awesome authors going indie or new ones storming the world, in my head the world of publishing is still very little.

    I wish I could change that point of view…your words helped quite a bit in that regard and so I thank you.

    Reply
    1. merryfarmer Post author

      I’m glad I could be of help! If it makes a difference, I’m now a full-time, stay-at-home author, making a living solely off of my writing through self-publishing. Since that was my goal, I took the right path for me. But hey, maybe trad publishing is the right path for you. The joy of it is that there’s more than one legitimate path these days. So life is good! =D

      Reply