I’ve been doing a lot of reading and engaging in a lot of discussions around this subject lately and oh boy is it a spicy one. It doesn’t help that most of the subreddits I’m a member of are divided neatly down the line here, either (though don’t dare ever point it out).
Mostly, this has resulted in some crazy misrepresentation and hostility from both sides. Traditionalists believe selfpub authors are rejects hunching around together in shantytowns. Indie authors view traditionalists as lazy highborn who are eager to sustain the publishing monarchies and thus their status as nobility.
I’m not going to waste your time explaining the details of this “war,” or why it’s utterly stupid and built on misinformation. The Fantasy Inn, a lovely little blog/website, has done all the heavy lifting and has done it very well, so there’s no point in me retreading.
You can read their article here at your leisure; it’s a long (and thorough) one.
My Side is Neither Side (It’s Both Sides)
For this article, though, I mainly want to focus on my own personal navigation of this issue; briefly. I believe that both self-publishing and traditional publishing are equally valid choices. Especially now more than ever with support services for self-pub authors being as good as they are. I also think both are still firmly seated within the umbrella label we can call “the publishing industry” and that this industry still firmly sucks maximum monkey schlong, if you’ll pardon the god damn honesty.
The reasons behind why are enough for their own post (so maybe in the future), but the fact remains that either path is an extreme struggle with its own challenges and rewards. But if you want to be a fulltime author, your only option as far as traditional publishing goes is to sit next to Rowling. That, or have a partner act as a financial cushion.
Self-published authors simply earn so much more in royalties, which means they need to sell far less to draw tangible profit. This is also really the only way you’re going to live off your writing. Yes, caveats and exceptions abound, but this is it, generally. Of course, in either case, finding success of any kind depends on selling moderately and that’s the biggest hurdle for even award-winning authors (those awards don’t often translate into many sales).
I want to write for a living. Ergo, I need to be a self-published author. However, this is such a slippery slope, requiring quite a bit of initial funding, knowledge, and personal effort to do well, and that’s without considering having a novel worth reading.
My goal, then, is to instead become a hybrid author. Ideally, I would like to use the support of a big publisher to spark my career, then nurture and grow my readership and slowly transfer fulltime to self-publishing, especially as the indie world continues to improve. This is a bit tricky, as many trad publishers have stipulations in your contract about what and when you can publish while on contract. I.e. their book with you often has to be your next in that genre, and then there’s a cooldown period; often six months or more.
This means if they take 5 years to publish 3 of your books (a trilogy) but you can write 2 books a year and want to self-pub the others, then tough luck. Of course, this can be fought by your agent prior to signing or you can just write the other trilogy and rapid-release it in between contracts. But the point is that being a hybrid author (or at least, doing both trad and indie at the same time in the same genre) can be tricky. Still, it’s my eventual goal, and I think my knowledge about the indie world will help greatly here.
For instance, too many trad authors do absolutely no marketing on their own even though publishers are increasingly doing less of it for them. Many don’t have mailing lists, which would help them build a lifeline directly into the very souls of their readers. Heck, some don’t even have an author website to capture traffic. Things like these that are survival 101 for indie authors are also things that could be useful for trad authors too, but these also tend to be the kind of things trad authors want to avoid by going trad.
Balance in the Force
So here’s my game. I hope to pull strengths from both sides by using a measured approach. I don’t mind operating my own marketing (even if in part) or catching reader interest my own. I’d do it even as a trad author, in effect being no different than an indie author. Those skills would carry over when I do try my hand at indie publishing, and it’d be a safer environment to learn the business side of things too.
I do feel that the future of genre fiction will increasingly lean towards indie publishing. That, or we’ll see trad publish shift drastically over the years again to merge seamlessly with indie publishing. Orbit is already snatching up indie authors and many readers are becoming more accepting and supportive of indie authors.
I myself would love to wake up, pour some coffee, and then go sit at my desk to start “working” someday. Of course, most authors have day jobs and I will be no different, for now. Many trad authors are fine with this, or find the alternative even more stressful than clunking along with a nonwriting gig (real work, ewww). But I kind of like the idea of running my own business and being my own boss. I don’t have to wait to become trad published to do this, but I feel that at this stage of my life trad publishing is the safest initial course.
Who knows what the future will bring though; I’m certainly not averse to the challenges of self-publishing. But that’s just the point. Being informed has allowed me to understand both sides of the fence and respect any author who has undergone either path, successful or not, which is why I find this war ridiculous.
Wrapping it all up
Anyway, I think this will simply be one of those things that are debated forever. I’ve literally read, “All self-published work is garbage that could never have been published.” These aspiring authors say this despite the fact that self-pub authors have been picked up and published by the Big 5 publishers, making the statement objectively false. Ah well; emotional passion is not very logical or reasonable, I guess.
There you have it; my own view on the subject. I believe both paths are valid for today’s novelist and I believe they work best together, but that’s just me.