Sunday, June 2, 2013

Self Publish or Traditional Publish? Which is the right way?

Yesterday, my cousin, who is also an author, posted this on my Facebook wall and asked my feelings about it.
Self-publishing has become a

The writer has encountered something I've heard a million times: If you go with a big publisher, you're selling out. If you go indie it's because you're not good enough to catch a bigger fish. If you're at a small press, you're almost cool enough to sit at the table with the hip kids, but you have to wear a scarlet P and sit at the far end.

Every day at every writing conference, this plays out.

And it's all BS.

Trust me, I grew up in cow country and I know bull poo when I see it.

I think the idea that there is one path to print is behind us. In some ways, the self-publishing movement and small presses that have grown out of it are the AAA ball of publishing. Some resent being referred to as minor leagues because it hurts their feelings. I don't care about your feelings. If you wear your heart on your sleeve, keep your book in the drawer where it belongs.

Publishers are inevitable. If the Big Six fell tomorrow, a thousand small presses would fill the vacuum because most of us have no interest in doing everything ourselves. And when we do it all ourselves, for the most part, we turn out some pretty crappy, un-or-unevenly edited crap.

There are exceptions, but not many. Publishers play those roles. The middle man is not a freeloader, they provide a valuable service for reader and writer alike. There will be some who can only find a readership on their own. For others, they will never find an audience, certainly not a broad audience, without an army shouting their name until it is heard above the din.

Want to do it alone and hire professionals to edit your book and design a cover and typeset your pages? Congrats, you're a publisher. I know what I charge for covers and it means you're better financed than most and applying that level of hurdle for writers to leap before they can reach an audience leaves out a huge portion of the voices telling stories that need to be heard.

For every one truly indie author that rises from the unwashed ranks of free self-published, unedited e-books, there are tens of thousands lost in the tumult. This is the primary role of publishers. Is it always fair? No. Is it easy to get over the wall? No. Is it always good? Of course not. But it is a system that has curated our literary culture for a few centuries now and they've done more good than bad. Because while we lambast them for their Davinci Codes and their encouragement of the "Me Too" market that has turned the YA section into the "Hot Vampire" section, the dollars spent on that pap gives cover to books like The Bookthief and The Adventures of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation. And Davinci Code allows books like The Corrections and The Yiddish Policeman's Union a bit of breathing room to flourish and find their audience.

And while the midlist is frequently eulogized, it lives on in the smaller imprints that have risen up to take the slack and live leaner on smaller profit margins than the Big Six can sell to their stockholders.

Publishers are not evil. We just like to make them seem remote and uncaring and evil because it suits our personal narrative for it to be so. They're not the bad guys and we're not the heroes. We're all just trying to do the best we can to get our art made and in front of the people who want to read it.

The path for most will fall somewhere between. If you get your books in the hands of the people you want to read them and are able to write the next one, you did it the right way. If that doesn't suit someone else's vision of "The Right Way" to hell with them.

Extreme views in either direction make me stop listening. I don't have time for zealots.

Watch John Green's acceptance speech for the ABA's 2013 Indie Champion Award. He's pretty darned close to what I wanted to say here.


  1. Funny. I was just thinking of asking for your view on the above. You may need to turn down the beamage (?!) on your solar-powered mind reader. Just sayin'. Feedback loops are brutal.

    1. Sigh. Since I downloaded the last update for iGor, I just can't do a thing with him...


Pages to Type is a blog about books, writing and literary culture (with the occasional digression into coffee and the care and feeding of giant robots).