It must be the week to write about self-publishing, because I’ve read three blog posts on that subject in as many days.
M feelings on the subject are not at all ambiguous. In the past, people have asked me why I don’t just self-publish my novels, and I’ve always kind of given the generic answer about wanting to go the traditional route. Well, I’ve never considered self-pubbing an option for me, and here’s why.
- The ebook thing has done a lot to level the playing field when it comes to distribution, but the print market is still king, and a self-published novel has no distribution in bookstores. Book buyers won’t order it, bookstore managers won’t stock it because it’s non-returnable, and customers won’t know about it.
- I want to sell more than just seventy-three novels out of my trunk, and another twenty or thirty ebook copies. I have no illusions regarding my current potential market—if I offered copies on my blog, I’d sell maybe two dozen to readers who sampled my short stories or practice novel, and another dozen or two to those friends and family who won’t be mortally offended at not getting a freebie copy. Once my circle of friends and interested blog readers is tapped, I’ll have maybe a thousand bucks pre-tax to show for a year and a half of work. There’s no guarantee for vastly more money if I get the same novel under contract with one of the Big Six, but even a paltry advance will most likely represent multiples of what I can sell by myself, because I have a limited reader base and no distribution network.
- As a believer in Yog’s Law (“Money should flow toward the author”), I loathe the thought of having to put money into getting my work printed. I’ve already invested a lot of hours writing, editing, and submitting the novel. I don’t want to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars with a print-on-demand outfit to have a stock of novels that may or may not yield a return on that kind of cash outlay. Ebooks don’t carry print costs, but they also don’t have nearly as much of a market as print books do.
- The things I want out of writing books are much more likely to come my way via traditional book deal. I want a sustainable career that earns me more than just pizza money, I want a satisfied readership that will pony up the cash for new novels without feeling cheated, and I want peer respect and critical recognition. The money may be better with self-publishing if I get lucky (although I’ll have much more work doing all the stuff a publishing house would do). The satisfied readership depends on the quality of the work, but the size of that readership will depend on distribution, marketing, and exposure. Peer respect and critical recognition…well, let’s be honest here: Self-publishing has lost some of the stigma it used to have just a year or three ago, but the smell of “couldn’t hack it” still surrounds you when you try to sit at the adult table with your trunk full of Hulu-printed books, or your ebook-only, self-edited Kindle edition, as good as those products may be in the end.
For my last reason why I don’t want to self-publish, let me be entirely frank here for a moment. I know that self-published authors don’t get the respect of traditionally published authors because I don’t accord them the same respect. Yell at me for it, flame me in comments, or whatever—the fact is that I personally have a negative reaction when someone pushes a self-published book on me. It’s something along the lines of, “If you’re any good, why can’t I pick that up at Borders?”
(Note that this assessment doesn’t include writers who commission a small print run of their books for the proverbial shits and giggles–to give to friends and family and have a copy on one’s own bookshelf, not to put them in the trunk and try to hand-sell to every bookstore in their area code.)
Yes, there are gems out there, but the majority of self-published books are self-published because they didn’t make the cut—they failed to interest an agent or a publisher. (An awful lot of them are self-published because the prospective author didn’t want to bother subjecting themselves to the traditional agent/publisher query gauntlet.)
Yes, there are exceptions out there, too. I’m aware, for example, that John Scalzi sold a novel to Tor after publishing it for free on his blog, and that Larry Correia self-pubbed Monster Hunter International before it was picked up by Baen. Those stand out because they are exceptions, not the rule. I may sell enough copies of a self-pubbed novel to get the interest of someone at Baen or Tor, but I don’t have the kind of personality (or the kind of checking account) that lets me bet a few thousand dollars on that possibility.
(Also, with all the talk of “bypassing the gatekeepers” and “revolutionizing/democratizing the publishing industry”, the fact remains that those two writers took the traditional contracts. If one of the Big Six offered contracts to the authors of the hundred best-selling self-pubbed novels on the Amazon sales list, ninety-nine of them would sign them so fast the pen would leave contrails. If the respect, earnings potential, reader base, and peer regard were the same with self-publishing, Larry Correia would still be his own publisher.)
Anyway, that’s why I’ve never considered self-publishing, and why I don’t see myself doing so any time soon. Instead, I’ll go the traditional route, long shot that it is, and I’ll keep writing and submitting until I get one of these novels under contract somewhere. Time will tell if I’m being a moron, passing up a lucrative career as my own publisher.