Us vs. them is fun. It gets people’s blood boiling. It instills fear. It’s thrilling to be on a team, especially when you feel like your team is winning.
These days it seems like traditional and self-publishing are increasingly pitted against each other on blogs and forums, as if one side or the other is the bastion of all that is good and pure in the world and the other side is the bastion of all that is horrible and evil.
This is insane.
There is no “us” vs. “them.” Traditional vs. self-publishing is a false dichotomy. It’s an illusion created by people who either have let their frustrations get the best of them or are trying to sell you something. We’re all writers trying to figure out the best way to get our books to readers. We’re all on the same team.
No, the traditional publishing industry is not a hive of retrograde monsters out to steal and eat your newborn children. No, self-publishing is not a gang of unwashed crap artists trying to poison the literary well forever.
Publishing is a spectrum of choice, from traditional publishers who pay you, will handle most things for you and assume all risk in exchange for certain rights to your book, to self-publishing where you handle everything yourself, pay your own way, and adopt your own risk. And there’s a whole lot more choice in between those two poles.
What’s the right way? There is no right way.
Some authors want to let the publishers handle things for them. Some authors want to go for print glory because that’s where the bulk of readers are right now (yes, still). Some authors want the freedom of control of self-publishing. Some authors want to experiment with pricing.
And guess what: Some authors do both, and they always have. Even before e-publishing, many prominent authors got their start self-publishing. And many authors who used to be traditionally published moved to self-publishing. Some authors use hybrid models that combine elements of traditional and self-publishing.
There is no hundred foot wall between self-publishing and traditional publishing. Choosing one does not preclude the other, even if you feel like you’re currently on the outs with traditional publishing. Or did you miss the recent seven figure book deal for the self-published nutritionist?
Sure. It’s fun to join up sides and start flinging mud. It’s exciting to think that your team alone has the holy grail.
But I see a lot of authors out there getting taken for a ride by both sides. People are preying on writers’ fears and frustrations.
The only way you’ll be able to decide what’s best for you is if you ignore the pied pipers, set aside your emotions, and think only about what’s the right for your book.
Art: La Riña – Francisco de Goya
I've been saying this myself for quite some time and it frustrates the heck out of me to see people drawing battle lines where there need not be any.
There is no vs. it all boils down to personal choice and preference.
Nathan, you left out an important player in the equation: the ebook/POD start-up publisher. It seems they're cropping up everywhere. They offer no advance, but “promise” a custom promotion plan and the “possibility” of national distribution. True, many of these publishers have real contacts in the industry, which could make it a better choice than self-publishing. But it seems many of these publishers are insisting–and getting–world rights for the duration of the copyright. Is this the new publishing model? Sell your soul for a bag of magic beans?
Anne R. Allen says
I've been on vacation, so I'm way late to this party. But I wanted to say:
2) Other Lisa and Mira: There is a writers union. In fact there are several. The National Writers Union is for journalists and book authors alike. You have to have a certain number of paid articles to join. Author's Guild is for book authors and I think you need at least one trad. published book to join. NWU is very good for helping writers get paid or solve other beefs with publishers. Very much worth the dues to get the legal help.
Nathan–I totally agree. I posted on this subject a couple of weeks ago "Don't Take Sides; Take Your Time." https://dft.ba/-2JFU New writers are oftn made to feel they have to decide if they're on one track or the other: a false choice. Most successful authors I know are BOTH self-pubbing and trad. pubbing. As you say, there is simply no "either/or" going on except in the minds of a strident few.
D.J. Cappella says
I totally agree with you Nathan. As writers we should support each other not draw lines based on who the publisher is, genre, or even medium like film and comics. We are all of the same blood, a story teller.
Angela Ackerman says
There are loud mouths, and there always will be loud mouths. I have to say however, the people I know (both in SP & Traditional), are no longer doing the us vs them Nazi stare down. I am increasingly seeing respect flow between authors who are making decisions for themselves, be it to pursue traditional, self publishing, or both.
It's not how we start, it's how we finish. Let's follow this lead of those who are open-minded and progressive enough to realize we're all doing the same thing–reaching our reading audience.
Angela Ackerman says
"I rarely hear about non-fiction or from non-fiction authors which way they've chosen to go… Which seems to me to be leaving out a huge part of the story. Are there any non-fic authors out there who can shed some light?"
@Vanessa, I released a Writing Resource Book just a few weeks ago. Despite having an agent (and her being willing to shop it) I decided to self publish (without her help). Bear with me as I set the stage as to why–I'll do my best to be brief. 🙂
There were a few reasons for this. First, I am pursuing Traditional Publishing for my fiction, and so I am painfully aware of the time it takes to find a publisher, sign the contract, and see a book on the shelves. And that's if I could find a publisher who was able to see past the fact that my book is not a normal writing resource, but more of a tool for helping writers with body language and emotion. This was also complicated by the fact that we had offered a lot of 'free content' on the blog, and publishers aren't too fond of this.
This tool is something my blog partner and I had stared on our blog, The Bookshelf Muse. It became so wildly popular I would get weekly emails asking if we would turn it into a book, and not just from writers, but epublishers as well.
Built in audience, a unique idea …it wasn't long before someone started pirating our content. I found out when a Writing Conference Organizer in Florida emailed me to ask if I was the creator of The Emotion Thesaurus because they wanted my blog partner and I to come and speak. They had tripped on the pirated work, and thankfully, tracked us down. We shut down the person offering downloads of our content.
So, the timing issue suddenly became critically important. Could we really afford to wait years to find a publisher and get a book on a shelf, or with the storm of SPing, was it more likely that someone would take the root of our idea, switch the content up a bit, and publish a book on it themselves?
We self published the book, hiring others to do what we could not. How did we fare? I suppose only three weeks in it's tough to say, but so far we're in the 'lottery category' as Remus coined it. We'll see if this sustains itself month after month.
@Angela Ackerman, thanks for posting. Very interesting – so if someone's built a presence online around a particular kind of expertise, and they have good writing skills, self-publishing may be the better way to go!
Hope the book does really well for you. 🙂
Sherry Gammon YA Author says
I self-pub because I couldn't get an agent to even read my novel. Now, 8000 books in one year and a movie deal later, I can say I'm glad I did. It's not about having someone "handle everything" for me. It's about getting my work out there. And who will work harder than me to market my novel? No one!
Here is my take:
Agents and traditional publishers are looking to make money. It’s a simple statement of fact. As with any business, they have developed marketing strategies that may be broad or even target a single genre or niche. Every business has a business plan or strategy in this regard.
Submissions are reviewed and vetted based upon the need to fulfill the strategy set forth by a particular publishing house. The publisher will sift through to find what they think will sell best or can be marketed to meet this need, right now.
Writers who submit manuscripts, even brilliant ones, will be rejected. It’s not always because of the quality of the work, but because it does not fit the exact marketing strategy of the publisher at that time. Even for targeted or niche genre work, there is typically a master plan and publishers must cherry pick those manuscripts that are as close as possible to the strategic need. Some publishers will even select a work that is not as well written, but is more closely matched to the target market.
Writers are left with work that is often “good” or “great”, get feel like failures because they did not get their work published. They are mocked or beaten down by published authors out of a sense of superiority, when it was just poor market timing or a niche product.
So, is it best to shelf a work out of a perceived shame? Or is it best to self publish it and move on to another project?
Well, that does it. If I read another word about publishing I'll be too discouraged to finish a book. I may just write out all the books I'm considering and will them to my children so as to avoid facing the fickle whim of public interest, or worse, having to try and market myself. I was on the fence about it anyway. I know most authors probably worry about not being a success… I worry about being one. I'd like to get published, sure, to have a book in print after all this work. And if the unexpected happens, if I luck out and fall into the handy parking space of destiny, could I cope with fan letters? The notion makes me oogy. So I guess I just write and leave it at that.
Rodney Wild says
I started this company because a friend of mine asked me to build him a website to market his paperback novel. In the process of helping create his website I got involved in the digital publication of his book due to his current publisher wanting to charge him an astronomical fee to digitally print his book. Along the way I learned a great deal about digital publishing, traditional book marketing and thought to myself that if my friend was having this issue – most likely others were as well!
I decided that one of the principal goals of this new company was that every transaction must not just be a transaction (if we wanted to be that kind of a company we might as well not bother) but a win / win situation for both parties.
We all have to keep pretending now. Ignoring the elephant in the room that self publishing has no quality filter.
Megan Elmendorf says
I appreciate any civil discussion on this matter. I value differing opinions and personally sitting back and watching the online bear fights with a bowl of popcorn can prove most entertaining but I myself cannot consider myself a bear in either court. I agree, why must there be two courts? Even in the "good ol' days" of early American publishing, many presses started out as kitchen table efforts that spread into more lucrative businesses,a Nd often started as away of promoting one specific individual–or at least the local primary school/church. There are pros and cons in both arenas and there is a stronger "hybrid" community developing these days as well. I'm excited about whatever comes in the next 5-10 years, if not months. If we can accept a new iPad or iPhone every year from Apple, why can't we accept a new publishing form with each passing year as well?