Traditional or Self-publishing?


I was at a panel discussion last weekend on publishing and the writing industry and there were two experts there.  One was from Harper Collins and the other was from a small, self-publishing company.  At one point they had a brief interchange about their respective industries and it seemed as though it was about to get heated.  The self-publishing expert was talking about how self-publishing is the future and the internet was changing everything.  From what I gathered he believed that giants of the industry like Harper Collins were failing because they couldn’t acclimatize themselves to the new pace of the internet.  The Harper Collins guy, on the other hand, seemed to think they could change with the times as well as maintaining the old standards of publishing.

I wanted to hear more about the burgeoning debate.  It was interesting because it seems to be the carbon copy of the debate that is raging currently in the advertising industry.

The internet has changed everything, that much people can agree on.  Gone are the days of Mad Men (or whatever the publishing company equivalent is), now we are connected, fast and hip (is hip even a cool word anymore?).  The ad industry debate seems to centre around whether TV commercials are the ‘thing’ anymore, just like the publishing industry is asking if paper books are going to stick around or if e-books and self-publishing are the absolute future.  The Harper Collins dude seemed to think paper books and big publishing is here to stay.  Apparently he found a fact stating that people have better retention when reading on paper than on a screen, but he also admitted our brains were changing to match the pace of our technology and therefore our tastes and desires were changing.

So which is it?  Will the Goliaths of the industry be crushed under the weight of the internet?  Will paper books evaporate from our society to be replaced by their more convenient electronic counterparts?  Will the structure of the publishing industry crumble leaving nothing but literary chaos?

I don’t know.

Things change, it’s inevitable.  The giants of the industry will change or die.  So the only question is, what’s my preference?

Fact:  I don’t really read indie books (that I know of).

Not because I don’t want to, mostly because I just haven’t and frankly, I kind of like the idea of someone vetting the piece before it comes into my hands.  Sure people in big publishing miss out on great works all the time because a lot of it’s about what will sell, but on the other hand you have a lot of people in big publishing who are very passionate about good writing.  I like to know that a piece has been through a couple of sets of discerning eyes before I read it.  That maybe a bit snobby I guess and perhaps it means I’m missing out on some awesome stuff, but there it is.

From what I can understand about self-publishing, it seems like it’s just as much of a crapshoot as big publishing.  It’s all about self-promotion and, although you may have an absolutely fantastic book on your hands, if you can’t promote yourself on the internet as a self-publisher, you are likely to languish in obscurity while some sub-par book in the hands of a promo-guru rockets to the top sales on Amazon.  So it’s basically the same shit, different pile (to be vulgar).  Either you’re going through the laborious process of finding an agent and getting published, or you’re coughing up a bunch of dough and going through the laborious process of trying to self promote via twitter, FB & blogging.

So for my own journey, I’m going to try traditional.  I like it.  I like getting feedback from people who read thousands of manuscripts a year and reject most of them.  I don’t like the idea of trying to layout my own book in some self publishing program and design cover art (I really really suck at drawing).  I like the idea of having an agent with good connections trying to get me published (if I can actually get an agent in the first place).  I don’t like the idea of shelling out my hard earned pennies to pay for printing and all the other costs associated with self publishing.  I like tweeting and blogging, but I don’t want to have to do it like a maniac because that’s my only plan to get my book out there into people’s hands.

I don’t know the future, but I do know what path I want to take and for now, in this one small way, I guess I am a bit traditional after all.

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This is a post for www.writesofluid.com’s blog writing challenge.  One blog post a day for all of June!  Check it out at the website or on twitter: @sofluid or #wpad!

7 thoughts on “Traditional or Self-publishing?”

  1. I read indie books, but I’m also picky about which ones I read. My number one prerequisite is that they have to have professional looking covers, or else I’m not going to be excited about reading the blurb, and thus will end up passing on it. And of course the blurb and the first few pages must show me that the book has been professionally edited. But what I like about the indie revolution is that readers are the vetters because the books are for them, after all, and they know better what they want than anyone else does. It is cool to have professional validation, but if readers hate it in the end, that professional validation doesn’t do much, and so your book just dies into obscurity, which is what happens to most traditionally and self-published books anyway.

  2. I definitely agree about the cover, I see so many covers that make me cringe out there it kind of turns me off Indie books on the whole (which is a shame, because I’m sure it’s some not all that are cringe worthy). As for the vetting by the readers, I totally get that too and word of mouth is definitely the best for marketing any book. So all things said, I definitely think they are more or less the same (just different paths to mostly the same result), I just prefer the benefits of the traditional publishing route currently and in my reading I would have to have a book recommended seriously by someone I know otherwise it’s likely I won’t even discover it!

  3. The part about how self publishing is exactly the same as publishing in that only the people with the marketing smarts are going to get anywhere is a great point to make, and one I hadn’t really considered properly before.

    There are already plenty of companies who help people to self publish and/or promote their work. With the rise of self publishing, and with so many people urging indie publishers to actually do it properly (as you say, professional cover, proper editing, strong blurb, good marketing), these companies in the future are surely going to be inundated with requests from self published authors in the future.

    Every company has a limit to how much work it can handle, so after a while, these companies are going to have to choose who to take on. They’ll probably do that based on quality; only the best writers will be able to get access to the kind of help that ensures they sell lots. And then what have we got? Basically, the old skool publishing industry again.

    1. Yup, pretty much. I think it will go one of two ways.

      1) The indie publishing companies (which is still a publishing company, let’s not fool ourselves) will get so busy they will choose based on good writing (or what they consider good).

      2) the indie publishing company will get so busy they will choose based on marketing acumen & money.

      There was discussion about it in the talk I attended. The indie publisher (who is one of those self-publishing companies) used an example of how he works. He often uses Kickstarter to fund projects and he talked about two clients he had, one who had a kind of boring book but who was a good self-promoter and one who was a bad self-promoter but had a super interesting book. Because the super interesting book person didn’t raise enough on Kickstarter there is the potential that she won’t be able to see her project through, while the boring book dude raised more than enough and was good to go.

      The main difference I noticed between the Harper Collins guy and the indie guy was the way they talked about books and writing. Harper Collins was deeply passionate about good literature and indie guy was deeply passionate about money. The difference was astounding and it frankly made me lean even more towards big publishing due to that difference alone.

      My fear is that being a good marketer and being a good writer are two different things and the indie world seems to very much rely on the former. So that (potentially) leaves the superb writers in the dust in the indie world if they don’t have the marketing smarts and that just seems tragic to me.

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