So What About Self-Publishing?

Scott William Carter   January 26, 2009  

There’s an article in the recent issue of Time magazine (available online) on the state of publishing that’s well worth a read:

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1873122-1,00.html

“Self-publishing has gone from being the last resort of the desperate and talentless to something more like out-of-town tryouts for theater or the farm system in baseball.”

For myself, I think self-publishing is losing a lot of it’s stigma. I still think it’s better to go the traditional NY publishing route if you can — established publishers are going to be much better at getting your books into the hands of readers than writers, which is, after all, what they are paid to do — but I don’t fault any writer for going this route. What I do fault people for is thinking that there is some sort of conspiracy involved if the “the gatekeepers” won’t publish your book. For most writers, if you can’t get the traditional publishers involved, it’s because A) your book isn’t good enough or B) it isn’t marketable enough. There are exceptions, and the article mentions some recent notable ones, but for the most part, traditional publishers do a pretty good job at vetting books. There’s a reason 99.9% of self-published books don’t sell more than a couple dozen copies. They just plain stink.

That’s okay. All writers stink in the beginning. The same goes for musicians, painters, comedians, and brain surgeons. Thankfully, we don’t let brain surgeons “self-publish” — meaning, get out there on the stage before they’re ready, but writers are not in the same boat. You want to publish before you’re ready, before you’ve put in your million words of practice? Fine. Let the market be the judge. You might be pleasantly surprised — that is, if you’re part of the .01%.

That said, I do think publishing is changing. I don’t see the traditional model going away (although it is adapting, using new forms of technology). But I wouldn’t be surprised if in ten years the majority of even professional fiction writers are doing a mix of traditional publishing and self-publishing. What about that book you published ten years ago that’s out of print? What about that novella that no NY publisher will touch? What about a story collection? There are lots of reasons even writers regularly being published by major publishers might self-publish.

It’s funny, in a way. Self-publishing has gotten the rap of being “vanity publishing,” because so many people go that route because they just want to see their work in print, regardless of quality. And in many ways, because it’s become so easy to do so (check out Lulu.com, for example), that’s what it’s become. But for many professional fiction writers, it seems that vanity is exactly what’s holding them back from using self-publishing as a supplement to the traditional route. Will that change? I think so. I think it already has.

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