Should you be your own publisher, or should you find someone to publish for you?
That’s a question that pops up in my inbox often enough it might as well be a coked-up gopher — so, instead of hitting each twitchy gopher with a tiny hammer, I figure I’ll write this one big-ass motherfucker of a blog post to serve as the Mjolnir that will eradicate all the pesky gophers into a fine splurch of bloody mist.
I’m going to answer the question now, up-front, with a somewhat controversial answer.
You should try the traditional route first.
All right, all right, stop yelling, indie authors. Cool your inflamed genitals.
Stop throwing things at my head. Because, seriously, ow.
Let’s offer up a couple disclaimers: first, this is me talking about my experiences and should be viewed as such, and you can of course take my advice or you can wad it up into a ball and shove it deep into a bison’s rectum. You may disagree with anything I say here and have entirely different experiences and that’s all good, dude-bro or lady-bro. I’m shining a flashlight on the path I’ve walked and the things I’ve seen while on it. You may do differently.
Second, I like to approach publishing as a hybridized endeavor, meaning, I do a little bit of everything. Traditional, DIY, crowdsourced, small press, the mystical Akashic Record, stone tablets hewn by the gods, whatever. As such, I am a fan of self-publishing. I do it. I have self-published releases out there. I will continue to self-publish in the future. My self-published releases in 2012 will equate to approximately 20% of my total writing income, which is pretty rad. I will not tell you to never self-publish.
But, I also get to hop the fence and frolic tra-la-la in the meadow of the traditional, as well.
Blackbirds is published via the “traditional method” (which is to say the fiction lay with a publisher in the missionary style and together with a midwife they birthed a book baby in a muddy trench under the eyes of a vigilant god).
In the grand scheme of things, Blackbirds is a fairly small release.
And yet, Blackbirds has been very good to me.
It has an amazing cover.
It’s been published far and wide. Indie bookstores, B&N, airport bookstores, online e-book distributors, and so on and so forth.
It’s received a boatload of reviews across both digital and meatspace. It’s shown up in places like the Guardian, the Independent, SFX, Starburst, Publisher’s Weekly, The Financial Times, io9. It’s got scads of commentary at places like Amazon and Goodreads and even still I get Google Alerts of bloggers talking about discovering the book and digging it.
It made it on a number of “best of 2012” lists.
A number of authors I admire and adore have gotten a hold of the book and told me how much they enjoyed it. Seanan McGuire’s very kind review of the book still gives me a giddy shiver now and again (and further, I’m quite certain it sold more copies of the book).
The book had foreign rights sold in two territories.
The film rights are thisclose to being wrapped up (hopefully this week).
The book ended up in the hands of a different film studio and off that, I was able to pitch a project to them and then to the head of a major film studio. (The pitch went through its paces and didn’t quite land, but gave me great contacts in both studios.)
The book ended up in the hands of a major comics publisher and allowed me to pitch a comic for a character I adore (no word yet on how well that pitch landed, sorry).
The book comes up routinely in conversations with other editors. The book’s relative success has led to other publishing opportunities and deals.
The book has earned me bonafide fans that appear at bookstores and conferences who seem to be (much to my bepuzzlement) genuinely happy to meet me and to have read the book.
The book is a super-weapon that conjures a fire unicorn from the heavens and together we are able to ride on the tail of a comet dispensing food to the hungry and sweet jamz to those without music. …okay, I might be making this last part up. SUE ME. (Please don’t sue me.)
For those of you crass commerce-hounds out there, I will note that a good deal of this has translated into money, as well as that most insubstantial of resources, “exposure.”
Now, the corker:
Most of this in my opinion would not have been possible if I self-published Blackbirds. I would never have gotten such a beautiful cover by the inimitable Joey Hi-Fi. Would’ve never sold foreign rights or film rights or had great reviews that multiplied exposure to the book. I probably wouldn’t have sold as many copies as I had (if sales of Bait Dog are any indication at all). I damn sure wouldn’t be in bookstores. And again, to revert to crass capitalism, I likely would’ve made a lot less money on the book had I gone the DIY route.
Yes, yes, I see you hopping up and down over there — I agree with you. My experiences are not going to be repeatable. Your book may do much better than this, or far worse, in a traditional space. Alternately, if you self-publish, you may end up having the blistering success that many worthy indie releases never seem to find. (Though, I’ll note here that the pot of gold at the end of many self-publishing rainbows seems so often to be a traditional publishing deal.)
So. Okay. All that being said, let’s give some reasons why you should try traditional first.
1) Because all that stuff I just said. Rights, reviews, access, bookstores, authors, $$$.
2) Because submitting to an agent and/or publisher will teach you things about the industry.
3) Because you may receive excellent feedback on your book for free about things that work.
4) Because you may receive similar feedback on your book (for free!) about things that don’t work (and should you end up publishing this way your book will be refined even further by agent and editor).
5) Because if you don’t get a deal, you can always go back and self-publish anyway.
6) Because if you get a deal but don’t like the terms, you can self-publish anyway.
7) Because if you get a deal and take it, and one day they no longer want to publish your book anymore because of sales or because Barnes & Noble shit the bed or because something-something Mayan Flu Gonorrhea Epidemic, you can take your book and self-publish anyway.
8) Because even if you don’t like the Big Six (er, five — or is it four by now?) you still have options to “traditionally” publish with smaller- to medium-size publishers or even with Amazon. Other options exist outside the mainstream, is what I’m saying.
9) Because not that you’re in this racket for respect (writers and respect are like oil and water), but you will get more as one who is traditionally-published than one who is not. Again: not a real good reason, but hey, maybe that sort of thing matters to you.
10) Because a more traditional path to publication may build fans who will then take a risk on your self-published work (where they may before have been averse to it).
11) Because flaming unicorn comet riding. Okay, I said I was making that one up, sorry.
12) Because patience is a virtue writers need to learn and going the traditional path will sure as the sexual charity of Sweet Saint Fuck teach you a mega-uber-ultra-dose of patience.
It mostly sums up to: “It can’t hurt, and it may help.”
Your mileage may vary, of course. Do with this as thou wilt. If you want to self-publish first and only, that’s a path that offers many authors a potential wealth of success in differing ways — so, I’m not knocking it, and I’m not saying it’s a bad idea. I just figure, traditional offers things right now that many writers seek (including cold hard cash), and blah blah blah.
Though, hey, certainly there are reasons to go straight to self-publishing, too: certain genres, for instance, tend to be exploitative toward traditional authors while rewarding indie writers. Further, self-pub allows you to publish risky material in terms of content or format.
Maybe you just got a burning middle finger for authority.
That’s all good. You do as you like. Do what makes you happiest, penmonkey.
*takes a nap on snoozing unicorn*