Self-Publishing Is The Blah Blah And Floo-Dee-Doo And Poop Noise

Forgive me if I sound a little exasperated.

Hugh Howey wrote a thing at Salon and it’s a very interesting article and you should go read it. It is, in my probably-not-that-humble opinion, a fascinating mix of artistic wisdom and business fantasy where anecdotal evidence once more becomes artisanal data and we are told that because you can meet 100 very successful self-published authors that is now officially the way to go and oh, by the way, it’s totally the future of all publishing ever.

I distrust fortune-tellers, to be honest.

Mostly because it’s made-up horseshit.

Further, you can’t just canvass a handful of successful people and immediately declare that their success draws the map to the One Shining Path Up Authornuts Mountain. If I talk to 20 traditionally-published bestselling thriller authors, they’re going to say, “Write a thriller, get published by the Big Five.” If I talk to 100 self-published successes, they’re going to say, “Self-publish everything.” If I talk to 100 self-published failures, they’re going to say, “Fuck that noise, I lost my shirt.” If I talk to 100 dentists, they’re going to say, “You should be a dentist, dumb-ass, NOW LET ME EAT YOUR TEETH,” then he’ll eat my teeth because my dentist is actually some kind of teeth-eating monster, but whatever, that’s a story for another time.

Here’s the thing: Howey’s by all reports a very nice guy. And obviously smart as hell. And more than a little lucky. His article is well-written and buried in there is a strong cry to bolster craft and for you, the writer, to write first and foremost for the love of writing.

To which I say: fuck. yeah.

But, he also says stuff like:

But what is becoming more apparent with every passing day is that you have a better chance of paying a bill or two through self-publishing than you do through any other means of publication.

Italics his, not mine.

I self-publish. I do pretty well at it with a number of books (and for those asking, I will have another writing book out within the next three-four months, alongside a book of recipes and essays and Search Term Bingo called Revelations of the Bacon Angel).

I traditionally-publish. I do pretty well at that, too, I think, and actually over the last two years have well-eclipsed anything I made self-publishing.

Just the same, I don’t think one is better than the other.

So, here’s my response, which you already know because I’ve said it a hundred times before but fuck it, I’m nothing if not a fan of reiterating my own bleating and barfing:

Hey, self-publishing is cool!

Traditional publishing is cool, too!

Both have strengths. And also weaknesses.

Not everybody is fit to be their own publisher.

Not everyone is fit to deal with a traditional publisher.

Something-something Kickstarter! And Amazon! And literary agents! And small presses! And big presses! And this genre and that genre! And Wattpad and Book Country and Goodreads and Bookish and Twitter and iBooks and Smashwords and Simon & Schuster and Barnes & Noble and blargh and flargh and zippity-motherfucking-doo-dah!

The reason we don’t put all our eggs in one basket is because broken goddamn eggs!

No one way exists!

Try lots of shit!

Leverage one thing against another thing!

Don’t join cults!

Self-publishing isn’t The Future, it’s One Possible Future!

Educate and inspire instead of segregating and pointing fingers!

Beware easy answers!

This isn’t a war! Nobody has to win!

Write your ass off!

Art harder!

Exclamation points!




121 responses to “Self-Publishing Is The Blah Blah And Floo-Dee-Doo And Poop Noise”

  1. I can only shrug. I started self-publishing a while ago, non-fiction stuff first. I’ve had many, many $3000+ months on that alone (a few $5000+ months as well). And as for fiction, I’d say after six months, $350 is a bad month, $800 is a good one. So far.

    If there are writers out there who think self-publishing is crap, well, just stay home and do it your way. No one cares that you don’t want to self-pub. I mean, really, no one cares. Like, there’s no reason at all to care that you choose NOT to make money this way.

    And to answer the question, “why DO we care how much money Indies are making?”…because some writers, I’m not saying you naysayers are in this group, but some writers like to actually pay bills and stuff. And if frustrated writers are not making at least $500 a month off their traditional contracts, then what do they have to lose? Knowing there is a record of success tends to spur people outside their comfort zone when it comes to risks. If they know they can pay the mortgage with their self-published books, or hell, maybe just their car payment, then ya know, that might be a risk worth taking.

    But I can see the wisdom in the whole I hate capitalism thing too…no wait, I can’t. Sorry, carry on…

  2. I recall what William Goldman says “No one knows anything” I used to divine the advice columns and then, I realised I was agonising over it more than I was actually writing. So, I stopped because there is no magic formula – Malcolm Gladwell refers to The Tipping Point in respect of a meme but to me, you write the best possible thing you have in you and whatever else you do, well good luck. I love writing, and having written and any opportunity to do more of that is a beautiful thing for me.

  3. It just seems so easy for someone who doesn’t know to educate themselves about self-publishing can be taken advantage of. More posts like this should exist.

    • I agree….but I’ll also say the same thing goes for traditional publishing – contracts are HIGHLY weighted in the favor of the publisher, and unless you have a project like Hugh, that can bring in a ton of cash, they’ll not adjust those contracts for you…after all they have plenty of other debut authors who are chomping at the bit to take your place. So yes, but all means educate yourself about self-publishing bug also educate yourself about traditional and check the Amazon ratings of those that have gone that way and extrapolate if they are earning a living now that they have “signed.”

  4. […] In which Tobias Buckell vents about frustration with news media that wanted to make him a poster child for the Brave New World of Publishing, and then lost interest when they learned he was taking a hybrid approach.  The money quote: “In retrospect, I should do what a couple other preachers of the new digital movement do. Decry traditional publishing, say you should go it alone, while working with a corporate behemoth of my own anyway so I get hybrid career and the attention boost.”  This is so true: nearly to a man most of the biggest names in digital self-publishing have achieved their success by simultaneously shouting about the death of large-scale corporate publishing and the virtues of the go-it-alone approach while raking in the benefits of deals and agreements with large corporate publishers of one kind or another. (Chuck Wendig has some mirror-image-like thoughts on the same matter.) […]

  5. Sorry, late to this party but I just found the post.

    Without question there is no “one size fits all approach.” As Chuck has mentioned you have to be a certain type of person (entrepreneurial) to make self-publishing work and if you are not there is no sense in trying that route as it will be a failure.

    But as someone who has has been in self-publishing for a long time…(short time in real years but long in terms of ‘self-publishing years.’ I can tell you that Hugh is absolutely right in that the real story is that there are hundreds (or maybe thousands) of self-published authors that do earn well – and no one even knows they exist.

    The real issue is there are now choices. And options are almost always a good thing. Even those that don’t go the self-publishing route are benefiting from its success because it forces publishers to be less draconian. Would a print-only deal like Hugh’s ever be made if he had gone the query-go-round? Of course not–publishing only changes when it absolutely has to.

    The problem is that each author looks at the situation with their experience. Chuck sees more money from his traditional than self-publishing…so he leans that way. Hugh would have lost a fortune if he traditionally published – so he leans the other.

    To be honest, I’m a huge fan of hybrid authorship. I don’t have the numbers that Hugh does, so I won’t get S&S to give me a print-only deal…but that doesn’t mean I can’t mix/match traditional and self. I have two books coming out this fall from Orbit. I have a self-publishing book coming out in January that is self-published. I think this allows me to appeal to two very different audiences.

    * There are those that support the scrappy, independent-minded self-published authors and lower cost price points.

    * There are those who will never buy a self-published book

    By going hybrid I appeal to both audience and satisfy my own internal desires for independence…and utilizing a big-five to help build my brand.

    But here’s the great thing. Whether they find out about me via Hollow World or Riyria, my guess is that if they like my stories they’ll read both…and so my self-publishing stuff will benefit my traditional work and vice versa.

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