“Indie First?” What Is Best In Publishing?

A brief recent history:

Salon posted an article that said, “Hey, self-publishing is masturbation.”

I responded.

Salon posted a different article by Hugh Howey that said, “Nonsense to that other thing, self-publishing is full of success stories and it’s the better option going forward.”

I responded to that, too.

Then, another thing happened: I was getting a bucketload of views from Kindle Boards (kboards?), and so I popped over there to find out what was going on and saw that some people seemed to think I was bashing Howey (I wasn’t) or bashing self-publishing (I wasn’t), and I thought, okay, I’ll say hello, I’ll try to be forthright and clarify my position which is to say, “There’s no one path up the mountain, no one best way for everybody.”

A fairly uncontroversial opinion. Very moderate. So soft it might as well be marshmallow.

Some folks over there were very nice and well-reasoned and well-intentioned. Howey himself dropped in (as he did here at the blog) and made some polite comments of disagreement. The rest presented, to my mind, a hostile vibe that tells me I probably shouldn’t go to the Kindle Boards anymore because, really, what’s the value? That’s not the hill I want to defend.

What I want to do, however, is to talk a little more about this “indie first” path — the path that Howey and others feel is the best way forward for new authors. This was also echoed a number of times at the Writer’s Digest East Conference, where I spoke this past weekend. Lots of folks were suddenly presenting self-publishing less as a standalone option and more as the new gate (kept or unkept) leading to traditional publishing. Self-publish first, they say, and get attention and audience. You can even query the published story while it sells on the digital marketplace.

It’s an interesting shift. And not wrong or impossible.

But, is it “the best?”

Now, I’m going to quote Howey from the Kindle Boards, and in that I want to make clear that before any self-publishing acolytes get their genitals in a twirl over any of this, I am in no way bashing Howey. The guy should be celebrated. He did it his way. He tried new shit and embraced the options and powers available to the modern writer and it paid off in heaps and mounds, leaps and bounds. No one in their right mind should tell him he did anything wrong.

Hell, I did just as he did (though, erm, to far less success). My self-published writing advice? Coming to Writer’s Digest. Atlanta Burns? Coming to Skyscape Publishing.

The question for me is, does that make this approach automagically the best?

He certainly believes so. Which is not unreasonable given his success.

From kboards, Howey says:

It’s amazing that I’m being painted as an all-or-nothing Konrath disciple. Just because self-publishing is the best way to get started doesn’t mean it’s the only way. Signing away lifetime rights and control over works that could be available forever is always an option. Just an inferior one.

What I hope to see is that the changes hybrids are forcing on publishing houses will trickle down to the writers who despise us. They won’t even know it’s happening. Non-compete clauses will simply disappear. Finite terms of license will become the norm. Print and digital rights will be negotiated separately. And I won’t care one bit who causes this, only that it happens.

Some of this is pretty admirable stuff. Improving contract conditions for writers is a noble goal and — fuck yeah, let’s see that happen. Though, it should also be clear that some of this is already happening and a good agent will help ensure non-exploitative clauses. (I don’t think any agent worth the salt would allow the author to give over rights forever.) I’m also not sure what he means by “the writers who despise us” — I may be misreading but that seems to lend itself further to the Us Versus Them tribal problem in publishing. Regardless, what I want to talk about today are those two particular words above (italics his, not mine): best and inferior.

I have trouble with absolutes. They’re rarely true outside of, say, math and science. Calling something the best smacks of One True Wayism and does a good job at making authors feel stupid for choosing a path other than the superior one. It’s doubly troubling in the realm of publishing, where so many options exist right now. Which is awesome. Authors have a variety of ways to get their work “out there” — and I don’t just mean trad-pub versus self-pub. I mean, Kickstarter to query letters to slush pile to Amazon KDP to a recommendation from another author to… well, hell, my path began in freelancing pen-and-paper games and took a weird alleyway into screenwriting. Here I am now with over a dozen novels coming out.

My way was pretty rad. Totally worked for me.

Miiiight not work for you. For a whole lotta reasons.

“Worked for me” is not equivalent to “best way for all.”

So: just on the theoretical level, best and inferior sit unsettled in my tummy.

But I promised someone on Twitter that I’d write a blog post detailing specific situations where “indie first!” was not automagically going to be the best way forward — so, let’s detail it.

Here, then, are some reasons that going “indie first” is not necessarily the “best.”

First, genre can be a problem. Not every genre is doing fireworks in the self-publishing realm. Literary work? Crime? Books published in those realms sometimes go kerplunk. Consider, too, that age range is a consideration. YA (Young Adult) is not a “genre,” but studies show that while adults will read YA e-books, teens remain reluctant (though this may be changing as e-readers become cheaper or are passed along as hand-me-downs). Further, YA tends to offer larger advances than the adult market — so, going straight to traditional can pay off.

Second, not every agent or publisher is interested in your self-published book. You think you can just self-publish and start querying. And you can. But some agents and some publishers don’t want to see it. To their minds, you’ve already gone and published. This is doubly true if the self-publishing effort isn’t in some way a successful one: great cover, many good reviews, lots of sales. It looks like whatever audience you had, you burned through them already. If your book doesn’t land in the digital marketplace with energy behind it, with momentum, querying after that will not likely be successful. To clarify, it means you can self-publish a very good book that traditional publishing might have picked up had it not been for a less-than-stellar showing on, say, the Kindle marketplace.

Third, you don’t have the audience. That first Salon article was by a guy who basically tip-toed into a dark and empty room, left his book on the mantlepiece like some kind of Author Elf, and then wandered back out wondering why he didn’t become a millionaire. If you don’t have the audience and don’t have time to spend earning that audience, traditional publishing may be a smarter first step. By dint of being tradtionally published you tend to get a little energy and momentum and audience via the so-called “prestige” of that path.

Fourth, some authors have found success doing the reverse, which is to say, they use traditional publishing to build audience and then leap into that audience with self-published efforts. Not to say this is the “best” way either — but it’s one option, and for many, it’s worked.

Fifth, you’re not going to be a capable or interested self-publisher. Not everybody wants to self-publish. Not everybody is going to be good at it. Despite claims to the contrary, the skill-sets necessary to do traditional and to do DIY are not mirror images (I’ve done both, trust me, it ain’t the same enchilada). Self-publishing is equivalent to running a small business. You’re an entrepreneur as much as an author. Some authors are going to take to this like a monkey to a banana. Some authors won’t be good at it or just find the idea of hiring editors and designers abhorrent. Best for someone? Most definitely. Best for everyone? Most certainly not.

Sixth, you’re going to be a great self-publisher. Self-publishing can be its own reward. “Indie first” presupposes that now self-publishing is a gate into traditional, but some folks just want to do it all themselves. For them, “indie first” also means “indie last, too.”

Seventh, because you’re uncomfortable with the financial risk. Writing and publishing is always a risk, but self-pub and trad-pub offer different flavors of risk. Self-pub is largely financial: you might spend $500 on cover, editing, design, marketing. And it is possible you will never see that money back. Despite what some have suggested, the traditional path is more a risk to time than it is directly to money — there’s little to no money actually put out, and so the risk of losing that money is nil. The result of the traditional process is either “I spend no money and get no money,” or, “I spend no money and I get somewhere north of $5000.” This is not to say going traditional first is best, but it may be ideal for the risk averse.

Eighth, because you want to be traditionally-published first and only. Preference matters. The parameters of happiness and satisfaction are not universal across all of authordom. When you say something is best, you’re speaking in terms so simplistic they’re meaningless. Best how? Best for money? Readership? Respect? Happiness? Everybody has a different metric and so, if your goal is to get the agent, go to a publisher and get on some bookshelves, well, then go that way. Go that way first. Don’t dick around with self-publishing. Chase the dream you want to chase, not the dream other people tell you is best. It’s your life, not theirs. Really, at the end of the day, “because it’s what I fucking want, goddamnit,” is the best metric of them all.

We’re possibly on the cusp of a golden age for writers. We have so many paths up the mountain. Let’s celebrate that. Let’s cheerlead not one option but all the options — and let’s embrace the fact that each path has strengths and weaknesses that’ll suit some authors and repel others. We don’t need to shut down or shout down options. We don’t need to suggest one way is superior. Or that others should feel inferior for their choices.

We can walk the middle road on this. We can take the nuanced, moderate approach and reject solipsism and tribalism and realize that what works for one is not a guarantee for all and that anybody who digs their way into the industry and follows their goals using the tools that suit them should be celebrated. Are you writing? Are you telling the stories you want to tell? Have you studied your options and found the path that suits you? Then high-five yourself, go eat some ice cream, and don’t let anybody tell you that you’re doing it wrong.

As always:

Art harder, motherfuckers.

Play nice in the comments or I’ll bring out the orbital laser. This is not a Cheerocracy.

123 comments

  • Automagically? Love the word. I really appreciated this post. I have two books I’m currently sitting on. I refuse to go indi because …well, for a number of reasons that I’ll not bother going into. And I am not prone to peer pressure but my website I promote a lot of indi authors and I can’t help but wish to hold my damn books in my hand, cover and all RIGHT NOW. But I’m patient and will continue waiting for the right path. Your post just helped to nudge me in the side, pat me on the back, and say…’stay strong girl. We got this.”

  • It truly is a great time to be an author. I think we’ve been so accustomed to a very rigid way of doing things for so long that having so many choices makes us uncomfortable — like a familiar restaurant with a brand new menu. It doesn’t matter that all the entrees are delicious; the fact that they’re so new, and that there’s so many of them, is super intimidating.

    For my part, it took a lot of soul-searching, but I opted to go in the “indie first” direction, a decision that was largely monetary: I would rather have a small but regular passive income stream from a backlist than spend years trying to write and query the book that would net a big advance. For me, the long-tail publishing thing makes a lot of sense.

    But if I hadn’t endured a year in Query Hell and become embittered to the entire process, I might not have been so enthusiastic about making the switch ;) Still, I’m very happy to have that option, and I think maybe people need to remember that the presence of all these options is what makes them so great to begin with.

  • Fifth and Seventh resonated heavily with me. Also, in my personal sphere there is a “Ninth: Because your day job generates too many potential conflicts of interest.”

    I’m a publishing lawyer (and a purely transactional one, at that).

    Which, for the uninitiated, means I spend my days writing publishing contracts (for publishers) and reviewing and negotiating them (for publishers and for authors – both independent and traditionally published). In other words – “a bought and paid for shill of the publishing industry, and also a hired gun.”

    Now, I also write books. But there’s a little problem involved in pitching your own work to publishers when you’ve also, on occasion, done work for some of these guys, so if I wanted to publish without doing all the work myself, I had to get an agent and go the traditional (“let someone else represent you”) route. This also helps resolve some conflicts of interest, because I don’t negotiate third-party contracts with, or for, my publisher and its imprints. But I’m not conflicted out of others my agent may have talked with, because I wasn’t the one handling the negotiation (and, indeed, I don’t even know all the names of the parties involved). In other words, my agent is my firewall.

    From a time and energy perspective, I couldn’t self-publish and put all the work in that needs to be done for my practice. There aren’t that many hours in the day. Which, of course, brings us back to that “fives and sevens” thing again. I need more of my time, and I chose to let someone else take the financial risk of bringing this book baby into the world.

    In short, I opted for partnership with a publisher because it worked better for me.

    In my day job, I see authors at all stages and all variations of publishing careers. Ditto publishers of every size. As I say at every opportunity: the “wrong” choice isn’t as simple as US VS THEM or DINOSAUR NINJA VS MECHA-SHARK (because, really, is there a wrong choice there?).

    The wrong choice is the one an author makes for the wrong reasons, without thinking it through, because someone ELSE made the decision for him (or her).

  • When you do finally get around to writing and publishing (by whatever means is best for you) that Tao Of Chuck religious cult book, it’ll go on my shelf, right next to my Tao Te Ching.

  • Chuck, Chuck, Chuck. You speak glorious wisdom as always, but unfortunately the gladiatorial word arenas of the internet are not always accommodating of rationality. I fear you may end up chasing your own tail on this one, endlessly trying to explain to people with an “either/or” mindset that there are more colours than black and white, and that because one option is good, it does not necessarily equate that all others are bad. I doff my cap in honour of your herculean efforts to bring the light of reason (and experience) to what appears to me to be a highly emotionally charged debate.

  • My 2p worth.
    I self-published a kids picture book in dadada – paperback!! pretty out there I know. Anyway I worked really hard and it did really well in Australia and NZ and a traditional publisher got very interested and said “we’ll send you a contract in 2 weeks” and then looked at how many I had sold and said ” wow you did really well. I don’t think we could do any better than that ourselves so on second thoughts we’ll pass on this one”. So – don’t know how that adds to the debate – but I’m just saying. The book by the way http://www.snotgoblin.com

    • That was something Jon Fine of Amazon brought up at WDCE — he said they look for those self-publishing successes in terms of their own publishing imprints, *but* if they don’t feel they can do better for that author than what they get with KDP, they won’t offer.

      – c.

      • Now you tell me lol. It was a huge amount of work although I loved it and learnt a lot. I’m about to embark on an e-publishing project now but still pitch work to traditional publishers and would love to be picked up by one, they then carry all the risk, do the majority of the work and pay the expenses which would mean more free time to write.

    • You have such a great little website! It’s charming and perfectly suited to your Snotgoblins. Just thought I’d let you know that I adored it! Good luck with it all and keep going!

  • What strikes me is the way people assume that because you acknowledge the existence of more paths than they have trodden, and opt, perhaps, for one of those, that you are somehow attacking their path. It’s a strange mindset, that.

    Someone choosing a different way from yours is not saying that yours is stupid or useless or attacking you as a person. They are going a different way, is all.

    And I would, perhaps, have been more amenable to self publishing if people hadn’t been so pushy about me going that way. When I’m not certain about a choice, pushing me will often encourage me to go the other way.

    I am an intelligent adult. I am capable of making a choice that is best for me as long as I have honest, unbiased information on all sides of the issue. Please stop assuming I’m a monster attacking self-publishing because I have decided I don’t want to do it at this stage in my career.

    I get that people on both sides of the issue want to defend their corner. I just don’t get why anyone assumes that because their path was best for them that it would be best for me.

  • Part of the problem with the Kindle boards is that they’re full of hopeful self-pubbers or about-to-bes who don’t really care to hear anything beyond “self-pubbing is TEH AWESUM and will make you money, and here’s how”–especially not from traditionally published writers, who HATE SELF-PUBBERS, are JEALOUS of successful ones, and will do anything to defend their outdated mode of publication. I have published through KDP, but find very little of value on the boards.

  • Chuck, you need a Jerry Springer-esque talk show. One where you do nothing but bring on Self-Pubbers and Trad-Pubbers and let them duke it out on stage, all the while finding out that Trad is the daddy of Self, and that Self should be more thankful for the opportunity it has been afforded, when out of nowhere Serialization pops it’s head out of the back like a long-forgotten-midget-bastard child and starts in on the merits of monthly distribution instead of a one-shot-blow-your-wad book that people will forget after a month where as with the Midget-Serial-Pub, people will see you month after month, etching their name on your brain with acidic pulpy goodness. That is, until the old Oral-Pubbers, (you know, the ones that use to just “tell” stories around campfires) walk on stage and everyone stares at their vocabulary and wonders how they could ever afford to just give it all away for free.

    I haven’t finished my coffee, please pardon this outburst…

  • April 9, 2013 at 7:39 AM // Reply

    This crap gets so tiring. There is no one way– what works for one won’t work for others. What doesn’t work for others will work for some. It’s about finding your way, not somebody else’s.

    • Now that I have had my coffee… I work in I.T. and hear this same argument all of the time.

      “My Mac is better than your IBM Thinkpad,” says Mac-Fanboy to Windows-Man.
      “Oh yea!? Well my homemade Chromebook is super-better because it’s cloud powered,” chimes in Cutting-Edge-Boy.
      “Ha! I have you all beat! My hacked and stacked Mac that boots Linux (RH) with a loader that gives me the option of Mac or Windows takes the digital cake!” screams Linux-Dude from the basement.

      I get really tired of it. They all have their place. Sure, some can be said to be better for some things than others, but what it comes down to is preference and, in the end, does it do what you want it to do? Are your needs and wants being met? If so, great! If not, try something different.

  • Totally true! I’ve had pretty good success self-publishing my debut, but I will tell anyone I’ve done tons more than “just write” and that this business is not for the faint of heart. I’d help anyone decide whether it was a good course for them, but never assume it’s the best way for everyone.

    Thanks for the even-handed post, Chuck! You rule.

  • Heck, I agree with what you’re saying. I do intend to go down the indie road, but that’s mostly because I want to be my own boss. I’m not saying other options are wrong, just how I like it to be. I’m fully aware of all the risks, but then again, life is full of risks.
    And without them, I’d get bored to death.
    Cheers,
    Johnny.

  • I think in some ways it’s also an exercise in seeing if they can split us in two camps – you know divide and conquer. Let the writers squabble about silly things like “path to publication” while the people who control all the enchiladas sit back and wait for us to sign up for bad contracts (see the Random House/Hydra kerfuffle). It’s much easier to have us fighting about how to get published.

  • Funny, I lurk over a kboards a lot. They are usually a pretty supportive lot. Perhaps if you used an innocuous emoticon?

    I don’t know why anyone would have an issue with ‘Find what works for you and make it happen’

    • @Shannon –

      I think the horse is out of the barn on that word. If we’re to assume an independent publisher is one separate from any corporate overlord, and we also assume that a self-publisher is essentially a one-man-or-woman publishing operation, then I think we can also grow comfortable with the fact that self-publishers are in fact just very small independent (“indie”) publishers.

      – c.

  • At the danger of disagreeing… I’m going disagree (at least on a couple points).

    First: genre can be a problem I publish indie YA and have done well. I’m far from alone. You remember Amanda Hocking wrote YA, yes? I know a lot of successful YA indie authors. You almost got this right, in that it’s really an age issue: YA books that appeal solely to young teens, and especially middle grade and picture books, still rely heavily on print distribution and “gatekeepers” like parents, teachers, and librarians who rely on reviews/recommendations not (currently) available to indie authors. But if you have a YA book that appeals to adults, the adults-who-read-YA market is HUGE.

    For books that appeal to anyone over the age of 13, anything that sells well traditionally will sell well as an indie book – and likely better, because indie authors price lower.

    Second: “Indie first” presupposes that now self-publishing is a gate into traditional and When you say something is best, you’re speaking in terms so simplistic they’re meaningless. Best how? Best for money? Readership? Respect? Happiness?

    The idea of “Indie First” as I understand it, is very simple: indie publishing first gives most writers the best chance of earning a living with their writing.

    It’s not presupposing a gateway into traditional. There are many indie authors who turn down traditional offers, because the contract terms aren’t favorable. Or renegotiate, because being a successful indie gives them the leverage to do that. And Indie First isn’t saying it’s THE BEST for all things. It’s just saying it’s the best way to make money. Obviously, people make decisions all the time based on things other than what will make them the most money. That’s well and good and awesome. The revolutionary idea here is that readers can make a living off their writing (how long has the canard been the opposite?) and that the best way to do that, for most authors, is indie publishing.

    For a long time, the “best and only” way was traditional first (I don’t recall anyone getting too upset about that blanket statement – it was simply a given, when publishers had a lock on distribution). Since ebooks and self-publishing have opened up distribution methods, authors need new guideposts. I’m glad Hugh is espousing Indie First. The “traditional first” idea has had a long run; it’s a good thing to have a counter-idea – that indie first is the best (but not only) way for authors to make money. It brings some balance to the ways of the Force. :) The potential to earn a living is a powerful idea – most writers want this. It deserves a champion on the battlefield. Authors need to be armed with competing ideas which are forced to defend themselves on the idea battlefield, to be able to find their own personal best option.

    In this, I believe, we are in complete agreement – that each author has to find the path most likely to make them happy. That may or may not be the path that makes them the most money. But they should know their options.

    • YA crossover is indeed huge — and one of the books of mine that went from “DIY” to “publisher” was my YA series, Atlanta Burns. So, I don’t think the concern I raised is universally true, though I think I allowed for that: the point is that it’s not always ideal and, in fact, given the advances coming out of YA, there’s still some value in sticking purely to “traditional” models. YA outreach to libraries and schools and teen groups is still notable from the traditional space.

      All that being said, I still take issue with your definition of “best.”

      “Best way to make money” is sure easy to say, but unless you have a big brick of data to back that up, it’s just a bunch of words.

      An author who steps into self-publishing with, say, a good YA e-book that for some reason doesn’t catch on may make a little money, may actually *lose* money given costs incurred from doing business.

      Were that author to step out into traditional with the same book, it might find a publisher willing to give it the kind of outreach and marketing it needs (yes, some publishers still do that), and the advance might be $10k or higher.

      Now, that’s no guarantee — but the point is that the sheer possibility of that happening tells me that you can’t just make a blanket statement that going self-pub first is the hands-down best way to make money. No way is guaranteed. Some folks are going to do really well in traditional. Some in self-publishing. Some will go from trad to self-pub or vice versa. If the tide really turns and the only good way to make money is “indie first,” I’ll be sure to agree when someone has real data that supports that.

      Until then, for me, lots of options exist that can yield a wide, wide range of results financially and otherwise.

      – c.

      • An author who steps into self-publishing with, say, a good YA e-book that for some reason doesn’t catch on may make a little money, may actually *lose* money given costs incurred from doing business.

        Were that author to step out into traditional with the same book, it might find a publisher willing to give it the kind of outreach and marketing it needs (yes, some publishers still do that), and the advance might be $10k or higher.

        I have anecdotal data that disputes this, but you don’t want anecdotal, you want a big brick of data to back that up and that’s not going to happen – on either side. Your thought experiment above is easy to counter, though. The cost of attending one conference in search of an agent/editor is comparable to the cost of producing one top-quality indie ebook. (Both are optional costs and can be done for less money). Which is more likely to pay a return? My personal experience is the indie option, by a landslide. My personal observation is that any book with the potential to be picked up by publishers will do well in the indie market. I know many authors for whom their books (many YA) were high quality, but publishers said “no”, who then went on to make a lot more than $10k off those books. Some make $10k in a month. But again, this is anecdotal evidence.

        We can wait around until someone does a survey (which no one will dispute, because those exist, right?) or publishes a report of all author incomes (because that will be available sometime in the future, yes?) or… we can take reports on the ground right now about what authors are experiencing and try to learn from that.

        You were closer when you said this: Writing and publishing is always a risk, but self-pub and trad-pub offer different flavors of risk.

        I would posit the flavors are less different than you think.

        There are no guarantees. Your mermaid-turned-vampire story may flop no matter how you publish it. But for authors today, trying to make a decision about which path to pursue, there is going to be risk, no matter what: the risk averse shouldn’t venture into publishing (writing is fine, do that as much as you like). But publishing is an inherently risky venture, whether you’re doing it or someone else on your behalf.

        Indie First is saying you are more likely to make money (i.e. your ROI on that risk is better) going indie. That risking your time (i.e. years spend on the query treadmill instead of publishing) pays off less often and less lucratively than risking your money (to indie publish).

        It’s not that some authors won’t make money on the traditional path. It’s that more authors will make moremoney on the indie path. The evidence of this is anecdotal, but growing over time. The weight of that anecdotal evidence is what drives this argument in the first place. The idea that you can make money in indie publishing doesn’t come from a vacuum – it comes from author after author actually doing that. And telling other people about it.

        Additionally, I’ll posit that you DO risk losing money on the traditional path – not just lost potential income during that time, but outlays spent pursuing representation or contracts (conferences, paper submissions, etc.) The “don’t risk your money” argument seems specious – most authors spend more than $500 pursuing representation and have years of negative tax returns (i.e. losses in income) while pursuing traditional publishing. It’s possible to trad-pub without outlaying a single dime. It’s also possible to indie publish that way. But many people invest more than that in their hobbies, much less their careers.

        There are no hard and fast data. There are only authors in the trenches, publishing today, sharing their experiences. Ideas like Indie First or No One True Way fighting it out on the idea battlefield. Prudent authors will listen to all that information and discern a path that works best for them.

        • And so I point you to the Taleist Survey:

          http://blog.taleist.com/2012/05/24/report-self-publishing-survey/

          Which refers to self-publishing as “Not A Gold Rush.”

          Writer’s Digest did a survey that suggests the most lucrative way forward is that of the hybrid author — but “hybrid” doesn’t automatically equate to “indie first.”

          http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2013/self-publishing-and-the-perpetually-imminent-mid-list-migration/

          You have lots of artisanal data to back up your POV, and I have mine — I know folks whose beautiful brilliant self-published books tanked and that might’ve gotten picked up by traditional publishers. I know folks who couldn’t get picked up by traditional publishers whose beautiful brilliant books did big numbers in self-publishing.

          I also know that I didn’t spend one red cent to submit to an agent or to a publisher. I’m published. And doing well. I risked no money. I gained a good bit of it. And I’m happy doing what I’m doing. I make more money from traditional than I do from self-publishing.

          So, did I do something wrong?

          Did I not choose in your mind the “best” way forward?

          At what point will you let go of the notion that *you personally* have wisdom that others — who are as successful as you or more so — do not? At what point will you admit that what’s best for you is not automatically best for all –?

          To be clear, I’m not trying to be aggro about this. But it’s a real question. Why is it so hard for some authors to admit that there’s happiness and money on both sides of the fence here?

          – c.

          • So, did I do something wrong?

            Obviously not. :)

            At what point will you admit that what’s best for you is not automatically best for all –?

            Funny, I thought I admitted that here: Prudent authors will listen to all that information and discern a path that works best for them and here that each author has to find the path most likely to make them happy.

            Why is it so hard for some authors to admit that there’s happiness and money on both sides of the fence here?

            This is a real question. I mean, I’m doing fine, happy on my path. There are lots of authors, on lots of different paths, also happy.

            Why bother talking about any of this at all? Why would I share any of my experiences, and the things I’m observing other authors experiencing, rather than working on my WiP (which I should be doing right now). I don’t have some desperate need to be right. I have a desire to help other authors, especially ones just starting out today, in 2013, and trying to figure out the new landscape of publishing. Not least because they come to me and ask for said help.

            I respect any author pursuing publication by any means – it’s a brave, fine thing you are doing. And if you’re making money – trad-pub or indie-pub – then rock on, my friend. You’re doing something right.

            But what about the friend who’s multiply published with a small press and thinking about giving up writing because she can’t make any money at it? What about the friend with the big six contract who wants to give up her day job, but can’t afford to? What about the multiply published trad-pub author who’s considering going back to her part-time non-writing gig because she can’t get a renewal? What about the new writer, staring into the abyss of options, hearing that trad-pub is an impossible mountain to climb and reading in the taleist survey that half of indie authors make less than $500 (both of which are misleading, in my opinion)?

            (These are all actual friends, BTW.)

            When I see people living their dreams with indie publishing, and I don’t speak out about that? It feels like pulling up the drawbridge after me. And that’s the last thing I want to do. So, I spar a few rounds on the idea battlefield. Make sure some of what I see gets seen by others.

            Then get back to work, crafting my stories. :)

          • Nothing wrong at all with sharing our experiences. That’s a good thing. And as your experiences are in the self-publishing space, so will your experiences reflect that. This is perfectly normal and good.

            The issue is that you claim that That Way is the Best Way To Make Money.

            I’m merely trying to get you to understand why:

            a) That’s probably not universally accurate.

            and

            b) It’s an ego-driven, solipsistic comment that what you did conveniently represents that ideal path.

            All the rest is great. Yes, let’s talk about all the options. Let’s talk the strengths and difficulties of each. Let’s not dismiss anybody because they have success or have instead found failure going different directions. We’re all supposed to be in the same boat, here. We’re not little tribes hoarding gold. Your questions address real people (as you note, your friends), but also conveniently leaves out the people who are self-pubbing and can’t quit their day jobs, or who spent money and will never get it back, or, or, or. We can’t just cherry-pick. We can’t just focus everything through a single lens or shove everything in one hole. Lots of square pegs and circle holes out there, and we have to be cautious not to over-direct authors toward a single path.

            – c.

          • I could be an ego-driven narcissist looking to justify my own path by saying it’s “best.” Or I could be engaging in the idea battle by advocating for a path I think will benefit a lot of writers.

            One thing I’m not is overly cautious. :) I leap. I figure stuff out. I try to let others know about it. I engage Chuck Wendig with reckless abandon. :) I don’t put square pegs in round holes, but I do call things as I see them. And I trust others to engage their brains and decide stuff for themselves.

    • “First: genre can be a problem I publish indie YA and have done well. I’m far from alone. You remember Amanda Hocking wrote YA, yes? I know a lot of successful YA indie authors. You almost got this right, in that it’s really an age issue: YA books that appeal solely to young teens, and especially middle grade and picture books, still rely heavily on print distribution and “gatekeepers” like parents, teachers, and librarians who rely on reviews/recommendations not (currently) available to indie authors. But if you have a YA book that appeals to adults, the adults-who-read-YA market is HUGE.”

      No argument from me there, but I agree with Chuck’s point about e-books and younger readers.

      My son reads a ton. I’m thrilled that he reads and love that he chooses stuff that I find interesting.

      He doesn’t like e-books. At all.

      He’ll use his smartphone/iPod/iPad for just about anything else, but won’t read anything but an old-fashioned, tree-sourced, book. He even turned down a free Kindle. Mrs. Cheffo is the same way (OK, she read 50 Shades on her iPad, but everything else is paper).

      It’s entirely anecdotal (but accurate within a range of 100% based on a sample size of 1) and surprising to me, but my reader kid chooses paper over plastic every time.

      • For what it’s worth, my kids are the same way. Books with real paper from real trees with pages they can turn with their fingers, or they won’t even bother. and I’m ok with that.

        Not that this has much to do with the current topic, though :)

        Regarding the current topic, I would just like to say, “Chuck, I love your open view and your honesty. Thank you for being a voice of reason in this crazy “MY WAY OR THE HIGHWAY” publishing frenzy.

        • Late to the party, but I’m a trad published children’s book author, and they really pulled out all the stops on the e-book versions, the illustrations look great, they’re well put together, they’re awesome…

          …I sell probably 1% of total sales in e-book, and that’s almost all to my adult fanbase.

          When they make an e-reader (and I have no doubt they will!) that is cheap and indestructible enough to hand to an eight-year-old boy, perhaps that will change, but that the moment, middle-grade is a GREAT example of a genre where the market would be against self-pub.

  • Agreed, susankayequinn. You’re right that Chuck was a bit off on some of his points. Also right that an author has to choose for himself or herself the path he or she takes.

    I decided to go indie in 2011 because none of the contracts I was seeing were fair, especially regarding ebook royalties. Going indie was the best decision I made, and now I make a living writing lesbian fiction. Yep, lesbian fiction! That’s something I couldn’t do with my earlier publisher. (In my first month as a an indie with one book out, I outearned what I’d made in three years with a publisher.)

  • I appreciate this article because I think perhaps too many aspiring authors are getting led into the mindset that trad publishing is an insurmountable mountain and self-pub equals insta-success. The possibility you’ll be one of those amazing self-pub authors who makes millions is extremely slim, like winning the lottery slim, in my opinion. It was not mentioned in this article, but I think we should also mention that there are small publishers, as well, that are sometimes easier to break into and which can help you by editing, cover design and getting your book in small, independent bookstores as well as Amazon. Anyway, Chuck. I appreciate the reminder that self-pub is not a magic bullet. That if you want to be a traditional author, you should continue to pursue that goal. I view self-pub as one of many possibilities. But there are so many self-pub books out there now — some of dubious quality — that I am inclined to believe it will be very difficult to make a real splash in that way.

  • Buried in the flame-murk of the boards, I found this gem that I think sums up the whole situation pretty well:

    “I’ve rarely seen people work themselves into such furor while arguing essentially the same point.”

    I’m back and forth on how I am likely to pursue publication when I get there (which hopefully will be soon, depending entirely on how much work I can put in), and in fact just posted some thoughts about it. The conclusion? There wasn’t one.

    Right now my big focus is writing. A good story is more likely to do well Self or Trad published than a shitty one.

  • Is self-publishing the best way? Maybe yes, maybe no. It definitely is the easiest way to throw your hat into the ring. Success depends on what you do before and after. What self-publishing does is remove gatekeepers who have a say as to whether your work has a wide enough audience to make it worth while for them to publish it. Self-publishing allows you to try to reach the audience that will enjoy your work no matter how small that may be.

  • The thing with self-publishing is that it’s just a means to an end. Like anything, it requires that you work your ass off at it if you want to see big results, and that’s fine. Frankly, the biggest risk I see with self-publishing is that in a media environment such as ours these days, your biggest challenge is simply being read at all. With so many self-publishing, or publishing through small indie houses, the field is a lot more crowded. But that’s okay; the authors who really want it will “art harder,” to paraphrase Chuck, and the ones who don’t will slowly become the dust in the corners.

  • OMG Chuck, you know I love you, but I want to smack you upside the head with a box of uncooked spaghetti.

    “Indie pub” is NOT self-pub. “Indie” is a smaller house, frequently a digital-first or digital-only publishing house not afilliated with the Big…eh Five? Four? Used to be six but whatever. An indie publisher is just that — independent. But they still provide most or all of the same services a traditional house provides. They sometimes even pay advances. They’re just smaller and independent of the traditional system. And some of us indie pubbed authors are doing better than a lot of midlist traditionally published authors. Some of those indie authors are making over $100k a year. And they get paid at least 4 times a year, and sometimes monthly, depending on the publisher.

    Indie pub and self pub are two totally different beasts.

    So using THAT (the correct LOL) definition, yes, I frequently counsel newbies to go indie first. Then they can build a reader base, learn the business, write their asses off, and understand their writing isn’t da shit and why they need editors. Then they can branch out into self pub if they want, or even try traditional now that they have a track record and numbers under their belt (and hopefully enough business sense to not get eaten by sharks).

    I see so many newbie authors completely lost in the middle of their first book after it’s accepted. If they’re that lost with a publisher holding their hand, imagine how lost they’d be self pubbed out of the gate. Not saying every newbie is that clueless, but many are.

    So I say for most writers, a mixed approach might prove most successful. Indie first, followed by branching out if they want to self and/or traditional publishing.

    • Like I said in another comment, I think “indie pub” and “self-pub” are going to be conflated going forward. The snakes are out of the can on that term and will not go back in.

      And, for the record, while I like smaller publishers in theory, many smaller publishers do not do well with their business models and end up shitting the bed. Going with smaller publishers requires as much caution as going with larger ones. Or with Amazon, or with Kickstarter or with some other self-pub model, etc.etc on and on and on.

      – c.

      • Agreed. There is an awful lot of indie publishing out there that might as well be self-publishing. The differences are more parlance than anything else. Maybe a new term like “micropublishing” or something would best apply to this kind of effort to get your work into print. But really, worrying about the terms we use to describe how we publish aren’t half as important as the business of publishing. And the truth is, we are now in an age where you have a wide diversity of models to choose from, and that is a good, good, good thing.

      • Have to agree with Tymber: In the book industry, an “indie publisher” refers to a publisher that is not owned by a multinational conglomerate. W.W. Norton is an indie publisher, as are smaller digital-first publishers like Samhain. I make it a point to not conflate them, simply because it is incorrect usage. Also, because it makes my head explode when self-pubbed authors call themselves independent publishers.

        • It may make your head explode, but it has the unfortunate quality of being true.

          Self-publishing is basically running a small independent publishing operation. The only major difference is in how manuscript acquisition is handled.

          Everything else — marketing, production planning, hiring editors, graphic designer and other freelancers, etc. — is an identical process.

  • I think whether you’re diving into the traditional route or the self-publishing one, it is important for anyone who wants to navigate the waters of publishing is to do copious amounts of research from legitimate sources. It is not enough to sit there and just say, “I’m a writer and my only concern should be writing”. That kind of attitude is fine if you’re are intending only for it to be a hobby but publishing is a business and like any other business, the goal is to make money.

    Self-publishing sounds easy enough and a more accessible alternate when you’re finding it difficult to break in the traditional way. But self-publishing is also much more time consuming, where the writer must have more than a passing knowledge in all facets of the business. It’s basically a DIY job for the writing, editing, technology, accounting, marketing, promotion, distributing and legal aspects.

    Many times, I tend to think that someone not in the know, thinks with the popularity on the rise for self-published authors that one can just throw their story out in cyberspace and success is imminent or they’ll be swooped up by a traditional publisher. It does happen but without perseverance and the right research and tools and connections, it’s very easy to launch oneself right into obscurity. Unfortunately, as with any publishing venture, hopes can be doused quite easily if expectations are too high.

    Beyond all that, I think it’s great that there is another avenue of publishing that didn’t exist years ago and it really opened up the possibilities to see one’s name in print and not have to deal with the big publishing houses and all their guidelines and structures.

  • What to possibly add to this? . . . . . I got nuthin ‘ The thing I see in this issue is being a storyteller is a scary-as-hell occupation. At Starbucks if the manager doesn’t like your artistic flair on that last Mochachino you’re not left wondering if the rent goes unpaid. You just use less whip cream next time, at least on your nipples. Point being everyone one of us wants the same thing, to have the voices in our heads heard, confirmed and maybe even appreciated by other people and if we happen to make enough bank to buy a jet-ski – super sweet.
    Who gives a $#it how it gets done as long as we get there? My concern, now that we’ve opened the floodgates and let in literally thousands (millions?) of fresh faced, talented storytellers out there is, how do we organize them? how do we sort good from bad? even better how do we begin to train the up and comers Pat Morita style since the editor and pub houses along with their soul crushing rejections are not a prerequisite to publication anymore?

  • I’ve read through all the comments and I’m still laughing at the tip-toeing “Author Elf” because I’ve never heard anyone describe that sort of self-publishing endeavor quite so perfectly.

    Also agree with Do Not Engage Hostiles.

    Seriously, in this free-to-be-ourselves age, anyone that doesn’t understand “what worked for you might not work for me” is sorting out issues much bigger than self-pub vs traditional press. This goes for all aspects of life. Experience is a lens, that’s all. There are almost 7 billion human lenses viewing the world right now. One lens shouting that what he/she sees is best? I mean, it’s laughable.

  • 1. Not everybody can cough up even a little money for cover design, editing, etc. and not everyone has an incredibly talented, unflinchingly critical pool of friends with whom to barter for that stuff (like I do). If I didn’t have free sources for those things, there is no way I could ever consider self-publishing.

    2. Why do the self-publishing groupies all think everybody will be as big a success as their rock stars? Some people just aren’t good enough. It’s that simple.

    3. And “good enough” is both a matter of writing and marketing (and all that other stuff you have to do if you DIY). Some people really, really have no clue and either haven’t studied up (by reading this blog, and zillions of other things, for example) or don’t manage to learn from that study. Such people, if they are “good enough” at the writing part will need a real publisher to either show them the ropes or just do it all for them (or something between).

    4. When celebrities are put out there as examples of success, therefore “you should do what the celebrity did” that puts the cart before the horse. How can EVERYBODY IN THE WHOLE WORLD not see this? A celebrity is already famous. You, would-be overnight best-selling sensation, are NOT.

    5. Both. And. As for which first, most people actually don’t have a choice. Me, I’m doing the third thing and going with a small press first. Because after four years of throwing spaghetti at walls, a lot of stuff looked like it might stick but didn’t quite… I might have given it another book and another year and found my Big Five (four..three..two…) Deal, but I wasn’t that patient. I will keep trying for it (with the NEXT book) while simultaneously building some kind of fan base with the small press and a (very) self-published novel (on my blog: fie on Amazon).

    Seriously, this “choose indie” nonsense is such sour grapes. How many people “choosing” had a great NYC deal on the table and went “nah, I think I’ll go with KDP.”?

    Gimme a break.

    • Howey wasn’t putting “rock stars” out there as examples, he was putting normal folks, who just happened to be making some money. And yes, there ARE people who choose to shun the big publishers for indie, your snark notwithstanding.

  • April 9, 2013 at 10:46 AM // Reply

    Thanks, Chuck. I think you put it in perspective nicely. And the big take-away? Do your due diligence and make an informed decision. Unlike me. I’m not sorry, but I have to say I just sort of staggered into self-pub and have been figuring it out after the fact, which no matter with path you take is bass-ackwards

  • I love the way you cut to the chase in this nonsense of the “best’ way is the only way.

    “because it’s what I fucking want, goddamnit,” is going to be my mantra for 2013

  • Self-pub is certainly not best for me at this time. I have a day job that I love (I teach) and don’t plan to give up until being an author is a viable source of income. I don’t have the time or energy to be an editor, marketer, book cover designer, etc., and I don’t have the money to pay someone else to do all that.

    I have a book coming out on May 1st by a small publisher. That was a hard decision for me because I don’t have an agent. When I discussed this with a self-pubbed friend, she said, “Just try it with this book. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to do it again, and there is no financial risk to you. And hey, you might get lucky and make enough money to self-publish that series you say no one will publish.”

    Everyone is different. We don’t even learn the same way, so it’s stupid to think that what is best for one person is best for all.

    • This is pretty much my scenario too. I am still agent-hunting, but went ahead with a small press for now. It was a hard decision to make, but I’m someone who plans to write a LOT of books, so maybe next time. Meanwhile, what the heck? Maybe something good will come of taking this particular step.

      But I think self-publishing would be A) too much expense and B) ultimately disappointing for me, personally.

  • Thanks for the great posts on this topic, Chuck. As an unpublished author, I’m glad that many paths exist, but I’m most glad that I’ve tried the Trad route–and been unsuccessful at it thus far.

    Here’s why: I’m a DIY-er with an impatience harpy riding my back, and if I had jumped right in to self-publishing I would have given up on writing long ago. Yeah, we all got a book in us (or ten books) but what I really needed to do was (as you say): ART HARDER.

    My story needed help, a lot of it. And, it’s getting its much needed reinvigoration through my critique group and my study and my investment in making it the most bestest shiniest manuscript that agents would kill small children to sell. If none will, and it’s still the saddest gal on prom night, well, then maybe I’ll show it a good time with a fancy cover and a great blog tour and watch if it drowns in the self-pub soup. But, until I’ve given it the best shot at getting the crown and the spotlight dance, I haven’t done my job to the story.

    Every author out there has a manuscript in the closet that should never see the light of day. Those teeth-cutting efforts shouldn’t be available–for 99 cents, or free–just because the later work rocks. At least, I’m unwilling to display my undesirables for the world-at-large to critique.

    • I have five manuscripts that I’m glad never saw the light of day.

      And it’s very, very good self-publishing wasn’t around when I was younger. I would’ve made the mistake of just clicking ‘publish.’

      – c.

  • Oh how I love these Interwebs! There is nothing wrong with voicing opinions, and it would be best, in my opinion, not to clarify that my opinion is what I am stating. What other opinion am I going to offer up? The problem lies with expectations. If you voice an opinion in public and expect it to be received in a certain kind of way, let’s just say that you are likely to be disappointed at best, and more likely, lured into a debate that dilutes the value of your point. Craft your message well the first time. If you do, it should stand on its own.

  • A perfect example of self-publishing not being right for everyone are two authors I’ve found through the Kindle store: Temper Thompson and Stevie Ball. These guys are so bad at writing it’s criminal.
    People are much more interested in seeing their names in print than seeing their names attached to something worth printing.

  • +4 to this. (+400,000 if we’re counting by the word.) It was my fifth manuscript that earned me an agent and a publishing deal, and there are many, many good reasons the first four will never, ever see the light of day. I have friends who got it “right” on the first shot out of the box, but for me, the decision to go traditional also factored in a desire to figure out whether I’d actually achieved something worth publishing according to standards other than my own.

    Which is not to put down all self-pub or to say that self-pub is inferior. I have friends and clients who self-pub and whose books are amazing, high quality works. I’m saying that *in my case* I knew I couldn’t be a fair and impartial judge of my own work, and I wanted to take that stress off myself by letting someone else decide when I’d hit the mark. (In addition to about twelve other factors, some of which I’ve mentioned and others of which will remain in my own, private decision-making toolkit.)

  • I adore Hugh Howey and rabidly consume everything he says and does, but I’m afraid I’m with you on this one Chuck. There is no best way for everyone. It’s what works best for you.
    For me that way is self-publishing, mostly because I like being in charge of my own destiny. But it’s also because I’m a bit of a narcissist and I don’t want to have to wait months/years to find out if people like my work. I want to know now! Of course there’s also the risk that they’ll hate me forever, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take. I’ve gladly shelled out $100 on an amazing cover and $90 for an editor (which I just heard back from…woohoo!) because I want to make sure I put the best thing out there. I don’t expect to see that money back anytime soon but consider it a worthy investment.
    That’s what self-publishing is, after all. An investment. Maybe you’ll strike it big. Maybe you’ll flop. Or maybe you’ll see a small return over a long period of time. Either way, it was fun, and still cheaper than getting trashed at the pub!

  • As I messaged you, I thought you were a boss for registering on Kboards and trying to answer some of the comments there directly. I think you met some of the passion that exists because of the line drawn in the sand between self-publishing and trade publishing. And even though you reiterate some of the points made by the minority in that conversation, such as your comments about genre, you are going to continue to run into that passion. I feel like your current blog post is rational and considers many of the issues of using a blanket statement about a “better”, “superior” way of doing things.

    I appreciate your more balanced approach here on this blog post, although whatever you want to say on your own blog – more power to you.

  • Chuck, tell the truth. You went to Kindle Boards and got your ass kicked. Then you pouted and ran away. You are weak.

  • Pretty tiny percentage of people who wouldn’t be best served taking the Indie path.

    And I’m not convinced they’re not just afraid of trying.

    None of us know the future, but every new year makes Indie First look more and more like the new path to “trad” deals. *shrug*

    But hey, if you want to play semantics, yes Chuck, there’s surely some idiot savant who cannot tie their own shoes, but can somehow put words down in a coherent manner that would be best in tradpub.

    I just don’t buy that a statistically significant number of writers fall into that category.

    Formatting is free (Draft2Digital), cover art is low cost ($10-$50 premades exist for every genre), and editing can be traded for. (You show me yours, I’ll show you mine…)

    Can tradpub do a better job with these things? Possibly, yes, they can. (We’ve all seen bad covers, bad edits, and poorly formatted tradpub ebooks.) But they’ll take the lion’s share forever and offer a new author a pittance (if anything) as an advance.

    So outside of books on shelves (which can be done as an indie if you simply work the way a small press publisher does and CALL STORES and SELL THE BOOK to them) there’s not much to a tradpub deal.

    Unless you happen to get stupid lucky and win the lottery with an editor who thinks you’re the next J.K Rowling. (You probably aren’t, but at least your advance will look like something worth having.)

    But let us be honest: you have a better chance of having a book runaway self pub than you do of having an editor go crazy over your work. And the best part is that if it DOES go crazy, tradpub comes to you, and you get to start talking about all those other rights you still control.

    So outside of the tiny percentage of people incapable of doing anything outside of writing a manuscript (which I then question how they would query, since that’s arguably more difficult a skill than formatting an ebook) I’m going to have to say that when Hugh and others say Indie First, they’re not doing anything other than shining a light at the extremely bold and legible writing on the wall.

    • “Pretty tiny percentage of people who wouldn’t be best served taking the Indie path.”

      Exactly. These exceptions prove the rule.

      Chuck leaves out the near-criminal difference in royalty pay and the difference between being on a dwindling store shelf for 3-6 months vs. having decades for your book to find its audience. These advantages, which I touched upon in the Salon piece, are overwhelming.

      It’s shocking to me how many people think I’m using my personal success as an example for the self-publishing path. It speaks to how a few of my most pro-self-publishing comments are being used in isolation to paint an unfair portrait of my stance. The Salon piece (which I did not write the title nor subtitle for) begins by asserting that I am not the story of self-publishing. The story of self-publishing are the amazing number of people who would not likely have been picked up by a publisher and are now making real and steady money from their work.

      We have gone from that to, somehow: “I got rich doing this and you can too!”

      It’s a silly sentiment and one I would never espouse.

      What I have claimed, and what I will continue to defend, is that of the two paths to publication, self-publishing first makes the most sense for the most number of writers. If I had to pull numbers from my butt, which I’m not above, I would say that self-publishing is 600 times better than traditional publishing for 95% of the writers out there. (600 is roughly the difference in royalties [about six times] multiplied by the difference in lifetime of the book [3 months vs. 100 years and 3 months])

      The 95% takes into account that yes, there are 5 writers out of every 100 who somehow have a novel brilliant enough to get out of the slush pile but not great enough to find an audience (unlikely). They are also people who “only want to write” and yet convince a publisher to back their career (highly unlikely). They are also, in this Vinn diagram of unlikeliness, authors who can navigate the years of querying but can’t spend a day or $50 hiring out an e-book formatter (I suppose this is possible). For those 5% of authors, the 600 times difference in longevity X profitability is not enough. They should climb a different path up that mountain.

      With every passing day, the advantages of self-publishing first mount and grow. Sure, there are authors who found and continue to find success the traditional way, but they will become a smaller and smaller slice of the pie. I believe time will bear this out. My only motivation is to share the marvelous success of the “mid-list” indies who are doing well that nobody hears from or hears about. My intentions are ridiculously selfless here. I’m using what little attention I can get to shine a spotlight on those who are going ignored while achieving something that I find remarkable: being paid for their art.

      There are a ton of other advantages to going indie (no non-compete clauses, freedom of genre, the ability to publish often and swiftly, being paid monthly). These overwhelm the advantages of going traditional. That makes one path better than the other. It’s impossible that these two paths are equally beneficial to the same number of people, which makes one better. We should EXPLORE and DISCUSS these paths to determine which one is better. For the good of writer-kind. Throwing up our hands and equivocating does nobody any good. It’s about as useless as these posts which take the most fringe of my stances and attempt to portray me as something that I’m not.

      • The difference in royalty pay is worth a comment but also isn’t the entirety of the picture. It’s worth mentioning that 70% of $100 is still less than 25% of $1000. I’m not suggesting that the royalty rates shouldn’t be more equitable; they should be. And a good agent will get better. And a publisher like Amazon is in many cases already offering better, as are some smaller publishers. All who are a flavor of “non-traditional traditional,” but still are not the same thing as “self-publishing.”

        Though, at this point, I’m not sure why you’re even continuing to scrap over this. You think self-publishing first is the way to go with near-universality. That’s entirely fine and is your right to say so.

        But just the same, there comes a point where you cross over from being an advocate for self-publishing and those who do it (which is great, and self-publishing could use strong, successful advocates) and start to become a sermonizer seeking proselytes. When you make blanket statements like “That makes one path better than the other. It’s impossible that these two paths are equally beneficial to the same number of people, which makes one better,” you sound like you’ve already crossed that line. You say I’m taking the fringe of your stances and try to make you appear as something you’re not — but I’m using your own words, here. I’m not making this stuff up. When you say a path is best, better, whatever, those are your words, not mine. I’m not even arguing against the idea of self-publishing; I’m merely arguing against this notion that one can so easily divine what is automagically the true way forward.

        [EDITED TO ADD:]

        This is in no way meant to take away from the success you’re having with the book (which is due to the fact that it appears crackingly well-written more than any one path of publication, in my mind). But just the same, some of what you’re saying sounds like it’s trying to take away from the success others have had doing differently than your prescribed method.

        At this point, I think we’re just going to have to disagree on that one point — I can’t in good conscience suggest to anyone that there exists a superior way forward when we have so many really great ways to write and get published these days.

        Best of luck (which you don’t need) with your books.

    • Mathew:

      At this point, you’re just being rude.

      “But hey, if you want to play semantics, yes Chuck, there’s surely some idiot savant who cannot tie their own shoes, but can somehow put words down in a coherent manner that would be best in tradpub.”

      Please don’t refer to people as idiot savants just because they’re traditionally-publishing, whether or not they’re making no money or huge buckets of it. That’s insulting and if you bring that attitude again, I’ll just block you from the site and be done with it.

      “I just don’t buy that a statistically significant number of writers fall into that category.”

      Unless you have evidence of an actual number, don’t mention numbers.

      “Formatting is free (Draft2Digital), cover art is low cost ($10-$50 premades exist for every genre), and editing can be traded for. (You show me yours, I’ll show you mine…)”

      That is not enticing me to buy your books. Lowest common denominator marketing is not a very good sales pitch for why you should self-publish. “Because you can! Cheap!” sounds like you’re hawking used cars.

      “So outside of books on shelves (which can be done as an indie if you simply work the way a small press publisher does and CALL STORES and SELL THE BOOK to them) there’s not much to a tradpub deal.”

      You won’t find many self-published books on bookstore shelves. Bookstores frequently deal only with distributors and while some very smart and savvy self-published authors have gotten into those distribution channels, they are few and far-between. (Eric DeLabarre is a great example and a smart guy doing the self-pub thing with great success and diligence.)

      “But let us be honest: you have a better chance of having a book runaway self pub than you do of having an editor go crazy over your work. And the best part is that if it DOES go crazy, tradpub comes to you, and you get to start talking about all those other rights you still control.”

      Again, if you’re really interested in talking about “better chances,” then you really ought to pony up some numbers. Numbers that prove your point. Otherwise, this is all just piss in the wind.

      Listen, here’s the thing: I put out what I feel was a reasonable and toned-down response to why people may not want to go the self-publishing path at the outset or use it as a path to traditional, and all I’m getting from you is the same reiterative, thoughtless propaganda. Saying something is “better” isn’t meaningful. Throwing in snippets of eye-rolly condescension only further damages your argument — which is, again, merely that it’s “better.” An argument with zero nuance and minimal evidence.

      I’m not trying to tell you what’s best for you. So why don’t you back off trying to tell everyone else what’s best for them? Because if that’s your only goal, you’re just repeating the same noise into the discussion instead of injecting signal.

      – c.

  • Believe it or not, and I was one who argued with you over at Kboards, I agree with at least part of what you’re saying. I do think that “indie first” is the better way to go for MOST aspiring but unpublished authors or authors who have not done as well with trad as they hoped. But there are those who will only be happy if they’re with a Big 5 publisher so that’s their preference and they have a right to it.

    As for genre, I suspect that someone in this thread has already pointed out that Amanda Hocking did pretty darn well with her YA. I make a good living writing Historical Fiction which is hardly a hot genre. In fact, the more niche genres are gold for self-publishing. As for risk, I suppose it’s a matter of what you are adverse to risking. The “risk” (it’s more of a certainty) of wasting hundreds of hours emailing and tracking queries and requests for manuscripts and which agents are nice and which are total jerks… and then waiting for months hear from your agent and wondering if he really does have your manuscript out — all that bothered me a LOT more than risking fifty bucks for a cover. But some people don’t value their time very highly, so I’ll give you that may not be a universal reaction.

    Frankly, speaking for myself, I don’t care if agents are interested. I make a very good living (though not that “rock star” that supposedly you have to be according to some) self-publishing. Why should I care about agents? I will never submit to another publisher and got rid of my former agent but if a publisher comes calling with money in hand, heck, I’d consider it. That’s all… I’d consider it.

    • If you’re happy, I would never suggest for you to do other than what you’re doing now. I’m not knocking self-publishing; I’m embracing it personally, I just don’t think my embrace of it is equal to how everyone else should act.

      As a sidenote, when I queried, I didn’t waste hundreds of hours. And I got an agent within a month. I can speak to my experience and the experience of others I know, which is purely anecdotal — but I also know people who did waste time took months out of their life. Just the same, I don’t think that’s an unreasonable amount of time. (More unreasonable is how long it takes a book to actually *get* published. That agent is ideally going to be with your for a lifetime, but taking 2-3 years to print in some edge cases is a really, really long path to publication.) I don’t think it’s about how one does or does not value time but rather what one chooses to do with it. And not everybody will do the same things. Some folks are willing to be more patient (or stubborn) and go that way. I was and I’m very happy at the same time I’m also self-publishing work. I don’t like just one path up the mountain: I am greedy and want them all.

      Thanks for a more measured response, JR. Good luck with your work.

      – c.

  • Why can’t we all just get along? People are treating this topic like it’s religion.

    “Follow my path, for it is the right path. If you do not, you shall never be printed! So sayeth the Overlord!”

    Step back a bit, folks. He was just presenting what I found to be a sensible approach. There are different routes to the same show that we ALL can be part of. Just don’t rule out a route because you think it is a dead end, sense it obviously isn’t. People still go trad/self/etc, and still are successful in all categories. Find the one that works for you.

    Share the positives.

    Share the negatives.

    Just don’t BE negative.

    Don’t piss on my route just because you don’t like it, I don’t want to drive through your piss. I want to take my path and see what it’s like and, when I make it to the end, see ALL of you at the show. We can share stories, bacon, and whiskey and, who knows, maybe next time I will take YOUR route to show. Maybe I will like it better, maybe I won’t.

    Choice. It’s all about having one.

  • Figures and proof, self-pubbers. It’s the most reasonable request imaginable, given what you’re insisting. Otherwise, stop yelling claims and expecting everyone to listen. The burden of proof is on you.

    The sad thing is, there are plenty of traditionally-published writers begging to be convinced. Yet all they get to hear is tedious bullshit about how the ivory tower is falling.

  • Hi. I’m an editor, please don’t assume I work in trade (especially if I don’t know you) – I got bills to pay and things I want to own just like everyone else.

    I’m happy for any author who takes whatever route they want to get their work into peoples’ hands. And whether you take path A or path B or path XYZ, the end goal is the same – people read your stuff, you get money from those people.

    Also, that Kindle board is a weird and savage land.

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