Check The Box: Do You Want To Be Your Own Publisher, Yes Or No?

I feel like the Publishing Wars went from cold to hot recently — culminating in the recent Author Earnings site championed by one Mister Hugh Howey, who deserves credit at the very least for shining a light on the various nooks and crannies of both sides of publishing (seriously, the resultant conversation growing out of this is many-headed and more robust than I’m used to — far less us versus them and far more here are my thoughts and actually they’re kinda smart). Whether you consider the data helpful or horseshit is up to you (my inexpert opinion is that the truth, like with nearly all things, hovers neatly toward the middle).

That said, if you’re an author, you might be revisiting the question:

Should I self-publish?

You’ve got a whole barnload of metrics by which you might measure the question and find an answer. Do you want your book out fast? Do you want money now as opposed to money later? Do you want the guarantee of an advance, or the risk of acting as your own publisher? Do you love Amazon, or hate Amazon? Do you want to retain your rights and your control? Do you want on bookstore shelves? Or are you comfortable existing predominantly on e-readers? Do you care at all about film rights? TV rights? Foreign? Reviews in major outlets?

And so on, and so forth.

Lots of reasons big and small.

Money. Time. Rights. Independence. Access. Discoverability.

Lots of fulcrum points on which the argument wibbles and wobbles.

And just to get ahead of any of that us versus them-ism lest it rear its braying donkey head: at this exact moment in time authors have plenty of good reasons to choose either path.

All these fulcrum points are meaningful. And nobody should tell you any different.

But, first, there’s one question worth asking.

One question that may precede all others.

That question:

Do I want to be a publisher?

If YES, then act as your own author-publisher.

If NO, then do not do that.

If OH SHIT I DUNNO, then take something small — a short story, a novella, a riskier story that won’t find a market — and then publish that on your own as kind of a… test case.

That’s it. That’s the first — and maybe, really, the only — question.

Because if you want to be a publisher — meaning, you have the inclination and interest to worry about directly handling or delegating your own book design, cover design, editing, marketing, and boozy publishing cocktail lunches — then you should jolly well up and fucking do that, stat.

But if you don’t — and oh, guess what, many authors do not want to do this or absorb these responsibilities — then you really, seriously, honestly, truly, fucking shouldn’t.

Because I don’t want to read books put out by publishers who don’t want to do that job or don’t know how to do it in the first goddamn place. Readers don’t, either, just as we don’t want to look at books written by writers who don’t care about or know about writing.

This is true in all careers, by the way.

You might want to work in advertising. Or you might want to start your own ad agency. You might want to learn to ride a horse or run a whole goddamn stable. Maybe you’re a lawyer. Maybe you’re best suited to become the head of a whole firm. Maybe you’re a entrepreneur, or a venture capitalist, or an inventor. Maybe you like freelance. Maybe you like being kept by a company with all the benefits a company affords. The trade-off is nearly always the same, in general terms: do I want to set aside some risk for stability and potentially smaller gains, or do I want to accept and absorb more risk to handle my own work and go for potentially larger (but again, riskier!) gains?

That’s it.

You’re either into that.

Or you’re not.

No shame in either path.

Nor is there shame in using data to determine which side to walk. But, again, for me, before you start worrying about all those other things, before you read the latest round of conversation and start thinking, I might need to do this, I might want to see if there’s gold in them thar hills, the round of questioning always has to start with that one fundamental question.

You either want to be an author. Just an author.

Or you want to be an author-publisher.

Or you wanna do a little of both.

End of story.

Choose.

Enjoy.

And whatever you do, do it well.

So well, in fact, that nobody can see or care about or criticize the choice you made.