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.



And whatever you do, do it well.

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

62 responses to “Check The Box: Do You Want To Be Your Own Publisher, Yes Or No?”

  1. Great way to phrase it. If I had realized what I was getting into, I might not have wanted to be an author-publisher. But after putting a couple of years into figuring out the business, well I’d like to keep going and see if eventually I can get it right. I think I’ve hit what I think are the essentials–the writing and editing parts, putting together a team to produce a book that is worth anyone’s time and money. Marketing, though. Well, maybe someday I’ll get it right.

  2. I was with you up until this point: “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.”

    There it almost sounds like you’re saying, “if you can’t do all the above to my satisfaction, don’t self-publish.” But nobody cares what you think or what you want to read. I’ve read a lot of really bad self-published books with a big following and a lot of great reviews. I’ve read some really bad traditionally published books, too.

    it’s just not our place as authors to tell other authors if they’re doing it right or if their book is good enough. As a reader, sure. But the first chapters are easily available at Amazon, so no one’s forcing you to read a bad book. Authors: write it your way, publish it your way, and let your readers decide. That’s all there is to it, anymore. It’s called freedom.

    • I’m not a gatekeeper; I’m not standing in anybody’s way.

      But as I’ve said elsewhere, if you’re not really willing to commit the time and energy and effort it takes to actually learn how to publish a book and support it and format it and edit it (or delegate out the choice bits of that), then you’re doing readers a grave disservice. And, frankly, yourself.

      It’s the same way that people think they should blog because some publisher told them they should. If you don’t really want to blog — or you don’t know how to do it well — then, seriously, don’t. Waste of time for everyone involved.

      — c.

    • If you as a writer don’t respect your work enough to proofread, edit, and format it to a high standard of quality, or if you don’t care what your cover looks like, then why should I respect it enough to throw any amount of money at it, or even waste my time on the sample chapter?

      Yes, there are bad traditionally published books. But that’s not an excuse. This “it’s okay to publish crap” mentality I’ve seen from my fellow self-published authors over the past month or so is really disheartening, and it’s incredibly damaging to the image of self-publishing as a whole. There’s already that preconceived notion that self-published authors are only self-published because they’re so terrible no publisher would touch them. So when I see other self-published authors come out and say things like, “how dare you criticize self-publishing for publishing terrible books! That’s freedom!”

      As I said in another comment to another post: just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do something.

      I can take a piss in my sink. Doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

  3. I’m currently doing just that! That is, I’m testing out the tepid, gurgling waters of self-publishing something small and marketless (i.e. poetry) before making my bigger decisions. However, I’ve heard from one source that when you self-publish you’re looked at less seriously by critics and bookstores and that it’s possible to ruin your fledgling platform before you ever get to your big-daddy debut. Don’t quote me on this though, it was only one source.

  4. In my opinion, which arguably isn’t worth much as I’m pre-published, this all seems like much ado about nothing. I mean if you as the author write the very best work that you can, does the rest really matter? Pick a path and get it out before your readers, they’re the ones that count. The rest of this is all hogwash so far as I can see.

  5. A lot of great points here, but I feel the need to argue a couple things.

    First, if you hate Amazon and don’t want your product there…you’re going to have trouble no matter what.

    Second, and this is bigger, I don’t think there are a lot of publishers who would accept an author as JUST an author. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’ve looked in the wrong places, I’m not traditionally published so I can’t say for sure. But I do know a BIG message from traditional publishing and agents in particular have been that an author will be expected to do a lot of the legwork in building a career. Editing, covers, formatting, that’s easy and they’ll take care of that. But the growing of a brand, the marketing, the platform building, that burden is always with the author, no matter what path they choose. You yourself are heavily involved in the industry, blogging, social media, but to many people that’s more overwhelming than the other business aspects of being their own publisher.

    I guess what I’m saying is, the world of being just an author went away a long time ago, no matter which way you go.

    • This is exactly right. A lot of things about publishing you can outsource (to freelancers or a publisher), but socializing, networking, and putting yourself out there will always be up to you. For better or worse, social networks happened, and now you have to keep a presence out there or risk being buried by the new stuff constantly popping up.

      I do wonder if trad-publishing superstars have got “ghost-twitters” and “ghost-bloggers” though.

    • Some things:

      An author should never, in my opinion, attempt to be a brand or put forth a brand.

      That said, you’re right in that a publisher likes an author who has some kind of social media presence — or an in-built audience — but I think increasingly that’s becoming less of a necessity, as I’m seeing books do well by new authors who have almost zero presence at the start of things in terms of social media.

      And a publisher — a good publisher — will handle marketing your book. The marketing an author does is of questionable efficacy unless they put some real money and effort behind it.

      As far as Amazon goes — yeah, Amazon is a key part of the ecosystem for all authors. But as the latest Author Earnings report suggests, it is the *only* real ecosystem for self-published authors. Those published by large(r) publishers will find sales elsewhere, too.

      — c.

      • Amazon is the major ecosystem for self-publishers, but it isn’t the only one. And it will be the major ecosystem for self-publishers exactly as long as it is the best ecosystem for them to thrive in. When they stop doing that, the self-publishers will move along. There are umpteen historical examples of this in publishing (and most other industries.) When the chains came along, it was bad because publishers were at the mercy of a few big companies with outsized market impact. When the big-box chains came along, it was bad because publishers were at the mercy of even fewer big companies with even more outsized market impact. When Amazon came along… well, I repeat myself.

        Yet, somehow, more people are making a living writing books than ever before in human history. More people are reading more books for a smaller fraction of their income than ever before in human history. And the big publishers do nothing to try to develop markets outside Amazon. Or at least nothing that indicates they have any real intent to do so *cough*Bookish*cough.*. I’ll start believing it’s a crisis when a) it starts looking like a crisis and/or b) the people who keep saying it’s a crisis start acting like it’s a crisis. In the meantime, I will be gleefully spending my smutbux as they come in from Amazon, Amazon Europe, Smashwords, Kobo, Google Play, Barnes and Noble, DriveThru Fiction, and wherever else I can peddle my filth.

        • If you’re a self-published author not on Amazon — well, good luck.

          And I don’t know exactly how the Big Five publishers are supposed to develop markets outside Amazon? Should they be opening their own bookstores or something? What does that even mean?

          — c.

          • I know, personally, two authors who self-publish and who make the lion’s share of their money from Other Than Amazon. (“OTA” for short. 🙂 ) One of them makes around six figures a year from OTA sources. Again, MOST of the people making any money from self-publishing make it from Amazon. No argument. But it can be done and more importantly, if it needs to it will be done otherwise. (My own ratio last year was almost exactly 75% Amazon/25% OTA.)

            As to your second question, yes, that’s exactly what it means. They tried. They failed. Laughably. It was obvious they had no interest in succeeding. That or their competence is even lower than it would appear, but I suspect the project was mostly sabotaged by higher-ups who hate and fear the whole ebook thing. At least if Amazon sells the ebooks, they don’t have to get their hands dirty with them.

            I use “tried” and “failed” as if to indicate that it was just the one time but while I am mainly thinking of Bookish, the trying and failing is in fact an established and ongoing pattern. E.G. the fact that it became eminently clear in the recent unpleasantness centered on that it is eminently un-clear what even is to the average reader of Tor books. Nor does Tor seem interested in correcting the misunderstanding: instead they rather petulantly dismissed anyone who couldn’t ascertain, by magic I can only assume, that isn’t the website of Tor Books as too stupid to be able to read a book in the first place and therefore not worth bothering with. (No. Literally. employees said that on more than one occasion and in so many words. To customers.)

            That pattern of behavior is endemic to almost all pubishers’ approaches to using the Web, in my experience. If anybody is doing a bang-up job of it, I would appreciate being directed thereto. The publishers are doing nothing to try to diminish Amazon’s market power or foster competition with Amazon: therefore, I don’t believe they really think Amazon’s market power is a threat.

            Ironically, probably the best argument that the publishers do take Amazon’s market power seriously and consider it a threat is their conspiracy to illegally fix prices with Amazon’s competitors. I guess if we count that, then we do have a pretty compelling argument that they think it’s a crisis. But it seems like a stretch to assume this was a desperate attempt to save publishing rather than just a regular old anti-competition conspiracy to make money at the expense of competitors and the public. Never attribute to malice that which stupidity will suffice to explain, the old saying tells us, but never attribute to stupidity that which greed will suffice likewise, says I.

      • A brand is simply a way that people identify you and your work. No you shouldn’t “make up a brand” to try and portray something you’re not..but everyone is “branded” by our interactions. Do you really think you don’t have a brand Chuck? Because you are actually a great example of an author with a well defined brand 😉

        • But I didn’t create it. And authors are consistently told to create it and then describe it. I have a voice. I have a style. I do not have a brand. A brand is what you put on cows to make sure they don’t leave the herd. Stephen King has no brand — he has his voice. And this (in part) allows him to write, essentially, whatever the fuck he wants. Other very successful writers have not been so lucky because, drum roll please, they got branded and had to stay in their fence. Robert McCammon’s struggle with his publishers and the resultant depression is a pretty notable example.

          Branding is poisonous. We are not corporate entities with a few checkboxed adjective to describe who we are and what we write.

          — c.

  6. Without getting into all the details, I did everything short of sweating blood to get my novel traditionally published. And it didn’t happen. When I realized that it wasn’t going to happen, I had a choice. I could self-publish, or I could let this novel sit in a folder on my hard drive. (I’d done that twice already.)

    I chose to self-publish–but only after my other choices were foreclosed.

    And once I made that choice, I did as much as I could, within the constraints of my budget, to do a good job to turn out a quality product–despite not having any experience as a publisher, at all.

    Having said that, would my novel be better if I had gotten it published traditionally? You’d think so. Would I have made more money? Probably. Would it have sold more copies? I don’t know.

    I did the best I could with the resources I had and the writing ability I have. If anyone wants to criticize that, there are lots of platforms available for them to do that.

  7. At my time of life, being 60-plus, I did not have the time, I judged, to find an agent and hope that agent found a publisher. So I became a publisher, BaldyBooks, with my own ISBNs, standing with Lightning Source, and total control.l I have a newspaper background, of 14 years as a copy editor, so doing the fourteen or so core tasks necessary for editing, writing, and publishing a book were well within my skill set. The one skill I lack is marketing. I have published three novels, in three years, and I am proud of my achievement. My books have found little favor with readers (my mom is dead, and I don’t exploit my friends, and my books are dense and demand a high level of readerly commitment), but I am continuing on. The book that I write that I will be not only proud of but also vocal about is a few years away. Self-publishing broke the silence for me, and gave me hope after decades of wishing. I agree with the comment above that it is all about freedom. This is my way.

  8. To all of the questions in your first paragraph, the answer is Yes! And later, well, who doesn’t want to attend boozy parties? But actually, from my perspective, the whole Hugh Howie, Author Earnings things seems kind of existential, no one really knows what it means because so much is left out.

    The rest of your post resonates. If it feels like the right thing for you, go ahead and do it. Shrugs. I’ve chosen the author/publisher gig. I even established my own publishing house, 2nd Wind Press. I’m new so I’m probably making HUGE mistakes. I’ve seen your previous posts on that. Again, shrugs. I’m making books the best I can. I’m learning by huge leaps and bounds. I don’t know how to do any more than that.

    In the mean time, I submit to ezines, anthologies, and other more established venues. Yep, working on that whole hybrid author thing. I’m taking classes. I Again, learning, learning and doing the best I can.

    Many thanks for your posts. You and several other authors are on my absolute read list. This is just one more venue that teaches me the ropes. Many, Many thanks for sharing.

  9. usual, Chuck, you’ve shown the reality of this mad publishing world… NEITHER self-publishing nor traditional is BAD in itself… you make choices as a writer and then back your choices… simple… and you’re not precluded from doing some of each route … have a great week, that man 🙂

  10. Good advice – as usual. Re risk-taking; I’ve done exactly what you’ve suggested. Tested the water with a collection of short stories for kids (picked up the proof yesterday – ridiculously excited to hold a copy of MY book in my hand!). Depending on how it’s received and, more importantly, how I manage the marketing side of things, I may or may not self-pub my longer works…

  11. Great post. It all comes down to PROTECT YOUR WORK. Who should care more about the work you put out than YOU!

    It’s your career.

  12. Thank you for the simple idea that “at this exact moment in time authors have plenty of good reasons to choose either path,” which too many people forget (ignore?) as they try to convince everyone that their way is the only way. Personally, I think one of the best changes to come out of the whole “publishing wars” thing is the possibility of being a hybrid author. Use everything at your disposal to get your work out there, and understand that other writers are trying to do the very same thing, regardless of the path they choose.

  13. I like self-publishing – I enjoy formatting and making covers, and have no problems proofreading my own writing. I’m not so keen on marketing, but then publishers don’t do much in this area unless you’re one of their big hitters.

    I do think it’s misleading to talk as if writers have a choice, trad or indie. Most of us don’t – the choice is between self-publishing or never being published at all. Plus, the contracts are so one-sided and grabby these days, I doubt I could bring myself to sign one.

    • It’s not misleading anymore than if I said, “You can try to get a job at that advertising agency, or you can start your own advertising agency.” The choice isn’t a false one. Over 300,000 books are published *traditionally* every year. If you’re a good writer, you actually have a real shot. (And if you’re not a good writer… well, you have to ask yourself if self-publishing is actually an option at all.)

      And “the contracts” being grabby — some are, some aren’t. I’ve seen both.

      Further, self-publishing as a choice — the door is open, but it’s still no guarantee of success. No guarantee of readership. Or good reviews. Or continued sales. Or earning back an investment.

      Again, the point beyond all of that is that you LIKE self-publishing. The option suits you. And that’s a good thing. You found a niche, you’re happy with it, and that’s what matters. It fits some authors. Doesn’t fit others.

      — c.

      • While you are one smart cookie and I’m sure you didn’t mean to be misleading, and that you know better, she kinda has a point. Most of your “would you rathers…” all seem to assume that of course you will get published if you try. *cue Horatio Alger music*

        As has been shown by so many anecdotal stories that it approaches actual data, lots of good books with tremendous demand simply cannot, for whatever reason, be published traditionally by authors. I use “cannot” deliberately. When publishers won’t, authors can’t. One commenter on thread about Maass’ post related a story about being on a panel with him: he declaimed that agents and publishers know what the market wants, and she responded by pointing out he’d told her, to her face in so many words, that nobody wanted suspense romance. Yet, somehow, she’d sold a hundred and fifty thousand suspense romances in a year after he’d assured her there was no market for them.

        That’s hundreds of thousands of dollars she would never have seen, hundreds of thousands of happy reader experiences that never would have happened, had she listened to traditional publishing. Because she couldn’t traditionally publish. Traditional publishing didn’t believe the market existed. So I think that your “would you rathers…” really need a “Would you rather make sure your book makes it to market, or are you willing to gamble that it may never see the light of day at all?”

        • I wasn’t misleading.

          Self-publishers parrot this line nigh-constantly — about how self-publishing is the real choice, and traditional-publishing isn’t a choice at all. But it misses the fact that “publishing” is really only part of the point, and “selling/making money” is actually the end result of publishing. And self-publishing is NO MORE GUARANTEE of doing those things either. You can publish your own work and actually *lose money* on it.

          So, in terms of the goal — which is finding readers, which is having success, which is putting out the best you can to the avenue you choose — then both are equal and interesting choices for the author that chooses them.

          Both paths — BOTH, not one — are a gamble. I’m tired of this SELF-PUBLISHING IS A GOLDEN GUARANTEE and TRADITIONAL IS A SHIT-FEST OF CORRUPTION AND STUPIDITY dichotomy. Both are a path to walk, sensible to the authors that walk them, and that makes each a choice.

          This argument needs a lot less us-versus-them (even still!) and a lot more middle-path-every-choice-is-valid.

          — c.

          • Yes. Yes yes yes.

            It’s not that self-publishing is bad, but it strikes me that many self-publishers are so invested in proving how what they did is so legit that they feel they have to shred the traditional industry in the process. And that’s foolish.

          • With all due respect, if you’re not factoring in the very large chance that your traditional-publishing-submitted book will never see a bookshelf, you’re not making an honest assessment of the paths. Again with all due respect and agreeing with the vast majority of your original post above, I still think that you are minimizing this risk to the point of dismissing it.

          • A self-published book will almost surely never see the bookshelf, either.

            Over 300,000 traditionally-published books are released a year.

            My points still stands.

            These are valid choices.

            I have no interest in debating that ad nauseum.


            — c.

  14. Dunno if you read the little questionnaire on the Author Earnings site, but I like where they are going with it. Ideally I won’t have to author-publish, if the Publishers become reasonable and offer contracts with limits and better payouts. I’m holding my breath for the rest of this year, then I’ll be hopefully be splashing around in the murky waters with a couple of books.

  15. This may be the most helpful post I’ve read about this. I’ve gone back and forth because I’m not sure if I can handle the stress of having to write AND publish. I also have seen so many bad quality self published works–not at ALL to say that there aren’t plenty out there of amazing quality–that I think I would rather not publish at all than publish some of the detritus I’ve seen.

    Thanks for boiling it down to this, Chuck, really a helpful way of looking at things.

    • That should be a t-shirt.

      I continue to get people telling me I should’ve self-published BLACKBIRDS.

      Which is like telling me I should’ve married a different woman. I’m happy with how that book was published! I’m happy with where it went and where it’s still going. Regret is meaningless here.

      — c.

  16. I like being an author-publisher. But then I’ve been freelance and run my own business as well. It’s hard doing all the things that need to be done, but the marketing is imho the worst bit. It’s always been my worst card. Not that I don’t do it, and follow the principles and put the energy into it…

  17. I work third shift, so forgive this late night (early morning) exercise in trying to have a point if I end up failing spectacularly.

    If I could have the ultimate dream, I would go traditional publishing. So much that you don’t have to worry about, at least on the marketing/numbers end. You just focus on your creative output.

    That said, the competition is mind-numbing. I was in a touring punk rock outfit for 8 years after high school, and while we developed a following that I’m proud of, there were always other bands out there that knew more people who could put more of those people’s asses in the seats. Because that’s what the writing game is all about in the traditional publishing world: how many asses you can bring in to buy those tickets and fill those seats. And just like bands, you can’t throw handful of feathers in the air without gently caressing the cheeks about at east fifty writers. Which means that I know a lot of talented authors, authors who might be penning my favorite book as we speak, will never have their work picked up and distributed traditionally due to that numbers game alone.

    The immediacy of self-publishing is pretty alluring. With self-publishing, you finish your masterpiece, get it edited and slap some sweet-ass art on it and Bam!, there it is on Amazon for NOBODY to buy. Because it’s all on you to make it pay off. Which can be a sucky ass task if you’re the non-networking, word hermit-type.

    Sometimes for the self-published author, the act of creating a full length work is reward enough, and the current ability for authors to put that creation out there, if for nothing more than posterity, is nothing short of amazing.

    That said, the inequity of quality in self-publishing vs. traditional is substantial. A lot of self-published authors don’t feel the need to be bothered with hiring a professional editor, or paying an artist to design a truly evocative and memorable cover.

    I think you summed it up. You are far more likely to succeed at this–whether you pursue a traditional book deal, or plan to go DIY–if you care enough to make sure it’s done right.

  18. “Do you want the guarantee of an advance, or the risk of acting as your own publisher?”

    I actually laughed out loud when I got to this line. The traditionally published crowd keep comparing the apples of the 1% who make it past the gatekeepers to oranges of the 99% who’ve decided to go around them–as if there was no risk to going the traditional route. The plain truth for any new writer is that you are no more likely to see big sales through one form of publication than the other, but you are more likely to see at least *some* success by doing it yourself and finding your own audience by relying on others..

    • That was the same line that tripped me up. You mean there’s a guarantee of an advance? That’s bigger news than my Amazon data! Where do authors line up?

      The stat that 300,000 books are traditionally published, therefore anyone with a smidgen of talent can get a publisher to pay for their work, needs some serious looking-at. How many of those books are from established authors? Heck, how many are from James Patterson? And how many are from Big 5 publishers who will pay more than $500 as an advance? How many are textbooks or children’s picture books? How many are re-issues of older works? That’s not 300,000 debut authors getting a chance. There is real talent out there being ignored. And there are a lot of writers who want to create their art and put it on the market, rather than suffer the query-go-round.

      Yes, both paths are equally viable. I walk both and enjoy both. But one side needs a bit of cheerleading, because it has suffered from awful stigmas for far too long. There are brilliant stories being kept off the market because of fear and because of the limitations of traditional publishing (both in how many books they can churn out a year and in their fear of breaking out of a limited number of genres). I celebrate more books hitting the market. I don’t see them as competition. I see them as comrades.

      • If you actually think I’m suggesting that anybody who attempts to traditionally publish will do so and earn an advance, you’re either misreading me (again) or willfully building strawmen.

        No, dude, not everyone who submits to the traditional system will be published. Nor will everyone who tries self-publishing find success.

        As for cheerleading —

        Self-publishing is now grown-up and professional enough an environment that it can put aside all the zealous, cultish, defensive bullshit cheerleading — because the cheerleading? Smacks of defensiveness. Reeks of a fear of persecution. The point of this post is that all the stats and all the data don’t actually change the fact that some authors are going to be really good at and interested in self-publishing, and some are not. And that the authors choosing either path are doing so for reasons that should be allowed and accepted without judgment on either side of the fence. Because here’s a funny thing about all that self-publishing “cheerleading” that goes on? It often comes right before or right after shouting down someone who traditionally publishes. And I don’t mean as regards the system — hey, fine, the system of traditional publishing deserves its criticism, as does nearly any business and culture on earth. I mean the authors themselves. All the snippy little, “Well, you’re leaving money on the table,” or “You really should’ve self-published.”

        In self-publishing, the persecuted have often become the persecutors.

        That is not a step in the right direction.

        — c.

      • “Cheerleading” is counterproductive.

        When you’re being asked to commit your time and money to something, and instead of straight talk you’re met with cheerleading, handwaving and ‘oh don’t be such a Debbie Downer’ – does that convince you to sign right the heck up? Me neither.

        There’s nothing wrong with being enthusiastic about self-publishing and responding to bad arguments made against it. But when you instead lean on “cheerleading” and dubious “proof”….then a lot of people are going to reject what you’re selling entirely, because they don’t trust what you’re saying.

  19. To: Mr. Wendig
    From: The Internets
    Sir, how dare you cut to the chase and reveal the simple answer hiding behind the brouhaha. We were having a perfectly good circular argument that generated enough heat to power me (the Internets) for many weeks, but here you go simplifying matters. We simply can’t have this. From now on, we request that you only add to increasingly confusing arguments and not try to clarify them.
    Yours (in)sincerely,
    The Tubes

  20. “I don’t want to” should be, ever and always, a complete and total response to that question absent the operation of law. I mean, obviously if we extend it to “pay your taxes” or “refrain from large-scale murder-parades,” we have an issue. Otherwise, absofreakinglutely.

    I am a pretty big self-publishing advocate, and I really, really try to stop the conversation right there on an individual level. If I don’t, I am perfectly okay with being punched for it. (Not in the face. No brass knuckles. Ninjas and Chuck Norris specifically excluded.)

  21. Hey Chuck,

    Chef’s become restaurant owner/operators, hairstylists become salon owners, clothing designers open their own boutiques and artists open their own collectives. As a writer, we cannot expect to write and not also be entrepreneurs. We all have to be professional, whether we are agented or not, or whether we have a contract with a publisher or choose to self publish. It’s part of our jobs as writers.

    • Yes, but you do see the difference between:

      a) I compose my own material and hire people to perform the additional tasks needed to get that material up to snuff, then manage the publication and marketing of said material


      b) I compose my own material and enter it into an ecosystem whereby others handle these things for me.


      Not every hairstylist wants to become a salon owner.

      Not every author wants to become a publisher.

      — c.

  22. Yes, I see you’re point, but as marketing budgets get slashed, the services get downloaded to the authors. A publisher threw a rather modest book release party/book signing and some nifty book marks for a friend of mine who was recently published, but everything after that was up to her.

    Back to your analogy of the hairstylists – while not every stylist wants to open their own salon, every stylist has to rent a chair, provide their own scissors, combs, etc. and be professional.

    Unless we are employed by a company, we are all freelance contractors; we don’t get benefits or have taxes taken off of our paychecks. Therefore, we are our own business, enterprise, sole-proprietor or whatever you want to call it.

    Since it’s Valentine’s Day, this all comes from a place of love. 🙂

  23. There’s an element here that I think has been overlooked. We are looking at two different business models here, and measuring one in terms of the other makes one look overly risky, while the other looks overly exploitative. This is not the fault of (99.9% of) the people. It’s the fault of the business models being so different. The terms of trad-publishing are downright stingy to the authors when compared to the terms of self-publishing, *as measured by self-pub’s terms* (and the opinions of quite a few IP lawyers). The risks of self-publishing are scary compared to the security offered by trad-publishing *as measured by trad-publishing’s risk assessment* (and the stats for small business start-ups).

    There’s also an emotional element involved–let’s not kid ourselves–it was one way or the highway for so long that a little schadenfreude is to be expected on the one end, and a lot of resistance on the other. Both options will have to step up their games to continue to thrive. Successful self-pubs will have to improve their business model to make their product more competitive, and trad-publishing will have to improve its terms to content providers to make the partnership more attractive and balanced.

  24. It’s interesting because for some it is an easy question – “No I don’t want to be a publisher – so go through Door “A” and you are done. But take someone like myself. My answer to the question is…Yes, No, Sometimes.

    When my publisher does things the way I like, then the answer is yes, but when we disagree on strategy, then it can be very frustrating because I’m powerless to do anything.

    When I self-publish I know it will be done “right.” When I traditionally publish I “hope it will be done right.”

    When I self-publish it is much less stressful – I am the master of my domain and the buck stops with me. I get to choose who I hire and have control over the final product.

    When I traditionally publish I have a team that I don’t have to direct that is working on my behalf.

    When I get my royalty statements and calculate how much much goes to what parties – I do feel cheated. But I also take responsibility for the fact that I knew what I was doing when I signed – and I’m getting what I agreed to.

    While not true for everyone, it is true for me that traditional publishing makes it harder to make ends meet. I have to write faster and managing cash flow can be challenging as paychecks come so infrequently (once every six months or spread out as advances are paid in thirds). With self-publishing I’m paid each month and if money is tight I can get something out and earning much faster.

    If I was a bit “bigger” such that traditional publishing provided me a constant income stream that paid all the bills and put stuff away for retirement…then sure, I’d want to go all traditional…as it is less that I have to do. But if going traditional means I have to have a day job to make ends meet…No I’d rather use some of my time to do the “publisher stuff” and then get income two streams of income – that which I get as the author…and that which the publisher keeps.

    • Well, and I think the post covers that to some degree — and my answer is also Yes, No, Sometimes, too.

      I find self-publishing *more* stressful than traditional in the long-term, though. But again, that’s how experience varies in this thing — I make ends meet far more easily with traditional, for instance — and that’s why I think it’s important for me that we respect everybody’s choices and step back the rhetoric a little bit. Neither path is a guarantee, and different authors are differently suited toward a variety of approaches in terms of writing, storytelling, and publishing.

      — c.

      • There is no question that is very much a YMMV business. And what one person desires (control) another person might hate (I’d rather have others do it for me). While we are speaking of YMMV…both of us have been fortunate to have publishers that we are happy with which equals they did a good job. But that is not always the case…and to be honest I don’t know in what camp the majority lives.

        Part of my stress level is that if I one day get a publisher that doesn’t do a good job then I have the stress of a bad product with my name on it – but not because of any fault of my own. With self-publishing, I don’t have this concern because I control the quality and if it fails at least it won’t be because of something that someone else did, or didn’t do.

  25. From Chuck, this: “Both are a path to walk, sensible to the authors that walk them, and that makes each a choice.” Beautifully put and undeniably true. If you approach the current publishing scene objectively and cut away the noise, this is what you’ll find. It will always just be this.

    And from Hugh: “Yes, both paths are equally viable. I walk both and enjoy both. But one side needs a bit of cheerleading, because it has suffered from awful stigmas for far too long.” I agree with this and see nothing wrong with championing something if you feel passionate about it, and in this case Hugh is correct. Self-publishing is not yet matured and still suffers from shitty stigmas. The only difference now is less people are bothered by those stigmas. So championing is good as long as you keep it real and honest, and in this case, I’m yet to see any deceitfulness on Hugh’s part.

  26. […] from World Con” post.  That chip is evident in his sniping at Chuck Wendig on another post: “But one side needs a bit of cheerleading, because it has suffered from awful stigmas for far … That chip is evident here (self-loathing?! The self-published authors I know are very happy with […]

  27. I apologize in advance if this question is inappropriate. I want to self publish to include e-publish, however, my book contains photographs. In doing research, there doesnt seem to be a viable path to e-publish photos along with the stories written.
    Am i correct in my findings? Anyone know of a quality way to e-publish photos?

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