Carrying on the electronic self-publishing theme of my posts tonight, Michael Stackpole (whose self-publishing efforts we’ve covered before) has a blog post talking about the reasons some authors fear self-e-publishing.

He discusses the perceived illegitimacy of self-published books (a holdover from the pre-Internet days when self-publishing meant “vanity press”), pointing out that the traditional publishers don’t exactly have clean hands in that regard anymore either.

Traditional publishing surrendered it’s claim to being gatekeepers every time they let a crap novel get printed. Am I to believe that Snooki is ever going to be short-listed for a National Book Award? Traditional publishing is in this for the money, just like everyone else.

He also dismisses the idea that “there’s no money to be made in selling e-books”. He notes that any author with an unreleased backlist isn’t making any money from it right now—even if he only sold a handful of copies, that would still be more money than he’s making now. And his own e-sales have increased by 336% since only last December.

But what Stackpole sees as the biggest reason for some authors’ reluctance is that self-publishing would make them responsible for their own careers. When they publish traditionally, they get to complain that their lack of success is their publishers’ faults. But if they self-publish…

Basically, you have to do all the things you complained that the publishers never did for you. And while there may be a science to marketing, it ain’t rocket science. It continually boggles my mind that writers who can research technology or history and imagine whole worlds somehow believe they can’t, with the same sort of study, learn how to do all this marketing stuff. That proposition is unbelievable; and when folks pretend they don’t know anyone who would help them with all this, well, then it all gets ridiculous.

It’s an interesting proposition, and while I’m sure it doesn’t hold true for everybody who is reluctant to dip their toe in, I get the feeling there’s more than a little truth to it in general.

On the other hand, Amanda Hocking’s decided to move into traditional publishing because she wanted to be able to spend more time writing and less time running her own business. As the first article I mentioned tonight pointed out, self-publishing is a lot of work. It’s not a magic wand to conjure cash out of thin air. And not everybody is going to feel up to putting that kind of work into it. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re scared to.


  1. Your last point matches my feelings, too. It seems I’m not up to the job of putting in the kind of work that would make me a profitable author… the effort is just costing me money, not making anything. It’s a hobby I’m going to have to give up, in favor of other, more constructive things like health and home improvement. Sad, but true.

  2. @ SL Jordan: Is your comment ironic? After all, building ships in bottles, making model airplanes, flying kites, and almost all hobbies ‘just costs money’ and are ‘not making anything.’

    If you like writing, write; give it as much time as you want and can afford. Offer it for free or for pay as you wish. If it costs too much money, look into ways to spend less on this hobby-mistress. Shut down if it costs too much, but don’t shut down because it isn’t making money. That kind of thinking is the modern disease that capitalism has infected us all.

  3. There’s sometimes a big difference between a book that does its job (meeting the needs of its intended readers well) and a book that meets the standards for good literature. Disdain for the badly written bestseller is a staple of the publishing and intellectual communities, but it may reflect a failure to consider the reader and his or her wishes and needs.

    The gatekeeper function of publishers includes making sure that the writing quality is at least GOOD ENOUGH to deliver the benefits that the readers are looking for. Some types of books work best when written one way rather than another. Knowing the difference between great literature and great story-telling, or great how-to, or . . . is part of the job of the publisher and of the editors.

    Reviewers and critics who do their job well, recognize which audience is the right audience, and measure a book by the standards of that audience, rather than the critic’s own, IMNHO.

  4. “On the other hand, Amanda Hocking’s decided to move into traditional publishing because she wanted to be able to spend more time writing and less time running her own business.”

    That makes no sense to me because she was successful enough to hire people to do those jobs for her. She could have even just hired an independent editor that would sub-contract the other jobs so that she only had to work with one person.

    I can understand that it’s a lot of work if you holding down a full-time job and writing in your spare time though. But that’s the price you pay if you want to make it in the writing business.

  5. @common sense
    The business of being a successful author is tough enough. The business of being a successful publisher (no matter who wrote the books you publish) is also extremely tough.

    But they’re NOT the SAME business.

    On those occasions when I do accept a self-publishing author as a client, one of the things I tell them to do is to have their company pay their author-self a royalty. One of the reasons is that they can then understand how much of their profits come from which part of their efforts, and use that information to make appropriate decisions.

    Some authors do better when self-published. Some emphatically do not. Some make the decision on a book by book basis.

    Some even stop writing altogether and switch to publishing others, but generally because it’s more fun rather than more profitable. Print publishing is a very, very hard way to make money. E-publishing is lower risk, but I’d be surprised if it doesn’t soon become even harder to make money at it than it ever was to make money with printed books.

    Oh, and one more thing — I end all the classes I give with this warning: Publishing is addictive. Consult your psychiatrist and accountant before you start!

  6. This all seems like a pointless distinction. Authors are not a homogenous group. Some are introverted. Some are extrovert. Some are loners and some gregarious. Some are highly educated and some are just well read. Some have a wide range of skills and the ambition to tackle tasks other than writing. Some have no other skill and no ambition to engage any other skill.

    So the choices of writers are inevitably going to be as diverse as their natures. Some will abhor self publishing for the above reasons. Some will engage it with relish. It seems obvious to me that no single publishing model will suit every author.

    What worries me is that I hope more authors these days are putting themselves in the position to make good choices before they stupidly lock themselves into inappropriate contracts by agents and publishers who, naturally, have no interest in what is best for the author themselves. Today’s author needs to take time to assess the options and implications of those options before signing anything.

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