Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Decision not to Traditionally Publish

I’m a member of a number of on-line groups, several of which discuss self-publishing to exhaustion. Inevitably, such discussion leads to a comparison of self-publishing with traditional publishing and the advantages of one over the other. I am often amazed at the number of self-published authors who “decide” to self-publish vice taking the traditional route.

Before I go any further, I need to point out that I am a fiction writer, and it is widely accepted that an author has more difficulty marketing and selling a self-published work of fiction than non-fiction (self-published how-to/self-help books sell especially well). This post applies to works of fiction.

I tried to break into traditional publishing for seven years. I am now a true self-publisher, meaning, I own my books’ ISBNs.

As a self-publisher, I am responsible for each phase of the publishing process. This paradigm differs from a “so-dubbed” vanity press, where, for a price, the publisher-for-hire handles all facets of the process, leaving the author to “proof and pay.” Those publishers provide the ISBNs. I have nothing against vanity publishers, nor traditional publishers for that matter. I only draw the distinction for the purpose of my post.

I am responsible for editing/copyediting, typesetting, cover design, printing, marketing, and distribution of my books. Printing/book manufacturing and copyediting I farm out, but the other tasks--typesetting, cover design, and marketing/distribution I do myself. And despite the fact that I pay an editor to edit my book, I do a lot of self-editing—reading and re-reading the manuscript over and over, correcting, changing, and tweaking until I’m sick of it—an evolution that in time makes me immune to my own errors. Those I repeatedly read through. This is why a self-published author, in my opinion, needs another competent set of eyes to look at her baby.

In fact, the main problem that I see (and this is just my opinion) with self-published fiction is that all too often we independents put our books in print before they’re ready. But I digress.

For my first three books, I handled distribution myself. That’s a euphemism meaning there was no distribution. I chose Lightning Source (LSI), a print-on-demand printer, owned by Ingram, as the printer for my fourth book. Ingram will now serve as a primary distributor for that book nationwide. That does not mean it will be sitting on bookstore shelves from sea to shining sea. That merely means if an individual wants one, theoretically, he can walk into his favorite bookstore anywhere and order one. LSI will, with little delay, print the book up and send it to the store. This is lightyears better than what I had before.

I didn’t take on publishing responsibilities lightly; I had some inkling of what was in store for me, when, after those seven years, I forsook efforts to find either an agent or a publisher. And I’m here to tell you that the only choice I had was to either take matters into my own hands or run the risk of passing to glory before finding a publisher willing to take my work.

Given my experience, I wonder how long the majority of fiction authors who “decided” not to traditionally publish actually sought a traditional publisher. Truth is, like me, few self-publishers have such an option. With the traditional publisher, power is in his hands, not the author’s. I would venture that in very few cases does a fiction author “decide” to self-publish over a valid offer to traditionally publish. Odds are a better that he or she decides to self-publish/choose a vanity publisher vice “attempt” to find an agent or a publisher—and perhaps that’s what the individual really means when she says she “made the decision not to traditionally publish,” and I’m just splitting hairs. In truth, given the ever-growing ease of self-publishing—especially epublishing—maybe that is what those folks are actually refering to after all.

I can buy that, but to imply that one is self-publishing vice traditionally publishing as if it’s a matter of flipping a coin is either delusional or disingenuous. Simply put, except in very rare cases, there is only one decision made and that is the decision to “self-publish.” I say don’t even address the spectre of “traditional publishing,” especially if one “decides” to forgo the submission-rejection process completely.

Thanks for reading,


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