Linda Seed, author: Self-Publishing? Oh, the Horror!

Self-Publishing? Oh, the Horror!

My publishing house

While perusing Facebook, I recently came across a blog by Ros Barber titled “For me, traditional publishing means poverty. But self-publish? No way.” In the blog, Barber goes into the various reasons she will continue with traditional publishing despite the fact that she usually earns nothing beyond the modest advances she receives for her books. I’m always interested in learning more about traditional publishing vs. self-publishing, so the blog caught my eye.

The more I read, the more I got my hackles up—so much so that I feel the need to knock down her points one by one.

First, Barber says: If you self-publish your book, you are not going to be writing for a living. You are going to be marketing for a living. Self-published authors should expect to spend only 10 percent of their time writing and 90 percent of their time marketing.

Well, she’s not wrong that there’s a lot of marketing involved in being a self-publisher. I know some successful self-published authors who would agree that marketing takes more of their time than writing. But here’s where she lost me: More and more, traditionally published authors complain that their publishers put less and less into marketing, expecting authors to do it all themselves. So it seems to me that authors have to expect to spend a lot of time marketing regardless of which publishing route they take. The idea that an author can simply sit around thinking deep thoughts and writing profundities is simply unrealistic, unless you’re already fabulously successful. Which you probably aren’t, unless you’ve spent a lot of time marketing.

Second, Barber bemoans the social media habits of self-published authors. It seems she’s tired of being bombarded with promotional messages all day long. Who isn’t? But, again, see point number one. Self-promotion isn’t the exclusive domain of self-published authors. If you’re an author, and you’ve got a book out there, you want people to read it. And you do what you can to make that happen. Sometimes via social media. And sometimes that annoys people. But traditionally published authors are just as guilty of this as anyone else.

Barber’s next point is that “gatekeepers are saving you from your own ego.” Her message here is that if you self-publish, you’re unlikely to know whether your book is truly ready for publication. This would be a good point, I suppose, if traditional publishers never put out loser books. (If I Did It: Confessions of the Killer by O.J. Simpson, anyone?) Also, Barber assumes that because some self-published authors might put out books that aren’t ready, it must mean that they all do. The logic of this escapes me.

Barber goes on to say how important it is for authors to serve an apprenticeship. This apprenticeship consists of writing books, having them rejected by publishers, then striving to write better books that will then be accepted. The result, she argues, is better work all around. I’d agree with this point wholeheartedly if the big publishing houses made their decisions based solely on quality. But they don’t. They make their decisions based on what they think will sell. A book might be rejected by an agent or publisher for reasons that defy logic. Your book might get black-holed because it’s bad, but it also might get tossed into the recycling bin (or the computer’s trash basket) because the publisher has never published one like it before. Or the publisher published one too much like it. Or because there’s not an obvious audience. Or because the obvious audience isn’t the right one. Or because the agent had gas that day. My point is that it’s so often a random crap shoot. Don’t believe me? Check out this list of top authors who were rejected by publishers.

Next up, Barber argues that self-published authors don’t win prestigious awards. I supposed that’s true. But I’d argue about the value of prestigious awards. If readers enjoy my book, that’s all the prestige I need.

Self-published authors have to hire their own editors and cover designers, while traditionally published authors get all of that taken care of for them, she goes on to say. True. But she fails to mention that traditionally published authors often are forced to accept editing decisions they disagree with, and they get no say in their cover design. If the cover produced by the publisher bears no resemblance to the author’s vision, the author just has to suck it up. As a self-published author, I’m in control of every aspect of production, including the cover. And the title—another thing traditionally published authors have no control over.

Her final argument is that self-publishing doesn't guarantee you a living as an author. Well, I can’t argue with that. But the best info I can find says that traditionally published authors earn a median income of less than $10,000 per year, and that’s not exactly a road paved in gold, either.

So, to summarize, Barber argues that self-published authors sometimes produce poor quality books, are on the hook for a lot of their own marketing, and even then don’t make much money. And I would argue that traditionally published authors sometimes produce poor quality books, are on the hook for a lot of their own marketing, and even then don’t make much money.

All things considered, I’ll take the 70 percent royalties and the total creative control.