May 19, 2014

Turf Wars: Self vs. Traditional Publishing

We all like to believe that writers, on the whole, are a supportive, welcoming, and friendly community, and in many ways, that is true. Unfortunately, however, the transformation of the publishing industry has at once multiplied those able to claim the once elusive title of "author" and (quite illogically) divided our community into rather combative groups.  Subtle as we like to believe it is, this rift between indie and traditionally published authors is actually quite pronounced and rather destructive.

Perhaps because the decision to self-publish is still finding its footing, fighting for legitimacy, self-published authors quite vehemently denounce the traditional publishing model. Some claim that traditional publishing takes advantage of writers, who are paid a fairly small percentage from the sale of a given copy of a book, and then generally must share that small percentage with their agent.  Others claim that breaking into the traditional publishing model with its "arbitrary" judgment on the quality of a given book is nearly impossible — one recent post I came across implied the chances of that happening for a writer are about equal to winning the lottery.  

While there is some truth to the fact that we as writers frequently cannot see or understand why a given project, despite its many merits, may be passed over, and writers need significant persistence to make it within the traditional paradigm, it is far from impossible, as evidenced by the steady flow of writers signing with both agents and publishers.

On the other side, of course, we have those traditionally published authors — the ones who put in the work of crafting a query, and courting agents, and revising their work according to industry professionals' feedback, before finally landing their agent or publishing deal.  Many of these claim that independent or self publishing is no different from vanity publishing of the past, and that the quality of self-published works is deplorable. These people believe self publishing is the final resort for writers who cannot find an agent or publisher. 

There is truth here as well, since many people continue to approach self publishing as a hobby, or as a means of avoiding the rigorous weeding out and editing processes of traditional publishing.  Then again, there is a rising tide of authors approaching self publishing professionally, workshopping their manuscripts and then hiring editors, cover designers, and publicists for a product that rivals those put out by traditional presses. These authors choose to have complete creative control, and assume all of the risk associated with their publishing.

The venomous approach of those (possibly vocal few) denouncing the approach of the other group leads only to pointless animosity.  In my opinion, the smartest authors are those who embrace the best of both worlds, dubbed "hybrid" authors.  These writers have accepted that some projects benefit from the traditional publishing model, the support of a publishing house and all it has to offer, while others benefit from the faster timeline and creative control of self publishing.  When those pieces which are self published by these authors maintain the quality of their traditionally published works, everybody wins. 

The author can publish as frequently as they can write (and edit and revise). The readers have access to more quality works by authors they like, and then in turn buy, usually indiscriminately, other books published within either paradigm — leading to more sales all around.  Meanwhile, for those still skeptical of self-publishing, or perhaps put off by a series of bad experiences with those writers who do not take their craft and self publication seriously, these hybrid authors have the stamp of legitimacy from their traditional publications, allowing them to be separated from the mass of the self-published works that lack quality control.

These hybrid authors truly recognize the benefits and pursue the best of both worlds. They aren't afraid to put in the effort of either publishing and promoting their own work or tirelessly submitting it to agents / publishers in order to make the right match.  When done correctly, neither is the "easy" path, and both can lead to success in the literary world.  Hybrid authors take advantage of both opportunities, intelligently ignoring the smear campaigns of either group toward the other.

Really, we should all follow their example, keeping our minds and options open for the right path for any given project, rather than automatically ignoring half of the possibilities, brainwashed by twisted propaganda.  After all, we want the same thing — quality literature in the hands of appreciative readers.

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