I want to add something to the discussion which states that self-publishing is a business decision. April Hamilton ends her post Not Your Father’s Self-Publishing with:
And given that self-published authors have access to the same distribution channels, quality production methods, marketing and promotion methods, and audiences as their mainstream-published peers, it should be very clear by now that the choice of whether or not to self-publish is, to quote Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, a business decision. Period.
I would make the argument – as others have in the comments – that traditional distribution is superior to self-published distribution. Even if you’re on the shelves for two weeks, it’s better than nothing. And though the profits are better with self-publishing, it’s harder to sell books so it evens out.
But that’s not what I want to write about. For me, self-publishing is absolutely not a business decision. In fact, it’s a piss-poor business decision on my part. I know if I went the traditional route, I could possibly get a book deal with an advance. Better for my bank account. But I didn’t even try to go the agent route with my latest novel. I wanted to be free of that system.
I see posts like this one by Janet Reid and I get physically ill:
Just plain not good enough: 21 (a novel needs to be in the 99th percentile-these were closer to 90%–not bad, but not good enough)
Good premise, but the rest of the novel didn’t hold up: 11
Not compelling or vivid, or focused; no plot/tension: 10
Slow start or the pace was too slow: 9
I didn’t believe the narrative voice: 5
Structural problems with the novel: 8
Interesting premise, but not a fresh or new take on familiar plots/tropes: 7
etc. etc. Why do I trust the opinion of someone who I’ve never met to determine if my book is worth selling? Certainly, I can look at an agent’s list to see if he or she represents like-minded authors, but still, the odds that you will be able to fit into that agent’s very narrow criteria is very small. And then, once that’s over and the agent takes it on, you need to pass through the criteria of an entire editorial staff at a publishing house. This can take years. Years that can take other years off your life in frustration. I’m done with it.
I am at the point where I’d rather not deal with this aggravation any longer and just put out the book – even if it means selling fewer copies. So for me, self-publishing isn’t a business decision but an emotional decision. If I can publish and reach an audience on my own terms and then get a book deal from that, then great. I’ve created my own future. But I’m very glad to never have to go through this process again.
Finally, I think there’s too much of an impulse to emphasize success in publishing as the number of books sold. This isn’t just rationalization for a limited # of books sold, but an actual principle. I’ve written a couple of novels attacking the vapidity in Hollywood and some of the same impulses show themselves in publishing – i.e. if a book sells a lot, it’s a success. That’s a Hollywood mentality, in which movies are judged by their grosses. In this climate, Stephanie Meyer is a “better” writer than virtually everyone.
Publishing is about self-expression – throwing your words out to the world and seeing what happens. My first two books take aim at Hollywood and celebrity culture. My most recent novel takes aim at the corruption of religion and government. I like to think my books are anti-establishment. The way I’ve published the books follows that mold. That’s why self-publishing is so attractive to me – not because I can potentially make more money, but the way I’m releasing the books is a statement in itself.
Defining self-publishing only as a business sucks the art out of an artistic project. For me, I guess, self-publishing is a business decision, in that I want to be free of the traditional system of publishing. I like things that are non-traditional. But am I a perfect self-published businessman? Hardly. I’m a writer first, publisher second.
I don’t want to diminish the notion that a self-publisher needs to know the ins and outs of the business end of publishing. But to say that self-publishing is purely a business decision is talking in the same language of corporate publishing: i.e. publishing=business. Not exclusively. Publishing also=expression.