Editor’s Note: This post is in response to the discussion in this post.
I can understand why you’d rather publish yourself. I can understand not wanting to wait to be noticed. I can understand why you might think traditional publishing is elitist or backwards–or even stupid.
I am personally hostile to a number of what have become standard practices in traditional publishing. I am even hostile toward individual traditional publishers and even individuals in traditional publishing. At least I have had the dubious pleasure of working within or somewhat within the system for decades, having come by my hostility by direct contact, direct confrontation, direct experience. None of that stops me from using my experience and knowledge to better the outcomes I still nevertheless establish with mainstream publishing.
How many here have ever actually worked with a real editor on staff at a traditional publisher? Does all the downright hostility I see here, every day, arise from prolonged exposure . . . or from not getting that far?
I’m no apologist for the system, for the man, for the industry. But I have lived within it, made my way in it, when it was the only recourse for an aspiring writer, a young writer on the make, a published author with only the hope of being published again. And, yes, as an older, reasonably high-earning career author with enough life experience and curiosity to see and begin to exploit the possibilities technological advances slowly set in place for someone willing to self-publish.
I have turned my back on the individuals, firms, and publishing institutions that treated me like a pariah when they noticed that I had gone out on my own, gone astray, broke their rice bowls, spit on their concept of what a good little writer should do and how a good little writer should behave in the presence of his betters (which is to say, everyone on the publishing side). But I used a tool I learned as a kid growing up in a lower middle class neighborhood in North Philly. I didn’t get mad, I got even. I struck out on my own beginning in 1985, when there was no supportive technology except WordStar (the daddy of desktop word processors). But as late as between 2005 and 2009 I relieved mainstream publishers of a hair under $250,000 in advances and royalties, retained more or less complete artistic control of seven pictorial books, and have been offered more (but not as much) advance money for several more such books if I please won’t retire. Also between 2004 and 2010, I self-published four books I wrote and have brought to print or brought back to print more than a dozen other books by other authors. As long as I’m a high earner, all is forgiven.
When I add it all up, the mainstream has been good to me. It helped pay for a suburban San Francisco house I own free and clear. It helped educate my kids. It has provided for my retirement. It made me crazy a lot over the past twenty-five years–still does sometimes–but mostly I didn’t notice it was there when I had no use for it.
Why do so many of you hate an institution that you’ve barely touched? If it doesn’t acknowledge you, at least it doesn’t interfere with your dreams and plans. It’s over there, doing what it does, and you’re over here, doing what you do. Nevertheless, if it wasn’t there, doing its thing, you wouldn’t have an Amazon.com or similar commercial outlets, because without the undergirding of commercially viable, advertising-supported books, there would be no point for the Jeff Bezoses of the world to plunge into bookselling the way they have. You’re an adjunct–possibly a profitable adjunct, in aggregate–to a business grounded in the most basic business principle of all, which is “give the public what it wants.” Adding in “what it might want” is something a business can do only if it has the first, basic, part down.
But I digress. My point in all this is that acting in opposition to something renders that something central in your life, in your interaction with the world. If you really hate mainstream publishing because you know something about it from first-hand experience, you can hate away or turn the tables, as I have. Or ignore it and get on with your plan, your version of life, without ill will dragging you down. If you hate it because it did something bad to you, ignored you, rejected you, never gave you a chance, then at least know that this is an industry that spends enormous resources looking for the next big thing, taking chances and spending money on novices who might be built up to become the next big thing. J.K. Rowling wasn’t born a famous author, she was given an opportunity by Big Publishing. And when you put all that in perspective, you can then ignore it and get on with your plan, your version of life, without ill will dragging you down. You know, make better use of your time, your emotions, your passion to be heard.