I spent a lot of time yesterday reading about self-publishing versus traditional publishing, and trying to become comfortable with a decision on which way to go.
For me, it boils down to prestige versus control. I realize this is a very simplified view.
With traditional publishing you get prestige (and a lot of other help with the nuts and bolts of actually printing and distributing your book.) But when you can list a bona fide, tried and true publisher on the inside page of your book, you gain prestige. Someone in-the-know deemed your manuscript as publication worthy.
If all your life you had a dream of becoming a published author, publishing a book yourself may not fulfill that dream, depending on how you look at it.
But if you are never able to hook an agent with your one-shot-at-it brilliant first paragraph in your query letter that lies somewhere in a stack of hundreds of the same, you will never get a publisher, and you will also never fulfill that dream.
Since anyone can publish anything today, the question of a standard of quality also comes into play. With traditional publishing, one of the roles the agents and editors, who function as gatekeepers, play is to maintain a level of quality. They want their company to have a good reputation by printing quality stories.
Richard P. Hughes addresses the quality or validation issue, and the importance of having beta readers, in this short, and clever, blog post from Writing and Living: http://richard-writingandliving.blogspot.com/2011/06/art.html.
April Hamilton, author of the Indie Author Guide Publetariat poses the questions, Is your book ready? Are you and your plaform ready? Or are you going to make the rest of us look bad? in her “All the Cool Kids are Doing It” blog post that appeared in http://www.publetariat.com/.
One thing is certain if you self-publish—your book will be published. It may not sell, but it will be out there. And if you want to spend the rest of your life promoting it, you can. You have control of the title, what is in the book, how it is distributed, how it is marketed, and for how long. You will, however, likely be banned from the brick and mortar book stores. There are some places where Indies are just not welcome.
You will also have to do all those things the editors at a traditional publishing house would do for you in ensuring the quality of your finished product. The good news is that there are people you can hire to do everything the editors are doing. And there are a lot of people out on the web who can walk you through doing most, if not all, of the editing and publishing tasks yourself. I’d start with April Hamilton’s the Indie Author Guide. I think there are other books out there and online communities as well.
The Things to Consider before Deciding
Here are a few websites that do a good job of summing up the issues involved in self-publishing versus traditional publishing:
All Things Considered
For me, it makes sense to self-publish. Sure I would love to be able to say, “My book is coming out in November of 2012 from XYZ traditional publishing house.” Prestige, all the way baby. And even though the proponents of traditional publishing say, “The difference between a published author and unpublished writer is persistence,” I may not want to wait as long as it will likely take. Even if I sent out query letters today, and an agent scooped me up and sold my book to a publisher next week, it will be one to two years before it ever sees the inside of a bookstore. (Who knows if there will even still be bookstores by then.) It can take a very long time to find an agent. And then the agent has to find a publisher. I’m just not that patient.
And why should the future of my memoir rely on a brilliant first paragraph in a query letter lost in a stack of hundreds on agents’ desks?
I just want people to read my story. It’s pretty simple.
I’ll forgo the prestige. I’ll keep the control. And my book will be published. I’ll let the readers decide if it will sell.