Let me start this piece with the following: I have no problem with any method of publishing. Whatever works for you and gets you the results you want is great. I’m a hybrid author – I’ve self-published in the past, I still self-publish a small amount and nowadays I’m mostly traditionally published in both big and small press. This is not about criticising any particular path to publication.
Good. Glad we’ve got that covered. What I do want to talk about is a thing I’ve seen a lot of lately, most recently in this article by Harry Bingham. There have been several of these things, (Konrath is the feral posterboy for the movement – search him up yourself if you’re interested) but in a nutshell, the case they’re stating is this:
The great machine of publishing is constantly morphing and moving on, but we’re now in the era of self-publishing and that’s the way forward for everyone. They cite their own recent successes as evidence.
Now, self-publishing is in a huge renaissance and it is a great way forward for many people. But these authors going on about how they’re leaving the behemoth of traditional publishing for the clear, honest waters of self-publishing success are being disingenuous at best and wilfully ignorant at worst.
In the article linked above, Bingham extols the virtues of his decision to do away with big traditional publishers and strike out on his own with the latest book in his series. He talks about how it’s doing very well thank you, and we’re in a brave new fourth era of publishing (or the end of the third or something) where it’s better for authors to take control. This really annoys me, because the only reason Bingham is doing so well is because he’s spent fifteen years as a traditionally published author, building a huge fan base through those first two eras, using the marketing power and bookstore penetration that only traditional publishing can buy.
At the start of the article he talks about how he was lucky enough with his first book to be in an era when publishers had money and he enjoyed a £50,000 marketing budget for that first book. Stop and think about that. Fifty. Thousand. Pounds. I wonder if that, and the subsequent fifteen years of audience building, career refinement and learning, has anything to do with his current self-publishing success? I think it might.
Konrath is the same. He rips into traditional publishing all the time, while making a mint with his self-published works, selling them to all the fans he developed while being a traditionally published author and enjoying the rewards that brought.
Sure, traditional publishing has many flaws. It’s not perfect. But the simple fact is that traditional, especially big five, publishing affords you a level of perceived integrity, presence and opportunity that is simply not available to the self-published. I know from direct experience. When I was an indie I made some good connections and got involved with lots of stuff through my own hard work, but nothing major. Now that I’ve been published by Harper Collins, I’ve been on the Supanova tour, on ABC Radio, reviewed in major broadsheet newspapers and so on. My latest book is available in every bookstore in the country, enjoying shelf space and exposure. (And you know what? It could still be selling way better than it is, but that’s another story.)
Some people see huge success with self-publishing, but very few. For most it’s a hard slog, often with no reward. For authors who have enjoyed all the benefits that come with a big trad deal to then start venting against the trad publishers and singing the praises of self-publishing is not only disingenuous, it’s unfair. It makes those who are new and know less about the industry blind to the truths involved.
Someone might think, “Well, if Big Name Author is ditching trad publishers for indie success, I’ll just go indie”, when the only reason Big Name Author can see success is because he’s already Big Name Author, and that’s because of the big traditional publishing deals he’s enjoyed.
There’s no one way or right way to be published. There’s whatever works for you. But don’t declare that life in the rain is fantastic when you’re wearing a coat and carrying an umbrella supplied by someone else.