Publishing – We’re All On the Same Side

There’s been a vigorous and at times antagonistic conversation about publishing and self- vs. traditional- publishing routes going on lately.

I’ve been resisting joining in too much, both because I have a book on deadline, and because I have friends on both sides of this debate, and the degree of passion and potential animosity in it pushes me away. 

But for what it’s worth, a few thoughts.

For context, I’m traditionally published with three different publishers. My first traditionally published book reverted to me and is now self-published on Amazon’s stack. And I see both traditional and self-publishing routes as options for my future. I’ll go with whatever works best, and quite likely both routes over the course of my career.

Those thoughts:

1) Anyone who’s written a book gets a modicum of respect from me.
That’s not an easy task.

2) More books, more readers, mo’ betta’.
Anything that helps writers get more paths to readers, and helps readers get access to more potential books, is fantastic by me.

3) Self-publishing is legit.
More specifically, self-publishing gives a set of authors who would likely never get their book traditionally published a chance to put their book in front of readers. I support that. 

Nor should this be looked down on. Self-publishing is not a failure option. If you get a book out via self-publishing, and find readers, props to you. You’ve earned some respect.

4) Self-publishing is succeeding.
It’s clear that on Amazon, the largest book retailer in the world, an awful lot of the books being sold are self or indie published. Self-published books have a path to success. That to me is the clear lesson of the
Author Earnings
data.

5) Traditional pub is still sometimes a better path.
It’s also clear that there are many books and many authors for whom more traditional channels work better. And indeed, the Author Earnings data doesn’t reflect the full market or economics of publishing. For example, the best data I’ve seen indicates that ebooks are somewhere between 20 and 25% of overall consumer book spending and that Amazon captures about 30% of overall consumer book spending. Perhaps the real numbers are actually higher than this, but it’s clear that both ebooks and Amazon are well under half of the market.

More anecdotally, the authors I know who have traditional book deals and have self-published almost all do better from their traditionally published books than their self-published books. Other authors who are only traditionally published report that an overwhelming majority of their sales are print, and project (not unreasonably) that self-publishing primarily in ebook would have found them fewer readers and less revenue.

The reality is that for some genres, some audiences, some authors, and even some specific books, the best target market may be ebook, and for others, the audience is going to favor print more heavily.

6) The success of self-pub can benefit traditional-published authors
This is something I seldom see mentioned, so it’s worth adding in here. The very real success of self-publishing strengthens the hands of authors at contract negotiation time with publishers. 

I would personally love to see better reversion clauses, better ebook royalty rates (and/or better escalators on ebook royalties as the norm), and other changes.  Having self-publishing as a more and more viable alternative gives authors more leverage. In that respect, every author who hopes to sign more traditional publishing deals should cheer the rising viability of self-publishing.

7) This is business, not religion.
The most painful thing about the ongoing debate, to me, is the degree of animosity it engenders, both among strangers and at times among friends. I see people on both sides of this debate taking this extremely personally.

I get that. A lot of this is about lack of respect, or the perception thereof.

On the self-pub side, there has long been a lack of respect afforded. What I see here is the self-publishing community fighting for respect, and using data to show that they’re a force to be reckoned with, and that real and massive success is possible, and indeed is happening for quite a few authors.

Meanwhile, on the other side, traditionally published authors see publication of incomplete data (data based primarily on Amazon). They look at this data, compare it to their own sales breakdown, and find a very large discrepancy. They see that it doesn’t reflect the full market, and that bugs them. Perhaps more to the point, traditionally published authors can see these arguments for self-publication and hear them as “You chose the wrong path! You made a bad decision going with a traditional publisher!”

That sounds like an attack, and I’m guilty of reading the first Author Earnings report in part that way as well. But I don’t think that’s the point of it. I think the lessons of Author Earnings are overstated (or at least, that people are drawing conclusions from it that aren’t supported by the data), but I think the project’s goals – to establish respect for self-published authors and to demonstrate that real success is happening – are noble.

8) Be nice to one another.
It’s a truism that authors don’t really compete with one another. We mostly compete with people not reading, with them sitting on the couch, or watching television, or simply not knowing of anything good to read. I trust that most of the authors I know are supporters of other writers as a class, and that we want to see more people make the leap from “I have a book!” to “People are reading my book!” and even “I’m making a living off of people reading my book(s)!” as we did at one point (or may be in the process of doing).

So let’s cheer each other on, and point to success, anywhere we see it.

8) What I’d like to see.
In my dream world, what I’d love to see:

  • A little more acknowledgement on the self-pub side that traditional publishing has various advantages. Yes, it has downsides too. Yes, self-pub will be better in some situations. But the dialogue right now simply waves away the advantages to authors that can come with traditional publishing deals.
  • Fewer insults cast at self-pub books as a class, particularly on issues of quality and so on, from traditionally published authors. Really, unless your goal is to get people good and angry and harden their hearts, there’s very little point to this. 
  • Less taking it personally on both sides. More compassion for and cheering on everyone who writes.

Well, I can keep dreaming, can’t I?

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