In Defense of Self Publishing (Part 2 of a Series)

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In the last post, I introduced you to the modern concept of self publishing, but I didn’t get the chance to flesh out a defense for it. See, self publishing can be good for readers as well as writers. Allow me to break it down.

1. Self Publishing Removes Barriers

Look, traditional publishers aren’t the epitome of evil like some writers claim, but they are businesses. Books are now in competition with streaming services, video games, social media, along with “traditional” forms of entertainment like movies, television, and music. It only makes sense for publishers to feel a little paranoid about taking on brand new authors. Even if the story is good, that’s an investment that might not see a return. Still, is that fair to the writer? Editors are humans, and last time I checked humans have not evolved to the point where they can see the future. Sure, a story might be a commercial flop, or it might be the next big thing. You can read statistics, examine trends, and try to have your finger on the cultural pulse, but you’re still human, which means you have no clue what’s going to be popular in the near future. Self publishing allows writers to say, “What the hell, let’s see what happens,” with little to no overhead. You could potentially release a steaming pile of garbage, but what do you care? That garbage could turn a profit for you, and people could enjoy it, which brings me to my next point. Self publishing also removes barriers for readers. Maybe there’s a book out there that you fall in love with, and you’d have never read it without it being self published.

2. Self Publishing Offers a Wider Variety of Books

Consider this: the books that are in any bookstore were selected by editors at publishing houses, then someone at the bookstore made a decision to order those books and stock them. Two separate entities are deciding what you have access to. Now, as the internet developed and bookstores established themselves online readers had access to more books, but those books had still been selected by a publisher. Some might argue this is a filtering process, allowing the readers to only have the best of the best since their time is limited, but isn’t that a bit subjective and arrogant? I would rather read what interests me, and be free to discover stories on my own without someone deciding which stories are fit to print. Maybe a reader wants an alternate history where dinosaurs fight the Nazis? Is there a wide market for it? Probably not, but better to give it a chance in the marketplace and see if there are readers interested in it than to bar it from seeing the light of day. Self publishing allows those stories to enter the arena and have the public decide whether they live or die.

3. Self Publishing Offers a Better Chance for Payment

Okay, I know some might read this and say, “Adam, the arts aren’t about making money, it’s about creating something beautiful!” That’s true, but it’s also not evil to ask for a little compensation. Unless you write solely for the catharsis then you’re probably writing to a) sell it or b) practice for when you write something you want to sell. Now, publishers still offer advances (meaning the publisher gives a writer money before royalties). Once you make back the advance then you start bringing in royalties. Sounds good right? Except advances have dropped significantly in the past few years. If you’re a new writer without too many writing credits then don’t expect a six-figure advance on your first book unless it’s a surefire bestseller. Also, don’t expect to get much more than a 15% royalty rate with your book, and that’s if you make back the advance and it sells well enough to qualify for that 15% rate. If you don’t make back the advance, then your relationship with the publisher won’t be off to a good start. It might not doom your chances for a second book deal, but it could mean a lower advance. With self publishing you set the advance on your book. If you pay someone to design your cover, edit your manuscript, and deal with the formatting then consider the sum of those costs your advance. I know, it’s not the same thing as a traditional advance, but the general idea is that you’ve made an investment. Now comes the royalties. With Kindle Direct Publishing the royalty system is pretty easy to understand but I’ll leave this handy-dandy chart here to help visualize and explain the policy. Basically, if you set the price from $0.99 to $2.98 then you can get 35% royalties, and if you set it at $2.99 or higher then you can make 70% royalties. Which means it’s a win-win for readers and writers. Writers get a higher royalty rate, and readers get cheaper books which means they can buy more books! Everyone’s happy.

4. Self Publishing is a Testing Ground for New Books

Let’s say you write a book, put it on Amazon, and it starts moving up the list. One day you wake up and find your book sitting near the top of the list. You’ve sold thousands, if not tens of thousands of copies. Emails start coming in from agents and editors wanting to discuss a publishing deal. They’ll brush it up, give it a new cover, and get it into bookstores both in your home country and abroad. You didn’t even submit to these people and now they want to be your new best friend. This is a win-win for publishers and writers. For writers, you can prove with cold, hard sales figures that your book is marketable and it turns a profit. It also gives you the chance to make money on a manuscript that otherwise would have just sat in a drawer collecting dust or going through the submission process. For publishers, they don’t have to rely on slush readers and guesswork to know which books are successful, they can go on Amazon and see which books are selling. It allows a traditional publisher to know a writer is worth the investment, and it allows the writer to prove their success without relying on the mercy of an agent or editor.

5. Self Publishing Means Faster Results & A Chance for Success

One of the biggest gripes writers have with the traditional publishing system is it takes time. Some agents and editors are good about responding as fast as possible, others…not so much. It might take a few days to get a response…or a few months. If you happened to submit to a publisher that does not accept simultaneous submissions then your manuscript is going to be in literary purgatory until they make a decision. Even if the manuscript gets accepted that doesn’t mean it’s going to be released next month. It can take months, if not years, for an accepted manuscript to get on bookshelves. First it has to be edited, then design decisions have to be made, then marketing plans are established, then the publisher has to decide when it’s the right time to release so it’s not competing with other books. Again, this is if the manuscript got accepted in the first place! Another related bonus is a self published book is never an outright rejection. It might sit for a while, and it might not be getting too many readers, but it isn’t going away. It can stay on the digital shelf until you decide to remove it, and who knows? Maybe it will start to take off when you least expect it.

6. Self Publishing is Liberating

If your manuscript gets picked up by a publisher then guess what? Your book no longer belongs to you. The title, the characters, plot points, cover design, all of it is now in the hands of forces beyond your control. Obviously you have input, and of course you can defend your creation, but at the end of the day the decisions are made by an editor. For some people this is fine, and to be honest I don’t blame them, but circling back to my earlier point: editors are humans. They are not perfect beings that know with infallible certainty what’s a good idea and what isn’t. You might know in your gut that a change to the title, the plot, or the characters is a terrible idea, but ultimately you’re stuck. With self publishing all of those decisions are yours, and yours alone. If you hire an editor they will offer suggestions, strongly encourage you to change something, but the final decisions are yours to make. Hell, you could go it alone and be the rugged individual blazing a trail by yourself. My point is self publishing offers writers a tremendous amount of freedom with their work. Which might appeal to some, it might repulse others, but at least it’s out there. Again, it also gives readers more freedom. The infinite digital frontier has a lot to offer, so go and see what hidden gems you might be missing out on.

7. Self Publishing is an Option

Self publishing still has a long way to go in terms of dethroning the “Big Five” or “Big Four” or however many major publishing conglomerates exist now, but it’s here and it’s offering writers a genuine choice: publish the old fashioned way, or try something new? It’s not perfect, and there’s a lot of room for failure, but the same can be said for traditional publishing. Writing is now experiencing a paradigm shift the same way music experienced one in the early 2000s. The parallel works like this: digital technology made recording fairly easy and affordable for the average person. The internet then allowed musicians to distribute their music which allowed for new sounds, new ideas, and new artists to be heard by the general public. It works the same way with writing: digital technology makes writing easier, and the internet allows authors to distribute their work which allows the general public to decide what they want to read. Not to get all patriotic or anything, but democracies and capitalist societies are about choices and competition. If it works, the people will decide it works.

Are you already convinced that self publishing is the future? Are you sitting there shaking your head and thinking, “Adam, you poor naive idiot.” Either way, feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section.

Now read on, and see what I have to say in defense of traditional publishing.

You’re welcome to follow me here, or follow me on Twitter (@ahahnjones)

Thanks for reading, and I hope you stick around.

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