self-publishing vs traditional publishing

It used to be that self-publishing was the realm of vain, delusional losers who paid large sums of money to have their books printed, only to find that no one wanted to buy a crappy book written by “some guy” or “some girl” that had never passed through the hands of an editor.

But times have changed. Now self-publishing is, well, exactly the same as it was before except these days the author no longer has to pay any of their own money up front. And that is simultaneously a good thing and a bad thing.

Because with self-publishing, you get to have complete creative control over your work. You get to make the decision about the cover, the layout, the format, and most importantly, the content. And you get to control when, where, and how your book gets published. Plus, you get to keep a greater percentage of the profits.

And that’s pretty awesome.

On the down side, quite a lot of people out there simply have zero interest in buying a self-published book. And for good reason. Because when you see a publisher’s logo on a book that’s come out recently, it signifies that the book has gone through an agent, a contact person at a publishing house, and a full-time editor employed by said publishing house. Whereas a self-published book has probably at most gone through the hands of a few of the author’s friends who were too kind or too embarrassed to tell the author that their book sucks. And the few truly exceptional self-published books that are written run the great risk of being drowned beneath the towering waves of all the crappy ones.

My book sucks. I’m fully aware of this. It’s sold a grand total of nine copies so far, and I’m almost positive that every one of those was to someone who knows me personally. But I’m ok with that. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps, and my Peace Corps memoir has exactly 50 chapters. It was a personal goal of mine to have the book published this year, and as it was rejected by every agent I sent it to the only way that was going to happen was if I self-published. So I self-published it. If nothing else, the only way for me to find out what people actually think about it is to put it out there, so I put it out there.

The thing is, it’s exactly the way I want it to be. Typos and all. Because I actually wrote at least half of it while I was still in Africa, and while it could doubtless benefit from the skill and expertise of a professional editor, I can’t help but feel that something valuable would be lost. The rawness, intensity, honesty, and laughable naivety that I put into that first draft as I sat in front of my laptop in Korogwe, Tanzania may not perfectly translate into quality reading, but it reflects a pure, unfiltered distillation of the life of a Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa. And that’s what I was going for.

I’ve already started a new novel. I’ve got the first draft of the prologue, chapter 1, and chapter 2 written so far. And in terms of quality it’s light years ahead of my first book. And I’m going to do everything I can to get it published by a traditional publisher.

Because I always want to be improving myself and my writing. And while I would love to say that I know better than any literary agents or publishers, the amount of books that they’ve sold versus the amount of books I’ve sold pretty much says it all.

In a lot of ways it’s analogous to the movie industry. Blockbuster films are often familiar and formulaic and have big names attached to them because movie producers have a good idea of what’s most likely to sell tickets and want to maximize the chances of a profitable return on their investments. But at the same, they’re reluctant to take any really big risks. Independent films on the other hand are more willing to take chances, and while they do sometimes end up getting it right and produce something truly moving, brilliant, groundbreaking, and awe-inspiring, more often than not they simply suck ass.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’ve written my “Indie” book, and now I’m going to see if I can write a “blockbuster”.

Wish me luck.

Oh, and if you’re interested on reading something more insightful on the topic by someone who actually knows what they’re talking about, check out this post by Stephen Leather.


About Critical Awesomeness
I'm a 32-year-old American with a PhD in chemistry and a green hat. Only one of these two things is really important.

6 Responses to self-publishing vs traditional publishing

  1. J. Johns says:

    Way to add to the towering wave. 😉

  2. oldsalt1942 says:

    I live a couple of houses away from your mom and dad’s place in Potrerillos Arriba. I published my first book electronically, too, and I’m sure not getting rich off of it. But who cares. I was a published writer a long time ago. I was a newspaper reporter, magazine editor and did a lot of freelance magazine writing back in the mid 60s to early 70s and then stopped writing to follow my bliss which was to mess around on boats which I did for the next 30+ years.

    I knew that one could ALWAYS write, but one could not always do certain other things, especially when you take a bunch of pills every morning to keep the ticker going. I kept a journal for years and years and some of the quotes I kept in it actually had a lot to do with changing my life. Like this one:

    ” And the bright horizon calls! Many a thing will keep till the world’s work is done, and youth is only a memory. When the old enchanter came to my door laden with dreams, I reached out with both hands. For I knew that he would not be lured with the gold that I might later offer, when age had come upon me.”
    Richard MacCullough
    Viking’s Wake

    When I came to Potrerillos I set out to write the book I’d put off for so long. It was, partially, to fulfill an old prophesy. In 1967 at a dinner at my college English professor’s he told Erskine Caldwell (author of Tobacco Road) “of all the students I’ve taught if any of them is going to write a book it will be Richard.” That statement haunted me ever since.

    Well, I put it off for 45 years. When I moved in to house sit at Jane and Steve’s house (you may have met them if you visited here) they asked me what I was going to do with myself high up on the side of the mountain. I said, “I’m going to write a book.” Well, lots of people make that statement, but I got up every morning and I wrote the damned thing. Approaching my 69th birthday I don’t have time enough to go through that agent, publisher game and the whole self-publishing thing came as a revelation to me. Is it a “real” book. Damned right it is! In fact it’s so real that a girl here in Panama working on her master’s degree in English has asked me for permission to translate it into Spanish. (A third of the book actually takes place here in Panama.)

    I told your mom and dad one day as we were going down to do some shopping in David that my book was available on Amazon. Your dad was real enthusiastic about the whole phenomenon and I understand he’s working on a book of his own and that he’d sent you a lot of the information I’d given him.

    I see you’ve discovered Joe Konrath’s blog and I’m sure you know about Amanda Hocking who has made over a million bucks self-publishing and just signed a million dollar deal with a “traditional” publisher.

    We should all be so lucky, but it’s probably not going to happen. But, never the less, our books are done and available to anyone who wants to buy one, and, unlike “real” books, their shelf-life in forever.

    Your dad gave it five stars.

    Keep hope alive.

    • Hey man, good to hear from you. Those links my dad forwarded from you were really useful.

      Sounds like you had a book you wanted to put out there, sat down and figured out what you needed to do to make it happen, and then did it. That’s pretty cool.

      Keep hope alive indeed.

  3. John Aon says:

    I’ve sold about 9 copies of my book – all to me!

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